Search marketing: How does the Google Disavow tool work? What does it mean for digital marketers?

By Katie McQuater | Magazine Editor

Carat UK & Rubber Republic

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Search article

December 20, 2012 | 4 min read

In the latest of The Drum's series exploring search marketing trends, industry experts give their opinions on what Google's Disavow tool, launched in October, means for digital marketers.

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Dan Robins, head of search, CaratThe Disavow tool, in its simplest form, is a product which allows site SEOers to remove the value a link has against a site when they can see the link is having detrimental value to the site’s ranking. This is particularly useful for a marketer as a kind of eraser for previous mistakes. The tool isn’t an instant, magic wand – it can have links ignored which may have been built from suspect sites, if you’ve been hit by a linking attack from some source or other, or, most likely an old aggressive link building strategy resulted in links being built from the odd questionable site, which has since had an impact on performance as the Google algorithm has updated, eg. the Penguin update in April 2012 which targeted spammy links. Stephanie Villegas-Ross, digital strategist, 4Ps MarketingFor SEOs, it’s a good way to undo spammy tactics that might have worked for the short term because contacting webmasters asking them to remove links is a nightmare. For me, it’s a good first port of call when working with new clients, because although we as a company don’t invest in spammy link schemes or link exchanges, there’s occasionally some cleaning up to be done when taking over another’s work, especially post-Penguin and Panda. You need Google Webmaster Tools to be verified and it takes a couple of weeks to see the change, but it’s well worth doing, especially if you’re trying for reconsideration. Stuart Devlin, digital director, E-StrategyWhilst this tool offers a process of effectively ‘cleaning’ a back link profile by removing unwanted or potentially hazardous links, there is a risk that site owners will inadvertently request the removal of links that have a degree of authority or aid the overall back link profile of a client. In our opinion, the Disavow tool is well received but should be used with caution and only after a comprehensive analysis of a back link profile.Paul Martin, SEO manager, Epiphany While this tool has opened up a whole new world of being able to take additional control of a website’s links, it must be used responsibly. As the tool is used by Google to provide it with very strong suggestions as to which links it should be ignoring, it is imperative that any links submitted are thoroughly analysed beforehand to ensure that you really to want to remove them entirely from your link profile. Sri Sharma, managing director & founder, Net Media PlanetThe Google Disavow tool allows you to indicate to Google which back links to your website to ignore. This is positive news as it means that any damaging backlinks to your site can be removed and so hopefully improve your rankings. The flipside is that Google has also said Disavow doesn’t give a 100 per cent guarantee of removing back links to your site. On balance, I would definitely recommend brands and agencies to use the tool. Richard Lyne, senior search manager, WickedwebFor digital marketers, the Disavow tool is an opportunity to distance your site from less reputable websites or to remove links that may have resulted from unscrupulous SEO activities. However, it is a tool that must be used with caution and realistically, it’s not applicable to most marketers, as Google ultimately has discretion and decides whether to discredit a link way before someone chooses to disavow it. Ben Hatton, managing director, RippleffectIt really should be seen as a last resort after trying to clean up a link profile manually. Reports suggest mixed results, and it’s possible to do more harm than good. If you feel like you have tried every other option, take a long hard look into the sites you are disavowing to ensure you don’t wipe out the last of your link equity. The more cynical among us see the Disavow tool as Google crowdsourcing the discovery of poor quality sites. The creation of the Disavow tool shows Google accepts negative SEO is possible and is trying to create a tool to deal with it, whilst creating a new tool for carrying out negative SEO. This feature was published in The Drum's search marketing supplement.Image via Flickr

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