For 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.
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:
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.