Google is not using data from its Disavow Links tool to hurt sites that are being disavowed in search results. That is according to Google’s John Mueller.
Do you think data from the Disavow Links tool should be used as a ranking signal? Let us know in the comments.
The topic came up in the Google Webmaster Central product forum (via Search Engine Roundtable). One webmaster started the thread, saying that they received an email from a site with the subject line of “Link Removal Request” which said:
Dear Web master,
We recently received a notice from Google stating that they have levied a penalty on our website as they “detected unnatural links” redirecting to our website.
The only way we can remove this penalty and help Google reconsider putting our website back in their index is by removing these links and we need your help for the same. We request you to consider this request on high priority.
Following are the details of the links:
they have given me list of Links of my website with majority comments links .
We would like to bring your notice that failure to remove these links would require us to file a “Disavow Links” report with Google. Once we submit this report to Google, they may “flag” your site as”spammy” or otherwise if anything is not in compliance with their guidelines. The last thing we want is to have another web master go through this grief!
Your cooperation in this process would be deeply appreciated. We kindly request you to send us an acknowledgement of this mail along with a confirmation that these links have been removed.
Thanks a lot for your help.
If you want to reach out to us mail us on ‘webmaster’s copany email id’
name of person
So no, Google will not “flag your site as spammy” if it’s disavowed.
Mueller says flat out, “They are wrong. Having URLs from your website submitted in their disavow file will not cause any problems for your website. One might assume that they are just trying to pressure you. If the comment links they pointed to you are comment-spam that was left by them (or by someone working in their name) on your website, perhaps they are willing to help cover the work involved in cleaning their spam up?”
Maybe they are “pressuring the webmaster,” but still, Google has actually hinted in the past that data from the tool could become a ranking signal.
In a discussion with Google’s head of web spam Matt Cutts back in 2012, Danny Sullivan asked if “someone decides to disavow links from good sites in perhaps an attempt to send signals to Google these are bad,” if Google is mining the data to better understand what the bad sites are.
Cutts responded (emphasis mine), “Right now, we’re using this data in the normal straightforward way, e.g. for reconsideration requests. We haven’t decided whether we’ll look at this data more broadly. Even if we did, we have plenty of other ways of determining bad sites, and we have plenty of other ways of assessing that sites are actually good.”
Like I said at the time, Google does have over 200 signals, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the data to play some role in the algorithm, even if it’s not the weightiest signal. I don’t know how we’ll ever know if Google does decide to start using it. It’s not like Google is listing its algorithm changes every month or anything.
Cutts added in that conversation, “If a webmaster wants to shoot themselves in the foot and disavow high-quality links, that’s sort of like an IQ test and indicates that we wouldn’t want to give that webmaster’s disavowed links much weight anyway. It’s certainly not a scalable way to hurt another site, since you’d have to build a good site, then build up good links, then disavow those good links. Blackhats are normally lazy and don’t even get to the ‘build a good site’ stage.”
It does sound like a pretty dumb strategy, and probably not the most effective way to hurt another site. On the other hand, people do dumb stuff all the time.
But in a more natural sense, mightn’t this data say something about a site? If a lot of people are disavowing links from the same sites, doesn’t that say something?
But if it were to become a signal it could be misleading at times when Google’s unnatural link warnings have so many people scrambling to get all kinds of links (including legitimate ones) removed. It certainly shouldn’t carry too much weight if it ever does make it into the algorithm.
SEO analyst Jennifer Slegg said it well: “People who have been affected with bad links will very likely take a very heavy-handed approach to the links they disavow in their panic of seeing their traffic drop off a cliff. There is no doubt that some of those good links that are actually helping the site will end up in the list along with poor quality ones because the webmaster is either unclear about whether a link is a bad influence, or just think the starting fresh approach is the best one to go with.”
In the comments section of the Search Engine Roundtable post, Durant Imboden makes an interesting point: “Isn’t it possible that an unusually high number of disavowals might trigger a manual review of the frequently-disavowed site? In such a case, the disavow tool itself wouldn’t trigger a penalty or other ‘problems for your website,’ but the resulting review might (depending on what was found).”
Either way, don’t worry about the tool sending any signals about your site for the time being.
In related news, Cutts spoke about the tool at SMX West last week, where he said that if you’re aware of bad links to your site, you should probably go ahead and disavow them anyway, even if you’re not already penalized. He added on Twitter (when Rae Hoffman tweeted about it), that if it’s one or two links, it may not be a big deal, but the closer it gets to “lots,” the more worthwhile it may be.
Something to think about.
Do you think Google should ever include data from the tool in its ranking algorithm? Share your thoughts.