So Google has finally launched that disavow tool that they announced several months ago and I’ve got to say: It’s not at all what I expected it to be. When I first read about this tool I expected something that works quickly and easily to tidy up a link profile. Instead we got a slow pain in the ass that will probably benefit Google’s spam team more than webmasters.
When they first announced this thing, I imagined something similar to my email inbox. I thought I could just check the links I thought were risky, then click disavow, and never worry about those links again.
Instead I would have to create and submit a .txt file which includes the links I don’t trust and then, wait several weeks while Google’s spider re-crawls those pages. I was expecting something more automatic. Here’s an example of a disavow.txt file I took off Google’s blog.
# ask for link removal but got no response
They still expect webmasters to contact site owners?
As if all that isn’t bad enough, Google is still encouraging webmasters to contact the site owners where the untrusted links are placed and try to get them to remove those links.
UPDATE 10/29/2012 – Danny Sullivan just interviewed Matt Cutts and asked him -
“What if you don’t try to remove links? Given what a pain it is to get links off the web, why wouldn’t someone just use disavow? I know Google recommends requesting link removals, but from a technical standpoint, if they don’t do that and just disavow, it’s pretty much going to work, right?”
Matt answered -
“No, I wouldn’t count on this. In particular, Google can look at the snapshot of links we saw when we took manual action. If we don’t see any links actually taken down off the web, then we can see that sites have been disavowing without trying to get the links taken down.”
As you can see, that whole thing about “recommending” webmasters contact bad link hosts, was really more like a RULE than an recommendation. I already believed that’s what they meant but now, with Danny’s interview, the language is clearer and it’s definitely a rule.
They’re treating this tool like it’s an “if all else fails” kind of thing and I think that’s really uncool because I really believe webmasters shouldn’t need to worry about bad links at all. I just feel like this should be a first line of defense instead of a last line of defense.
Again, webmasters shouldn’t have to worry about bad links anyway. A negative SEO can bombard a site with thousands upon thousands of bad links and numerous negative SEO tests have been done over the past year proving that it works.
Google will almost certainly use it to identify link spam networks.
I’d be very surprised if the web spam team won’t try and go through the data they collect and design a system whereby if a domain gets a certain number of disavows, the spam team would then go and investigate that domain as part of a possible spam network.
All they’ll have to do is send out another mass link warning and wait for the disavow reports to come in.
Hopefully they won’t get trigger happy and try to algorithmically use the data to hand out penalties because, sometimes webmasters and even SEOs don’t really know good links from bad links and there will certainly be a lot of false positives reported with the disavow tool.
It really bothers me that something that should be intended as a defense against negative seo will probably end up being not much more than the equivalent of filing a spam report. Not because anyone filing the report believes in it, but because someone’s job depends on it.
It will be interesting to see if people actually recover from penalties with it.
Before I go, here’s Matt Cutts going over the tool and explaining who should use it.