deniedWhen Google released the Disavow tool it was hailed by many as the ultimate solution to all of their link building woes. It appeared to be the easy way out of years of link building abuse. Unfortunately for many, this hasn’t been the case at all. Many people have filed Disavow petitions only to be told that they need to do more, or be told nothing at all.

The problem comes from not being able to contact many of the sites that link to you. Whether you were responsible for gaining those links, or they were placed in an effort to instigate some form of negative SEO is irrelevant to Google, the links remain, therefore the penalty remains. What is a webmaster, or hired gun SEO, to do when there are still links to be removed but no way to do so?

I took a comment from John Mueller in Google’s webmaster groups and pushed it to the limit. John said that Having links on external sites pointing to URLs on your site that return 404 is generally not a problem (it would primarily be a problem if those URLs should show content and are returning 404 instead.!category-topic/webmasters/crawling-indexing–ranking/C-OoaJfb0Yg

Many people took this statement far too literally and started changing URLs and serving 404s in an effort to hide from bad links. But most of them also added redirects to the content they had moved, and we know that redirects can pass ‘link juice’. I decided that there was a better approach to the problem, one that left know doubt to any observer that new link building rules had been put in place.

We had a client who had years of dodgy link building that had caused a rather serious manual spam penalty. After several weeks of link removal requests we hit a brick wall with a large number of site owners refusing to co-operate, unable to be contacted, or the far more entertaining, demanding significant pay to remove those links. (since some of the links had been paid for, paying to have the removed would have been reasonable, but the price some people asked was excessive).

When we found a site linking to them, and the site owner was unresponsive, and it was a site we cared “nothing” about (it would never send any traffic) we created a 403 Forbidden Access filter for that domain. This meant that any person, or link, coming from that site would simply be blocked from accessing the site. No 404, no 301, simply turned away.

This is what it looks like in htaccess

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.*\.)?(crappydomain1\.com|crappydomain2\.ws|crappydomain3\.info(/.*)?$ [NC]
RewriteRule .* – [F]

This can become a long process. I have seen sites with a single affiliate that has 500 domains but is unresponsive to requests to modify things on their end to be in compliance. Many of those affiliates lost their income, and a few, their clickbank accounts.

This method is great for removing sites with thousands of pages that are unresponsive. Instead of listing each URL in a disavow spreadsheet, you can block the entire domain in htaccess. Once you have cleared out the worst of the worst links in this manner it is time to look at the disavow tool.

Since we used the 403 forbidden to block the bulk linkers, the disavow list is much easier to manage. You are now listing single pages in most cases.

When you finally file your reconsideration apology (grovel) you can show that your good faith efforts included aggressively blocking domains that refused contact or were being far too aggressive in linking to you. Provide that list, along with your disavow list, and a few specific URLs so that the reviewer can go to those pages and try the links themselves to verify the blocking.

Is this a lot of work? Yes. Should webmasters be spending their time trying to remove links? No. Should Google simply ignore links it doesn’t like and kill the spammy link building market once and for all? Of course. But that isn’t the world we live in right now. Google’s algorithms need human intervention and augmentation, and this tactic can go a long way to show that human that you are serious about fixing the link profile of your site.