"The Missing Link" is a Search Engine Watch exclusive reader-driven Q&A column with veteran content publicist Eric Ward. You can ask questions about all aspects of links and link building and Eric will provide his expert answers. Submit your questions here, and you may be featured in a future installment!
I run a small SEO agency. We have a client for whom we are about to upload a disavow file to Google. The file contains only the URLs we are unhappy with. The client asked me what would happen if we also included URLs containing backlinks to one of his competitor's sites in that disavow file. Would this have the effect of causing his competitor's site to drop in the rankings, because the URLs pointing to his site had been disavowed? And if this is true, what's to keep any site from doing this as part of a negative SEO campaign against their competitors?
– Nervous About Negative SEO
You bring up a fair point, and there have been cases where negative SEO has been shown to work.
However, there is an assumption in your question we should clarify. The question could be rephrased like this: "Do disavowed URLs lose all negative (or positive) impact for all sites they might be linking to?"
I received the following feedback from Google:
"When a URL is disavowed, it is done so only when a site owner is logged into Google Webmaster Tools, and on behalf of a site that the logged-in user has verified they own/control. So any disavow file that is uploaded is associated only with the site that user controls, and no other sites will be affected."
I take this to mean that when you disavow a URL that's linking to your own site, it does notdisavow that URL for all other sites that same URL may be linking to. None of us can be 100 percent certain which URLs Google has identified as being spam or of no value.
What you believe to be a legitimate link, I may believe to be spam and disavow, and Google may have a completely different perception based on whatever algorithmic signals they are using.
Here's an example. Some people still believe a link from DMOZ is very valuable from a ranking signal standpoint (I'm not one of them, even though I was a DMOZ editor for 8 years).
Now imagine you're one of the thousands of sites that haven't been able to get listed (linked) from DMOZ over the years. Why not upload a disavow file for the entire dmoz.org domain, even though it isn't linking to you, in hopes that it will devalue DMOZ links for others.
You can see the faults with this logic.
Google has to keep disavow files site specific.