google-webmaster-hangout

Google Webmaster Hangout

Findings from a recent Google Webmaster Hangout on Air (video) demystify link disavowals, penalties and more. Read on for the official word from John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst from Google and friend to webmasters everywhere.

First, Some Background

Last month, I introduced Five Steps To Clean Up Your Links like A Techie. The commenters on the post had a lot of good questions, and I wanted to begin this month with a few clarifications.

First, the development of that list was meant only to be a technically-minded way to create a solid list of pages to check. I only mentioned contacting the domain owner and asking to have the link removed or nofollowed at the very end of the article.

However, if you have a valid contact address and believe it’s worthwhile to contact the domain owner, please do. Google wants to see that you’ve made an effort to clean up bad links.

That said, most links you want to remove fall into one of three categories, in my opinion:

  1. You know the site owner or you paid for the link. These are easy to handle — either stop paying to have the link listed and wait till it’s taken down, or contact the owner and ask them to either remove or nofollow your link.
  2. It’s an article directory (or a link directory, press release directory, or some other kind of directory). There’s usually a link to “remove” somewhere in the submission process or on the link itself. One of two things will happen here: You’ll get a thank you page telling you the link will be removed, or you’ll get redirected to a page that says something like “if you want your link removed, pay $200 processing via Paypal.” You should document either of these cases in your spreadsheet.
  3. It’s blog spam, comment spam, forum spam, or some other form of garbage that you probably paid someone to post for you. In 99% of these cases, you’ll be left with disavow as your only option, because there will be no contact info, no one will respond to you, or you’ll be asked to pay something to have the link removed. Again, document it in your spreadsheet.

Insight From John Mueller On Commonly-Held Assumptions About Link Disavowal

Clarifications aside, let’s talk about what came out of that Webmaster Hangout. I was fortunate enough to be able to join as one of the 10 main participants, and I got to ask John some questions about things people said after the last article.

Conventional Wisdom: Multiple Reconsideration Requests Will Hurt Your Chances Of Reinclusion

FALSE. John said each request is considered independently and that multiple requests will not be looked upon negatively.

• Conventional Wisdom: Google Keeps A Record Of Link Disavowals You’ve Done

FALSE. Google does not keep a record. John said that each time you submit a disavowal file, your site is considered anew with those particular disavowals. So don’t remove links you’ve already disavowed!

• Conventional Wisdom: You Should Only Disavow Pages Of A Domain, Not Entire Domains

TRICKY. While disavowing an entire domain can cause you to lose credible links, disavowing an individual page may not be enough. Often, these pages are duplicated in different areas of the site. Writer’s note: I recommend using the site: command to search for all copies of your link, for example:

site:website.com "anchor text"

(Here, “anchor text” is the specific text that links to your site.)

You may also want to search for your brand name this way, just to be sure you’ve gotten them all. Unless the link is comment spam or something like that on an otherwise legitimate site, you’re probably better off disavowing the whole domain.

• Conventional Wisdom: You Should Just Submit The Text-Based Disavow File

IT DEPENDS. John indicated if you can link to a Google spreadsheet or something similar that shows the efforts you went through to contact (or even find contact information) on your inbound links, that can help.

If you need a sample spreadsheet, you can check out the one we use at Archology… although, we do request you strip off our brand name before submitting to Google. ;-)

• Conventional Wisdom: You Need To Check Multiple Sources For Links — Google Webmaster Tools Isn’t Enough

TRUE AND FALSE. John’s official response was that you should focus on the links in Webmaster Tools as a guideline, but if you spot patterns in the way links point to your site, you should explore further to see if there are other links that follow that pattern.

He also mentioned that the team often tries to dig a bit deeper with the examples they might provide in a response to your reconsideration request — to show you that something you thought was okay actually isn’t.

In my opinion, looking for links that point to a particular page or section of pages may be beneficial based on this information.

