I wasn’t planning to blog today, but after reading at least two dozen emails in the past week about link removal requests, penalties, using the Google’s disavow tool and sheer confusion about search engine rankings, I want to share my thoughts and opinions.
One thing is very clear. The Google updates in the last two years have caused all sorts of confusion, paranoia and outright madness for bloggers and webmasters.
If you get nothing else from this post, get this…
1) You MUST start treating Google traffic as a bonus instead of a necessity.
2) Trying to over-tweak your pages to please every algorithm update will make you nuts.
Need an overview of how search engine optimization works and what’s changed over the years? Check this video.
OK, let’s start with Google’s disavow tool (here’s how to use it).
This was introduced about a year ago and using it was like telling Google, Hey, ignore these links pointing to my site.
This was also presented as a solution if you had manually created or bought links from low-quality or irrelevant sites that could now be harming your rankings.
The tricky part about the disavow tool is Google won’t tell you which sites are bad, and you won’t know if it worked right away. You have to wait until the next link/Penguin algorithm rolls around.
So don’t expect Google to ever give you any kind of official confirmation about whether you disavowed the right links, or if this action had any impact at all. You just have to wait it out.
On a side note, I have read very few success stories regarding this tool, especially in the last six months, so I’d love to hear your story if it has worked for you.
Now here’s where it gets REALLY tricky.
When the tool first launched, Matt Cutts warned us that we should use it very, very carefully and sparingly.
In fact, Matt seemed to suggest that the only people who should use the tool are those who received the unnatural link warning in their Google Webmaster Tools account.
The reason he warned you to be careful is some of those “questionable” links could actually be helping your site, so it might be difficult to know which links are helping or hurting.
I’ve scrubbed to that sound bite in the video below, so just hit PLAY to hear the snippet.
OK, fine. Makes sense to me.
Then about a week ago, Matt Cutts released another video stating that you may want to proactively use this tool if you notice some strange-looking links pointing to your site in Google Webmaster Tools.
To Matt’s credit, he has always warned that this tool is for power users and should be used with caution. But now it sounds like he is suggesting you use this whether or not you have a penalty or unnatural link notification in Google Webmaster Tools.
Click PLAY to hear that sound bite…
No disrespect to Mr. Cutts because he’s just doing his job. But I now take these videos with a grain of salt.
I used to pay a lot more attention to his advice back in the day, but when I saw the video below where he suggested adding “nofollow” to links in sidebar widgets and infographics, that was the last straw for me.
To all the newbies reading this, when you want to tell Google to ignore a link to a specific site, you can add rel=”nofollow” to the link code to prevent from passing any “link juice” that could impact that site’s rank. Popular sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. assign nofollow to all their links to prevent link spam.
So as a result of the “nofollow widget” video above, I bet you can guess what started happening.
Now some people are searching for plugins to “nofollow” all links in their sidebars and even taking it to the extreme by making every link on their site nofollow because they fear the dreaded penalty.
Seriously? Nofollow ALL links sitewide???? Yes, ladies and gents. Based on emails I’ve been getting, this is an example of the kind of paranoia that exists today.
Here’s my stance…
If I want to link to someone’s website because it’s fabulous, I am going to give them the link juice they deserve. That’s how the web is supposed to work. I’m not going to worry about how Google is going to perceive it.
And I’m certainly not going to start policing other sites and worrying about how they are linking to mine. Can you imagine that email?
I really appreciate the link to my site, but could you please do me a favor and make that link from my infographic “nofollow” so Google doesn’t penalize me? Thanks!
Umm…. sorry, I’m just not going there.
Look, I respect Google’s effort to clean up spam on the Web, but at the same time a lot of the advice is causing sheer pandemonium and paranoia.
The other problem is that ranking drops you may assume are penalties, may just be a permanent algorithm change. So you may be scrambling to fix something that isn’t even broken. That’s what’s so tricky about search engine optimization today.
Sure, I keep up with the quality guidelines on a high level, but I refuse to get caught up in the nitpicky details of widget links, nofollow vs. dofollow, etc.
It will drive you nuts if you let it!