Manipulating Google’s algorithms with artificial external link profiles is a big no no. The webmaster guidelines have said it for years and this year’s Penguin update attempted to hammer the point home by flagging any site that attempted to use spam techniques. But what if you are not using unethical practices as a way to manipulate the search engine? What if your hard earned search engine ranking has been compromised by a competitor? Then you have probably been the victim of Negative SEO.
Negative SEO has been an issue in search engine optimisation for some time and involves shady practitioners deliberately setting out to destroy a competitor website by using various tools to point thousands of low quality links at a site, thus leading to the targeted site being penalised by Google. Despite downplaying Negative SEO for some time, Google has finally released a much anticipated disavow links tool to help webmasters take control of harmful links and have them disregarded.
The new tool was announced by head of Google’s web spam Matt Cutts during his keynote speech at the Pubcon conference in Las Vegas. It has been tested for a number of weeks by selected SEOs and is now live and ready to use.
The introduction of the disavow links tool aims to help webmasters that believe their Google search ranking to have been affected by low quality links from spam sites. Google are quick to suggest that the tool should only be used after alternative methods have been tried, “If you know of bad link-building done on your behalf (e.g., paid posts or paid links that pass PageRank), we recommend that you contact the sites that link to you and try to get links taken off the public web first,” says the updated Google help section. “You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links and jump to conclusions about your website or business.”
If your efforts of trying to have a link taken down are unsuccessful you can then go ahead and use the disavow links tool. But be warned, if you disavow a good link in error, it could be a long wait for that link to be reinstated – if ever.
Webmasters will be able to disavow individual URLs, or entire domains in a text file uploaded to Google’s Webmaster Tools. Cutts said that the tool uses the “nofollow” attribute, which allows sites to link to other sites without passing ranking credit to those sites.
Finding spam links
The disavow tool is a very powerful one and can be effective if you feel that your website has be targeted with Negative SEO. The difficulty in using the tool successfully is being able to determine which links are causing the damage. If your website contains thousands of backlinks from hundreds of domains, trying to find bad URLs and domains will prove almost impossible, especially as Google does not provide us with the ability to find out which links are harming a ranking.
If you want to learn more about the tool, there is a video of Matt Cutts talking about Disavow Links here.