• Conventional Wisdom: It’s Okay To Keep A Single Http Link In Press Releases

FALSE. John’s official advice on that is to go ahead and nofollow it to be on the safe side. I asked, “Why didn’t Google just identify press releases and discount them?”

His response was that they already try to do that, just as they already try to eliminate affiliate links, but sometimes the algorithm isn’t good enough to find them all. He also mentioned that if a site shows a pattern of using excessive anchor text links in their press releases, Google will notice and look for that to be cleaned up.

But, I asked him, “What if they are really old, like 2008?” He confirmed what I suspected: there is no expiration date on links. Finally, I asked him whether it might be possible at some point in the future to disavow a piece of content. For example, if a site has a press release they know was stuffed with anchor text and syndicated to hundreds of sites, might they one day be able to disavow all of them at once?

He said that was an interesting suggestion, and we saw him write it down on a notepad. So, here’s hoping that might be a future option.

• Conventional Wisdom: Using Robots.txt To Block A Page Will Remove Inbound Link Value

FALSE. John confirms that because the search engine can’t crawl the page, they can’t see if it should be noindexed. He says if you want to remove the link value from a page, you need to include a robots=”noindex” in the head of that specific page… but then, there was a note added to the video afterward that said noindex will *not* block the flow of PageRank. This is a new one on me; I thought it would.

In my experience, one of the best ways to stop the flow of PageRank to a page is to 301 redirect that page offsite to another domain that you don’t care about, then 302 it back to another page on the main site. It’s a clunky solution, but seems to work if you’re dealing with a large number of established links to an intermediary page like those you may have with affiliates.

If any readers have a better idea, please share in the comments.

Try A Hangout Yourself

There were many other items discussed in the hangout beyond links, so I encourage you to watch the whole video (it’s an hour well spent!) or to join future hangouts. The next one will be on August 26, 2013. To add a question or vote on questions that will be asked, go here.

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

Related Topics: Advanced | All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google: Disavow Links Tool | Google: Google+ | Google: Penguin Update | Google: Webmaster Central | How To: Links | Link Building: General | SEO: General | SEO: Spamming

Sponsored


About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



SearchCap:

Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  

Share

Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Guest

    Thank you for reading! When you write for SearchEngineLand, the copy goes through multiple editors before it’s posted, and while this generally improves the content, sometimes little nuances are lost. I want to be very clear that the “True or False Questions for John Mueller” were not an interview. I’ve paraphrased things that he said in the webmaster hangout in response to both my questions and other people’s. I’ve done my best to retain the context and report accurately, but if there is any doubt, please watch the hangout for the full context of his answers.

  • Mathilde Joly

    Hi,
    indeed, if a spammy backlink is pointing to a page which has a noindex tag in its header, the backlink will pass pagerank anyway.

    Nice transcription !

  • joeyoungblood

    John Mueller has nothing to do with Web Spam or Search Quality.. nothing. please stop quoting him as the official Google word until Google says to listen to him and not Amit Singhal or Matt Cutts.

  • Amit Adler

    Regarding robots.txt – contrary to what most think (this article’s author included), it’s no surprise NOINDEX indeed passes page-rank. Only NOFOLLOW blocks PR.

  • John Lawless

    Great read but it misses the elephant in the room. When a competitor buy’s 1000′s of spams links from china/russia and others and points them to a site? This still works as I can attest because I’m a victim. These links show up in raw server data and not in wmt. Is there a defence to this strategy from competitors in a narow niche?

