John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to by McDougall Interactive. We’re an Internet marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Today, my guest is Jesse Wade. Jesse is a link builder here at McDougall Interactive, and today our topic is the Google Disavow Tool. Welcome, Jesse.
Jesse Wade: Hi, John. Thank you for having me.
John: Sure, Jesse. Let’s just start at the beginning. What is the Google Disavow Tool?
Jesse: The Google Disavow Tool is essentially Google’s way of allowing you ask Google not to count certain incoming links to your website.
John: OK. Why would a webmaster or a website owner want to tell Google not to count some of the links pointing to their website? Because as we know, Google is all about links pointing to a website, and the way that it used to be was the more links that you got the better. So, why would you want to tell Google not to count some of those?
Jesse: A webmaster may want to tell Google not to count certain backlinks against them widely because of the Google Penguin updates. Penguin is essentially a series of algorithm updates that started in April 2012 targeting spammy backlinks.
As you mentioned, prior to that date it was common to pay for backlinks, or for websites to be part of large linked directories, and get ranked really quickly, because they had a large amount of links. Google rolled out Penguin to prevent that from happening.
John: They can tell what links are good quality links and what links are bad quality links. If you have a lot of bad quality links going to your site, or even just a few really bad ones going to your site, it can really affect your search engine rankings.
Jesse: Yeah. This algorithm specifically targets what they deem as spam. Such as large directories, or any links that you might have paid to be posted on a website, or websites exchanging links with one another for that purpose specifically.
How to Use Google Disavow Tool
John: How does someone make use of the Google Disavow Tool?
Jesse: In order to make use of the tool, you’re going to do it for one or two reasons mainly. You’re either going to do it for website maintenance or you’re going to do it, because Google actually sent you a manual penalty flagging your website, which drops you in their ranks for that reason.
Overall, you’re going to follow the same process. You want to gather all the incoming links to your website. You’re going to do this starting with downloading a list of your links from Google Webmaster Tools. You can use other tools, such as Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs. You want to combine that whole entire list together.
There’s tools out there that help you sort through the list, such as Link Research Tools. Or you can manually check every single link one by one to figure out what you want to keep, and what you don’t want to keep.
John: The most manual way of doing this would be to take all those different sources of your backlinks to your site, put them all in a Excel spreadsheet, maybe sort them, and then go through and delete any of the duplicates. Otherwise, look through all of those links manually and say, “OK, that’s a bad one. That’s a bad one,” that sort of thing.
Jesse: Yes, you can look through them one by one. You want to look for the basic things. On your first time through the list, maybe you know a couple bad directories. One thing to look for, if the site says, “Add a link” or has an option to remove a link, that’s a sign right there that it might not be the best of links.
John: That shows that, that it’s a site that accepts you to be able to go, add a link, put in a URL, and then it automatically gets added onto the site. Everybody used to use those directories to get a backlink to their site. They’re just counted as being bad backlinks now.
Jesse: Yeah, exactly. When you go through the list, if you’re going manually one‑by‑one, you’ll probably recognize directories from the URL. You’ll notice a couple weird things, sometimes it’s like, “Add your link here,” or, “Best links.”
If you have a link from maybe your local, well‑known college or something, I would say you don’t have to dig deep and investigate that one if you know it’s a trusted source and it’s a good link.
John: Are there some ways to automate that? I know you mentioned Link Research Tools. Does that tool help you to parse out what are the good links and what are the bad links?
Jesse: Yeah, that tool will give you an initial flag according to their algorithm. It will put it in buckets of: really look at this right away, these ones you don’t have to worry about, and then a medium category where you should review them.
You should review them all, but it helps separate them, and it’s a little quicker to go through them, because you have it in the tool. In the browser tab, you can actually see the website as you go through, which makes it a little bit easier.
Sometimes directories will have a good URL. It seems like its legit, but you look at it and it’s the same directory over and over. That cuts down time, certainly.
John: Once you’ve created this list of all of the bad backlinks, or what you think are the bad backlinks going to your site, how do you then get that into the Google Disavow Tool?
Jesse: If you’re doing this for website maintenance, you’re going to take that list of the ones you do want to include for Disavow, and you’re simply going to make a text file. That text file, you’re going to save in the proper format.
You can either do it by domain level and count the whole domain, or you can do the specific URL. If it’s a site maybe like Tumblr.com, you wouldn’t want to get rid of the whole domain, but you would want to disavow just the exact link if you felt like that was a harmful link.
You make a simple text file and include either the domain and the link. You’re going to go to the Google Disavow Tool and select the website you want to disavow for. You simply hit upload, and you choose the correct file, and it’s going to send you an email saying, “It’s been uploaded.” It will also confirm it in their tool itself that it’s uploaded.
John: It doesn’t really have to be in any special format. It’s just a text file with a list of all of the bad links and domains. Then Google takes that, and then anytime that Google sees a link going to your site that’s from one of those links or one of those domains, they’ll discount it and say, “OK, we’re not going to count that against you.”
Jesse: Exactly, but if you got a manual penalty, you’re going to do the whole process the same way. You’re going to want to make an Excel sheet first and try to contact the websites to actually physically get them removed. You’re going to want to make notes that you’re going to actually include to Google.
If you’re strictly doing it for the maintenance, you can skip that step.
Fixing a Manual Penalty from Google
John: If you have an actual manual penalty, you have to prove to Google that you’ve put in some work and you’ve tried to remove those bad backlinks that are going to your site.
It’s not enough to submit a list. You have to keep track of the list of bad backlinks and say, “OK, I’ve emailed all of these ones several times, and I was able to get these ones removed. And I was not able to get these ones removed, but I’m doing the best that I can.” Google likes to see that you’ve done some work to try to get out from underneath this manual penalty.
Jesse: Exactly. In that case, you’re going to want to keep track, like you said, of who you email, and who actually removed the link, and prove your work to Google. Since you put the work in to get the bad link, they want you put the work in to undo what you did.
John: Assuming you don’t have a manual penalty and it’s just an algorithmic penalty where your search engine ranks are lowered somewhat because of these bad backlinks, how long after you submit sites to the Google Disavow Tool do you start to see some improvement? Does it take a long time?
Jesse: It definitely varies across the board. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight. It can take anywhere from a month to six months. Google doesn’t really put a time frame on it. You might see your rank slowly come back.
There are the rare cases where it quickly happens and you bounce back to status quo. It can certainly be a month, to even upwards of over a year, some people have mentioned.
John: Worth doing right away in trying to get that list of bad backlinks together and submit those to the Google Disavow Tool as quickly as you can, and wait it out and hope that you see some improvement.
Is this something that you do on a regular basis, as well, like you said, as a part of maintenance? Do you check your backlinks every few months and submit additional URLs to the tool?
Jesse: Yeah, certainly. When you submit the additional ones, you actually want to be very careful to also include the ones from your past disavow. Once you submit a new disavow, it overwrites the old file. If you don’t re‑include them, they’re suddenly going to be counted against you again.
Yes, you certainly want to do it as ongoing maintenance. Some websites, such as e‑commerce websites, are going to get a lot more links a lot more quickly than other websites. Maybe you want to do it once a month, every couple of months.
Whereas, some smaller websites, you’re only going to do about every six months or so. It certainly varies. It’s something you always want to keep an eye on and tailor to the client’s needs.
John: That’s really excellent information Jesse, and thanks again for talking with me today.
Jesse: Thank you, John.
John: For more information about digital marketing, visit McdougallInteractive.com and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.