Matt Cutts released a video recently in response to the com­mon ques­tion of how to han­dle web­sites that use irrel­e­vant back­links to harm com­pe­ti­tion. Cutts’ advice was to first reach out to the admin­is­tra­tors of the site that is link­ing to you and sim­ply ask them to dis­as­so­ci­ate or remove the links. If the admins are unre­spon­sive, the best course of action would then be to dis­avow the asso­ci­ated links. He ends the seg­ment by say­ing if you fol­low these two steps you “should be in good shape.”

Let’s explore this a lit­tle fur­ther, shall we?

Decid­ing whether or not a link is caus­ing you a penalty is a rather ambigu­ous task. It may be that the link is nei­ther harm­ful nor good. If you are an enterprise-level site, just imag­ine the level of effort it would take to con­stantly mon­i­tor all inbound links on a reg­u­lar basis and then dis­avow any from bad neighborhoods.

Before you jump to dis­avow any links, com­pare the per­cent­age of irrel­e­vant links you have to the over­all num­ber of back­links on your pro­file. If the num­ber of irrel­e­vant links is less than 1 per­cent of your total back­links and you haven’t received a warn­ing from Google, con­sider the con­se­quences and think twice before using the dis­avow tool.  Once you have a greater sense of how irrel­e­vant back­links are affect­ing your web­site, you can scale back this process as needed. Given that Google is attempt­ing to deter­mine rel­e­vancy, the irrel­e­vant links should have less of an over­all impact on your website.

Play­ing SEO defense, it is cer­tainly pos­si­ble to build out processes that mine my back­link pro­file for sus­pect links, but unless I knew this was a seri­ous issue, ( e.g., I received a spe­cific warn­ing noti­fi­ca­tion email from Google that I have been penal­ized or see a cor­re­lat­ing decline in my over­all SEO per­for­mance), it would be a low-priority issue for me. Con­se­quently, using Google’s man­ual action viewer tool is a great way to view any sus­pect links or actions taken by the man­ual web­spam team that directly affect your site’s rankings.

When deal­ing with irrel­e­vant back­links, a good rule of thumb is to com­pare the rel­a­tive impact of a pre­emp­tive strike on neg­a­tive links with any poten­tial gains that can be achieved by pur­su­ing SEO strate­gies like site archi­tec­ture improve­ments, social media align­ment, con­tent mar­ket­ing, and cross chan­nel co-optimization.

Have any of you pre­emp­tively dis­avowed links with­out receiv­ing a warn­ing? I’d love to hear why.

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