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To disavow or not? Getting it right, 10 years later.

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To disavow or not? Getting it right, 10 years later.

To disavow or not Getting it right 10 years later

Google’s disavow links tool launched nearly a decade ago, on October 16, 2012.  As we approach the tenth anniversary, webmasters still have confusion and disagreement regarding how to approach a link analysis and properly use backlink data when considering a disavow.  A lot has changed since 2012!  

Whether you’re disavowing as a preventative measure or a means to recover your rankings, we’ll review current-day approaches to take based on our experience disavowing links over the past decade.  

Let’s begin by answering who likely doesn’t need a disavow, and that’s most of you.  If you’ve stuck with natural link acquisition and SEO traffic is on the rise, a link disavow is unlikely to help.  This is especially true if your site already has a relatively small number of backlinks or is in a less competitive vertical.  Submitting a disavow can even hurt the rankings of otherwise healthy websites if the tool isn’t used wisely.

Consider analyzing your backlinks and submitting a disavow if:

  1. You have an “unnatural links” notice in Google Search Console and corresponding manual action.
  2. You know unnatural links were acquired to your website, either recently or at any time in the past. Even links from years ago can come back to bite you as Google continues mapping out artificial link networks.
  3. You’ve experienced unexplainable traffic/ranking loss or traffic loss near the time of a known Google link-based update or core algorithm update. Similarly, traffic may be flat over long periods of otherwise strong on-page SEO and content creation initiatives, and you suspect off-page factors may be the reason why.
  4. You see a lot of new spammy links pointing to your website regularly and may be the target of a negative SEO attack.
  5. You don’t fully trust the algorithm and want to get a better understanding of your current link profile and level of risk.

Links from scrapers and other obvious spam are likely to get filtered out and ignored by Google, providing no value but also not counting against you. Nearly all websites have them, and you can usually ignore these yourself or include them in your disavow if you’re worried. But links from known link sellers and link networks can become a big problem. Frequent link-building tactics necessitating a link disavow include:

  • Buying guest blog posts or “sponsored content” without the appropriate link attributes. 
  • Buying links with a guaranteed minimum level of “authority.” 
  • Buying links from a list of sites that have varying pricing for placement.
  • Obtaining keyword-rich anchor links pointing directly to SEO landing pages. 
  • Buying links at all, for that matter, especially from anyone offering pre-selected placements.

Compiling your backlinks & properly analyzing them

For an advanced SEO looking for the most comprehensive look and their link data, merging multiple datasets (Google Search Console, Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic, Semrush, and so on) will paint the most complete picture of your backlink profile.  For the rest of you, hiring a professional to help is the best path forward for the rest of you – a second reminder that disavowing can do more harm than good if not fully confident in your approach. Should you choose to do it alone, downloading the links provided in Google Search Console will likely suffice, even if they’re only showing a small “sampling” of your overall link profile.

Once your link data is obtained, you’ll have to make some decisions on how to analyze your backlinks. Most webmasters take shortcuts, relying on software to tell them how “authoritative” or “toxic” a link might be. This is a quick but dangerous way to compile links for your disavow.  

Although convenient, we do not recommend relying on:

  1. Third-party link metrics from SEO software listing the “authority,” “trust,” or “rating” of your links. These scores better represent a site’s ability to rank itself than its ability to pass link equity (or harm) to you. None of the companies who provide these metrics are Google, Google doesn’t use their data, their scoring is based on their unique & often limited crawl, their data and link values all vary from each other, and they generally don’t consider if a website which links to you has disavowed any of its own links or has been penalized by Google for selling links. Ironically, many penalized sites will receive a high “authority,” “trust score,” or “rating” due to the quantity of their (spammy) backlinks, and these are certainly not sites you’d want a link from!
  1. Blindly pasting any software’s “toxic” or “spam” link list into your disavow. We’ve seen webmasters rely on this all too often, leading to further traffic loss. A third reminder: a disavow can do more harm than good if completed improperly.
  2. Making decisions based on a linking site’s traffic levels. A link can be natural and relevant, even from a town library, local nonprofit, or hobbyist website. These sites likely have low traffic levels since they traditionally don’t rank for large amounts of commercial phrases. However, links from them are still natural & freely given to support your overall link profile. Don’t disavow these!

Instead, ask yourself:

  1. Does the site linking to you appear to be a good resource, put online to provide value to its audience? Is it maintained by someone who has subject-matter expertise or a strong interest in the topic at hand? Are they linking to you in a natural way, as an extension of their own content and compiled resources?  If so, this is likely a great link to have and one you won’t have to worry about causing issues.
  2. What does the linking site’s link neighborhood itself look like? Are the backlinks natural, or do they appear manipulated for SEO purposes?  Are the external links throughout the website there to provide more information about the topic being discussed and consistent with the site’s theme? If the site’s internal & external links pass the smell test, you’re likely safe to exclude this link from your disavow file.
  1. Is the website linking to you filled with varying content and many unrelated external links? Is it a blog you’ve never heard of with articles about everything, always linking out to a commercial website within each article?  Links from sites fitting this pattern are likely in a link network or database, can potentially be harmful to your SEO performance, and were a primary target of Google’s link spam update last summer. You’ll want to consider links from websites fitting this mold for your disavow, especially if they’ve never sent you any direct traffic via someone actually clicking on your link.

Preventative or reactionary analysis & disavow frequency

Like most SEO efforts, staying on top of your link profile is rarely a one & done initiative and more often resembles a game of cat & mouse, depending on the scenario. If your website and its traffic levels are healthy and growing, revisiting your backlink profile can be done on a less frequent basis. Semi-annually or yearly may be appropriate depending on your level of concern.

A preventative disavow may make sense in this situation; if troubles arise, Google is months behind on reconsideration requests, and that’s not a situation you want to find yourself in.  Always remember that links are really hard to get and a primary part of Google’s ranking equation, so being conservative with a disavow here is usually the best approach.

On the other hand, webmasters may find it worthwhile to review their backlinks and update their disavow files more regularly if they’ve been affected by manual action or link-based updates in the past, or they suspect they are being targeted by a negative SEO campaign. More frequent revisions can help ensure you’re ahead of the algorithm when disassociating yourself with links that have the potential to cause issues in the near or long term.  

Final thoughts

From its early days a decade ago, Google’s disavow links tool has remained an often misunderstood part of its Search Console for webmasters. From initially being needed solely as a response to 2012’s “Penguin” algorithm rollout and as a way to resolve manual actions, its use cases have evolved for both preventative and reactionary scenarios. Likewise, the way webmasters review their links for a variety of purposes has changed over the past decade. 

Regardless of your need to visit the disavow tool, it’s important to keep in mind how earning natural, trusted links can be one of the biggest SEO growth drivers, directly contributing to traffic and ranking increases over time. Safe & effective link earning reduces risks in your backlink profile and helps avoid the need for disavowing at all. 


About The Author

1643781386 137 To disavow or not Getting it right 10 years later
Internet Marketing Ninjas is a leading digital agency specializing in SEO strategy, link building, content marketing, and site speed optimization. Led by industry veteran Jim Boykin since 1999, IMN’s team of 50 is based in Upstate New York and brings nearly 400 years of combined experience helping their clients improve search rankings and increase organic traffic from Google.


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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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