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‘Disavow Links’ Data Not A Google Ranking Signal…Yet

    March 18, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google is not using data from its Disavow Links tool to hurt sites that are being disavowed in search results. That is according to Google’s John Mueller.

Do you think data from the Disavow Links tool should be used as a ranking signal? Let us know in the comments.

The topic came up in the Google Webmaster Central product forum (via Search Engine Roundtable). One webmaster started the thread, saying that they received an email from a site with the subject line of “Link Removal Request” which said:

Dear Web master,

We recently received a notice from Google stating that they have levied a penalty on our website as they “detected unnatural links” redirecting to our website.

The only way we can remove this penalty and help Google reconsider putting our website back in their index is by removing these links and we need your help for the same. We request you to consider this request on high priority.

Following are the details of the links:
they have given me list of Links of my website with majority comments links .

We would like to bring your notice that failure to remove these links would require us to file a “Disavow Links” report with Google. Once we submit this report to Google, they may “flag” your site as”spammy” or otherwise if anything is not in compliance with their guidelines. The last thing we want is to have another web master go through this grief!

Your cooperation in this process would be deeply appreciated. We kindly request you to send us an acknowledgement of this mail along with a confirmation that these links have been removed.
Thanks a lot for your help.

If you want to reach out to us mail us on ‘webmaster’s copany email id’

Regards,
name of person
website name

So no, Google will not “flag your site as spammy” if it’s disavowed.

Mueller says flat out, “They are wrong. Having URLs from your website submitted in their disavow file will not cause any problems for your website. One might assume that they are just trying to pressure you. If the comment links they pointed to you are comment-spam that was left by them (or by someone working in their name) on your website, perhaps they are willing to help cover the work involved in cleaning their spam up?”

Maybe they are “pressuring the webmaster,” but still, Google has actually hinted in the past that data from the tool could become a ranking signal.

In a discussion with Google’s head of web spam Matt Cutts back in 2012, Danny Sullivan asked if “someone decides to disavow links from good sites in perhaps an attempt to send signals to Google these are bad,” if Google is mining the data to better understand what the bad sites are.

Cutts responded (emphasis mine), “Right now, we’re using this data in the normal straightforward way, e.g. for reconsideration requests. We haven’t decided whether we’ll look at this data more broadly. Even if we did, we have plenty of other ways of determining bad sites, and we have plenty of other ways of assessing that sites are actually good.”

Like I said at the time, Google does have over 200 signals, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the data to play some role in the algorithm, even if it’s not the weightiest signal. I don’t know how we’ll ever know if Google does decide to start using it. It’s not like Google is listing its algorithm changes every month or anything.

Cutts added in that conversation, “If a webmaster wants to shoot themselves in the foot and disavow high-quality links, that’s sort of like an IQ test and indicates that we wouldn’t want to give that webmaster’s disavowed links much weight anyway. It’s certainly not a scalable way to hurt another site, since you’d have to build a good site, then build up good links, then disavow those good links. Blackhats are normally lazy and don’t even get to the ‘build a good site’ stage.”

It does sound like a pretty dumb strategy, and probably not the most effective way to hurt another site. On the other hand, people do dumb stuff all the time.

But in a more natural sense, mightn’t this data say something about a site? If a lot of people are disavowing links from the same sites, doesn’t that say something?

But if it were to become a signal it could be misleading at times when Google’s unnatural link warnings have so many people scrambling to get all kinds of links (including legitimate ones) removed. It certainly shouldn’t carry too much weight if it ever does make it into the algorithm.

SEO analyst Jennifer Slegg said it well: “People who have been affected with bad links will very likely take a very heavy-handed approach to the links they disavow in their panic of seeing their traffic drop off a cliff. There is no doubt that some of those good links that are actually helping the site will end up in the list along with poor quality ones because the webmaster is either unclear about whether a link is a bad influence, or just think the starting fresh approach is the best one to go with.”

In the comments section of the Search Engine Roundtable post, Durant Imboden makes an interesting point: “Isn’t it possible that an unusually high number of disavowals might trigger a manual review of the frequently-disavowed site? In such a case, the disavow tool itself wouldn’t trigger a penalty or other ‘problems for your website,’ but the resulting review might (depending on what was found).”