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    My thought was always that if noindex caused the page to not be indexed, then links pointing to it wouldn’t count because it wouldn’t be in the index. So while we certainly learned the definitive answer from John, it did surprise me. How were you interpreting it that it comes as no surprise to you? I’m interested. Maybe you can explain it in a way that makes more sense to me.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that John is not to be listened to… he’s the offical spokesperson of Google on the webmaster forum, the office hours hangouts, and frequently speaks at industry shows. He’s been with Google at least since 2007, and is often quoted (especially on the subject of links!) by Danny Sullivan and others.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Hey John, excellent question. One of our clients is dealing with something similar right now – outright sabotage does happen, especially in competitive industries. We’re trying a variety of things; from reviewing the referrer of any server data with user agent “Googlebot” (to see what links they are following) and blocking referrers with .htaccess commands. The jury’s still out on whether it will work.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Hey John, excellent question. One of our clients is dealing with something similar right now – outright sabotage does happen, especially in competitive industries. We’re trying a variety of things; from reviewing the referrer of any server data with user agent “Googlebot” (to see what links they are following) and blocking referrers with .htaccess commands. The jury’s still out on whether it will work.

  • Emory Rowland

    “What if they are really old, like 2008?”

    2008 is really old? How about people who have been doing this since 2003. That’s a lot of press releases to contact and disavow! Tell me it ain’t so :(

  • Emory Rowland

    “What if they are really old, like 2008?”

    2008 is really old? How about people who have been doing this since 2003. That’s a lot of press releases to contact and disavow! Tell me it ain’t so :(

  • tomshark

    An alternative to the robots.txt problem might be to 400 or 410 the page with links.

  • tomshark

    An alternative to the robots.txt problem might be to 400 or 410 the page with links.

  • Sandeep Kumar

    Is there any article that explain the to recognize the bad links to disavow

  • Sandeep Kumar

    Is there any article that explain the to recognize the bad links to disavow

  • Zayeed Mohummed

    “one of the best ways to stop the flow of PageRank to a page is to 301
    redirect that page offsite to another domain that you don’t care about,
    then 302 it back to another page on the main site. It’s a clunky
    solution, but seems to work if you’re dealing with a large number of
    established links to an intermediary page like those you may have with
    affiliates.”

    Most links point to homepage in most of the cases, at least the ones that are unhealthy (because they are in web directories, article directories, forum signatures etc and being generic in nature they mostly point to your homepage) then doing a 301 redirect to offsite domain and then 302 redirecting it back would certainly increase the page load time, ultimately causing you to lose ranks.

    I don’t find it applicable in most cases but maybe in some cases..

  • Zayeed Mohummed

    “one of the best ways to stop the flow of PageRank to a page is to 301
    redirect that page offsite to another domain that you don’t care about,
    then 302 it back to another page on the main site. It’s a clunky
    solution, but seems to work if you’re dealing with a large number of
    established links to an intermediary page like those you may have with
    affiliates.”

    Most links point to homepage in most of the cases, at least the ones that are unhealthy (because they are in web directories, article directories, forum signatures etc and being generic in nature they mostly point to your homepage) then doing a 301 redirect to offsite domain and then 302 redirecting it back would certainly increase the page load time, ultimately causing you to lose ranks.

    I don’t find it applicable in most cases but maybe in some cases..

  • http://electricdialogue.com/ Mark Hughes

    I’m not surprised either – in fact I would have been fairly worried if they didn’t!

    For example, let’s say you have an ecommerce site with 100 products listed across a paginated sequence (10 pages with 10 products per page). If somebody links to Page 5, then that’s an endorsement of your website and you should enjoy the value that passes.

    However, we are advised by Google to noindex pages 2+ in a paginated sequence, in order to avoid similar/duplicate content issues. So, if a noindexed page didn’t pass link juice, nobody would be noindexing their paginated sequences.

    As Amit said, this is the difference between Meta noindex/follow and noindex/nofollow.

  • Gridlock

    He’s a ‘Webmaster Trends Analyst’ – he runs the software that mines the Webmaster forum.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Yes, you would never want to do that for a home page link. But it’s a possible solution for affiliate links.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Hi Sandeep, I tried to cover this in my previous article. It’s not perfect, but you can use it as a guideline. :) http://searchengineland.com/five-steps-to-clean-up-your-links-like-a-techie-166888

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Anytime you can return a 404 page for a link, you can definitely wipe out pagerank. But most of the time, you have good links and human traffic coming to that link too, so 404 may not be an option.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Haha, I picked 2008 because it was a specific example of a client I’m working with. But yes, I’ve been doing SEO since 2000. And I am sorry to say, it is so. :(

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    That’s a fantastic explanation, thanks for sharing it with the readers. I get it, but have been confused by statements like this from Google’s link schemes help page:

    “You can prevent PageRank from passing in several ways, such as:
    -Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the tag
    -Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file”

    If you can redirect links to a page that’s blocked, but by Google’s own admission, links blocked by robots.txt can continue to accrue PageRank, then how is this possible?

