Suppose someone, universally known for his bad character, went around saying nice things about you. You might wish for him to stop already. That’s the idea behind Google’s newest tool.

The Disallow Links Tool allows site owners to disavow links to their websites that may be damaging their standing in Google’s search results. Google said that, if a site believes its ranking is being damaged by “low-quality links you do not control, you can ask Google not to take them into account when assessing your site.”

Apply with Care

At the Pubcon search and social media conference taking place this week in Las Vegas, Google webspam team leader Matt Cutts warned webmasters to be careful in using the new tool. “Most sites shouldn’t use this tool,” he told the conference. “Start slow.”

Accompanying the tool is a more specific warning notice. “If used incorrectly,” Google wrote, the tool can “potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.” The technology giant added that it recommends sites “only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.”

On Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, the company said that if a site hasn’t been notified of a “manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site,” then the tool is not something to use.

A Suggestion

If a site is convinced those links are causing problems, the procedure is to upload to the Tool a plain text file containing only the links to be disavowed, with one link per line. The tool will request that Google ignore specific links as it determines search results. However, the company said it is a “strong suggestion rather than a directive,” and that it reserves the right to trust its own judgment. The disavowal will take place after the next crawl and indexing by Google.

Links are a key determinant in how Google ranks websites in search results. From the company’s beginnings, the idea was that links between pages could be good indicators about the relevance of a given page to the search query. Google has noted that inbound links are only one of 200 factors used for ranking through its PageRank algorithms, but “linkspam” that uses “unnatural links” have become a major technique that some sites use to rig the process.

If Google detects evidence of paid links, link exchanges or other link schemes that violates its guidelines, it sends a warning message to the receiving site, recommending that as many spammy or low-quality links be removed as possible. The search giant said that the new tool should be used only after other efforts, such as contacting those offending sites pointing to yours, have failed.