Should Google Use Link Disavow As A Ranking Signal?By: Chris Crum - November 4, 2012
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.