Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stop spammy links from hurting your blog

This article describes the Disavow tool, which you can use to ask Google to stop taking notice of links to your website that you consider to be bad.

Google's Webmaster tools now include a way of telling Google to ignore certain links when it is deciding what reputation your website or blog should have.

This can be important if SEO is important to you, ie if your blog relies on Search to get visitors, because your "reputation" helps Google to decide where to list your site in the search results. And there is plenty of evidence that the higher your listing, the more "clicks" you will get.

Sometimes you can get links to your blog removed by simply by asking the person who made the link in the first place. Maybe they made a mistake, maybe they've reconsidered their own linking strategy, etc.   To ask them, you need to find them.  Options for this include:
  • Looking at their website to find contact details
  • Finding them on Google+ or via their Blogger profile
  • Tracing them on other tools like Facebook or LinkedIn. 

Worst case, your only option may be to leave a comment on their blog, and hope they're still looking at new comments.

But often enough, you won't be able to get "bad" links removed: the person who made them can't be contacted, or won't co-operate. Worst case, they may be a competitor who is trying to make Google think that your site is "bad" by doing "negative SEO", ie creating lots of spam-links to it.

Telling Google about bad links

The Disavow tool is WebMasterTools new approach to dealing with problems like this.

It lets you tell Google that you think they should ignore certain links. To do this, make a text file (using NotePad, etc).    The file should have
  • One line for each link that you want to fix.
  • The phrase "domain:" at the start of lines listing websites that you don't want any links from
  • A hash (# - AKA a pound-sign in the USA) at the start of any lines containing comments (eg your own notes about what's happened) that you want the Disavow tool to ignore.

An example file might look like:
# Left comment on SammySpammy's blog on 4/5/2012. Asked him to
# remove links, but he said "No"

# Fred from removed most links, but missed these

Once you have made your file, go to the Webmaster Tools Disavow page, choose the correct blog from the list (if you have several), and then upload the file.

Note: you need to be verified in WebMaster tools as the owner of your bog to access it on that page.   Blogger-administrators are "supposed" to be automatically verified, but sometimes this has not happened - if this has happened to you, then your blog won't be in the drop-down list. If necessary, you may need to manually verify your ownership by adding a meta-tag to your blog. LINK (Webmaster tools will give you the tag to add.)

Also, notice the warning that they give:

This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site's performance in Google's search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.

What they are saying is that if you ask them not to take notice of a link which isn't bad, they might well do so - and this could have quite a bad affect on your search results.   In short, if you are going to disclaim all knowledge and validity of a link, be absolutely certain that this is the right thing to do.

What does the Disavow-links action do?  And how fast does it happen?

Effectively, the disavow file lets you suggest that Google should ignore the links you have listed. If Google accepts your suggestions (there are no promises), they will be applied the next time that Google re-indexes the site(s) that you have suggested.

This can take weeks to happen - because if they really are spammy sites, then Google probably isn't that keen on them anyway! So you won't see an immediate effect. But over time, they should improve your standing in Google's eyes if the links really were causing a problem.

The FAQs in Google's announcement of this tool say that it's really aimed at people who know they have done silly things in their own link-building, and who want to fix the problems they have caused - and which Google have told them about. Specifically, they say "If you haven’t gotten [notification of a manual spam action based on “unnatural links” pointing to your site], this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about".

But my guess is that this approach will be interesting to many blog owners who do worry about inwards links that they aren't happy to be associated with anyway. It won't remove the links from the internet totally (only the other site owner can do that), but it will stop Google from penalizing you because of them when it decides how to show search results.

What your readers see

Visitors to your blog see absolutely nothing different - using this tool has no immediate effect on your layout or content.

But if your suggestions have an impact on how Google ranks your site, they will hopefully see your site at an earlier position in their search-results pages in future.

Related Articles

5 reasons why SEO doesn't matter for your blog

Adding a meta-tag to your blog

Taking action when someone has used your copyright material without permission

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  1. Just reading up on this subject today. I must say I really enjoy your site. It is very useful and looks great!

  2. Is there a way of finding out which links are hurting your site ?