In the recent spate of Google’s anti “easy” link updates, also known as Penguin , link removal has become an essential part of SEO.
There are many reasons to remove a link:
- The link was OK when you got it, but is now “toxic” due to the siteowner allowing too much spam, paid posting, or even by default of the site being hacked and injected with non-safe content
- Directories were great at one point to increase the low end volume of a sites link profile, and one could argue that they didn’t add much value, however I believe they did, especially varying anchor text, building branded anchor text, and as a necessary “noise” in the link profile. However they were abused and the latest round of Penguin have actively targeted “Made for SEO” directories. We have seen thousands being deindexed.
- You bought links. Needs no explanation except that you have been caught. You need to remove them .
- You got hit by a negative attack. It used to happen before, but now that the genie is out of the bag, everyone seems to see negative attacks happening.
- You over optimised your anchor text – the last Penguin update definitely lowered the threshold for anchor optimisation – aggressive anchor links were hurt badly in some results we were tracking.
There may be other reasons, but the above are my top five.
How Do I Identify Bad Links?
To be honest there isn’t a hard and fast rule, but in the last few months, I have worked on isolating a few factors when looking at a sites backlink profile, and I normally begin by isolating and classifying links into some predefined sets, and the higher the overlap, the more time I spend on those link removals:
- Pure Anchor Links
- Sites with a “Gray Bar” (ie. No page rank – note NOT PR 0, but PR non existent)
- Sitewide links
- Sites with an obvious “buy link” note
- Common IPs / C Classes
- Followed vs no followed links
- Links running through redirects (pass juice?)
The process would be then to run majority of these through a number of manual checks:
- Is the anchor deserved and natural?
- The sites in the GrayBar, how long have they existed? If for over a year or so, and have no PR, then they would be suspect.
- What are the domain drop dates if any?
- Are there and “Buy links” notes on the site?
- Too many guest posts?
… and many many more depending on the type of the link. A lot of this work can actually be sped up by using tools such as Link Risk, who score the links. The scoring helps in concentrating on the really high risk ones.
How are People Getting it Wrong?
Over the years I must have created hundreds of sites, for testing, checking, ranking, data capture, affiliate income etc. At the same time I must have bought half as many. Which means a large portion of them would have outbound links that may be deemed “necessary” to remove. And as soon as I get a request, I make sure that I action it. However some requests really rub me up the wrong way.
It amazes me the type of link removal requests that people send out. For example:
1. No Link Info
The below is from Rhys Wynne:
A HUGE Favour Please
Hope you are well.
My name is XXX and I have a big favor to ask.
We have a few links in your website XXXX which I hope you can remove for us.
There is nothing wrong with your site, it’s just that your site is a poor quality site and Google are now asking us to remove them in order to get our rankings back up.
Many thanks for your help in advance, it is much appreciated.
Can you spot the issues? Rhys highlights two things:
- The 4th paragraph is a bit derogatory to the site
- Besides the 4th pgh, there are NO DETAILS, what link, what site where it is etc etc!
2. Sending to the wrong site (automation perhaps?)
The below is an example submitted by Ned Poulter:
Dear Website Owner:
We have discovered that a company we hired to help promote our website XXXXXXXXX have used a variety of questionable techniques to secure links to our website. These links were placed purely for SEO purposes, with the intention of manipulating search rankings.
It appears that there may be links like this that have been placed on your site.
The presence of these links is harmful to our site’s good standing with search engines, and unfortunately, retaining them may also be potentially harmful to your own website’s reputation.
We would ask that you please remove any links on your site that link to XXXXXXXXX
So far as we are aware, there are (or have been) links at these URLs:
We would greatly appreciate your help with resolving this problem.
You can also let us know once the links to XXXXXXXXX have been removed by return email.
If you need any more information from us, please email me and I will be happy to assist.
We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you and do appreciate your help.
Comment from Ned: The site had never linked to the target site, especially from the location they identified. Couldn’t help but get annoyed at the long-winded and, ultimately, incorrect email too.
Seriously, why would you let this happen? Is your SEO and business important to you?
3. Affiliate links
Honestly, if your link removal analysis highlighted affiliate links that typically run through multiple tracking redirects, and which in effect, are discounted by the algo, then you shouldn’t be bothering with them. Its only when you use affiliate links that pass juice, or are running through non common affiliate networks that you should worry about them.Yet, I got a request from a well-known agency, for a well-known brand, to remove affiliate window based links from an affiliate site. I can only wonder at how many affiliates this request went out to, and how many of them were pissed off.
I have now had conversations with a few people in private. It seems that THIS point is still a point of contention, and that despite in the past it being true, there hHAVE been instances of these links causing issues. I am yet to see one myself, but have been given a VERY specific example.
So My apologies – for now, we shall assume that I am in the wrong….
4. No followed links
I have had link removal requests for sites where the links are all no followed. I don’t see the point in wasting time there at all – unless anyone knows different to what I do?
5. Rude Link Requests
I hate requests that are rude. Consider this gem:
“You have a link pointing to our site. Please remove immediately”
Honestly – WTF? That’s not how to run a removal.
6. Take Down / Legal Notices
There is NO need to send a legal notice to sites for link removals, especially quoting trademark infringement, unless such infringement is occurring. First try a polite request, and THEN think of such drastic methods. This post shows the kind of damage an incompetent team can do: http://www.datadial.net/blog/index.php/2013/04/18/were-being-sued-for-linking-to-shopzilla/
7. Removal requests from the brands OWN network
Often brands work with a number of other businesses, and sometimes this results in a link from their sites. And sometimes, those other businesses engage in bad link building, get penalised, and as a result their links become toxic. Sending a generic link removal to them is pretty much akin to pissing off a business partner or asset. Understand what the link was all about before trying the shotgun approach. Often partners don’t even know what a good or bad links is, their SEO agency might, but often the guys responsible for the link don’t. Offering to help them, or advising them is a lot better than a removal request.
8. Not trying to find out the history
I can understand that many companies dont keep a record of links bought or paid, especially if they are old. However, I thoroughly suggest you still try and find out who placed what, and what the contacts were. And when in doubt, be polite. See You can stick your link removal up your arse by Irishwonder:
Since a majority of our links were paid for to our SEO, we believe that your link could be considered in violation of Google’s TOS as well. Therefore, by removing our link PRIOR to reaching out to Google you eliminate all risk that could be associated with link selling.
The request in itself isn’t horrible, but the tone slowly goes into “threat” territory. Something I would keep as last resort.
9. Contacting Pissed off Customers
This speaks for itself (submitted by Matt Bennett) : http://www.ventrino.com/blog/706/2012/08/outdated-pick-pan-prospecting-costly-mistake-british-gas/
Your team should really understand why the link exists. Contacting someone who used their blog to post about how annoyed they are at your service with a link removal request would encourage them to only continue adding MORE links…
I can understand that there are thousands upon thousands of links that many businesses have to trawl through. And I can appreciate that it isn’t an easy process. But shotgun link removal requests sent without any consideration at all have a higher chance of failure than success.
Not doing due diligence is a sign of incompetence. If you respect your brand, then respect all the communication being made on behalf of it, whether it’s for PR or, link removal. Understand people’s motivations, especially webmasters who are likely getting hundreds of these weekly of late.
Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile