A few years ago, it was possible to achieve good rankings in the SERPS by having a large number of backlinks pointing to your pages using the anchor text that you wanted to rank for. Many people took advantage of that and bought link building services (that got cheaper and cheaper due to easy automation) and had thousands of low quality links pointing to their pages in a very short period of time.
This led to low quality pages ranking high simply because some people knew how to get there.
The Penguin Update wiped out this bad practice. It was supposed to assign ZERO value to low quality backlinks so that pages that had relevant links pointing to them would outrank the low quality pages. Good enough!
However, this gave rise to another bad practice: Negative SEO. Negative SEO is basically pointing low-quality links to a competing page so that it gets a drop in the rankings. Unethical? Yes. Decreases the user experience? Definitely. Something had to be done to prevent that from happening. The Disavow Tool is one of the attempts.
While this might not be the exterminator of all the negative SEO practices, it’s certainly a very big step towards it.
This article will show you how to use this new tool to protect your website against these dirty moves.
So, what is the Disavow Links Tool?
The guys at HubSpot explain it quite well. Here is a quote from their website:
The Disavow tool is a Google Webmaster Tool that lets you ask Google to not consider links to your website that you think might be harming your site’s ranking. By “not consider,” I mean that by putting these links into the tool, you’ll tell Google, “Hey, I know this is a sketchy link and I wish it wasn’t linking to me, can you please not ding me for it when you’re figuring out where to rank me in the SERPs? That would be amazing!”
This is particularly important for low-quality links you’ve acquired over the years — for instance, if you’ve ever purchased a link (tsk tsk!) and want to remedy the situation before Google finds out and smacks you in the tush with a SERP penalty. Now, if you’ve already been dinged for those low-quality links in the past, it doesn’t work retroactively. But you can try to get ahead of Google by asking not to get in trouble. Here’s what the tool looks like:
Using the Disavow Links Tool
If you don’t already have one, you will need to sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools account. Link your website to your Webmaster account. You will then have the option to select your website and click the “Disavow Link” button.
You will be presented with an “Are you sure?” window. That’s not exactly what they say, but it’s basically the purpose of the page. If you are sure, click the “Disavow Links” again.
Next, you will be required to upload a .txt file containing the URLs of the pages that you want Google to ignore if they stumble upon a link to you there. I recommend Notepad if you are on Windows and Text Wrangler if you are on a Mac (to create the .txt file). 1 URL per line. Upload the file and submit it. Then click ‘Done’!
You can also choose to disavow links from all the pages on a domain. To simply disavow links from 1 page, you just need to have the URL on a line in the text file. To disavow all pages on a domain, have this on one line: domain:domainname.com
Let’s illustrate this with an example, shall we?
On the first 3 lines, my request was to ignore any link pointing to me that comes from these URLs. On the fourth line, I’m requesting that all links from any or all pages on crappylinks.com are ignored.
Also, note that you cannot upload multiple text files for disavowing links. Instead, you will have to download the previously uploaded file, make your changes, and then re-upload it. File size limit: 2MB. Just for the hell of it, I created a text file and pasted 500 lines of long links in it. Saved it. Checked its size. 41KB only! So the 2MB should be more than enough!
Yay, this means that everybody is saved now, right?
Nope. Here is a quote from Web Pro News that explains why:
“This tool allows you to indicate to Google which links you would like to disavow, and Google will typically ignore those links,” Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Jonathan Simon says. “Much like with rel=’canonical’, this is a strong suggestion rather than a directive—Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases, for example—but we will typically use that indication from you when we assess links.”
So yeah, “strong suggestion rather than a directive”, so go figure!
Word of caution
Whatever you do, please PLEASE make sure that you REALLY want to disavow those links before you submit them, because if Google honors your request and you see a loss in rankings (because one of the links you included was mistakenly a high quality, high PR page), your website may suffer for a few months before Google takes your next submission into consideration (if it does at all!). So if you are not sure about a link, do not include it at all!