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Thanks for the explanation. Will you see the comment above from Google’s link schemes page and explain how that works, then?

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    As I understand it, you’re not supposed to noindex your paginated sequence; you’re supposed to use rel=next/prev to consolidate PageRank and indicate it’s a series.

    But yes. If you too would like to see the comment above and provide feedback, I would be most appreciative.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    lowlevel, I really like your explanation and would like to quote you in a future article. I am betting I’m not the only person who is confused by this! Would you please email my SEL contact email so we can talk further?

  • http://www.andreapernici.com Andrea Pernici

    The robots.txt is is different from the noindex directive.

    Often another misconception is that using the robots.txt you can prevent indexing, but is not true.

    If you block a page with robots.txt the content of the page is not accessible from the crawler and as a consequence the content cannot be evaluated. I think Enrico can also explain this concept to you better via email or on G+ https://plus.google.com/114647422042114505519/posts

  • Fernando Chavez

    Specifically, you are asking about this?

    “If you can redirect links to a page that’s blocked, but by Google’s own admission, links blocked by robots.txt can continue to accrue PageRank, then how is this possible?”

    Although I can see how it could be confusing, it’s not a contradiction. Imagine this scenario.

    http://www.SiteA.com/page1 links users to http://www.siteB.com

    We want to prevent PageRank flow to SiteB.com, which we can do as follows:

    http://www.SiteA.com/page1 links to http://www.SiteA.com/page2, which redirects to http://www.siteB.com.

    We then disallow /page2 in the robots.txt file of SiteA.com.

    In this scenario, the following will occur:

    - PageRank will still be diluted/evaporate on all outgoing links on /page1.
    - Assuming the link to /page2 did not have a rel=”nofollow” attribute, then it will accrue PageRank.
    - Since /page2 cannot be indexed or crawled due to the robots.txt file, it will not pass on any PageRank to SiteB.com. The PR will dead end at /page2.

    Google is saying that /page2 will accrue PageRank. They are not referring to the target of the link, which is http://www.siteB.com.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Yes, but in this scenario, you would have to have control over SiteA, and Google is suggesting this strategy as a way to remove the flow of pagerank, specifically with regard to unnatural links. Which would imply that what they mean is you should take the link from SiteA.com and redirect it from SiteB.com/page1 to SiteB.com/page2 (and then block /page2 in robots.txt). But that will not work, because /page2 will still accrue pagerank – right?

    I’m not trying to be argumentative; I’m honestly trying to clarify this – and I’m going to write about it in my next post.

  • http://electricdialogue.com/ Mark Hughes

    Yes I agree you should implement rel=next/prev, however often webmasters are forced to use the backup option of noindexing pages 2+.

    But to your question. I can see your point and understand why it may seem strange that a noindexed page could pass PR if you have asked Google to exclude it from their index. I suppose it begs the question, when you tell Google to ‘noindex’ a page, are you asking them to i) not deliver this page to users in search results or ii) ignore the page completely?

    It’s useful to go back to the paginated sequence thing (forget rel=prev/next exists for a moment!) – if I tell Google not to index pages 2-10, I still want them to continue finding, crawling and passing PR to the products I have listed there – so I want them to pass freely through pages that I have otherwise asked them not to deliver in search results.

    So, just because I don’t want a particular page to be delivered in search results does not necessarily mean that the page i) has no authority to pass and ii) should be invisible to Google’s crawlers.

