Web spam has been a growing concern in the search industry. According to Blekko’s Spam Clock, on average one million spam pages are created every hour. To improve user search experience, Google released Google Penguin update on April 24, 2012. This was a search algorithm update, also referred to as Google Over Optimization update, with the purpose to find and punish sites that spam Google search results to rank better by exploiting SEO tactics that are against Google’s publishers guidelines (e.g. keyword stuffing, link schemes, cloaking or sneaky redirects, purposeful duplicate content). Google said that this update was expected to impact about 3.1% of search queries.
As a result of the Over Optimization update, negative SEO concerns have gained more weight in the eyes of search industry experts. There is a growing fear of being penalized by Google as a result of black hat SEOs (primarily your competitors) utilizing web spam techniques against you to bring your site down in the rankings.
Webmasters have discussed ways to take precautions to protect themselves from negative SEO, and one of the proposed ways was to introduce a link disavow feature which would allow site owners to distance themselves from spammy backlinks that have a negative affect on the rankings. While Matt Cutts from Google recently mentioned that Google considers implementing the link disavow tool within 1-3 months, Bing beat Google to the punch and was the first one to launch this functionality on June 27, 2012.
How to Disavow a Link in Bing Webmaster Tools
- Go to http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster/ and register or login
- Verify the ownership of your site with Bing
- Go to the Configure My Site section and click on Disavow Links page
Considering that Bing has not issued any straightforward warnings about over optimization penalties and was generally saying that they do not directly punish sites that have spammy backlinks, noone can really give a definite answer to what is the purpose of the Bing Disavow Link feature:
“Q: Do inbound links from low-quality sites adversely affect Bing ranking?
A: While they won’t hurt your site, they really won’t help much, either.“
Duane Forrester from Bing tried to explain why:
Does Google Need To Launch a Disavow Links Tool?
While there are obvious benefits of having a tool that allows you to distance yourself from bad neighborhoods (spammy backlinks), I think that the good intention of this tool can be easily manipulated to the benefit of black hat SEOs:
- The tool can make it quite easy to spam and avoid responsibility for your violations – I can spam as much as I want and then once caught, I can simply say that I have nothing to do with all the spammy links that I’ve built.
- Users can manipulate the tool and use it to indicate that they want to distance themselves from spammy sites which in reality could be “good sites.” As a result, Google will think that those good sites are spammy (unless there will be a good machine learning mechanism in place to analyze the data properly and not punish those who do not deserve it). Consequently, all external links on those good sites can hurt quite a lot of other good sites.
Ryan Jones has written a good blog post about why You Don’t Want a Google Disavow Links Option.
Was I Hit By Penguin or Negative SEO?
Quite a lot of websites (especially small business sites) have been hit by Penguin inadvertently (either as a result of some low quality SEO work that was outsourced or by hiring ignorant in-house SEOs that relied on the old fashioned practices of over optimization or other black hat SEO techniques that had proven to work well up until April 24, 2012).
While Google notifies webmasters about potential penalties via Google Webmaster Tools, the best way to find out whether you’ve been affected by Penguin is to look at your search-related traffic since April 24 and compare it to the traffic from a day or two before. If you see a major drop in traffic, you were probably penalized; if you see a rise, you might have benefited from Penguin; if no change is visible, then your site was probably not impacted.
If you think that you were hit by Penguin and do not deserve a penalty, you can use the Penguin feedback form to submit your request.
And here is a real example of how a site has been hit by Penguin and then took steps to successfully recover from the penalty.
I have not seen an example when a site was actually hit by negative SEO per se. Have you? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.