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How to lose friends and disavow people

03/07/2014 | Simon Mobey

Disavow

Despite tough competition from bolshy Beliebers, duckface selfies and the daunting prospect of #susanalbumparty, the concept of ‘Facebook Cleansing’ is easily the most contemptible to have emerged on social media in recent years. 

However, the value of picking and choosing your friends has certainly found a place in the world of search engine optimisation.

Mass unfriending

If you’re not familiar, the three stages of a ‘Facebook Cleanse’ are roughly as follows. 

Pre-cleanse: In a flush of self-importance decide that ‘cleansing’ half of your 500+ Facebook friends is absolutely necessary. Make sure your followers are aware of the impending cull by writing a status bemoaning the lack of social interaction from ‘some peeps’ and point out that those who don’t comment or like the post will be in line for the chop.

That includes you, Mum. 

The Cleanse: Spend an inordinate amount of time sifting through your friend list, making balanced decisions on which of your Facebook buddies are retained and those who will be severed from your life for all eternity. Try not to get emotional and bear only a wistful smile as you bid farewell to the bloke you met on work experience in Year 9 or your cousin's mate who got too drunk at that Manic Street Preachers back gig in '98.    

Post-Cleanse: Instantly worry about bumping into someone you unfriended, devise a believable cover story about internet hacking or temporary insanity. Slowly realise Facebook plays far too great a part in your overall social interaction.  

Keeping good company

As ‘Facebook Cleansing’ shows, our social media friendships are frivolous and easily detached, but making sure your website is keeping good company is far more difficult to control. 

As part of Google’s frequent assessment of your website. it will audit the web links directed to and from your domain. In particular, inbound links (to your site from other sites) give Google and other search engines a valuable gauge of the authority your page commands and its relevance to the search terms you want your website to rank well for. 

So if you run a gardening company and your website has inbound links from a reputable gardening blog, Google will view this as a wholesome endorsement of the relevance and authority of your site.

Conversely, if you run a florist and your website is overrun with inbound links from sites selling ‘Algarve Timeshares’ and ‘Free Viagra’ it will be evident to Google that these links are completely irrelevant. Google will likely penalise your site by lowering the search engine ranking for key terms, resulting in fewer organic hits and wilting online sales. 

Disavow

So why have so many websites fallen into a bad crowd? 

Put simply, long before Google’s Panda/Penguin epiphany, inbound links were valued not by quality but by quantity and link farming became a familiar and successful practice in SEO. The end result – lots of websites ranking well despite carrying highly irrelevant and spammy links. 

This was a situation Google had to rectify and they did so by re-evaluating the currency of inbound links, promoting guest blogging and other organic link-building practices. Thankfully Google have also given us the opportunity to detach our websites from the bad old links accumulated in the bad old days in much the same way a troublesome ex-partner might be scrubbed from a Facebook profile. 

The ‘Disavow Tool’ is accessible through Google Webmaster Tools and allows you to request that Google doesn’t take selected links into account when first crawling and then assessing your site. 

The results are not immediate but certainly worth waiting for, with search rankings taking a reasonable upward turn within a few weeks of submitting your disavow request to Google, giving you the perfect opportunity to improve the quality of your inbound links portfolio.  

As the Google Disavow Tool can only disallow the link rather than delete it, Google still asserts that you should attempt to clean up unnatural links by contacting the relevant webmaster and requesting the links are removed. However this process can be a long, frustrating and ultimately thankless task. 

You can find a wealth of information about link disavowing by following this highly relevant and non-spammy link to the Moz page on the subject

If you don’t - we’ll unfriend you.