It has been said that one of the golden rules to SEO success is a healthy level of paranoia. The financial stability of thousands of webmasters, bloggers and affiliate marketers are almost entirely dependent on the traffic that is generated from search engine queries. This provides a lot of incentive for anxiety and paranoia. With so much at stake, a great number of those working with SEO are in a constant state of suspense, trying to anxiously predict Google’s next big move.
This time, however, an algorithm update isn’t to blame for the panic and sensationalism hitting SEO blogs and inner circles. All the commotion is over an addition to Google’s Webmaster Tools that allows one to disavow low quality links. This comes several months after Bing launched a disavow tool that worked for both Yahoo and it’s own search engine. When Matt Cutts announced the launch of Google’s disavow tool on October 16th, it took no one by surprise.
Wait, Isn’t That a Good Thing?
While the thought of having harmful links disavowed may cause excitement to many, it’s important to note that the tool will not be a magic bullet that suddenly sends a site spiraling back up the SERPs. Once a site list is submitted it will take up to several weeks for Google to fully implement changes. Also, just because one attempts to disavow a site doesn’t automatically mean Google will accept the request. Matt Cutts made it clear that Google has the right to use discretion when deciding whether or not to discount a link.
The disavow tool isn’t completely useless, however. Having junk links disavowed will prevent webmasters from being penalized for low quality sites sending inbound links. This is extremely useful for those who have been hit hard by negative SEO or fell victim to poor link building services. The disavow tool is intended to be a last resort for webmasters having trouble removing harmful links by their own efforts.
Is Google Crowdsourcing Spam Detection?
Many of the more cynical members of the SEO community insist that Google has an ulterior motive behind releasing this newest addition to its Webmaster Tools. The theory asserts that Google will be penalizing sites that receive a high number of link removal requests. According to this belief, those working with SEO would be actively turned into informants, providing Google with valuable data used to identify and punish sites providing links solely for search engine manipulation.
New Weapon for Negative SEO?
While one of the main reasons for the release of the tool was to help aid those hard hit by negative SEO, many believe that it may actually become a weapon of mass SERP destruction. It’s only a matter of time before blogs are filled with lists of sites that should be disavowed. If one of these lists has hundreds of sites, it would not be very difficult to throw the domains of your competition in the middle without anyone paying too much attention. This would effectively make the disavow tool a weapon of mass destruction for those actively practicing negative SEO.
Beyond the Fear Mongering
In an industry rife with speculation and sensationalism, it’s easy to get mislead by all the noise. While it’s much too early to to say anything definitive about the tool, the end result is likely going to be more boring than many anticipate. Head of Google web spam, Matt Cutts, has made it clear that in most cases having your site disavowed by someone won’t result in a penalty. However, it’s not too far fetched for one to believe that a site could be manually reviewed by a Google staffer if an unusually high number of webmasters disavow links from its domain.
Only time and experimentation will clear up the confusion, but for the moment one should look at the disavow tool as a last resort option to clean up link profiles. Avoid getting too heavy handed with disavowing links, as a blind mass link removal could rob your site of backlinks that were actually beneficial. Also make sure to double check all site lists you submit to be disavowed. It could take weeks or even months to fix an error and have Google once again recognize a site that was mistakenly disavowed.