In the old days Google used to state in their webmaster guidelines that “there is nothing anyone can do to harm the rankings of your website”.
After many years and realising that that was a complete load of rubbish, they changed it to something like “there is practically nothing anyone can do to harm the rankings of your website”.
They finally (sort of) admitted that your competitors could use some spammy linking techniques to negatively affect your website in the search results.
The term “Negative SEO” was born.
Anyone who has had a website negatively impacted by one of Google’s painful updates will know that partaking in even mildly blackhat linking techniques can bring your website crashing down in the results.
If you can do it to your own website then there’s no reason someone else can’t do it to your website too.
It’s actually very easy to get a website penalised for “unnatural links” as we’ve tested it on some of our websites. So don’t upset me or your website may be next 😉
The Disavow Tool
As a webmaster who has received a polite message from Google saying that they’ve found unnatural linking behaviour for your website, what do you do?
Well, you start by going through all of your links and try and get the really bad ones removed. You contact the webmasters of those websites and ask them to please remove the links.
The problem is, if they are really spammy links then the likelihood is that you’ll never hear back from them and your dodgy links will stay put.
At this point you used to have three options:
- Tell Google you tried to get links removed but failed miserably
- Start a new website (you are allowed to cry at this point too)
Now there is a new option, you can upload a file via Google Webmaster Tools with a list of links that you want Google to ignore.
In other words, Google is rubbish at deciding what’s good and bad so you have to do the job for them.
Use With Caution
This really isn’t a tool most people need to use. It is a last resort tool as most of the time you really don’t know if a link is hurting your website.
If you’ve received an unnatural link warning via webmaster tools then yes, it’s a tool you can use to help you get those nasty links discounted, after you’ve tried to get the links removed by asking those webmasters nicely (aka, waste of time, don’t bother, just use the new tool).
It will take a few weeks for Google to understand your request and even longer should you wish to reverse it later on.
Anyway, have a read of Google’s official blog post about this tool and watch Matt Cutts explain when and how to use it: