Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that offer negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying they “take advantage” of customers who don’t know better.

While many often say that Mueller and other Googlers are vague, even on the subject of disavowing the link.

However, the truth is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.

This may be the first time that Mueller has actually portrayed SEOs who recommend freedom to disavow links in a negative light.

What led to John Mueller’s reprimand?

The context for Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies began with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@employee)

Ryan tweeted that he was shocked by the number of SEOs that regularly show disavow links.

he chirp:

“I’m still shocked at how many search engine links regularly disavow. Why? Unless you spam them or take manual action, you’re likely to do more harm than good.”

The reason for Ryan’s shock is that Google has consistently recommended the paid/spam link disavow tool that sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

Yet here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool to remove other types of tools.

Here’s basic information on that.

Link disavow tool

In the mid 2000’s, there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the April 2012 Penguin update. The trade in paid links was amazing.

I knew one publisher with about fifty websites who received a check of $30,000 a month for hosting paid links on their site.

Even though I advised my clients not to do that, some of them still bought the links because they saw everyone was buying and they were lacking.

The Penguin update caused the link selling boom to crash.

Thousands of websites have lost their rankings.

SEOs and affected sites strained under the burden of having to contact all of the sites from which they had purchased paid links to demand their removal.

So some in the SEO community have asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow links.

Months passed and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released the disavow tool.

Google cautioned from the outset that the tool should only be used to disavow links for which the site’s publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible.

The first paragraph of Google October 2012 ad From the disavow tool, the link leaves no doubt as to when the tool was used:

Today we offer a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.

If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on “unnatural links” pointing to your site, this tool can help you remedy the issue.

If you haven’t received this notification, this tool is generally not something you need to worry about.”

The message couldn’t be clearer.

But at some point in time, link disavow became a service applied to random and “spamy-looking” links, which is not the purpose of the tool.

Disavowal takes months to work

There are many anecdotes about link disavowals helping sites regain rankings.

They don’t lie, I know honest and credible people who have made this claim.

But there you have it, John Mueller confirmed that it takes months for a link to be disavowed to work its way through the Google algorithm.

Sometimes unrelated things happen, there is no correlation. It just looks that way.

John shared how long it takes to disavow the link to work in the webmasters hangout:

Regarding this particular case, where you say you filed a disclaimer and then the ranking dropped or visibility decreased, especially after a few days, I’m assuming that’s unrelated.

So, in particular with the disavow file, what happens is that we take that file into account when we re-process links that point to your website.

And that’s a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it to have an impact over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months… kind of step-by-step that direction.

So if you say you see an effect within a couple of days and it’s a really strong effect, I’m going to assume that this effect is totally unrelated to your disclaimer. … It seems that you still didn’t know the reason for that.”

John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow companies are making things up

Context is important to understanding what was said.

So that’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.

One SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.

The person who replied to Ryan tweeted that link disavowal is still important, that agencies offer negative SEO services to remove websites and that link disavowal is a way to combat negative links.

Twitter SEO (@SEOGuruJaipur):

“Google still penalizes backlinks (eg the December 14th update, so disavowing links still matters).”

SEOGuruJaipur then started tweeting about negative SEO companies.

Negative SEO companies are those that will create spam links to a client’s competitor in order to lower the competitors’ rankings.

SEOGuruJaipur chirp:

“There are many agencies out there that offer services to down competitors; they create backlinks to competitors such as comments, bookmarks, directory, and submit articles on low-quality sites.”

SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link creators, saying that only high-trust sites are immune to negative SEO links.

he chirp:

“Agencies know what kind of links are damaging to a website because they’ve been doing it for a long time.

It is only difficult to reduce highly trusted sites. Some agencies even offer a money back guarantee as well.

They will give you examples as well as appropriate insights.”

John Mueller tweeted his response On the tweets above:

“This is all made up and irrelevant.

These agencies (whether the ones that invent or disavow) are just making things up, making money off of those who don’t know better.”

Then someone else joined the discussion:

Mueller tweet in response:

“Don’t waste your time on that; Do the things that build your site instead.”

An unambiguous statement about negative SEO and link disavow services

John Mueller’s statement (or anyone else’s) would seem to contradict previous statements when taken out of context.

That is why I not only put his statements in their original context, but also the eleven-year history that is part of that discussion.

John Mueller clearly feels that those who sell negative SEO services and those who provide disavow services outside of their intended use are “making things up” and “taking advantage” of customers who may not “know better”.

Featured image by Shutterstock / Asier Romero

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