Google Disavow. Why I actually like it.

Google’s Disavow Tool is more than just a quick fix for a high-strung website owner. Used properly, it can help a website regain Google’s favour or possibly even avoid falling victim to Google’s link jailor Penguin mascot.  (post updated with video from Matt Cutts)

There is a lot of debate about whether or not it is a good idea to disavow backlinks. Some people think it is an admission of “guilt”. Others worry that, in using the disavow tool, people will end up losing valuable links that are not actually causing them any problems.

I will not dispute the validity of either of these views.

What if you know you have a backlinks problem?

Let us assume for a moment that you know you have a backlink problem. Perhaps you have received the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google. Perhaps your rankings have tanked, and you have ruled out other causes. Let’s assume that you need to clean up your backlink profile, one way or the other.

Basically, you have two choices. The first is to get rid of the backlinks. The second is to leave them up and use Google’s Disavow Tool.

Let’s be clear – Google prefers you to get rid of them. Let’s also be clear – most webmasters ignore requests to remove links. The first benefit of the Disavow Tool is that it lets you deal with the majority of links that you cannot get removed.

Remember, in this case, you will not be losing any valuable links with the disavow tool that you would not be losing if your begging, bribing, threatening and temper tantrums had worked with the website owners linking to you.

Read also: How Google reads your backlinks

There are also those links that you think are actually pretty good, but you are also pretty sure that Google disagrees with you. You probably should get rid of them to get back into Google’s good books…but what if those links are the reason you are still getting traffic from Bing and Yahoo. OR What if those links are sending you real traffic? Sure, Google is better than Bing, but Bing is better than nothing. And nothing is very realistically what you could end up with if you remove a whole bunch of links that Bing likes, and the Penguin still isn’t satisfied.

What if you do not have a backlinks problem…yet?

The Disavow tool is also a great way to take a pre-emptive strike to avoid getting into Google’s bad books. It has been my observation that it is a lot harder to get out of a penalty these days than to stay out. It’s sort of like falling into a well. It’s much easier to avoid being pushed in by a passing Penguin than to try scrambling out once you hit the bottom, so best to just avoid falling in.

Tweet this quote: “It’s much easier to avoid a Penguin penalty than to get out of one.”

I am not suggesting to make a pre-emptive strike for just any links, but I have seen twice how websites have been attacked by what you might call negative SEO. This very blog was used by a black hatter to try (unsuccessfully) to funnel PageRank to some websites through random text and image links pointing to blog comment URLs that did not exist (they left comments on this blog that were never published, but they pointed links at the non-existent URLs anyway). Their attempt was unsuccessful, but there were still hundreds of pure spam links on toxic domains increasing in rapid succession, pointing to this blog, to my domain.

Read Also: Monitor Backlinks – 7 juicy inside- and outside-the-box strategies

In another case, I worked with a website that was burdened with hundreds of new links pointing to it every day. The links were using pharmaceutical text (it was not a pharmaceutical site) and were in the company of dozens of other links all being placed invisibly in the code of blogs that the black hatters hacked into. The host blog owners never even knew the links were there, pointing to my client’s site or pointing to the many other sites.

In both these cases, spam attacks got the sites into Google’s bad books, but much, much, much more clean-up has been required to fix the link profile than just cleaning up the ones that got them into trouble. A preemptive disavow might have prevented huge headaches and a fortune of lost income for each of these websites.

The disavow tool should not be a crutch to lean on for worried website owners. If you know you have some really bad backlinks, do whatever you can to get them removed. But don’t be afraid to use the Disavow tool if that’s the best tool for your situation.

UPDATE: Google’s Matt Cutts has now confirmed that “If you’re at all worried about, you know, someone trying to do negative SEO or, you know, it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s the perfect time to use Disavow, as well.”

Here is the video:

 

Disavow corrosive links

Monitor Backlinks – 7 juicy inside- and outside-the-box strategies

I love new tools that make online marketing easier, and I have always been a fan of SEO.  So when Monitor Backlinks was released, of course I had to review it.

CAVEAT: I am not a fan of automation for content creation or for link-building, as I have often said.  But I am a great fan of automation for form filling and for research.  And this is all about putting research on Steroids.

This review will not be a step-by-step walk-through of the interface, nor a pros-and-cons type of review, for three reasons:

Monitor Backlinks Logo

  1. This tool is mostly self-evident and easy to use – I love it when that happens!
  2. There are already several reviews of this kind, such as here and  here and here – and I am sure many more will appear.
  3. These guys bend over backwards to help you figure it out (Hello Big Brands who don’t want to keep getting bashed on Twitter – are you paying attention?).  Here is a message I got from founder Razvan Girmacea when I signed up:

“Got any questions about our software? Want to get a second opinion on your SEO tactics? Just reply to this email.

“I like helping people to get the most out of Monitor Backlinks and I like talking to people interested in SEO in general.”

