Should Google Use Link Disavow As A Ranking Signal?

    November 4, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Last month, as you may know, Google introduced its Link Disavow tool, after dropping a hint that it would do so months prior. What we didn’t know until this past week, however, is that there is a possibility that Google will use the data it gets from the tool as a ranking signal.

Should data from the link disavow tool be used to rank sites in Google? Let us know what you think.

First off, to be clear, Google is not currently getting any ranking signals from the tool. In the future, however, that may change. Danny Sullivan shared a Q&A with Matt Cutts in which he did not rule out the possibility. Sullivan asked him if “someone decides to disavow link from good sites a perhaps an attempt to send signals to Google these are bad,” is Google mining this data to better understand what bad sites are?

“Right now, we’re using this data in the normal straightforward way, e.g. for reconsideration requests,” Cutts responded. “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.”

They haven’t decided. It could go either way, but if people are submitting enough links to the same sites, wouldn’t Google want to look at that as some sign that it is not a reputable site?

Yes, Google does have over 200 signals, and has other ways of deciding what is high or poor quality, but does that mean there is not room for data from the link disavow tool to play some role within the algorithm, even if it’s not the heaviest signal it looks at?

“We may do spot checks, but we’re not planning anything more broadly with this data right now,” said Cutts. “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.” Emphasis is ours.

No, it doesn’t seem like a very plausible strategy for competitors to hurt one another. However, that does not necessarily mean that some sites couldn’t potentially be affected if the data were to become a signal.

Since the Penguin update was launched, and Google has been sending out messages about links more aggressively, we’ve seen people scramble to get tons of links to their sites removed. Google is not telling you all the links that you should be getting removed. It’s giving you examples. As a result, we’ve seen many webmasters taking an aggressive approach of their own trying to get more links removed than they probably needed to. We’ve seen the letters webmasters have written to other sites asking to have links removed for fear that they could somehow be hurting them in Google, even if they would consider it to be a valuable link otherwise. If it’s a good link (and not one specifically meant for gaming Google), then it stands to reason it’s not something that Google should be frowning upon. Yet, these kinds of links are being requested to be removed.

So, why would paranoid and/or desperate webmasters not go overboard on the Link Disavow tool?

Sure, Google has warned repeatedly that the tool should not be used in most cases, and that it should only be used after trying to get all the links removed manually (they won’t even acknowledge your submission if they can see that you haven’t tried). But what is the likelihood that there won’t be numerous people jumping the gun and using it when they really shouldn’t be?

How many of the webmasters out there that have been hurt by updates like Penguin are tired of jumping through hoop after hoop, and will see the tool as a shortcut?

SEO analyst Jennifer Slegg writes, “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.”

“So good websites could also have their sites potentially flagged as a possible bad source of links because of clueless webmasters, even though those clueless webmasters are actually making more work for themselves by disavowing links that are actually helping them,” she adds.

And that’s exactly the point. If data from Link Disavow were to become a ranking signal, this is where things could get tricky.

“What happens if someone disavows a link from your website for whatever reason?” asks 352 Media Group Social Media Marketing Director Erin Everhart. “Will your website get flagged as spam? Google has enough leverage over us anyway. Do you want them to have even more?”

That’s a pretty good question too. Does Google have too much power over webmasters? Tell us what you think.

  • http://str82u.co Str82U

    Before this tool became available at Google, I was suggesting the same thing mentioned above “… if people are submitting enough links to the same sites, wouldn’t Google want to look at that as some sign that it is not a reputable site?”.

    My suggestion/theory was that many webmasters are leery of using the “Spam Reporting Tool” in Webmaster Tools (personally it’s because I feel that the evaluating Googlers will think I’m just trying to discredit competitors) but using the Disavow tool can be used the same way to point out sites that are either basic spam or used to investigate sites that get XX number of Disavow reports involving their site. In the most positive scenario, sites that are built as “directories” to create damaging, spammy links to competitors would get caught and shut down, sending a message to the owners that they are wasting time and money trying to discredit competitors sites using other websites/domains.

  • http://www.stevegillman.com Steve Gillman

    I disavowed thousands of links for a backpacking site I have had for many years, and yes, some of them were probably good sites. It’s tough to tell at a glance (and too much work to look closely at each site linking to me–I didn’t buy any of the links), but when Penguin took 98% of all Google traffic away, there was little to lose. So this could be a problem for sites if the data is used eventually.

