The timing could not have been better. The SERP battlefields are littered with the bodies of former moguls who were brought low by the devastation wrought by the cruel march of Penguin. People still mourn the loss of high-performing money sites, and until now, the vengeful gods of Google have remained silent to their cries.
But Wait! What is that? Here comes Matt Cutts, down from the heavens with our salvation clutched in his hands. “It’s all right” he tells us, “Your sites can live again!” Cutts has brought a wonderful gift with him, the disavow tool. Now you have the chance to right the wrongs, to receive forgiveness for your trespasses, and walk upon the road of righteousness once more.
The Purpose of the Disavow Tool
To explain what this tool means, you need to understand what it actually is. Through the disavow tool, Google is offering you the chance to “disavow” links that are coming into your site. If you have been hard at work linkbuilding, you probably have a whole lot of them. Some may be completely legitimate, and others may not be. Some of them may even be the product of competitors trying to discredit your site in the eyes of Google…tsk tsk.
The process is simple. You create a list of all of your backlinks (Ahrefs perhaps), and try to identify the ones that you would like to disavow. You send the list of links you want to disavow to Google, and Google will (might) eventually ignore those links. For those who have seen their sites destroyed by Google’s latest update, this may seem like a no brainer. Yes, you may have been naughty, but now you can simply declare innocence, and put things back the way they were.
This was a very clever move on Google’s part, but it probably has a lot more to do with helping them than it does with helping you. There are many ways that this could backfire on the average webmaster.
Sending Yourself to The Principal’s Office
Alright, so you’ve decided to turn yourself in. That’s the chance they are offering you, so you might as well take it, right? Let’s talk this through first. Google is not going to tell you which links it thinks are spammy. It will not tell you which links caused Penguin to tank your sites. Google wants all that information from you, and short of guessing, it expects you to be able to say which links are bad. If you’ve been paying for them all along, I would imagine you might be able to place a finger on SOME of these. Regardless, understand that in addition to turning in your suspected spammy links, you are turning in yourself. Your site and all its links.
You see, Google lacks the power it needs to identify most paid links, especially guest post types. Google’s algorithm can detect a lot, but in the end, that math will never keep up with the innovation of SEOs. Instead, they get us professionals to tattle on ourselves. Not only does Google get a massive list of all the website owners who are admitting to cheating, they also get massive lists of websites and networks that are known for providing bad links. Google wins, we lose. BIG.
So, What Can You Do?
Our prescription: wait. That may sound heartless if you have some sites you desperately need to get off the floor, but you could be risking a lot more if you decide to turn yourself in. The tool is still very young, and we don’t know what is going to happen to the early adopters. There is a very good chance that many of them could be blacklisted. At the very least, they may be placed on a “watch closely” list so any future misbehavior could result in a quicker penalty.
Some of you out there may have nothing to lose, but the question is: what can you gain? No one really knows the answer to that yet. Even if you report your links, you may have reported the wrong ones. You could lose the best links you have and be left with a worthless site even if the penalty is removed. Even if you did report the right links, Google may just use that information to punish you further instead of lifting the penalty.
Your best option is to wait. A lot of testing needs to be done by the pros before anyone should consider touching this tool.