Either way, don’t worry about the tool sending any signals about your site for the time being.

In related news, Cutts spoke about the tool at SMX West last week, where he said that if you’re aware of bad links to your site, you should probably go ahead and disavow them anyway, even if you’re not already penalized. He added on Twitter (when Rae Hoffman tweeted about it), that if it’s one or two links, it may not be a big deal, but the closer it gets to “lots,” the more worthwhile it may be.

Something to think about.

Do you think Google should ever include data from the tool in its ranking algorithm? Share your thoughts.


  • wertwert

    Google already has a big problem with its web spam penalties turning into negative SEO attack vectors… If disavow becomes a lever then disavow services to drag down your competitors will spring up everywhere.

  • http://knowhow-now.com Andrew Wilson

    That is good to hear. I run a content site that has a lot of user generated content. We get, every day, threat mails of the type shown in your article, sometimes even the exact same message – obviously machine generated.

    My perspective is that if we remove links then not only are we spending time cleaning up other people’s mess with no benefit to ourselves but by removing those links we are signaling to SEs that we run a site that carries spammy links placed with the intention of manipulating search engine results – that we hold our own site in low regard. That is not what we do – we have never removed links as a result of threat mails.

    My supposition was that Google was not using the disavow tool as a ranking factor but I am happy to have that supposition confirmed.

  • wiseman

    “we have plenty of other ways of determining bad sites”. Well clearly not very good ones otherwise there would be no need for a Disavow process in the first place would there? If Google knew all the bad sites and just made any bad link count for nothing and bad sites rank poorly then this problem would have been solved pretty much overnight – at least within a few months. Bad practices would have died out quickly as would the sites that propagate such practices.

    But they didn’t do that – instead they created the crazy situation where well-meaning webmasters have to spend 6 months of their year trying to contact uncontactable site owners to get links removed that were created 6 years ago i good faith according to the defacto white-hat advice from Google and every SEO on the planet at the time. And in the process they also created the opportunity for negative SEO.

    The very fact they are now talking about making Penguin more “small business friendly” is basically just a different way of saying “our current algorithm is full of holes and it penalises small business in favour of big brands because we got it wrong”.

    The only reason I can think that they chose this approach is
    a) their algorithm for detecting bad sites is pants
    b) they wanted the disavow list to use as a finger-pointing exercise to use in their algorithm or perhaps as a validation tool for their algorithm
    c) they want to close down every other site used for web advertising to push everyone to adwords (in additoin to the shameless “not provided” approach to keywords)

    Or all all of the above. None of which makes search results or the web in general any better than just discounting link value from “bad” domains that they have so many signals for spotting. Apparently.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk/ BlokeToys.co.uk

    “If a webmaster wants to shoot themselves in the foot and disavow
    high-quality links, that’s sort of like an IQ test and indicates that we
    wouldn’t want to give that webmaster’s disavowed links much weight
    anyway. It’s certainly not a scalable way to hurt another site, since
    you’d have to build a good site, then build up good links, then disavow
    those good links. Blackhats are normally lazy and don’t even get to the
    ‘build a good site’ stage.”

    Matt is such an arrogant ****.

    No one asked for Google to become the global internet police nor a self-appointed website standards authority, yet here we are, with Matt calling people “blackhats” and “lazy” for not submitting to the demands of big bad Google.

    Never mind the fact that many webmasters want to create a community of sites that support each other, and don’t have the money to invest in the process like Amazon and Ebay have, and are therefore all considered to be “lazy” and “blackhat” as a result.

    For once I would like Matt to explain the age old problem he has never explained… how does a person build a great site when every promotional tool they have can be deemed by Google to be blackhat? You share a link, you risk a penalty, but without that link you don’t get exposure and the traffic doesn’t exist, without that traffic Google ignores a site as being “worthless”. Sites can hardly even get on the ladder these days for fear of being attacked by Google.

    He should also be asking himself why there are so many millions of dead sites out there that he considers to be blackhat. Could it be that everyone is so terrified of upsetting Google that every time they want to start fresh with a new idea they have to create a brand new site, trying something else yet again to meet Google’s unspoken demands?