Instead of walking through the interface, let me run through seven juicy ways I have discovered this tool can be harnessed to boost your business, some of which you will find “du-uh” obvious, others of which you’ll find “Hey, that’s refreshing!”  (like cantaloupe with vanilla ice cream – go ahead and try it)

KEEPING LINK PARTNERS HONEST

This is not the most original or the most exciting way to use Monitor Backlinks, but it is the most obvious and the most traditional – plus it allows me to easily introduce how Monitor Backlinks works at the most basic level, so let’s start with it.

Monitor Backlinks 'SEO Auto Discover' feature

The “SEO Auto Discover” function tracks all your backlinks, which new ones you get and which old ones disappear.  So if a linking partner removes your link, you will be alerted in the change log.  Or if you choose to be alerted by email on your account page, you will receive an email alert.

Receive email notification of change of status

To be frank, keeping reciprocal linkers honest has never been a priority of mine, and I will not use it this way.  Most link partners are honest anyway, and a natural backlink profile does not include a high degree of reciprocation in backlinks…or in the timing of backlink removal.  But I know that some readers will want to keep track of this.

But it’s not just link partners you might want to monitor, as Razvan Girmacea pointed out when I interviewed him:

“Think how hard is to get a baklink and then think how easy is to inform a webmaster about a link with a problem (nofollow, 302 redirect, robots.txt blocked, removed because changed theme, meta noindex/nofolllow, server errors …). This is exactly why I’ve built Monitor Backlinks, to make sure you keep your current links when it’s possible.

“About 10 to 20% of the links that have problems can be recovered with a simple notice to the website owner.”

PENGUIN CLEAN-UP

I have been helping websites clean up their backlinks for a couple years, ever since Google’s bloodthirsty Penguin has been ravishing the Internet.  When a website gets the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google, it means not hours, but days of tedious work:

  • Tracking down backlinks
  • Deciding which ones to try to eliminate
  • Seeking webmaster contact info
  • Requesting link removal
  • Keeping track of which links are being removed
  • Re-contacting the webmaster
  • Disavowing links that do not get removed

Sorry, but Monitor Backlinks won’t do all this work for you.  But it will help you keep track, which can save you days of work.  To put this to use, you need to first create a list of all the backlinks you want removed, and load it up…

Import backlinks to monitor

I know that a Penguin Penalty and an “unnatural backlinks” letter are not the same thing, but there is a very strong correlation, probably in the vicinity of 95 percent.  And if you have been hit by Penguin and not “yet” received the dreaded letter, best to start cleaning up your backlinks quickly to avoid getting the letter.  It is my observation that this is a situation where an ounce of prevention can save you a pounding headache of cure.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Google interprets your backlinks

LOCAL SEO

Another innovative way to use Monitor Backlinks is to keep track of competitors.  I know I have always said to ignore what the competition is doing and just focus on being the best you can be, but there are some useful reasons to monitor competitor backlinks.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, it just might be from a website that you can also approach for a backlink.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, the linking website might not be one that will link to two competitors, but you might be able to look for a similar link from one of that website’s competitors.  For instance, a local bar might make a taxi company its “preferred supplier” and link to it.  Oh yeah?  Well, you can go out and get other bars to link to your taxi company website.

When a competitor gets a spammy link, you can see it right away.  And perhaps you will want to report it to somebody. I will warn you to be very careful about this.  Once you start a food fight on the Internet, it can get out of control.

This approach can be useful for any website, not just local SEO.  But it especially useful for local SEO where linking opportunities might be more limited and truly useful links should mostly come from local sources.

I contacted Gerald Weber, a friend who I knew was using this tool (see the “here” links above), and he told me: “My wife has recently launched a new phone screen repair business (www.houstoniphonescreenrepair.com) and with all of the craziness that has been going on in Google these days we want to know immediately if we get some weird or spammy looking links. It’s also extremely cool that we can always see when we are getting new and powerful links as well.”

A little bird told me that Monitor Backlinks might soon be adding a “local citation” feature, so you will know not only what sites link to your site, but what sites mention your company (and your competitors).  Here is a good post on the importance of citations to local SEO.  I am not sure how far advanced this is, as I have yet to come across any studies on local citation (please feel free to identify any in the comments below), but it appears to be something that has begun.  And, I might add, it is a good reason why your local website should be well optimized for your company name and area code.

NEGATIVE SEO

You might have heard a lot about negative SEO, especially now that Google will penguin-slap you for too many unnatural backlinks.

Many webmasters are afraid that a competitor will pay an offshore “link building” service to create 1000 forum backlinks and 1000 spammy, keyword-specific-anchor-text blog comments to their sites and get them in trouble.  The scary thing is that there is precious little that you can do about this.

But if you see them coming, which is where Monitor Backlinks comes in handy, you might be able to throw them all into a Disavow file with a note about being bombarded by negative SEO, and upload it to Google’s Disavow tool.  Will that protect you?  I don’t know.  But you will have a MUCH better case to make if you report the links proactively as soon as they appear than if you respond only after Google finds them.

