Divorce comes to SEO

Last night Google launched a new tool and stressed that only experts should use it. The link disavow tool allows webmasters and brands to divorce themselves from pesky low quality inbound links that will not simply go away.

There is likely to be caution but general approval over the tool. The search engine has gotten better and stricter about noticing and policing attempts to manipulate inbound links.

Generally, these dubious links were created as part of an SEO effort to boost rankings. A decent chunk of these links were created by agencies and in-house teams who knew Google’s algorithms would be less than pleased should they ever notice. However, plenty of these low quality links are also created by scraper sites stealing content, links and all, from other sources or appear on sites who have only recently fallen below Google’s quality standards in the post Panda and Penguin world.

It is very hard to get rid of links. Brands are forced to email site owners and ask them nicely. Even if you can associate content to an email address of a person capable of making a change – changes are uncommon. Low quality sites are sometimes simply abandoned.

In fact, it was becoming increasingly common for some site owners to ask for cash to remove a link. After all; it takes time and effort on their side. In fact, a new, slightly hyped and rather scary tactic of negative SEO was being born in which harmful links were created on purpose and pointed at the target of choice.

The link disavow tool now allows brands to divorce themselves from the influence of dodgy links. Google gets to be judge in the proceedings too; noting how the tool is a strong suggestion but not a compulsion.

Of particular interest, in that respect, is Matt Cutts comment in the video that before and after checks may be made on the inbound links in response to the use of the tool. Google wants to see if a brand has made a manual effort before resorting to the tool. It also tells Google which links a brand considered low quality and which they had enough influence on to remove.

It is also worth noting that Google expects to see comments in the list of suspect links. The web spam team has built in a mechanism for brands to communicate with them and annotate links. Examples include;

# Contacted owner of spamdomain1.com on 7/1/2012 to ask for link removal but got no response

# Owner of spamdomain2.com removed most links, but missed these

It is clear that these comments are designed to inform the web spam engineers so they can make decisions about the disavowed links in context. I wonder how many SEO agencies will encounter the underside of a bus in these comments.

In fact, the whole tool must be a tempting source of delightful insider information from Google. The search engine puts plenty of resources into spotting unnatural behaviour and dubious link sources already. With the link disavow tool, with the bitterness and cautious of some divorce cases, the blacklist of suspect links that SEOs and brands will now be compelling, Google has a great method for collecting even more data on links at their sources.

Picture credit: Dan Bluestein | Post by Andrew Girdwood.