Google’s Disavow Links Tool: A Chance To Repent For Naughty SEOs or Google’s Secret Snitch Network?

It’s been in the pipeline for a while but Google finally announced this week that it’s introducing a ‘disavow links’ tool for all those SEOs who dabbled in the dark arts in the past but now wish to repent and turn to the path of good – or something. Of course, it’s not just SEOs the tool will benefit but any website that’s received a manual link penalty or got a good ol’ slap in the face from Penguin.

So that’s it then; everyone can get rid of all those dodgy backlinks that affect rankings in one shot and start afresh without having to get rid of a site completely. Well, not quite.

Outlining the intricacies of the new tool in a Webmaster Central post (which I’m not going to break down too much because you’ll probably learn more directly from the horse’s mouth), Google seems pretty intent on emphasising that the new disavow links tool should be considered a last resort; sites facing manual link penalties or that got hit by Penguin are still being encouraged to try and get links removed manually first, removing the problem ‘at the root’.

It’s also important to note that the disavow links tool isn’t a ‘delete links entirely’ tool. Instead, you submit links that you feel are detrimental to your site to Google which they then review (a process which can take a few weeks) and decide if the links should be disavowed.

Cautious Optimism

The general reaction to the new tool has been one of cautious optimism, rather than the elation some may have been expecting. It’s good news for those who are certain that spammy links are hampering their rankings and don’t have any other method of removing those links.

On the other hand, identifying a ‘spammy link’ is alot harder than it would seem. Sure, there are some obvious ones but what about links that look spammy but are actually legitimate? Or links that look legit but are considered junk by Google?  It may be the case that desperate SEOs run to the disavow links tool, try and get rid of as many links as possible and end up disavowing some genuinely valuable links – not just for their own sites, but for other sites as well.

It’s A Trap!

As with just about anything Google does, there’s been a bit of a backlash. As anyone who works in SEO knows, there’s a bit of an Omertà situation going on where some SEOs view Google as ‘the enemy’, and talking to ‘the authorities’ is comparable to a low-level gangster snitching to the FBI. I’ve no idea if you get whacked for snitching in SEO, but I’m not sure I want to find out.

Anyway, a lot of people consider the disavow links tool to be a thinly veiled way for Google to crowdsource data on ‘manipulative links’. Which doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea, except there’s always the possibility that those desperate SEOs trying to fix their sites that I mentioned earlier might end up reporting sites that aren’t actually that ‘bad’. Enough of these reports and it could be that genuinely good links end up being viewed as spam by Google.

Some have also seen it as an admission from Google that they no longer have total control over linkspam and are having to rely on the very people who utilised link networks and the like to gather data on what they might have missed in the past. Basically, we’re doing Google’s dirty work for them – except we don’t get huge salaries and don’t get to work in the Googleplex.

Depending on who you believe, the disavow links tool is either a godsend or Google’s way of constructing a secret network of snitches who think they’re helping themselves, but are actually helping the big boss get even more powerful. It’ll probably become clearer which is closer to the truth as more people make use of the tool and report back their findings.

Chris Smith
  • Written by on 19th October 2012 at 14:36
  • “Chris Smith is a copywriter and social media manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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