The Unintended Consequences Of Link Removal

It has to be one of the more ironic linking related developments over the past couple decades. Panicked online marketers doing complete 180′s and trying to remove links they’d tried for years to get. Even more ironic is paying the same company that sold the idea of going after those (now poison) links to go remove them.

Link RemovalWe can say “but they weren’t poison then”, or “we did what we had to do to compete”, and that’s fine, but we should not miss the absurdity of the situation many websites are in right now, and try to learn from it.

Ask yourself if you might have been better off all along using a legitimate content creation and outreach strategy that did not look to exploit algorithmic loopholes and leaks that were destined to be closed and plugged.

I’ve performed at least 1,500 linking strategy sessions over the past fifteen years. About 100 a year, a couple every week. Many of you reading this have had one with me. And I always ask the question, “do you really want to go up against a team of Google Ph.D’s who are way smarter than us, and do you honestly believe we can outfox them? Forever?”

I’ve often wished Google would follow the lead of the FBI back in the day of Frank Abagnale. He was the notorious check forger that was chased by the feds for years. There was a movie about it with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks called Catch Me If You Can. The FBI caught him, then later hired him to help them get better at catching the cheaters. If Google hired a few brilliant black hatters, would we need Pandas and Penguins?

I’m neither Ph.D. or black hatter, but I was preaching beware of anchor text back in the 90′s. If you are pursuing highest caliber editorial or curated links, you don’t insult the editor by telling them how to link to you. Be happy you got a link at all. Link building is public relations, and always has been.

Is Link Removal The Answer?

Link removal may seem like the obvious answer, and in some instances it may very well be.

There are several companies already offering such services and several great tutorials and step-by-step guides for identifying the links that may be causing you trouble. A quick Google search will find them.

But link removal is not the solution for every site, and might just be a further waste of time for you.

Unintended Consequences – Link Removal Schemes?

So now, rather than focusing purely on content, are you burning time and resources to remove land mine links? Is a competitor paying to have links added pointing to your site faster than you can remove them? Have you heard about a new sabotage tactic of sending link removal requests for a competitor’s site in hopes of having some of their higher value links removed?

Your competitor has 25 tough-to-get legitimate curated .edu inbounds from academic librarians? No worries. Just send an email pretending to be your competitor, and ask them all to pull the links down. For good measure, offer them a couple hundreds bucks for their time. Even if it only works a few times, hey, it’s easier than actually creating content and earning your own links.

If I sound sarcastic, it’s because I wish I was kidding. I apologize for being a bit cynical about links. It happens when you have seen what people are willing to do to get them, and now, remove them.

Don’t Make It Harder Than It Has To Be

If I was going to advise someone on a link removal strategy, and if we aren’t talking about thousands, or even hundreds of links, I’d try to make it as simple as possible, and I’d start with this criteria. First, read Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice from Danny. Then, do two things.

Off-site links

If you know you have followed paid anchor text links out there in the wild that you (or your agency) went and got, and you still can find a contact person at those sites, reach out to them but do not ask to have the links removed. Have them no-followed (they may still offer click traffic value, and that is what Google wanted in the first place).

If the site will not comply with nofollow, then request complete removal. If they will not comply with your removal request, keep a record of your attempt, and move on.

On-site links

If your rankings were based in large part by your own on-site link optimization, and it’s no longer working, then it’s quite a challenge to determine if your rankings will return. If they are going to return, the best way to find out is by starting the process of changing how you link to your own content.

Not every link has to be keyword laden, and “click here” is not always the sign of a rookie webmaster like so many people say it is. Your own site’s links should look as natural as the sites that link to you. Maybe even moreso if you’ve been heavy in anchor text link buys.

If you are looking for a specific percentage, note that Google has not, as far as I know, ever stated that there is a specific trigger number across all websites. That being the case, all you can do is dial own your site’s SEO signals a little at a time, and see if it helps. Until Google makes available a line by line “Overly SEO’d” tool, we’re all just guessing based on experience.

That’s it.

That’s my complete two-part link removal strategy, and I feel it’s the best course of action at this time. I say this because there are so many variables and ununitended outcomes at play here, and so many things you have no control over.

You can’t stop someone from linking to you, and you can’t stop a competitor from trying to sabotage your link profile. You can’t chase down every bad link and have it removed, nor can you be sure which links are bad in the first place, unless you put them there. And even then, you can’t be certain you can remove them, because companies vanish or stop answering email.

