In mid October 2012, Google’s webspam team unveiled its new link disavowal tool. Purportedly, this tool was designed to give webmasters who had been hit by Google’s Penguin update or unnatural link notices a way to remove low quality links from their backlink profile – possibly allowing them to recover from a penalty.
The Penguin update, which penalized websites for poor quality backlinks and unnatural looking anchor text profiles, all but officially opened the door to negative SEO – something that Google has always denied was possible. But with Penguin, it’s clear that webmasters can hurt their own sites – as well as those of competitor’s – through the links pointed to a site.
With Google’s link disavowal tool now open to the public for use, what should we expect? Will webmasters and search engine optimizers be able to use the new disavowal tool to “clean” dirty links and get back into Google’s good graces? Will websites that have been devastated by recent algorithm updates be able to regain lost rankings?
Could Google Be Using The Disavowal Tool As A Way To Crowd Source Spam Identification?
For years, Google has employed manual quality raters as a way to flag spam, optimize their machine learning algorithms, and help keep the search engine results “clean”. But the disavowal tool may open up a whole new way for Google to improve its spam identification – what better way to scale spam reporting than have webmasters report shady links themselves?
It seems like a virtual certainty that Google’s Webspam team is using the data pulled from the disavowal tool as a way to improve Google’s machine learning algorithms and help them identify new sources of linkspam. After all, any webmaster using the link disavowal tool is incentivized to do essentially the same job as a quality rater – identify poor quality websites. By cross referencing different disavowal reports, Google’s webspam team can develop automated algorithms to penalize websites based on disavowal reports. What this means for anyone using questionable link building techniques, is that Google will only continue to get better at identifying and neutralizing any spammy or blackhat linkbuilding techniques.
The question is – despite this side-effect of the link disavowal tool – can the link disavowal tool be used effectively to recover rankings for penalized sites
How The Disavowal Tool Affects Your Strategy
If you’re currently trying to get out from under a Penguin update, the pre-disavowal tool strategy was to contact webmasters and bloggers and politely request to have your links removed. In certain cases, a more aggressive strategy can be pursued by filing DMCA requests.
Nothing has changed in this regard – you should continue to use manual methods to remove poor quality links. Even Matt Cutts – the head of Google’s webspam team – has said himself that the link disavowal tool should be used as a last resort only after efforts have been made to manually remove poor quality links. Evidently, the link disavowal tool is far from 100% effective when it comes to helping penalized sites recover their rankings. That begs the question – what will the link disavowal tool do for you if you’re trying to recover from a Google algorithm penalty?
So far, there have been no verified reports of websites using the link disavowal tool to successfully recover from a search engine penalty. The likely truth is that the link disavowal tool may be only a small factor used by Google to calculate a site’s potential for recovery. An otherwise strong, authoritative website that may have been penalized due to some questionable links may benefit from using the disavowal tool, but most lower authority websites ranked with questionable links will likely see little impact from using the link disavowal tool – other than helping Google better identify webspam.
Ultimately, it’s too early to draw concrete conclusions, but we can certainly make informed inferences. If you have a high quality, authoritative site that has been affected by a penalty, continuing with standard link removal practices and using the link disavowal tool for the stubborn links that you can’t get rid of might get a penalty lifted down the road, but there’s no certainly no guarantee. For websites that were ranked on a foundation of low-quality links, the link disavowal tool will likely be of little help.