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“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” We know that’s Spiderman’s motto but now we can easily apply that to the new Google Webmaster Disavow Links Tool.

Disavow Links? What does that mean? Well if you know a little about Search Engine Optimization you know that the number of links to your website is one of 100s of factors that affect how your website ranks for certain keywords.

In the past, even as late as 2008, it was standard practice in the SEO world to purchase links for your website. To be fair, it was never a great strategy – creating good, solid content was always a better choice and what has always been emphasized here at the Search Engine Academy.

Google was aware of this trick for a long time, and in April 2012 it introduced “Penguin” an update to its search algorithm that targeted spammy links that it identified as not being authentic and most likely purchased links.

Many, many websites were hurt by that update, and some perhaps unfairly because they did in other ways earn the right to rank well for their selected keywords. As a result, Google just this week introduced a special way to “disavow” links to your website that might negatively affect your rankings.

At first glance this seems great – “Gee thanks Google for helping us out so we can rank better!” However all is not as it seems – and this is where Spiderman’s motto comes in.

I recently read a couple of terrific blog posts on this subject. Dr. Peter J. Meyers’ blog post on SEOMoz.com discusses who should use the Disavow Tool and focuses mainly on those who were affected by the Penguin update. He also mentions that this tool will help the few websites that have been victims of negative SEO (but stresses that those are quite rare and only in very, very competitive markets).

The big takeaway from Dr. Peter’s article was not to overreact and that truly identifying bad links is extremely difficult.

Another blog post by Eugene Ware of Noble Samurai goes into much more dangerous territory. Ware mentions that by “helping” us with a great new tool, what Google has actually done is crowdsource the detection of link-spam. Since many people will now be telling Google “don’t pay attention to that link – it’s spammy” that will in reality help Google when identifying other websites that are using link-spam.

To give Google some credit, the Disavow Links tool does come with a strong warning that it’s an advanced feature to be used with caution. See the screenshot below.

All of this discussion comes back to the same conclusion and the foundation of the Search Engine Academy: Google and the other search engines want authentic content and authentic (human-generated) links that show the true relevance of your website. That’s the best way to get real, long lasting results.

See below for a quick discussion on the topic from my YouTube video for the Dallas Search Engine Academy.