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Breaking News: Google Adds Disavow Link Feature

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Last Spring, Google released an update to it’s algorithm which they call Penguin.  The focus of the Penguin update was links.  Links are one of the strongest signals for Google in terms of search rankings.  Because of this, a lot of organizations do link building.  That’s good, but some do it in spammy ways Google disapproves of.  That’s not good.  So, Google released the Penguin update to address those spammy links.

Hit By a Penguin:
Before Penguin, many organizations were not to concerned with where their links came from as long as their rankings were improving.  So, some of them ended up with a lot of spammy links.  Once Penguin came onto the scene, they saw their rankings drop.  So, they needed a way to deal with this.

Negative SEO:
Another result of Google’s increased fight against spammy links is that some unscrupulous organizations and marketers started doing what’s referred to as negative SEO.  Instead of trying to build up their own organization, they started tearing down the rankings of their competition by getting a bunch of spammy links pointed at their competition so their competition would be penalized by Google’s Penguin update.

Trying to Fix the Problem:
A lot of organizations were hit by the penguin update and suffered big drops in their search rankings.  For some this was a result of their own poor decisions and for others this was a result of someone attacking them with negative SEO.  So, they sought to fix the problem and regain their rankings.  The only way to do that was to try find all the potentially spammy links, contact the websites with those spammy links, and hope that the website would take the time to remove the link.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work well as most websites which provide spammy links didn’t want to take the time to remove the links.

Google’s Solution – the Disavow Links Tool:
People have been demanding a way to fix the spammy link problem and Google’s response today is to give everyone the ability to disavow links in their Google Webmaster Tools account.  Google still prefers that you try to have the websites remove the spammy links, but if you can’t get them to do that, now you can log into your Google Webmaster Tools account, find the spammy links, and disavow them.

A Word of Caution:
The Google Disavow Links Tool appears to be a helpful tool, especially for organizations who have been penalized by the Penguin update or attacked with negative SEO.  However, some SEO professionals are warning that if you haven’t been hit by Penguin, but feel guilty about potentially spammy links and start disavowing a bunch of links, you may be inadvertently telling Google that you are guilty of trying to manipulate your search rankings and could end up hurting your rankings when they would not otherwise have been hurt…kind of like walking into a police department and confessing to a crime.

I’m sure Google would deny that anyone using the disavow tool will raise a red flag for them and cause them to investigate or punish the website.  We’ll have to watch and see what really happens.  My advice is to not worry about disavowing links unless you’ve been hit by Penguin.  This is not so much because I’m afraid Google will turn around and punish you, but rather for the following two reasons:

  1. It will take time.  Depending on how many links you have pointing at your website, this could take hours or even days.  Why spend your time disavowing links when Google hasn’t told you need to.
  2. You may have a different definition of what a spammy link is than Google does.  By disavowing links, you are going to remove any authority those links were giving your website.  So, you could end up lowering your rankings, possibly by removing links with which Google would not have a problem.

My Advice:
So, if you’ve been hit by Penguin and know you have some spammy links you need to disavow, by all means, go do it.  That said, don’t expect immediate results.  Google always takes their time on these types of things and even when they do start adjusting rankings, you probably won’t get back to where you were.  If you haven’t been hit by Penguin, then don’t rush out and start disavowing links.  Chances are you won’t ever have to.

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    About the author

    Kurt Steinbrueck

    Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .


    • Kurt, thanks for bringing this to our attention. Any advice on how to tell if your site has been hit by Penguin?

      • The first sign would be a sudden drop in rankings and traffic around the time Penguin was released or when it was refreshed. Another sign, if you have a Google Webmaster Tools account, is if you received a warning notification from Google telling you they found suspicious links.

        It can get a little tricky, though, because when Google initially released Penguin this Spring, they also did a major refresh of Panda and an update the looked for too many keywords on pages, especially used in awkward ways. Penguin just had it's first refresh in the past month, but again Google did another Panda refresh and an update to their Exact Match Domain update. So, Google has started releasing several updates at the same time, which can make it difficult to determine if your site is being effected by Penguin, Panda, or something else.

        Assuming you haven't received a warning from Google….The best way to determine it is to start by looking at the timing. Did my rankings drop when Penguin was released or refreshed. If so, then make an honest assessment of your website and link profile. Is there something about your site that would have caused you to be affected by Panda (like poor quality content or lots of ads) or one of the other updates? Do you have spammy links that would have cause Penguin to affect you? Do you have an unbalanced link profile that would cause Penguin to have affected you? Then make you best guess.

        If you still can't tell, then you can always contact an SEO professional, like those at OurChurch.Com to help. 😉

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