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Matt Cutts (head of Google’s web spam team) answered two questions recently in his regular YouTube videos and while they may not be revolutionary they are important to know.

When to Disavow

The first question asked of Matt Cutts:

Matt Cutts Google SEO/Webspam Team

“Should webmasters use the disavow tool, even it if it’s believed that no penalty has been applied?  For example if we believe ‘Negative SEO’ has been attempted or spammy sites we have contacted have not removed links.”

Webmasters become very stressed when it comes to being hit with a manual action penalty on Google since they will have to watch their website suffer while they put together a reconsideration request in the disavow tool.   The request can take weeks for Google to look through and during these weeks the webmaster’s website will fall in search rankings (even if the poor backlink profile is the work of negative SEO from a competitor).  Cutt’s realizes that webmasters can’t wait till they receive a manual action penalty  to use the disavow tool.

In the video Cutt’s states, “…If you’re at all worried about someone trying to do negative SEO, or it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s a perfect time to use disavow as well.”

So the disavow tool may be used even if these is no manual action penalty listed in your webmaster tools.  While Google previous stance on the disavow tool was that it should only be used when there are links that you know are having a negative effect, Cutt’s says not to worry about using the  tool even if you don’t have a message in your webmaster console.   Rather than wait on a penalty the disavow tool may be used preemptively against spammy links.  If you are suspicious of some of the links in your backlink profile feel free to use the disavow tool remove these associations from your site.


Although Cutt’s indicates that you can use the disavow tool whenever you feel it may be necessary it does not mean that your reconsideration request will be accepted.  Google receives over 5,000 requests each month and must sift through each of them to decide which links to disavow from websites.  You still need to go through the laborious process of removing links on your own, recording all your efforts.  After you have put in your part, then the Google will accept your reconsideration request and you can take advantage of the disavow tool.

Links per Page

The second question Matt was recently asked was:

“How many links on a page should we have? Is there a limit?”Symbol of Effective Link Building

A while back it used to be that Google’s web crawling bot would truncate webpages at a certain point (~100 kilobytes) and any information beyond this limit would not even be indexed by the search engine.  Taking this limitation Google applied it to the on-page link profile estimating that it was acceptable to have one link per kilobyte or around 100 links per page.   This was just a rough technical guideline that Google put out rather than hard rule regarding spam pages.

As the web has evolved webpages have grown much larger containing a greater amount of information making it fairly common to see great numbers of links on a page.  Google’s technical bot can now crawl much larger pages and index a higher  number of links.

While PageRank is no longer being updated for webmasters to see in the Google toolbar it is still being used in the search algorithm making links an important part of SEO.   But remember that PageRank is divided by the number of links flowing out of an individual page.  Having a hundred links will split the PageRank of that page by a hundred, a thousand by a thousand and so on.

So What’s the Number?

So what number of links is optimal for a webpage? There is no specific number as Google’s only guidline is to keep it ‘reasonable’.   If a webpage has a large amount of content that has value add, it is fairly common to see 300 or 500 links on the page.  It is at the point when the number of links on the page begins to annoy users or the links are placed simply as an SEO tactic rather than a meaningful resource that Google will take notice and give a manual action penalty.  To spot check your pages grab a handful of typical  users and have them navigate your site while you watch their reaction to the links on each page.  Do they find them to be strange, spammy links or useful navigation tools?  Use this spot check as your bench mark concerning your on-site link profile.

Photo Credit: Matt, TechShowNetwork

Jamie Bates
Online Marketing Director