For those who don’t think negative SEO is possible, I was a victim.  In my case, it was not a competitor who hit me, just some black hat SEO “genius” using my blog to try to boost rankings.  They posted spam comments here.  Those comments were never approved, but they still had specific URLs.  The spammer was linking from garbage websites using random images and anchor text to the exact URL of their comments, hoping to boost the SEO value of their comment links.  Although the comment-specific URLs never went live, the spam links still pointed to this domain.  Had I been monitoring those backlinks, I might have taken pre-emptive action to avoid the mess of a full-fledged backlinks clean-up.

JUICE UP YOUR CURRENT BACKLINKS

Monitor Backlinks gives some great analytics about each link.  Here is a partial slice from a few of my backlinks…

Monitor Backlinks data

What you see is the domain for each link, to and from.  You have to move your cursor over the domains to see the exact URL and click on that to open the link in a new window.  Then comes the MozRank of the domain.  Move your cursor over it and see the Page Authority.  Next comes the social sharing tally.  Move your cursor over that and view specific counts for Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, LinkedIn and Delicious.

What I cut off to keep the image manageable on this narrow blog space are:

Number of external links on each linking page, the tag representing the source of the data (in this case, all from the “autodiscover from Google Analytics” function), the button to edit the data, the current status of the link and the date the link was added to the Monitor Backlinks database.

So, how does this help me leverage my backlinks.  Well, in this example you see that I have some nice links from some authoritative websites.  That is good. But the pages themselves lack much authority, and no wonder when you look at the social sharing numbers.  So that tells me that I should social share some of those pages, where appropriate, and perhaps ask some friends to do so, too.

Or there might be opportunities to build in some links to those pages.  For instance, one is a company profile.  There might be a way to work that into a blog post or a forum post at some point. Or there might be a blog post mentioning your site that you were unaware of.  After reading the post, you might find that there is a follow-up that you can do to cement a relationship and maybe get mentioned in another way.  Or write a guest post for them…

NEW GUEST POSTING IDEAS

An even better way to find guest post opportunities is to keep an eye on where competitors are guest posting.  If a blog is keen to accept a guest post from one of your pet supply competitors, chances are good that they will be interested in a post from your pet supply website, too.

A quick check at the MozRank of the site and the amount of shares that your competitor’s guest post garners will give you ample data to decide if you want to approach the blogmaster to also contribute a guest post.

AS SEEN IN…

Oh, looky here…

As seen in Forbes

Maybe you will be so lucky as to see a link come in from Forbes or Inc. or CNN.  These are valuable for much more than SEO and a short burst of traffic.  Set up an “As seen on” graphic for your website to create amazing social proof that will impress visitors and help you increase sales.  Here is an example from my friends over at Client Attraction:

As Seen In logos

MORE IDEAS?

I am getting hungry (why did I have to mention cantaloupe and ice cream?), so that’s enough writing for now.  Feel free to suggest in the comments below other ideas for using Monitor Backlinks, or other features they could include so that it could be used in even more innovative ways.

Ghost Town Link Building

When the search engines follow links to your website, do they find a ghost town from a movie set? You know what those are like, right?

A movie set ghost town is all facade. There are windows with sills, nicely painted or stained wood fronts, doors, front steps or at least a threshold. But if you actually open the door, it is empty inside. When you pass through the doorway, you find nothing . Not furniture. No interior wall, nor even side or back walls. No people. Only support beams to hold up the facade.

A lot of websites are like that. You look at their link profile, and – Wow! – does it ever look impressive. Hundreds of links from dozens of domains, maybe even thousands of links from hundreds of domains.

But wait, something looks out of place. Something doesn’t look natural. Something looks like… a facade. All the links point to the home page. All the links point to the website’s facade. Just like the cameras that always show us carefully just the fronts of the buildings, the links all show us carefully just the front page of the website. Like there is nothing else on the site worth linking to.

Like a movie set ghost town.

 

 

Deep Linking Makes It Real

When you build links to a variety of pages, you are showing the search engines that your site has depth. That it has substance. That it is real, not just a facade. And if you want the search engines to take your web address seriously, it helps to show that there is really something there.

Some tips on deep linking

Make sure you have content on your website. Content is not a home page or a sales page. Content is useful information. For instance…

How-to articles
Case studies
Interesting photos
Top 10 lists
Recommendations

But how does this content lead to inbound deep links to your website?

  • Let bloggers know about your content. Some will find it interesting and link to it.
  • Share on places like Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, Pinterest, Digg, Tumblr, etc. (learn how to use these sites, build a network, and follow the official rules AND the unwritten guidelines)
  • Write articles about the same topic for other websites, and link back.
  • Create related videos for video sharing sites like Youtube, and link back to the original content.
  • Write related guest posts on other blogs, linking back to the original content.
  • Let the media (local, trade, etc.) know about the content, in case it will interest them.
  • Prepare news releases related to the content and distribute to press release websites.
  • Comment on related blogs, using the content pages as the “website URL” field.