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.
We 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.
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.
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 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.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.