    A link from a noindexed page is perhaps like a private recommendation – it’s just that Google happens to know about the recommendation too!

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    well said, thanks!

  • Mark A Warner

    The only problem is that the “no index” tag doesn’t always work. I just sort of learned this myself, you can see the evidence here if you wish – http://www.seo4anyone.com/blog/website-development/robots-no-index-no-follow-always-work

  • Henry Mangult

    Hi Sandeep

    I have been using link detox tool from l research tools (LRT) for analyzing bad links. Useful tool you can try it free for a tweet.

  • Henry Mangult

    Well informed comments along the line :)

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Update: received this via Google+ from John Mueller:
    Thanks for the heads-up — it looks pretty good actually :).

    A few tiny notes …
    “So don’t remove links you’ve already disavowed!” — this might be confusing, removing the links from the site is fine, removing them from the disavow file (if you still want them disavowed) isn’t a good idea.

    “Conventional Wisdom: You Should Just Submit The Text-Based Disavow File / It depends.” — The disavow file is required regardless, but documenting your work can show your good-faith effort in cleaning up the actual problem, when the web-spam team reviews it.

    Cheers
    John

    I will try to get SEL to update the post with these shortly.

  • tedives

    Jenny – great work.

    I recently did some remediation for a client and compared their links in GWT versus links I could just find by doing searches on their domain in Google. It looks to me that GWT only reports roughly *half* of them.

    I am pretty sure that John Mu or someone else made a comment previously that indicated that if you have any problematic links they will be shown in GWT, i.e. problematic links prioritized to show in that list – but I don’t think one can be too careful, particularly with Penguin looking at the overall profile – an individual link might not be a problem, but a bunch of them might be – and if they don’t all show, it’s hard to know which ones to go after.

    And of course, Google probably knows about more links than it even allows into its index

    This is why I think it’s important to combine GWT data with other data such as SEOMoz’s or Majestic-SEO, to get a more complete picture of all the links out there.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    By the way – the .htaccess solution I was exploring will not work, because Google does not “crawl” links the way we typically think about – so they wouldn’t pass the referrer.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Thanks tedives. I generally focus mostly on the links in WMT because that’s where they’ve said to focus, but when I see patterns I try to explore those deeper using other tools just as you have suggested. Bing WMT is also a great source of link information that many people miss.

  • tedives

    I also worry that a link that’s considered OK today, and therefore not shown…might be considered bad by Google tomorrow since they change things so often…best to check them all out at once, in order to help “future-proof” the link profile from future updates.

  • Kasib Khan

    We can add a nofollow tag on page which is help to stop the flow Page Rank

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    I agree. But one tiny clarification – Google’s sample list of links contains links they deem both “good” and “bad”. It’s really just a cross-section of the links you have; meant to be a representative sample.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    nofollow only works on the source of the link. Once the link is pointed to your domain, the pagerank is passed, whether you stop it on the destination page or allow it to continue to flow through your site doesn’t really matter.

  • Kasib Khan

    Hello Jenny, Thanks for you suggestion; but we really can’t stop the flow of page with any strategy?

  • Braylenxoxo

    actually John Mueller knows the guy who runs the software

  • andreluisdeandrade

    I am using Google Disavow, but it’s been so dificulty to resolve my problem. My musiconline.com.br site get down in June 6, 2013, after 15 years of hard work.

  • http://webdesign.ducktoes.com/seo.php Cathie of Ducktoes SEO

    I think Google Webmaster Tools sample links is a lot better and more thorough than it used to be. I had luck with one site in helping them recover from Penguin. I tried a bunch of different tools but those links didn’t make much of a difference. Disavowing the bad the bad links in the Google Webmaster Tools finally did work to bring them close to the top of page one again.

  • http://faktor.biz/ Krzysztof Furtak

    I’m testing now examples of unnatural links: “how do I know what to disavow/delete?”.

 

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest

 
 

Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States

Europe

Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech


Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!

 


 

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide