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.