There’s no doubt that some webmasters are excited about the potential Google’s new “Disavow Links” tool holds for removing the negative valuation associated with low value inbound backlinks. However, before you dive in and start pasting together lists of links to submit for Google’s consideration using the tool, there are a few weaknesses you’ll want to be aware of.
Specifically, here are three very good reasons to avoid using the Disavow Links tool on your website:
Reason #1 – Small Mistakes Can Have Major Consequences
In order to submit links to the Google Disavow Tool, you’ll need to compile a text file that outlines the specific links or entire domains you’d like blocked, as well as your comments on why these links should be devalued. This information should be listed according to the following format:
- Any exact links should be listed “as is” (e.g., “http://www.website.com/low-value-link.html”)
- Entire root domains or subdomains to be devalued should be paired with the prefix “domain:” (e.g., “domain: website.com”)
- Comments should be entered following the “#” sign (e.g., “# I have not been able to reach the webmaster to have this link removed”)
Each of these pieces of information should be listed on its own line, no matter how many links you’ve chosen to submit for devaluation. Once your file is complete, the entire thing can be uploaded to the Disavow Links tool within Google’s Webmaster Tools program.
Sounds simple, right? Well, in some cases, it will be. However, if your site is large or if your backlink profile is relatively complex, the size of this file will grow exponentially – increasing the possibility that typos and other mistakes will change the way your information is interpreted by Google’s processing programs.
As an example of just how wrong this process can go, imagine that you’ve uncovered a spam site that’s pointing dozens of bad links at you. You enter the domain into your disavowal file – intending to block all links emanating out from the site – but unintentionally spell the website’s address wrong. Instead, you accidentally enter the URL of a website that’s sending you dozens of good quality links and passing your website valuable PageRank. Once your file is uploaded and propagated across Google’s servers, these high value links are cut off, decreasing your website’s natural search performance as a result of the diminished link equity flowing into your site.
Sure, that might sound like a stretch, but just think about how many similarly named sites there are out there. Entering “domain:searchenginejournal.com” rather than “domain:searchenginewatch.com” isn’t that difficult to imagine – especially if you do so following a long day spent parsing through all the links in your website’s backlink profile!
And yes, it’s true that Google offers mistaken webmasters some opportunity for redress by allowing them to upload files with any necessary corrections – but this isn’t a “better late than never” situation. Repairing mistakes made to a disavowal file can take weeks or months to propagate across the web, assuming you notice them in the first place. Even this slight disruption can result in a serious loss of web traffic and revenue, making it a good idea for most inexperienced webmasters to stay away from this tool.
Reason #2 – Identifying Diseased Links is a Time-consuming Process
Now, even if you think it’s silly to say that the potential for data entry mishaps means that you shouldn’t use the Disavow Links tool, consider that you can bring about the same results by mistakenly thinking that a link is bad when it’s actually good.
In order to use the Disavow Links tool, you must first identify the diseased links that should be devalued within your backlink profile. Like so many things online, that’s easier said than done…
First, you must pay to use a program like Majestic SEO or Ahrefs (as the free list found within Google’s Webmaster Tools won’t give you access to all of the links found in your profile). Then, you’ve got to go over your list of backlinks with a fine-toothed comb in order to uncover any links that look even remotely suspicious.
But don’t think that you can just dump these links into a disavowal file, upload it to Google and call it a day. Given the risk associated with entering good links into your file on accident, it’s important that you carry out a little further investigation to conclusively sort the good from the bad.
Before uploading your list of potentially malicious links to Google, you’ll want to click through to every referring website to determine whether or not the backlink is actively passing PageRank to your site from an illicit page. You may find that the many of the links that appear to be suspicious are actually harmless – or, at the very least, that they’ve been deactivated or appended with the appropriate “no follow” code that will prevent them from harming your site.
Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t submit a disavowal list just because it’s time consuming. If you have low value links pointing at your site, it’s important to do something about them – whether or not you’ve actually received an unnatural links notice or experienced a Penguin-related penalty.
However, I’d still argue that most webmasters will ultimately have better results by focusing their efforts on building better links in order to compensate for any lower quality backlinks that are discovered. As long as over-optimized spam links don’t constitute the bulk of a website’s backlink profile, it’s unlikely that these few bad apples will lead to diminished natural search performance – especially if they’re accounted for with a proportionate increase in newer, higher quality links.
Reason #3 – Disavowing links may have no impact on your site’s performance
Finally, be aware that Google doesn’t claim that it will take webmaster disavowal suggestions at face value and immediately devalue any listed links. According to the company’s initial announcement:
“This tool allows you to indicate to Google which links you would like to disavow, and Google will typically ignore those links. Much like with rel=”canonical”, this is a strong suggestion rather than a directive—Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases, for example—but we will typically use that indication from you when we assess links.”
Basically, you could go through all the effort of diagnosing bad links and ensuring that your disavowal file is 100% accurate, only to have your requested changes make no difference in your website’s SERPs rankings. Currently, there are no documented cases of the Disavow Links tool resulting in a Penguin or negative SEO recovery, so take the hype surrounding this tool as a one-way ticket to better natural search performance with a grain of salt.
Overall, I’d recommend that most webmasters not worry about the Disavow Links tool at all, with the exception of those in a few well-defined circumstances:
- Your site has lost rank as the result of the Penguin algorithm update, and you haven’t yet been able to restore your rankings despite working with external site owners to remove low value backlinks.
- Your reconsideration requests following post-Penguin cleanup have been denied.
- You’ve received an unnatural links warning from Google and have been unable to clean up the links identified on your own.
- You can conclusively prove that your site has been the victim of a negative SEO attack (and really, this doesn’t happen nearly as often as webmasters believe it does).
- You’re an experienced SEO who has spent enough time looking through backlink profiles to be able to diagnose low value backlinks quickly and effectively.
If you don’t fall into one of these groups, you’ll almost always be better off by investing your efforts into building better quality backlinks or working with past linking partners to modify your existing links than to worry about using the Disavow Links tool to request the devaluation of seemingly low value backlinks.
Do you plan on using the Disavow Links tool to improve your website’s link profile quality? If so, I’d love to hear more about how you’re approaching the process and whether you have any concerns about using the tool in the comments section below!
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Digital Genetics
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