Google released their disavow tool in October of 2012, after considerable complaining across the SEO and webmaster community about how difficult it was to get toxic links removed (and a fair share of whining about negative SEO).
In the wake of the Panda and Penguin algorithms and their various updates, like many SEOs, I found an increasing number of clients in need of recovery from algorithmic filtering, manual penalties or both. For those pursued by the Penguin, the disavow tool became a very handy tool, indeed.
The disavow tool works
For the record, contrary to a couple of recent discussions, in which several people voiced their opinions that using the disavow tool is a worthless exercise, as it simply doesn’t work… I say that it DOES work. It’s often a slow process, and a very gradual one, at that. But I’ve used it many times, sometimes without accompanying recovery efforts with any sort of linkbuilding program. I’m thoroughly convinced that the degree of recovery we were able to see over time is evidence of its efficacy.
And it’s important
I still do a good bit of forensic SEO to identify and rectify link-related issues. Having to attempt any sort of recovery without the benefit of the disavow tool doesn’t appeal to me at all.
But I have a disturbing feeling that we may be faced with that possibility at some point. Why would I think that?
But it’s overused
When Matt Cutts first announced the launch of the tool, he said, “This is a power-user tool. We don’t want people to go overboard with this. Most people shouldn’t need to use this.” Since most of my clients did have a large number of spammy links to get rid of, eventually, I’ve always ended up having to use it. I could never achieve even 20% cooperation in link removal, even after three requests.
So #1, because of a lot of discussions I’ve seen, it seems that many people are ignoring Matt’s warning and using the tool for any and all link cleanup efforts, however minor.
And #2, a number of folks appear to be using it instead of link removal requests, rather than to supplement the process.
Finally, many people are using the tool proactively. (Which may or may not be an issue. In fact, I’ve used it proactively myself, without sending link removal requests.) It’s possible that Google may take a dim view of that… who knows?
The bottom line is, I suspect that the tool is seeing a lot more use than Google may have anticipated. While I doubt that its use is having a particularly heavy impact on them, in terms of machine use, if they see the prevalent usage as outside of theirintent, they may decide to pull the plug on it.
That would have a major impact on our ability to clean up a site’s link profile. What is more difficult to know, however, is what impact it would have on Google’s ability to clean up their link graph.
The link graph is a very liquid thing, undergoing constant change. So I thinks it’s quite safe to say that if its cleanup was their goal, they can hardly consider it completed. It’s an endless task. But since I think there is still a very real possibility that links are gradually surrendering their seat to authority, the link graph may soon be obsolete, in a ranking context.
Now, I’m all for that transformation, if it takes place. I think it would be great for our industry and for users. And it probably goes without saying that it would be beneficial for Google. But the transition would be painful. At least, unless they manage to transition basically overnight, during which time there would be no new penalties or filtering imposed and existing penalties and filters are lifted.
Is this my 2015 prediction?
So am I calling the discontinuance of the disavow tool my prediction for 2015?
Yeah, I guess I am.
Update. 1-15-2015: Hat tip to John Mueller, who responded to me when I asked him if there was anyplace to see how much usage the disavow tool was getting over time. Unfortunately, there’s no public place for that data, but he did pull a search of a trend for the queries “disavow” and a half dozen variations (remember – the disavow tool isn’t easy to find without searching…. I’ve got it bookmarked, but the only other alternative I’ve found is to Google it).
Here’s the graphic for Interest Over Time:
The graphic for Regional Interest:
and finally, for Related Searches: