Bing Launches Way to “Disavow” Links, But Why?

Bing WebmasterFor years, Google’s webmaster guidelines have noted that attempts to manipulate Google’s algorithms with artificial external link profiles (paid links, link schemes and the like) are violations and that Google may take action (by removing the site from the index or lowering its ranking).  This year, Google starting alerting site owners with “unnatural links”, recommending that they remove them. Google also launched a new algorithm called Penguin, aimed at flagging sites that attempt to manipulate Google’s guidelines with spam techniques such as artificial link profiles.

One of the recommendations Google has given for recovering from Penguin is to have spammy links removed, but what if that’s not possible? Some in the SEO community are worried about negative SEO. If spammy links pointing at your site can hurt you, then can’t competitors just buy a bunch of them and point them at your site? (Google says they work hard to prevent this.)

The idea of “disavowing links” links has been discussed for years, but Google’s recent focus on links has put it in the spotlight. At SMX Advanced, Google’s Matt Cutts said that disavowing links was something that had been asked for a lot that they were thinking of making available in the coming months.

So now, such a feature has finally been launched… by Bing.

Wait, what?

Does Bing penalize sites with spammy backlinks? Should everyone with concerns about Google and links also be concerned about Bing? Their FAQ says:

Q: Do inbound links from low-quality sites adversely affect Bing ranking? A: While they won’t hurt your site, they really won’t help much, either.

Confusingly, the FAQ then says:

Paying for or participating in non-relevant link exchange schemes will not improve your page rank with Bing, and in fact, it could very well hurt it.

I found a blog post about spammy links that I couldn’t follow all that well that seemed to imply Bing may in fact apply penalties to sites that appear to have spammy incoming links (or as the post says have their “rank neutralized” by a “webspam neutralization penalty”). Or maybe the post is saying that pages with spammy links on them could be penalized?

The latter is more in line with what Microsoft originally told me back in in 2007, when they said:

 A link that is white text on white is obviously not valuable to the user, and if we detect such techniques we may disregard the link and may penalize the page it’s on. Paid links are a gray area. Are they of value to the end user? Sometimes they are. Often they’re less valuable and less relevant than the organic links on a page. We reserve the right to treat them that way.

In any case, you can now go into Bing Webmaster Tools and mark any links coming into your site that you “disavow”, which Microsoft says will “tell the engine you just don’t want to associate your content with “that” site”.

I guess that’s great, but it seems like a lot of work. I asked Microsoft why they launched it and why a site owner would be motivated to spend reviewing links and determining if they should be disavowed. Can, in fact, spammy links hurt a site? And can competitors hurt sites in this way in Bing? The post says:

Over the past few months we’ve being hearing from the industry that webmasters wanted more control and the ability to tell us they didn’t trust a link pointed at their content.  While this is not a new conversation, our latest redesign work has enabled us to take action on this topic.

I’ve been hearing the industry ask for this from Google but I don’t know that many people were worried about this being an issue in Bing. Should they be? At this point, it would be useful to know if Bing applies penalties to sites in addition to simply not valuing the spammy links.

The post says the result the input from this tool is:

These signals help us understand when you find links pointing to your content that you want to distance yourself from for any reason.  You should not expect a dramatic change in your rankings as a result of using this tool, but the information shared does help Bing understand more clearly your intent around links pointing to your site.

I have no idea what that means tactically.

When I asked Microsoft why someone would want to use this tool and what the result would be, Duane Forrester told me:

This tool simply allows webmasters a way to alert us – a signal if you will – to the fact they don’t support a particular link (or group of links) pointing to their site. Whether from negative seo, an old paid link effort they’d like to distance themselves from, or whatever, the tools allows them to tell us how they see the link, essentially.

There will always be instances when a webmaster sees something related to their website before we’ve been around to crawl them and see the bigger picture around them. This could act as a heads up, and if we are seeing a “spike” in disavows for a particular URL or domain it could raise a flag we’d want to investigate.

Ultimately, though, it helps us understand the webmaster’s intent. If they disavow links we already see as undesirable or spammy, then we (Bing) and the webmaster are on the same page.

Duane said something similar on Twitter:

Bing Disavow Links

I still don’t understand what a site owner gets in return for the time spent disavowing links with this tool. I can only conclude that Bing may in fact lower a site’s ranking due to spammy incoming links. If that’s the case, then this tool is great and useful. To use it, start with a list of links you want to disavow. The tool doesn’t list all of your incoming links with a selectable checkbox next to each; instead you have to type each link in manually.

Log into Bing Webmaster Tools, click a site, then navigate to Configure my site > Disavow links.  Choose page, directory, or domain, then type the URL and click Disavow.

