A few weeks ago I had something pretty random happen to me and my website which is connected to a place which is represented by these 3 images.
The Liberty Bell, Crayola Pencils and the Great Dane. That's right, it's Pennsylvania, USA.
Truth be told I'm still not 100% sure what happened, but if you're curious then read on. All I can say is that I'm glad Google has a disavow tool….
Picture the scene..
It's a rainy January morning in Devon. Actually don't picture that scene, it;s far too grey. Unfortunately, I wish I could say that I was in the Bahamas, but you can dream eh?
So I was leafing through my Google Webmaster’s account and looked at the number of inbound links coming to my site.
That number was… 759. Now I know that my website should have a lot less links than that.
My curiosity piqued, I downloaded a spreadsheet of the links to see where exactly there were coming from. It turned out my website address was featured in the directory section of some of the major US newspapers in the east coast. The Washington Post, The Boston Herald and the East Valley Tribune to name a few, along with a dozen others.
My first overly ambitious thought was that I had cracked America.
On checking it over though it disappointingly appeared for some reason my website address had been incorrectly used in connection with a divorce attorney in Pennsylvania.
Divorce law is not one of my skills, so I have no idea why or how they even came across my website address. On digging around further It turned out that actually there’s a single company (which I won’t name) who provides the US newspapers with the data for their ad directories. Fill in your details incorrectly here and it spreads them through the network. I'd gone viral, just in the wrong way.
However you looked at it from an SEO and business perspective it wasn't good. Although it seems to have been done in error, it needed fixing, so here’s what I did should you ever find yourself faced with something similar.
What I Did:
Locate the source. It might It takes some digging around but often you can track back who controls the site where your link appears on. If you're stuck try Whois lookup to find the details of the domain owner,
Check it's not you: Before you get really frustrated, make sure you're 100% certain it's not you, or your SEO company who might have added the link of your behalf.
Contact them as soon as you can: Try and find the most relevant person to email. Provide some examples of the pages of where your link is appearing to show them some proof. Then if you don't get a response within 24-48 hours contact them to ask them what they're doing about it. You should always try to get the links manually removed, before moving onto the next step of -
Look at using Google's Disavow tool: In essence, Google's disavow tool says to Google’ ‘hey these links to my site have absolutely nothing to do with me. Ignore them' so it's doesn't impact on your rankings. You can access it through Google Webmaster tools, and there's an article here for how to use it. You can upload the problem links into a txt. file that can exclude a single page or an entire domain.
In this instance I was 100% sure that these links were nothing to do with me. Other business who might be worried about negative SEO tactics could also use the disavow tool, but it's important that you contact as many of the websites pointing links to you first to see if they can be manually removed.
What's happening now?
Thankfully after contacting them, the company in control of the ads responded saying that they were correcting the links with the divorce attorney, and slowly the number of inbound links to my site have been dropping to a more regular number. They’re by no means gone, but they are going away. In the meantime, disavowing the other links will keep any remaining links at bay.