Nobody can control what happens on the Web. In reality, the only links you can absolutely remove are those you control absolutely. And you know exactly which links those are, between your external and internal links. So fix those messes first, stop the schemes, and make your site linkworthy.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • tannerc

    You make it sound so nonchalant; as if this should all be common sense. To be completely fair, I think it should be. But here we are living in a world where SEO has become more reactionary than innovative, more responsive than forward-thinking.

    Websites need to start focusing on long-term strategies, and the more we see Google updating their algos, the more focus manually building links becomes an almost backwards strategy.

  • Guillermo Ortiz

    Awesome write up. Giving people motivation to remove links vs putting them up is something I had never ever contemplated. I think it is a complete waste of time and money, but just being aware that such a practice could be taking place is great insight. You do have to take a moment and laugh at companies trying to remove links vs getting them for sure. It just goes to show you how quickly the game of SEO changes.

  • BondMarissa

    my friend’s mother-in-law makes $85 every hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her paycheck was $19177 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more her

    ⇛⇛⇛⇛► (Click At My Name For Link)

  • David Johnstone

    This article just confirms the power of negative SEO.  You can’t control who links to you, but who links to you controls your ability to rank in Google, especially if you’re a new site or a small site without big inbound authority links to protect you. 

  • Jim Hodson

    As always, an excellent post Eric. I have read tons of your posts over the years, and I think you’ve had it right all along with your merit-based link building strategies.  It’s really the only linking strategy that will stand the test of time (and those algo updates from Google’s PhDs).

    Link building HAS to start with great content.  If you have great content all you need to do is make others aware of its existence, and the links will come… naturally.  No assembly required!

    I have been doing just that recently and have been amazed at the responses… I’ve received phone calls and emails from national and state association sites in a particular vertical actually thanking me for making them aware of the resources that I created because they are actually something very useful to members of those associations… AND giving me an awesome link… In some cases they even link to multiple pages on my site.

    And if they link with an image or graphic and don’t include a value for the ALT attribute, I just thank them and smile.  I would never insult them for giving me a link by “looking a gift horse in the mouth” to check out his teeth before accepting.

    Thanks again for all of your wisdom that you share here and elsewhere.

  • VoltageSpike

    “Ask yourself if you might have been better off all along using a legitimate content creation and outreach strategy”‘
    Ok, I asked myself. Now what?  Not helpful.  Plus in the 9 years I’ve been optimizing, the rules have changed. It’s near impossible to undo what’s been done.

    Google changed the rules. Google should provide a “disavow” tool rather than waste the productivity of millions of people by sending them on a wild goose chase.

  • Peter Watson

    I still can’t believe sites are being penalized for ‘inorganic’ links. Surely Google can come up with a more effective solution than this? Here are a couple of the top of my head:

    1) Simply ‘devalue’ inorgnic/unnatural links
    2) Add a tool in GWT allow webmasters to block inorganic/unnatural links

    But shooting out an email and then penalizing is obviously opening the door for negative SEO.

    Google recently replied to my reconsideration request and basically confirmed that negative SEO is alive and well. See the snippet below:

    “Regardless of who created the links, in order to protect the quality of our search results, we have taken action to reduce the trust of inorganic links to your site. Webspam techniques such as link schemes attempt to trick our systems into ranking sites higher than they should, which can affect our ability to provide high-quality search results to our users. We take these webspam violations seriously.”


  • Divi Fernando

    I personally think going back and undoing what was your doing or others (linkbuilding) that affected your site post Penguin update, is not a good investment at all. 

    If you have to invest, invest on some good content writers who can come up with consistent and exceptionally informative content for your website on your blog/news or any other related site that links to you. Good content gets easily viral and consequently indexed by Google. 

    Either way both the above process is slow and needs a lot of patience. But would you prefer spending time on #1 and following it up with #2 while there are chances that #2 might also go out of trend by the time you complete your #1 task? 

  • RichardsonLoretta76

    my best friend’s sister-in-law got paid $14696 the prior month. she is making money on the inte<!–truth is almight–>rnet and bought a $372500 home. All she did was get blessed and work up the steps uncovered on this link 

    ⇛⇛⇛⇛► (Click At My Name For Link)

  • BooneOfelia99

    my roomate’s ex-wife brought home $19224 the previous month. she is making income on the internet and moved in a $491500 condo. All she did was get lucky and try the instructions laid out on this web page

    ⇛⇛⇛⇛► (Click At My Name For Link)

  • Voka

    Google always change the rules :D All time..


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide