One of the ways Google determines page rank of a website is through the number, type, and quality of links pointing to that site from outside sources. In some cases, those links may actually hurt a site’s page rank. In 2012, Google has rolled out a tool to help webmasters disavow links effectively. The Google disavowal tool is not foolproof, though, and several considerations must be taken into account.
Bad Links and the Google Disavowal Tool
It has happened to almost every webmaster — links to your website from outside sources that don’t help in terms of a quality ranking on search engines like Google. Google can be very particular about the type and quality of links pointing to a website, especially “paid links” or other potentially shady practices like link schemes where you have linked to outside sources or been linked from the outside in order to receive financial benefit and a boost in page rank. Both of these situations violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Another problem becoming more common is backlink spam, where a competitor creates a low-quality website with questionable content and links that point to your own site. This has the effect of lowering your page rank. This practice is sometimes referred to as negative SEO. Webmasters cannot control who links to a site, or why. That leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous people.
That’s one of the reasons Google introduced their disavowal tool. With this tool, webmasters are able to take back some control by:
- Looking at the incoming site links
- Deciding which ones may be hurting ranking, and
- Giving Google instructions to ignore those links
If used correctly, the disavowal tool can help restore valuable organic ranking of a website, helping it to appear at the top of Google’s search engine results pages.
How Do I Disavow Links?
When a webmaster is faced with bad outside links, the first step is to contact the offending outside website(s) to request removal of those links. In many cases, this serves as an effective way of cleaning up page rank. While you do this manual link disavowal, keep detailed records. Google wants to be sure webmasters have attempted to disavow links on their own. If this doesn’t work, it’s time to employ the disavowal tool.
The first step is to find out what outside sites are linking to you. Within Google’s tool, it is possible to download a complete list of links to your site. Then, you must create a file that lists all of the URLs and domains that need to be disavowed, or removed from the consideration Google gives during page ranking. How should you create a good disavowal file? Google states that a properly-formatted list is:
“a text file (the file type must be .txt and it must be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII) containing only the links you want to disavow—one link per line. If you want Google to ignore all links from an entire domain (like example.com), add the line “domain:example.com”. Your text file can include additional information about excluded links, as long as each line of description begins with the “#” character (all lines beginning with # will be ignored). Don’t upload the entire list of links to your site: the text file that you upload is the list of links you want Google to ignore.”
Finally, the webmaster uploads the disavowal file to Google. How long does it take for the disavowal tool to work? It can sometimes take several weeks, as Google uses the disavowal file as it reindexes the web. A webmaster must be patient!
What are some of the pitfalls of using the disavow tool?
The disavow tool is not perfect – and there are a few things to know about using the tool. First, one must be patient. Reuploading files every few hours, expecting immediate improvement in rankings, simply does not work. Also, be sure you’ve tried to manually remove bad links yourself by contacting the offending website before using the disavow tool. Research incoming links carefully – some that may look like spam may actually be beneficial to your page rankings.
Finally, not all bad incoming links can be repaired or ignored by the disavow tool. If the tool doesn’t catch them all, and your own efforts have failed at getting spam links removed, there’s not a lot else to be done. However, using the disavow tool and manually getting bad links removed will help page rankings if you give it time.