  • scoopy

    Who’s using the disavow tool? Its the same people listening to the same so-called “SEO experts” that are responsible for the link spam problems and trying to game their system in the first place. Just another stupid tool to do their dirty work for free.

  • http://likesfast.com Free Likes

    Thats very good to hear. But i am not sure if google is doing that properly

  • John

    I’m getting quite a few of these takedown requests, and almost all are from sites that left “excessive” comments on my blog over the years. So first they spam me, and now they want me to spend my time undoing the mess they made. I should be able to charge them for my time.

    But this is actually a mess of Google’s making. Their mercurial algorithms have created so many internal contradictions that even THEY can’t keep track of them. Thus, the manual disavowal process.

    And through all of this, my perception as a “user” is that their results are getting worse. I no longer use Google for my personal searches.

  • Jon Sharman

    Interesting article. I certainly feel that the comment from Durant Imboden may hold the most water. The disavow tool is a recovery vehicle but one that offers Google a wealth of useful FLAGS.

    I think Google would be mad not to investigate a site that is flagged time and again. If after investigation it is found to be OK then the site would go about its business as normal none the wiser, but Google will learn from it either way.

    As a ranking factor – I would say not – as one way or another I’m sure it could be manipulated to the detriment of decent sites.

  • http://www.2bubbleblog.com 2BubbleBlog

    How on earth would a blog for example being penalized because some greedy SEOs posted to much unoriginal (e.g. I totally agree with you…) comments all over the internet?! Personally, on my site I publish press releases and now I charge SEOs for the deletion of their press release. As I explain them, posting is free but if they want to play yoyo with me, they have to pay. They get paid from their clients to post and also to remove their press release and links, so why should we do it for free?! If I cancel my internet provider, it charge me 50€, so why should I work for free to loose an indexed page?! I don’t know for you, but I’m bored to receive emails like the one shown above. Once, I’ve checked, the site had more than 100,000 links from 4,000 sites pointing to it, no wonder why you get a warning after that…

  • nedguy

    This is good news, for now.

    My site looks a bit like a directory so I quite often get “please remove link” emails, sometimes with a disavow threat, despite the fact that all my links have been nofollowed since July 2013 (a 180 degree misrepresentation of my wholly organic recommendations).

    • scoopy

      Yup… somebody has gone and made a bad situation even messier. Nofollow was created to mark paid and untrusted links… BUT now who knows what this attribute is being used for ??? Its becoming a pointless and useless tool now.

  • http://www.giboltips.com/ Juli Han

    I hope those tool not included in ranking signal factor. My partners used to exchange link with same niche website theme but in last two months we were not applicable for us to do some exchange link again. My personal opinion that my blog still use resources page to partners can do exchange link with some content quality requirements and/or with minimal page rank requirements.

    Disavow links tool could be good but please exclude in its ranking signal factor – at least I have hope on this

  • Xangis

    The Disavow Links tool should not even exist. It is a net detriment to the web and makes webmasters act like idiots.

  • Label Lady

    I wish Matt Cutt’s could sit in our office and watch us, a small family business, try to figure out why our legitimate ecommerce site dropped out of site for no apparent reason. We didn’t use an SEO company to create spammy backlinks, yet Google is telling us to disavow links we don’t even know exist? Matt’s smug attitude is like pouring salt on our wounded spirits.

  • Tom Thayer

    Personally, if they could figure out a way to not include disavow requests from unscrupulous people, I would be all for it. I myself have been victim to many of these sites scraping my pages and placing links on their sites then trying to charge me a fee to remove them. I believe they should definitely be penalized in some sort of way. If we can do it with disavow files, I am all for it but I do not want to see it become another mess as many others have expressed.

  • http://www.shop.graciousstore.com/ Gracious Store

    I think it is absolutely fair that Google does not in any way judge or penalize sites that a placed on “disavowed links”. This is because individual site owners have the right to choose sites they want to link to theirs. That a site owner does not allow a particular site to link to their does not in anyway make the disavowed site a bad site, so why should anyone expect Google to penalize any site for being disavowed by any website owner?