You Don’t Want a Google Disavow Links Option

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Do you really want a disavow links option? I don’t.

With the recent Penguin update, the SEO community has been talking a lot lately about negative SEO and disavowing links. (For the record, negative SEO doesn’t just refer to links, but for this article, let’s assume it does.)

SEOs afraid of getting penalized for “bad links” have been screaming to Google, asking for a way to disavow links that they claim they didn’t create. They say that it’s the only way to regain ranking drops from Penguin, and that it’s necessary to prevent negative SEO. (Note: Simply disavowing links probably won’t help you recover from Penguin. You’ll most likely have to create lots of new links to make up for the ones that used to count.)

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want a disavow links option at all.

Sure, it seems like the cure-all solution for negative SEO, the only way to truly prevent somebody else from harming your site with links you don’t control is to add a way to remove them. Or is it?

But what else would a disavow links option add?

It Might Make Spamming Easier.

This is the common argument. If I can instantly tell Google about all my bad links, what’s to stop me from going crazy with ScrapeBox, buying XRumer blasts, and setting up intensive link wheel blog networks? If I get caught, I can claim “It wasn’t me,” disavow the links, and start over.

Maybe others will systematically disavow links in an attempt to better understand the algorithm and how it weighs things. I wouldn’t waste my time there, but I guarantee somebody will do it, and then we’ll all overreact to their anecdotal findings like usual.

But is that the only downside?

Could a disavow links option actually make negative SEO easier?

The Penguin update did a good job of finding bad links (or so we think); however, it didn’t find ALL the bad links out there. I won’t divulge any spam techniques here, but there’s still lots of types of automated link building that still work pretty damn well. Trust me on that.

The assumed way this tool would work is that webmasters would log in and tell Google, “Hey, here’s the URLs of pages that are linking to me that I don’t approve of,” and then Google would factor those out of the algorithm for your site.

But would they do anything else with that data?

See, most sites that are considered spammy by Penguin don’t just include links to one site. They include links to lots of sites. What about those other links?

If I were an engineer at Google, I wouldn’t use the disavow links tool to simply take your word for it. I’d want to make Google’s results better, so I’d use those sites you submit to find other shady links and discredit them, too. In fact, it could even be a neural network signal about spammy sites that could feed back into the main algorithm. Chances are good that a disavow feature would be more than a negative SEO failsafe and that it would actually evolve into another way to train the algorithm.

In their hurry to disavow anything remotely questionable, how many SEOs would shoot themselves in the foot by disavowing links that weren’t hurting them? 

My guess? Many will do more harm than good to their sites with such a tool.

But what about all those other links on the pages you disavow?

By disavowing your own links, you’ve also essentially outed countless other webmasters, and isn’t outing frowned upon? If so, then why is everybody demanding Google build what is essentially an automated outing form? I don’t get it.

It doesn’t just stop there though…

Negative SEO could soon involve building links to my own site.

Say what? No, I’m not crazy. Think about it. If Google did, in fact, use the data from the disavow tool, then we could see a radical shift in the idea of negative SEO. Instead of building spammy links to your site, a competitor could theoretically achieve the same result by building links to his own spam site. He’d simply look at your link profile and start building links to his spam site on as many pages that link to you as possible. Then he’d disavow all the links to his spam site, bringing down all your unpenalized links with it. (Note: This could make a great Mechanical Turk or Fiverr job. Another note: That’s just a simple example. This could get way more complicated, too!)

Put simply, I’d much rather prefer there be one Google algorithm trying to find shady links than thousands of SEOs taking it upon themselves. There’s just too many ways we could screw it up.

Is this really what we want? A feature that would lessen the consequences of spamming, provide SEOs an automated way of outing other SEOs, AND introduce a new form of negative SEO that we haven’t even thought of yet?

I don’t want that. I don’t want that at all.

Ryan Jones
By day Ryan Jones works at Sapient where he runs a search strategy & analytics team. By night he’s either playing hockey, working on WTFSEO... Read Full Bio
Ryan Jones
Ryan Jones
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