Google has recently gone to great pains to rid its search results of pages with spammy inbound links. Webmasters in their thousands received emails from Google advising them that they have detected unnatural and / or artificial links which conflict with its webmaster best practice guidelines. The message is clear – remove the links or face further penalties.
For many, the removal of these undesirable links is easier said than done given that they likely came from all manner of sources, including link exchanges and paid link services. With problem links possibly dating back several years, many website owners found getting them removed from the web was an impossible task. But with no way to take the offending referrals down, the site in question was increasingly likely to see its rankings slide.
Fortunately, for those who have tried and failed to have their spammy and undesirable links removed by their own efforts, Google has developed a brand new tool to disavow links. The Disavow Links tool is designed to help site owners who have received an unnatural link warning to offset the indexing issues associated with problematic inbound link patterns.
On announcing the launch of the tool, the search engine advised webmasters that removing links could be a good thing from a brand perspective, by reducing the number of instances in which web browsers will come across spammy links. This it says will help to project a more professional impression.
Google made it clear in its official announcement of the Disavow Links tool that it is intended as a last resort rather than first port of call, and that there is still some legwork involved in directly contacting domains hosting links your site no longer wishes to remain. While some work remains, the good news is that the process of removing troublesome links is now a little easier.
Here’s how to use the Disavow Links tool.
Note that prior to heading over to the tool itself, you should have determined which links you wish to disavow and have prepared a text file containing their details and efforts already taken to have them removed. There are many ways to figure out which links you want to disavow — that is an entirely different kettle of fish. If your site is small, you could start with Google’s own “Links to Your Site” area in their Webmaster Tools to download a list of places that link to your site to begin your investigation. For complex and/or larger sites, third-party tools (and a lot of work!) will be necessary to build the list of links you want Google to act on.
Once you are ready with your list of links you want Google to disavow, navigate to the dedicated Disavow Links tool page at http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main
1. Specify the site you wish to manage from among your sites, if you handle more than one. If you look after more than one domain and multiple sites have received link warnings, you’ll need to deal with each site individually.
2. Click on the Disavow Links button.
3. A warning screen will tell you that:
This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.
If you are ready to continue, click again on the Disavow Links button.
4. At this point you will be asked to upload the text file you prepared earlier which lists all of the links you believe are causing problems. Exercise caution at this stage, since the links that you list will be discounted. This means that if you incorrectly list referrers that aren’t causing you problems, and those links are discounted, your search engine optimization performance may be negatively affected.
Click on “Choose File” and navigate to the file prepared earlier. Click on “Submit.” The file you upload must be in plain text format (prepare in Notepad or similar) and list with one problem URL address per line. Links should be preceded with “domain: ” — for example domain: http://www.badlinks.com/link1.html
5. If you need/want to provide evidence that you have attempted to remove the links yourself, you can add # to denote a comment. For example: # we contacted the owner of badlinks.com on 12/12/12. They have failed to remove the links as requested.
6. Only one file per domain is allowed, but it can be updated at any point. In the future, if you come across more bad links when checking through the ‘Links To Your Site’ feature on Webmaster Tools, just download the file you previously uploaded to Google, modify it, and then upload once again.
Google warns that the tool should only be used as a last-ditch attempt to have links removed, not as an easy fix for a perceived problem. If you have received an “unnatural links” warning from Google, this would be a perfect time to make use of the disavow tool to speed the process up and clarify the situation to Google. However, if you just happen to see a couple of bad links on your site, common sense should tell you to explore other avenues of removing those links before becoming involved with a Google tool that is closely integrated into the overall algorithm. After all, Matt Cutts (Google’s Web Spam dude) has designated the tool as “advanced,” even though it is incredibly simple to use. The implication is pretty clear — don’t use this tool unless you understand completely what you are doing and what its effects will be. If you do make a mistake with an item on your list, whether it be a typo in a domain name or including a URL you shouldn’t have, it can be corrected via an upload of the corrected file, but in the period of time it will take Google to correct such errors and have the results take effect (weeks at the very least), a lot of damage can be done.
Like all tools that can affect the ranking of your site, the Disavow Links tool need to be approached and used with caution. It makes sense to keep it as a “when all else fails” tool, which after all, was pretty much its initial purpose. Used carefully and with knowledge, it can serve as a way to finally get action against spammy links. Used without care and minus a deep understanding of both your website and the intricaces of linking, it may cause more problems for you than it solves.
Image: Disconnect Link by Shutterstock