SEO Insights: July 2022 Report
Just over 10 years ago, in October 2012, Google launched its new Disavow Tool in Search Console. The tool was designed to help website owners and SEOs inform Google of the links pointing to their websites that should not be considered for rankings purposes.
Links, or backlinks as they are more commonly known, are an important ranking factor. In fact, they are so important and so significant that SEOs have manipulated rankings of website by using underhand link building techniques over the years.
Enter the Penguin
In April 2012, Google launched its aggressive Penguin algorithm which was designed to severely punish websites that were using black hat link building techniques.
In those days, there was even the threat of negative SEO. A competitor could build spam links to your website and cause it to lose rankings or to be penalised heavily by Penguin.
Before 2012, Google webmaster guidelines had always stated that “there is nothing that a third party can do to harm your website’s rankings”, but that was then changed to say that “there is practically nothing a third party can do…”. In other words, if you did suffer from negative SEO, it could impact your website’s rankings.
A combination of the above then led Google to release the Disavow Tool. If you or your SEO company had used black hat link building methods, or a competitor was spamming your backlinks, you could use this tool to tell Google which links to ignore for ranking purposes.
There has always been an element of panic and fear associated with spam backlinks, probably because of the severe impact that it can have on a website’s rankings. When the disavow tool was released, SEOs started prolifically adding links to the disavow file to get the links ignored.
The problem was that they were potentially also asking Google to ignore links that were actually helping the website to rank.
SEOs and webmasters became somewhat obsessed with disavowing links.
Things have changed
It’s been several years since we, at Artemis, have used the Disavow Tool. Over the last few years, Google has been very clear in that you don’t need to worry about spam backlinks, it’s normal to have them and sometimes, many of them.
Google is much better now at just ignoring them without the need for them to be explicitly added to a disavow file.
Therefore, it was interesting to see in a recent Google SEO Office Hours session that Google Engineer, John Mueller, was asked if it was OK to delete a disavow file. The person asking the question had disavowed 11,000 links in total!
The response from John was very clear. Don’t waste your time disavowing links, Google is quite good and doing this job for you. Go ahead and delete the file:
“So, from that point of view, if you’re really sure that there’s nothing around like a manual action that you had to resolve with regards to these links, I would just delete the disavow file and move on with life and kind of leave all of that aside.”
It is important to note here the reference to “manual action”. There are two types of penalties that a website can suffer from due to spam backlinks:
- Algorithmic action
- Manual action
An algorithmic action is one where the algorithms have automatically detected questionable link behaviour, whilst a manual action is one where a human has reviewed a website’s link profile and decided that there are too many incidents of intentional black hat links. Both can lead to a website being penalised.
After a manual action, a website owner or SEO can use the Disavow Tool as part of the cleanup process. It is for this reason that we may see the Disavow Tool remain available for the foreseeable future.
What all of the above highlights is just how important links are. They are a fundamental part of how Google works and without links the algorithm wouldn’t be able to return quality, relevant results. Links are what Google uses to establish the authority of a website and that’s why Google takes significant measures to detect and stop abuse in this area.
At Artemis our focus is and has always been on building high quality and relevant links that help to increase the authority of our clients’ websites.
Links are still a fundamental part of the algorithm, even if these days we don’t have to worry so much about the bad ones. There will always be spam links; just ignore them.