If your site has ever been, as Google’s Jonathan Simon charitably puts it on the Google Webmaster Tools blog, “caught up” in linkspam, Google has a new tool you can use to disavow those inbound links and clear your site’s name.
Google cautions that its new Disavow Links tool should be thought of as a last resort. It’s far better to get any spammy links actually removed from the web. In fact “the vast, vast majority of sites do not need to use this tool in any way,” writes Simon. But for situations where you can’t make the offending links go away — for example, with a client who might have made some bad SEO decisions in the past — Disavow Links offers a solution.
It’s worth noting though that Simon says that any links you disavow will be seen as “a strong suggestion rather than a directive — Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases.”
Inbound links are perhaps the best known thing that Google uses to calculate PageRank and order search results. While PageRank is just one of more than 200 “signals” Google looks at to determine where your site will be in search results there’s no question that better inbound links mean your pages end up higher in search results.
There’s a flip side to inbound links though. If the wrong sort of sites point at your site it hurts your PageRank. If you’ve got inbound links from known paid link or other shady link-swapping schemes that violate Google’s guidelines, you can quickly find your site has disappeared from Google’s search index.
For more info on how the Disavow Links tool works, check out the video below from Google’s Matt Cutts. Also be sure to read through the FAQ over on the Google Webmaster Tools blog.