October 23, 2012

Man's foot stepping on bad linksOnce again, Google is causing a flurry of panic among webmasters and SEO practitioners. They recently released a new webmaster tool that allows webmasters to disavow links, in effect refusing to accept the bonus or penalty that would normally accrue to their website from having that link.

Why do webmasters need a disavowal tool?

With the Penguin update a few months back, websites began being penalised for having low-quality links. These links could be from link farms, or clearly purchased links, or links that came from a “bad neighbourhood” such as a web hosting service that filled its servers with spammers and porn sites. Webmasters saw their site rankings drop in response to Penguin, or received the note from Google informing them that they were being penalised for bad links, and tried to eliminate the bad links. Unfortunately, unscrupulous webmasters at these sites realised they had honest businesses over a barrel, and demanded as much as £2,000 to have a link removed!

A cottage industry sprang up, targeting the businesses that were most vulnerable to these types of attacks. Additionally, “black hat” SEO firms would target their client’s competitors with a flurry of bad links, forcing the competitors down in ranks while standard SEO practices lifted their client up in ranks.

The disavowal tool is intended to level the playing field again. Businesses that have been targeted by malicious link-building, or who mistakenly used easily available but poor quality links to try and get attention on the Internet, are no longer held hostage by the sites that link to them.

What’s the downside?

If this was all that the tool accomplished, there would be a sigh of relief from those impacted by Penguin, and a grumble from unscrupulous link farmers whose source of easy money is gone. However, what has the Internet Marketing community in an uproar is wondering to what use Google may put the lists of sources of bad links.

Some people worry that Google is effectively crowd sourcing its algorithm for detecting bad links. As a result, they are concerned that sites which receive multiple disavowal requests will be blacklisted, and all sites that the blacklisted site links to will get penalised for those links.

There are two avenues of abuse this would open up to black hat SEO practitioners. The first is to mimic the links coming in to a competitor’s site, and then disavow those links, making them worth less or even incurring a penalty for their competitor. The other is to somehow trick a competitor into creating a link to a special site set up for this purpose, and then disavowing that link, again penalising their competitor.

For now, unless you need to use the disavowal tool to recover from a Penguin hit, the best thing to do is to watch and wait until it is clear where this is leading.





Sean McPheat

Managing Director

The Internet Marketing Academy



(Image: Morgue File)

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