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Today, Google launched a new tool that allows business owners and webmasters to “disavow” certain links to their websites. Wait come again? Some of you reading this probably thought links to your website were a good thing. You probably heard that you need links from other websites to your website to rank well on Google. You probably get five emails a day from purported SEO “experts” telling you that the more links you have, the higher you’ll rank. Why would you want to remove links to your site, and why on earth would Google create a special tool specifically designed to allow website owners to communicate their disapproval of certain links back to Google?
Please allow me to explain…
Let’s start by reviewing what it takes to rank well organically on Google. Generally speaking, it takes three things to see your site at the top of the organic search results for keywords related to your business. First, your website must be a coded and structured in a way that makes it easy for the search engines’ crawlers to find, read, and categorize your website’s content. Speaking of website content, that’s the second requirement. If you want to rank well on Google, your website needs unique, relevant, and (at least some) remarkable content. The third and final thing you need to get that coveted first page listing is an authoritative presence online. And a large part of being an authority online is getting links from other relevant and authoritative websites. There are all sorts of different types of ways companies can link to you. The links you want are those that a scholar would consider to be the equivalent of a citation or a reference.
Speaking of links, authoritative websites, and scholars, check this out:
The screenshot above is from an SEO tool that allows you to quantify a website’s authority as well as get an idea of how many links one site has vs. another (aka. compare linkscapes). Why do you think so many other websites link to Wikipedia.org? Do you think it has something to do with the quality and breadth of information on the site? You bet it does.
All those people referencing Wikipedia to support claims or ideas on their website contribute to Wikipedia’s incredible Page Authority of 96. Not even Harvard.edu comes close to Wikipedia! Look at the three other sites shown in the screenshot above. Harvard, University of Maryland, and Montgomery College (a community college located in Maryland).
Is it surprising that Harvard has more links and a higher Page Authority score than the University of Maryland, and that the Terps have more external links than a local community college? Not really. (Note – it is a bit odd that Montgomery College has a higher Page Authority than the Terps). Authoritative websites tend to have links from other relevant and authoritative websites. Along the same lines, if other relevant and authoritative websites are frequently referencing content found on your website – to bolster their points, benefit their readers, etc. – your website will benefit from increased authority in the search engines’ eyes and very likely, with higher organic rankings.
All seems to make sense, right? This leads us back to the original question – why has Google created a tool to allow website owners to deny certain links to their website? Let’s get some insight straight from Google. In this video, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam explains the reasoning behind the new tool:
Very early in the video, Cutts indicates that the reason the tool was created was to help website owners “clean up” their link profile. While reference/citation style links to your website from other relevant and authoritative websites help increase your site’s authority and organic rankings, low quality links and links from irrelevant, low authority websites, as indicated by Google’s creation of this new tool, can hurt your organic rankings.
Occasionally, I spend time on small business forums – reading and responding to various questions related to online marketing and SEO. It never ceases to amaze me how much misinformation about SEO and links gets passed from one business owner to the next. If you own a business and you’re interested in long-term, sustainable SEO, here’s your strategy – establish and promote your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets that you do it. Build a reputable brand by differentiating your company – online and in the real world. Create unique content that adds genuine value to your prospects – that helps them make better decisions. Do all that and hire a web developer that is well-versed in the coding standards that allow search engines to easily find and crawl your site, and the rest of the SEO puzzle (links, etc.) will take care of itself.
When to Use Google’s Link Disavow Tool
If you haven’t taken the aforementioned approach to SEO and you suspect your website might have been penalized by Google, you might want to take a closer look at Google’s new tool. Similarly, if you’ve received notices from Google about “unnatural links” pointing to your website, according to Google, you should first try to manually clean up your link profile (by contacting the spammy sites linking to you and asking them to remove the links to your website). If the offending sites won’t respond or comply, try Google’s new tool.
If you need help diagnosing whether your site has been penalized by Google or you’d like help auditing and cleaning up your site’s link profile, drop us a line. We’d also love to hear from anyone that has actually used Google’s link disavow tool.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers