Creating harmony between your PR campaign & disavow file

Author avatar

George Watson

When working on a link audit, it is very easy to solely look at your disavow file as it is designed to let Google know which links you think are unnatural. Although this approach is correct when considering penalty removal, a tunnel–vision view and the temptation to add domains frantically in order to achieve a successful reconsideration can also be harmful for your next great link!

Utilising the Disavow Tool

Launched in 2012, Google’s disavow tool has become an integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting a website from Google’s penalties. Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land wrote a great clarification post on the disavow tool which says “Don’t count these votes!” – the perfect way of describing what the disavow tool should be used for.

The tool gives webmasters the opportunity to protect themselves against negative SEO attacks like in the past, whilst also allowing webmasters to regain control of their backlink profile.

Implications for PR & Outreach

However, while disavowing is a hot topic, its implications are generally overlooked. From a wider perspective, it is important to understand that your spam prevention/clean up work can work against your current PR campaign.

By adding a domain to be disavowed, you’re telling Google not to pass value from that domain. It is important to understand that new links on that site will be treated as though they have a nofollow tag attached.

To give real life perspective, if your website has been around for many years, it will no doubt have gained many links over that period. Over the years, these links have probably helped your domain in the rankings. Keeping up to date with Google’s guidelines can, however, be tough and links that were once considered OK and helpful may be harming your rankings today.

An example would be that of a domain linking via exact match anchor text. Such links are deemed harmful today but were a prominent feature in the landscape a few years ago. As a webmaster, this is probably the sort of link that you would want to “clean up” in your profile and the simplest way of doing so would be to place the domain in your disavow file.

Now, let’s say in the future you have content that the webmaster may be interested in. From a brand awareness point of view it doesn’t really matter if the site owner chooses to link to your site or not, but, if they were to do so, it would potentially drive traffic. Nevertheless, the organic value of the link would be minimal due to the domain having been disavowed.

Breaking down the barriers of communication

In order to prevent the efforts of your PR team from being wasted, it is vital that they are kept in the loop about which domains are being disavowed.

We tackle this issue using a custom-built, in-house networking platform based on a chrome browser extension. The tool aggregates data from external disavow files and highlights any potential site issues.

Our solution allows us to maintain open lines of communication and decide on the best course of action on a per client basis. As a result, the PR team is kept in the loop about a client’s clean up progress and given the opportunity to flag up any issues that may need addressing.

There is certainly a very fine balance between these two entities which, in essence, work negatively against each other. However, with a little thought about the process, it is possible to allow them to work mutually together to achieve the maximum benefit from an organic search perspective.

Referencing a talk given at Brighton SEO by Laura Crimmons entitled “Breaking SEO out of silos with PR & Marketing”, SEO is no longer a silo activity. To craft a lasting SEO strategy, campaigns now need to both protect and engage.

  • Protect – both in the form of technical site implementation and backlinks
  • Engage – in all aspects of site usability, design, content targeting and promotion

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