  • knysna

    The disavow link data will be used, just like the spam report is used. Google admit to using the spam data in algorithm updates. And I would even go as far as to say, that’s all they use.

    Have a look at all the crap sites in search and ask yourself “why haven’t they been penalized or filtered out?”.

    My answer is, they haven’t been reported yet. I doubt very much whether they’re as scientific as they portray themselves to be, specifically with spam. Google are to reliant on spam reports.

    I still can’t fathom why they created the disavow tool. In my eyes its telling webmasters to “go out and spam links, if we catch you, simply disavow them”.

    In my eyes a tool that’s going to do damage to all new upcoming sites with low PR. Black hat webmasters that get caught out disavow links left right and centre. A tool designed to promote (not fight) spam, a tool for the lazy and a tool that’s going to be used by Google in all algorithm updates just like the spam form.

    The disavow link tool is a tool from the subterraneal channels in the depths of HELL.

  • Ridiculous

    Many people in France used the disavow tool, and yesterday, hundreds of sites were penalized ( mostly the ones who used the tool apparently )…

  • Tag A. Long

    >> That’s a pretty good question too. Does Google have too much power over webmasters?

    Is that rhetorical?

  • http://theakurians.com Colonel Robert F. Cunningham

    Just one more layer of jackass … to WASTE your time which is also YOUR money … unless you’re too stupid to see it for what it is!

    Have you noticed that Google is a past-master at RUNAROUND-OF-THE-WEEK?

    Colonel Robert F. Cunningham,

  • http://ephedrinewheretobuy.com Mike Budd

    Yes, data from the “link disavow” tool should be used to rank sites in Google: anyway Google is already analyzing everything 😉 and despite Panda, Penguin and the rest of the zoo there are still too many sites ranking by black hat SEO, any step that can increase quality based on original content goes in the right direction for me.
    Cheers, Mike

  • Mike

    Aren’t we tired of Matt Cutts yet?
    One search company shouldn’t dictate how web development is done globally.
    Especially if the search results were completely destroyed by that company itself.
    PS: I’m glad I switched back to Bing. It gives me what Im actually looking for. Imagine that!

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Marketlance Tanya

    You know Chris you may want to warn site owners using this tool is equivalent to admitting guilt. Google doesn’t do things like this for the webmasters they do it for themselves. The way I see it – they need help identifying sites which link for money mostly – but other reasons also. Plus those using this tool are causing themselves harm in addition to Google’s already having sent a notice. I mean without any links they are definitely going to stay down in rankings because they are tossing out the good with the perceived bad.
    So using this disavow may be equivalent to:
    1- admitting guilt
    2- helping Google identify link sellers
    3- ensuring their rankings recovery is a problem with longevity.

    I suggest everyone stop using the disavow until it proves useful…so far its a detriment to many.

  • http://Digitalatoll.com Chris Evans

    User shouldn’t need link disavow when they can have webmaster remove content so google can’t crawl it.

  • http://travel365.us.tc Dr Robert

    First Comment: I myself, see the disavow tool getting abused by new and or inexperienced webmasters and those who are just rushing in, as well as, those who really haven`t examined the tool. Matt said to do all the basic cleanup / legwork stuff; 1) find the spammy links internally and externally 2) contact the webmasters and ask them to remove and so on 3,4,5 … Then after all that then use the disavow. Second Comment: Someone pointed out how using the tool is an admission of guilt, and I hate to say it but we have become a society of guilty till proven innocent. So lets see if the innocent are going to use the tool too …

    • http://www.tipsinablog.com Danny

      Totally agree, Dr. Robert.

      Small to average sized sites, should be able to do a lot of the work themselves…

      Most sites should not need to use the Disavow tool, apart from sites that overdid it with their link building, and now all the poor quality links are coming back to bite them…

      There is also the point as alluded to often that, that some Webmasters may purposely attempt to disavow “legit” quality links from other sites…(competitors, etc)….

  • Tom

    Google has become a menace to society with their idiotic schemes and this is just yet another.

    For years, Google has been trying to get webmasters to weed out poor sites from their rankings for them. Instead of taking responsibility for their own inability to weed out sites that are worthless to the searchers, they have pushed the remedies for their incompetence over to webmasters and continuously increased the cost of doing business on the Internet.

