Tucked away inside of the Search Console (once known as Webmaster Tools) there’s a tool that allows you to “disavow” a link to your website.
Most SEOs believe, or have believed, that this was for cleaning up bad links and negative SEO.
But Google say it isn’t for that… So what the heck is it for?
What’s a “Bad Link”?
Link building is important for SEO. Most SEOs agree that the more links you have pointing to your site, the better it will rank. But not all links are created equally; Google hates paid links, links swapped with other sites, and any other type of link you organise for yourself.
Linking, in Google land, should be entirely spontaneous and organic.
Despite this, lots of SEO companies offer “link building” services. There’s even a whole section in my book about link building as well because, well, waiting for things to happen spontaneously and organically isn’t a strategy.
SEO isn’t a police procedural with a quirky outsider and a by the book cop with a romantic subplot caused by a seasons long “will they, won’t they” dilemma for the main characters. That’s Castle.
So, SEOs are definitely out there manipulating one of the cornerstones of ranking as well know it – the number and quality of your links. But, we also know that not all SEOs are good SEOs and so some link building is shady. So shady, in fact, that instead of helping your website it saddles you with a penalty for breaking one of Google’s six trillion unwritten laws.
So, what’s Negative SEO?
If SEO can be done “right” and “wrong”, and doing it wrong brings down Google’s wrathful fury on the culprit, what happens if you deliberately do a bad thing to someone else’s site?
That’s Negative SEO.
Like antimatter, negative SEO seems to be mostly theoretical in Google’s world – most Google statements either say it can’t happen, or that their algorithms are protected against it, or that it simply doesn’t exist.
Take that in for a minute…
Negative SEO doesn’t exist, because our algorithms are protected against this non-existent thing, and we give you tools that whilst they look like they’ve been designed to clean up the non-existent thing they aren’t… because the non-existent thing doesn’t exist…
It takes some serious metaphysical thinking to get your head around some of the statements Google make.
So, what is the Disavow Tool for?
Well, that’s suddenly a very important question. If you dig through precisely what Google said, they didn’t say that bad links can’t damage sites. (https://www.seroundtable.com/negative-seo-google-disavow-link-tool-29437.html). They just say that, in John Mueller’s memory at least, this has never happened because of Negative SEO.
Essentially this is a valueless statement from Google in my view. All it does is try to pour water on the idea that anything, positive or negative, can impact the index. Like every question about SEO ever, Google’s answer is vague and offers little detail.
I sometimes wonder what the purpose of the Search Liaison Team is. A magic 8 ball could do broadly the same job.
Should I disavow bad links?
Short answer – yes.
Long answer – yes, but don’t put it at the top of your to-do list. Unless you’re away of a serious problem with your link building, picking through your back link profile to winkle out any miscreants is unlikely to generate a significant return on your time.
Like analytics, you need to watch the trends and check the tides, not react to minutia. If you see an influx of dodgy links, that’s the time to act.