Bing Disavow Links

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Disavow Links Tool | Microsoft: Bing SEO | Microsoft: Bing Webmaster Tools | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

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  • Durant Imboden

    It takes practically no time to disavow the links that a site owner or Webmaster is likely to be worried about. If I go into Webmaster Tools and look for questionable links, I’ll concern myself with the handful of sites (invariably junk sites) that have tens or hundreds of thousands of links to my home page. Give me a “disavow links from this worthless domain” button, and I’ll be ready to move on to other work or to my morning coffee break in seconds. Elapsed time for the weekly or monthly chore: Five minutes max, and probably less.

  • http://twitter.com/alfredopalconit Alfredo Palconit Jr

    I think what Google needs now is to sync with Bing’s disavow database. No need to have two separate tools.

  • HandyDandy89

    Bing has been penalizing sites for months, they are worse than Google now,  one day you’re page 1 then a week later GONE, completely deindexed I have noticed this for some time now.

  • http://twitter.com/firstconversion Stephen

    Really its just a big Fuck You to Google. Its great marketing for Bing and shows how agile and responsive they are, making Google look like incommunicative laggards

  • http://twitter.com/nevagainz Adam Heaton

    Could not be happier with this. I honestly believe this is a kick up the ass that Google needs to get a feature like this in place rather than giving webmasters the task of removing links that they may not have even got for their website.

  • http://twitter.com/WesleyLeFebvre Wesley LeFebvre

    I too think it’s probably more of a marketing tactic than anything.

    However, I think this is great, and for this reason which I never even thought about before:

    “if we are
    seeing a “spike” in disavows for a particular URL or domain it could
    raise a flag we’d want to investigate.”

    Since the majority of site owners will probably never even know about this tool, it will help protect them too when URLs are flagged for malicious intent.

  • Rob James

    This is certainly a set in the right direction, let’s see how it plays out!

  • http://twitter.com/TheNathanBailey Nathaniel Bailey

    Sounds to me like Bing have quite simply done this to A. beat Google to it and B cut their work down on finding spammy links because now they can get webmasters to flag links and sites for them.

    It could be a good thing for Bing really, if they are looking at using the value webmasters give in coming links they might end up with better results and give them a better chance at competing more with google in the future?

  • http://www.marketingchip.com/ Marcos Lujan

    Hmm, on big sites going through link by link is a nightmare. They need to have an option to group inbound links by domain otherwise it’s useless for big sites, unless you’ve specifically come across bad inbound links.

  • http://jeffdownerbailbonds.com/ Jeff Downer Indianapolis IN

    Perhaps this a signal of an impending algorithm change from Bing and they are providing a tool ahead of that rollout to deal with that change.

  • mwlodarski

    This is so idiotic. In fact, it simply tells everyone: search engines’ algos are complete rubbish.
    If a search engine thinks a link is bad or manipulative, they simply should ignore them. Full stop.

  • http://seorewind.com/ Chris Countey

    This article summarizes my question to Duane last night on Twitter. This seems to be part of a campaign by Microsoft targeted at SEOs (any news about a new tool that matches a current problem is going to make the rounds on every SEO website). Providing great tools to SEOs is a very nice gesture, but I don’t see how our approval is going to help improve Bing’s performance as a search engine and pull more people away from Google.

    If we’re talking transparency and that’s Microsoft’s intent, tell us how we can help. :)And I don’t think Google will implement a disavow function because I don’t think there is anything in it for them. Disavow would be another way spammers could detect how many exact match/low quality links they could get away with without being penalized.Instead of penalizing sites that receive links from “low quality websites”, just remove these “bad links” from the index. If they can be identified as low quality and removed, why waste resources and time on a new penalty?

  • http://twitter.com/stevenapier misterweb SEO

    I’m impressed Bing, Very agile and responsive to webmasters needs. If negative SEO works then this tool is essential, Google pull your finger out. This would help me no end if Google had an equivalent tool, that is, it would help me help clients who are not to blame for certain bad link problems. Interesting this article comes at the same time as another suggesting bing has taken 5% of search traffic from Google. All things go full circle…

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    Whether it will have an impact on sites or not, having a disavow link gives site owners a feeling of control. There has been so much talk about negative SEO and here is Bing saying “hey, we have a way to protect your site.” It’s actually a pretty clever way to get site owners thinking more about Bing.

  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com AJ Kohn

    Well, wouldn’t the real goal for Bing be twofold here? 

    1) Look faster and more responsive than Google

    2) Create a new data source to help refine or confirm algorithmic signals.