    During a financial crisis, companies in all shapes and sizes must improve efficiency and cost effectiveness to stay competitive and survive. By pushing the cost of Google incompetence over on businesses relying on being found in Google, they have increased the administrative costs of those companies and forced them to channel funds from running the business and staying afloat over to administrative tasks that are not essential for delivering a product or service to customers. Regardless of whether companies are outsourcing the “jumping through hoops” to a SEO company or handle the extra work internally, the extra costs are covered at the expense of existing business processes or new initiatives that could create growth to pull companies out of the slump.

    SMEs are essential for creating jobs and growth in most national economies, where they typically stand for 70-80% of the economic activity in the private sector. Piling up costs for non-essential activities is hurting SMEs a lot more than large enterprises and I truly believe that the idiotic schemes of Google are detrimental to economic growth and recovery. Google is not the only destructive factor hampering economic recovery, but they are doing their best to scew competition to the disadvantage of the SMEs that we all rely on in our national economies.

    The Link Disavow tool, if a new ranking factor, will give small companies three equally bad scenarios:
    a) Spend a lot of time and money on figuring out how to use the tool without hurting yourself (internally or outsourced).
    b) Waste time and money on figuring out the tool and still get hurt in the rankings by applying the tool unsuccessfully.
    c) Increase spending on Google Adwords to make up for decreased ranking by choosing not to waste money on the Google tools [pun intended].

    I am self-employed and my activities help sustain 4-5 workplaces in my local economy, but I cannot afford to waste my own time or sponsor a SEO job to please Google, so for me, option c is the most cost effective. It is not a good solution, but it is my least bad option.

    I advertise through Google Adwords, but I have completely stopped using Google Search (and most other Google products) and all my searches are now through Bing and DuckDuckGo. I would love to see Google go down due to a mass-migration to Bing. Such a shift would not hurt my business; it would just make me move the main part of my online advertising budget from Google to Microsoft. Google is a really lousy business partner for most Adwords advertisers, but, for now, we are forced to take part in their stupid and expensive games.

  • http://www.manilacomputerservices.com Manila

    Not a good tool

  • Monk

    So confused by all these updates! can someone please please advise me?
    Have 100’s of websites linking to my website and I never asked them too! Guess you may call them natural links? but a lot of look very very spamy sites. To explain a bit, my site is Real Estate and have lots of properties so lots of these “listed by owner” type sites with no properties take my properties at least provide a link to the original page to make up for it. Until now this never bothered me because you can never get enough exposure. But here is the crunch, they link back with all my meta key words! Now I’m not sure if I need to get rid of these links or not with this new tool?? after all they are natural links but from spamy sites. What do you think? disavow? or not?

    • http://www.pinkzebralionmarketing.com Dusan

      Don’t use the tool. Using it does not guarantee anything, so says Google. Using it tells Google you have bad links. It doesn’t tell Google how you got them. Google will assume you bought them, being the likeliest response from Google (because everyone who did, indeed, buy bad links, will say they did not buy any links).

      If your site is not suffering, leave good enough alone. If it is, 1st contact the owners of the sites and ask them to remove the link. Don’t get Google involved. It has a long memory. And a funny understanding of fair play.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    I see websites with 16000 backlinks which can only be machine generated links. You know those ugly crawlers that keep leaving random comments with links.
    I now see black hat SEO be asses pointing bad links to your site. There should be and SEO council who pass accreditation.

  • http://www.cobwebseo.com/ cobwebseo

    Both merit and demerits are there in the tool. If Google don’t using these tool data for search engine then what is the usefulness of this tool? Why Webmaster will spend their time to overcome from bad back link penalty? I think Google should consider and think more wisely about this disavow. Google should be selective while choosing disavows data as a Search Engine Factor. I am sure a site will not be affected by disavowing by a webmaster. Googel has many criteria to judge the quality of a website.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/blog/ Nick Stamoulis

    I know that site owners that were hurt by Penguin are itching to recover as quickly as possible and this tool make seem like the perfect shortcut. But you have to remember that Google is only looking at your disavow list as a suggestion. They aren’t required to actually take any of it into account.

    And yes, some good sites might get added to a disavow listm, especially when a site owner doesn’t really know what they are doing as they try to clean up their link profile, but I don’t think having your site included on someone’s disavow list one time is going to undermine everything else Google knows about your website.