'Disavow' unwanted backlinks with Google's new webmaster tool
A recent addition to Google's Webmaster tools allows site owners to tackle the problem of unwelcome backlinks by 'disavowing' them via a text file.
The kind and quality of sites linking to your own are instrumental in determining what Google terms Page Rank - a frequently discussed aspect of Google's evaluation of web content.
The following extract from the internet giant's own help center gives an overview of the importance of incoming links:
PageRank is Google's opinion of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other sites. (PageRank is an important signal, but it's one of more than 200 that we use to determine relevancy.) In general, a link from a site is regarded as a vote for the quality of your site.
Google works very hard to make sure that actions on third-party sites do not negatively affect a website. In some circumstances, incoming links can affect Google's opinion of a page or site. For example, you or a search engine optimizer (SEO) you've hired may have built bad links to your site via paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines. First and foremost, we recommend that you remove as many spammy or low-quality links from the web as possible.
If you've done as much work as you can to remove spammy or low-quality links from the web, and are unable to make further progress on getting the links taken down, you can disavow the remaining links. In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.
While Google are keen to stress that Page Rank is just one factor among the many determining the company's predisposition (or not) towards content, many SEOs will welcome the opportunity to easily 'disavow' links causing them concern.
Further information on the new tool is given by Google's Matt Cutts in the video above.
Be warned, however, that this new Webmaster Tools feature should be approached with some caution.
Google also point out that, "If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site's performance in Google's search results. We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you. In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most normal or typical sites will not need to use this tool."
And if you're wondering exactly how to track down a list of incoming links to your site, we take a look at some of the best options for backlink checking.