    It’s not about how it impacts one (your) site it’s the aggregate data that may help Bing to better identify these low-quality sites. It may simply prove to be a confirmation, but it could help refine the identification process.

    It’s essentially a human-curated set of training data.

  • http://twitter.com/liamhgfisher Liam Fisher

    I think you’re right. What with Bing’s new WMT equivalent, it seems they’re taking every opportunity available to provide something Google don’t. Good on them, I say. It’d be nice to see some competition in the search engine stakes once again.

  • Justin Sous

    I agree it would be a huge timesaver for sites that have been affected by the updates; however, if google employed the same tool, wouldn’t this just encourage people to go after short-term crummy links again? Then when they see they’re being penalized, just simply hit the “disavow” button and continue on. I’m not sold on this.

  • http://www.ninebyblue.com Vanessa Fox

    Exactly. Hence my question of what’s in it for the site owner.

  • SLight

    Why Bing did this:

    - To show off in front of Google
    - As negative links do / or will soon cause a negative impact on rankings (I have seen no conclusive findings so far…)
    - To gain user signals to help them identify spammy sites

    Why Google are doing it
    - They have backed themselves into a corner, mainly due to poor communication
    - Otherwise webmasters will lose confidence in them
    - They ultimatly think the results will benefit from doing so

    Why neither of them should bother
    - Link Building is ultimately negative for the results, this will give it a shot in the arm (Content Marketing is not link building, don’t think I’m saying people shouldn’t be trying for links)
    - Spammers will be able to spam with confidence, no more burnt domains
    - Google are actually pretty good at finding negative SEO efforts (Rand F. pointed this one out by challenging people to negative SEO his blog, lots of spam links later, no change in rankings)

  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com AJ Kohn

    Not much for the individual site owner from what I can tell. Though some of the stuff from Duane makes it sound almost like a reconsideration request. 

    Perhaps it could be useful in scraper squashing but … you’d need that other search engine to do it too for it to be really meaningful.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QWBSYCW5QHLK76ZNFZLBM72P4I Henrietta

    My ńeighboŕ’s mŏther-iń-ląw Maḱes $8O houŕly on the laptoṗ. She has bėėn out of w0rḱ for 7 Ṁonths but ląst Ṁonth her ińcome wąs $8734 just worḱińg on thė laṖt0Ṗ for a ƒew hours. Gŏ to this web siṫe and ŕead morė.. C&#97shLazy.com

  • http://www.reaseo.com/ Jerry Mosher

    It seems like a way to get people to oust sites without actually wording it that way. I haven’t seen any evidence of spammy links having a negative impact in Bing so far but I’m sure a lot more people will be paying attention now. 

    They might just be trying to gather data to incorporate into a future algorithm update. I don’t see a reason to actually use it but since it’s there and a lot easier to do than actual SEO I’m sure it will get plenty of use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dubey.peeyush Peeyush Dubey

    This was expected from Google, Bing just beaten them and assured users even more quality search results. 

    Seems good but yet to see its results or variation in the rankings to quantify. 

  • http://twitter.com/CliffSmith cliffsmith

    Bing rocks!  It is truly amazing to me that high Google rankings disappeared overnight while Bing rankings remained high for certain web sites.  Searching anything now, Google results seem extremely muddled while Bing provides numerous good choices.  Bing has taken over as the best search engine and people are starting to get that.  Google has become too big and unresponsive for it’s own good.

  • FU-G

    Congratulations BING!!! You’re doing so well! Your Bing Webmaster Tools are AMAZING!!! Now please, do more advertising, we need more people using Bing… Google has become so freaking annoying.

  • Durant Imboden

    Good point(s). Still, Google has suggested that it will be offering a “disavowal” tool, so I’d assume that Matt Cutts & Co. have given some thought to such problems.

  • http://www.yackyack.co.uk/ robwatts

    Spot on.

  • http://www.yackyack.co.uk/ robwatts

    Well done Bing for being 1st.

    That said, if a link is ‘bad’ an algo should just ignore it and move one.

    I can see such tool features being used to slap webmasters and waste peoples time.

