To Disavow – Or Not Disavow?
As most of you are no doubt aware, over the past months the so-called Google Penguin penalty has undergone some significant changes (you can see a summary of all of this at this link). Put very simply, whereas in the past Penguin actively penalized sites with spammy/low-value backlinks, today’s incarnation (which incidentally rolls out updates continuously now) simply devalues the links, so that they will have no ranking value whatsoever.
This has led many to assume that there was no longer a need to actively disavow bad links — whatever bad links there in a site’s backlink portfolio will just have no positive value, essentially being ignored as a ranking signal.
But is this totally correct thinking? Are there instances where it still makes sense to disavow bad links? We think there are several scenarios where this strategy makes sense, and we recommend that they be disavowed:
OK, So When Does It Make Sense?
One obvious case: When your analysis of backlinks indicates the presence of tons of bad, spammy links that you did not acquire on your own. Often, these links will show up because your site may be a target of “negative SEO” — loading up a competitor’s sites with lots of garbage links. In this situation you don’t want to take half-measures: get those bad boys disavowed real quick.
Another reason to disavow bad links: Right now, Penguin is structured to simply devalue those links (or so we have been told). But what if the Big G decides to change that in the future? What if they return to the practice of actually devaluating a site because of them? Your site would be open to a future (possibly major) rankings drop. Why take chances? IF you know of bad links, disavow them, so in the future they can’t come back to haunt you and cause your site major harm, even if their presence does not seem to do so today.
This One’s For Those Taking On New SEO Clients
One of the trickier aspects of doing SEO for clients is that these clients often have “histories” of prior SEO work being done on their sites. Many times the business owners have done SEO for themselves. In these situations, if you find tons of bad links out there, we always recommend zapping them through a link disavowal, so that you are starting work with them on the best possible footing.
Manual Spam Actions — Present or Future
Another critical situation where you MUST disavow bad links is if you have been notified that a manual action has been taken against you by Google. Actually, in that case, you need to at least try to get those links removed (by contacting the site owner) whenever you can.
And don’t forget – Even though present-day forms of Penguin may not actively penalize you for your spammy links now, what if someone at Google, a quality rater, puts your site under the microscope and you come up short? That puts the site in their crosshairs and you might be headed for a manual action. Your site may not be under a manual penalty now — but what about the future? Don’t leave any room for doubt here – clear out the junk before it hurts you.
Link Quality Evaluation: Not Just Penguin
Keep in mind that Penguin is about link quality. But also keep in mind that Google has lots of other data to pull into their algorithm to determine link quality. Penguin is just a part of their evaluation. Bad links may not actively devalue a site’s rankings as far as Penguin is concerned (at least right now) but those links may be costing you rankings as they negatively impact other aspects of the algo’s used. In that regard, see this post where it seems that you can ignore “spammy” links but should be concerned about disavowing “unnatural” links. In particular this statement: “…unnatural links are probably handled by Penguin but you still can get a manual action or hit by another algorithm if you do not disavow them…” (emphasis mine).
Finally, who ever said that Penguin is all-knowing? When we don’t disavow bad links we are implicitly assuming that Penguin is able to identify and devalue all those links. But is that really true? Is Penguin all-knowing? Who really knows? Again, why take chances?
Simply put, if you know of bad links, get them disavowed.