This week, Google gave website owners a new tool called Disavow Links to help them avoid ranking penalties for dodgy linking practices.
Bloggers and Google-watchers have been expecting this move for a little while, ever since Bing started offering website owners a similar service called, err, Disavow Links, earlier this year.
Every website owner knows that links from third party sites are an important ranking factor and also one Google has worked hard to protect from spammers…
Dodgy Links and Google Penguin
As part of the recent Penguin update, Google wiped out the ranking credit some sites were getting for having links from weak domains, link exchanges, doorway sites and other “bad neighbourhoods”. Sites with an unusually high proportion of inbound links using keyword-heavy anchor text (“cheapest car insurance quote”, for example) have also been whacked.
Google wants site owners to stop unnatural linking practices, whether that’s buying links, joining link exchanges or any other black hat technique. But what if you find dodgy links pointing to your site that you didn’t create and can’t get removed?
Negative SEO and Disavowing Links
If you find a whole bunch of unfamiliar, black hat-style links pointing to your site, there are a few possible explanations:
1) You’ve been link building in your sleep again
2) You need an urgent word with your SEO agency
3) You’ve got a sneaky competitor trying to make you look bad
The third one is called “negative SEO”. This is a really helpful article from the SEOMoz blog about it with specific reference to Google’s Penguin update. Negative SEO can really hurt you. As well as Google’s anti-spam team hitting your rankings, there is also the damage to your reputation when people see spammy links pointing to your site.
When to disavow links
Google says its Disavow Links service is not specifically aimed at negative SEO. Rather it is intended for website owners who have received a specific warning via Webmaster Tools about “unnatural linking”.
The official line is that if you haven’t received that warning, any bad links pointing to your site are probably already being ignored. However, if you’re a website owner who’s worried about your link profile, this tool provides an opportunity to put some distance between your site and the wrong side of the virtual tracks.
Google’s blog post announcing Disavow Links has a handy Q&A at the end, but, as is often the case, the real entertainment is provided by the jaded webmasters venting in the comment section.