    Webmadter noticed a Rankings fall – “oh I’d better login to WMT and check my link profile and disavow links”

    Google/Bing responding to a user reconsideration request “sorry mr webmaster you haven’t yet disavowed the right links so the penalty will remain”

  • Fikret besikci

    Congratulations and thank you …. great share … http://www.yapi-mantolama.com

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RLEZ5ACMZU5LEQSHY56FMQIQ5E Jonathan

    My ńeighboŕ’s mŏther-iń-ląw Maḱes $8O houŕly on the laptoṗ. She has bėėn out of w0rḱ for 7 Ṁonths but ląst Ṁonth her ińcome wąs $8734 just worḱińg on thė laṖt0Ṗ for a ƒew hours. Gŏ to this web siṫe and ŕead morė.. C&#97shLazy.com

  • http://codeangry.com/ Claude “CodeAngry” Adrian

    What’s in it for all those crowd-driven social websites that monetize on free user generated content? NOTHING! Wasted time and a false sense of worthiness.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SVAYT46A7XTJILJSUHA5YXWNWQ Lorna

    My ńeighboŕ’s mŏther-iń-ląw Maḱes $8O houŕly on the laptoṗ. She has bėėn out of w0rḱ for 7 Ṁonths but ląst Ṁonth her ińcome wąs $8734 just worḱińg on thė laṖt0Ṗ for a ƒew hours. Gŏ to this web siṫe and ŕead morė.. C&#97shLazy.com

  • Justin Sous

    I’d hate to assume anything with Google :)

    On top of this, I also thought it was interesting how just days after Bing announced that they don’t always penalize for bad links (they ignore them), Google felt like they needed to come out and say the same: 

    http://searchengineland.com/not-all-bad-links-hurt-you-google-ignores-links-also-126349

    Google possibly feeling some pressure from Bing recently? Hitwise just announced a 5% decrease in their search mkt share. This is a good thing in my opinion; competition drives innovation and improvements.

  • http://www.macgizmoguy.com macgizmoguy

    Thanks for framing the post with such Healthy Skepticism, Vanessa. This whole metaphor of trying to get site owners to divulge ethereal linking ‘INTENT’ – and creating confessional booths to step into – borders on madness. There; you can point fingers, name names in quiet whispers, acknowledge sins, and seek atonement in one easy to fill out web-form?

    Ultimately there are just certain personality types that Bing and Google are banking (literally!) on who’ll use this tool out of self-preservation to ‘fix’ the past – or noble self-righteousness to help ‘clean’ the internet. 

    Personally, I’ll suggest we all just ignore this dubious ‘opportunity’ and focus on publishing the best content we can. This ‘Global Village’ we all participate in achieves it’s beauty from what we collectively ADD to it – warts and all, not what some interests try to SUBTRACT…

  • http://searchmonkeys.us/ Karthik kumar

    Microsoft is not very transparent about search, as we know it. But I vaguely remember MS saying that ‘backlinks’ are a 4th order priority in their algorithm, or something like that. All of a sudden, a tool for the webmaster to ‘disavow’ bad links. Confusing, indeed..

    Either Microsoft slipped a word about Bing’s algorithm, or it has got silly and went into a smear campaign – “Look Google. It’s not diffcult. But you’re not doing it.”

    Yeah, corporates can get silly anytime.

  • http://twitter.com/parveshsareen Parvesh Sareen

    What i feel is “Google Engineers after hearing that Bing has launched such a tool that we have declared to launch in the nearest future, will rather make the process hurried up for them.
    Bing has taken an initiative in this regard, though major setback has been done to Google SERP’s , Google need to launch this tool to help the sites suffered by Penguin Update targeted at spam links.

  • Jenksy

    Giant purple elephant in the room:
    One must know exactly which links Bing is valuing, and exactly how Bing is valuing them, for this tool to have a salient purpose. Outside of the most lily-white link profiles (that have bad inks ignored anyway), a lot of web pages get where they are in SERPs via quantity — not (necessarily) ‘quality’. In the end accounting, I see no value to this tool for anyone: If a site is doing well in Search, no webmaster is going to disavow squat. If a site isn’t doing well in Search, the instances in which it is obvious that it is in fact bad links (that are supposed to be ignored anyway) are exponentially outmatched by the instances in which no objective reason can be found. Every last bit of taking this tool into perspective ends in an infinite loop of contradiction, worthlessness and absurdity.

    Which, yes, naturally means that Google’s version will be even more smoke-and-mirrors than Bing’s. 

    I don’t know about y’all, but whenever search engines do stuff like this, I reflexively feel as if I’m back in kindergarten, being hurriedly dragged to the ‘quiet corner’ and given some blocks to play with because I won’t stop asking whether or not there really is a Santa Claus. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jakebelfry Jacob Belfry

    All this is, is a smear in Google’s face.   

  • http://twitter.com/Neverpaintagain NEVER PAINT AGAIN UK

    …….so…..the million dollar question, WHEN will google release a link disavow tool?

  • http://www.slideshare.net/purebredbreeders/purebred-breeders-reviews-purebredbreederscom yonowillis

    It is certainly one of the great features by Bing. It is much better to ignore those links rather than blocking them and webmasters also not have to face also for the disappearance of their sites just because of the spammy links.

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