Maintaining a high search engine rank is easier said than done. While quality content and products go a long way toward separating good websites from bad websites, there are certain tactics that can drag down sites that should rank higher than they do. Sometimes it's not even the webmaster's fault; some legitimate sites that use sound SEO practices take a hit when new algorithms like Google Panda are launched.
The major search engines don't want to penalize legitimate users when they improve their algorithms, and that's why Google has introduced the disavow tool in mid-October. It gives webmasters a far higher degree of control than they've had in the past, and it's the first step toward ensuring that new updates won't force small businesses to rebuild their Web traffic from scratch.
The first rule of traditional SEO is that more backlinks are better. Sites with thousands of backlinks always rank higher than sites with just a few, but that's one thing that Google is trying to change. The latest updates have skewed in favor of sites with quality backlinks as opposed to sites with the highest number of backlinks. That means that sites that are linked from authoritative sources or other sites within the same niche get more traffic from Google than sites that have been linked from spam-laden "get rich quick" sales pages.
While this is a positive change on the whole, webmasters can't always control who links to their sites. That often translates to lower search rankings for something that they didn't do. That's where the Google disavow tool comes in. It safeguards legitimate sites by allowing webmasters to be proactive in cleaning up bad links that can tarnish a site's rank. The disavow tool doesn't actually remove links from anyone's website, but it does tell Google what should and shouldn't be included in a site's backlink profile, and there's a good chance that this data will be used to determine what sites will be punished in upcoming Google updates.
The disavow tool is extremely powerful when it's coupled with a sound white hat SEO strategy. It essentially marks the end of the ranking yo-yo that webmasters have had to contend with ever since the major search engines started cracking down on shady SEO practices. It also gives webmasters the power to penalize sites that continue to use poor SEO practices in 2012, and that may offer a hint about features Google will implement in the future.
Having a high number of backlinks is still a positive thing, but webmasters should make full use of the disavow tool. It's something that's best used sparingly as most sites don't need it in the first place, but the ones that do stand a much higher chance of weathering future updates without taking a significant hit in terms of overall traffic.
Jason Hennessey, CEO, EverSpark Interactive and Cobb County resident