Google recently released a new tool which is supposed to help you let Google know that there are links pointing to your site that you would prefer they didn’t include when determining your site’s overall ranking.
While it seems like a great idea in theory, I have a concern about the tool – specifically, how is an uninformed user supposed to know the difference between a “good” link and a “bad” link?
Before reading this article you should familiarize yourself with the Google Blog post explaining this new feature of Google Webmaster Tools.
While Google does provide some description of what the tool does and how to use it I have some real concerns with the overall value of such a tool.
Concern #1 – Removing Good Links
Google has said you should only consider using this tool if you have received a message about unnatural links on your site. They have also suggested that this too be used after you have attempted to contact the site owners to get rid of the links yourself.
Right there is my biggest problem with such a tool. If you do get a message about unnatural links they don’t tell you which ones they consider to be “unnatural”. You are already moving down a path of frustration trying to identify those links Google says are bad without any sort of indicator.
They did mention PageRank in the article which leads me to believe one needs to use this as a primary indicator of a link value. However, since they aren’t telling us what they consider good and bad, I can only guess at this.
That being said, PageRank likely isn’t the only indicator therefore simply removing links with a low (or zero) PageRank might not be enough. Further you might remove good links simply because they have a lower PageRank value.
Concern #2 – How Else Will Google Use The Data?
So let’s say you have gone through the steps outlined by Google. You’ve contacted the webmasters and in fact gotten some links removed. But there are some which may be bad that you aren’t able to get removed. This is where the disavow tool would come in.
You would put together a list of those links and submit them to Google.
So what does Google do with that data after submitted? I’m guessing they will build a database of user submitted “bad” links and then target them. This will have the effect of lowering rankings of any other site linked to from these domains.
Granted Google may have some safety features built into this moving forward (IE they won’t automatically disavow links to your site based on the linking practices of someone else) but it makes me wonder just what exactly Google will do with this data?
For example, let’s say Site A links to Site B and Site B owner gets the dreaded “we’ve detected the presence of unnatural links” message from Google.
Site B owner begins the process of attempting to identify the bad links. He determines Site A is a bad link and submits it via the disavow tool.
Google then uses this data to find all sites linked to from Site A and contacts them with the feared “unnatural links” message. Site C gets this message and begins the same process of identifying bad links. However he determines that Site A isn’t bad but Site D is, so submits that one with the new tool.
Now Google has 2 points of reference – Site A and Site D – it continues sending out unnatural link notices to see what other sites webmasters submit as potentially bad.
You see what I’m getting at here? First of all, Google’s Web spam team is relying on webmasters to do its job. Granted there is no way to eliminate all spam from the web, but hopefully they aren’t relying too heavily on what some might consider a questionable site.
Second, Google is building a list of sites that may or may not be bad. But what if you owned Site A or Site D and you are 100% above board? In fact, the links on your site were placed there by a webmaster you hired 5 or 10 years ago to manage your website when outbound linking was a perfectly acceptable tactic? Now you have all these “bad” link references coming from your site when in reality these links are really links to other businesses in your area, or websites you find interesting.
In reality, the links aren’t bad, it’s just that, because you haven’t maintained your website, it has lost value in Google’s eyes and someone else has determined that it is bad because your PageRank isn’t what it used to be. Now your site is flagged as a spam site.
Pretty scary scenario but entirely plausible, and this is why such tactics being employed by Google scare me.
So before you jump on the link disavow bandwagon consider these 2 concerns: Are you really removing good links with the bad? And what impact will your disavow request have on other sites out there?