Suppose you stayed within the guidelines of what Google acknowledges as safe SEO practices such as creating quality content, making your site user friendly and keeping your link building white hat. And even with all your good intentions, your site still took a hit in the search rankings when Googleâ€™s latest Penguin algorithm update rolled out. Exasperated you think, â€śAre you kidding me Google!â€ť
If this has ever happened to you, one possibility is that your competitors may have sabotaged your backlinks by purposely planting links pointing to your website from unscrupulous sources. In 2012 during a huge negative SEO debate, the CEO of SEOmoz, Rand Fishkin decided to test this theory by offering his site to the black hatters out there as a challenge to see if they could impact SEOMozâ€™s search rankings through their negative SEO techniques. A short while after issuing this challenge, SEOmoz received a number of bad links pointing to their site, resulting in an unnatural link notification from Google Webmaster Tools. However, SEOmoz didnâ€™t appear to take a hit in the search rankings, probably because the proportion of their quality backlinks highly outnumbered the bad links.
Anyway, for us mere mortals, how can we recover if our site was hit by a negative SEO attack or if we received an unnatural link notification from Google?
Using the Disavow Links tool from Google is an effective measure to recover from the negative effects of a manual penalty caused by Penguin algorithm updates. However, the practice of putting all your links into a file and simply uploading it into Disavow Links tool isnâ€™t the first step you should take. Before using the tool, you should initiate multiple link removal requests by yourself and if possible only have a small percentage of links needing removal before using the tool. Google itself has made it clear to use the Disavow Tool only as your last resort.
Moreover, if you are going to use this tool, it should be used before you get badly hurt by Penguin. In most cases, people see their backlink profile and disavow the links immediately after getting penalized by Google. However, it is imperative to deeply analyze your backlinks before using the Disavow Links tool. You should carry out backlink audits just like you do keyword research or link search. Perform the audit once a month. Here are important first steps:
- Identify all backlinks to your site by using any SEO link checker tool such as Google Webmaster Tools, MajesticSEO, SEOMoz, Raven tools and others to identify red flags.
- Check if your website has any backlinks from sites that are not indexed in Google or look suspicious in general. Click on the links and ensure that they are relevant, quality sites.
- Search for paid links to your site. Evaluate those links and check out if they were acquired from legitimate sources.
- Find out which backlinks are from link or article directories and check each one of them to make sure that they are quality and relevant sites.
Create a spreadsheet before you start the audit so that you can add the most harmful sites you uncover from these steps. After you performed your due diligence by isolating your harmful links and asking sites to remove them, you can now use the Disavow tool to delete all the remaining links that caused the negative SEO effects.