A few weeks ago we received a request from an SEO firm requesting that we remove a link to their client’s site from our blog. The post in question, a roundup of an SEO event I attended 3 years ago had a number of links in it, all of which were genuine and pointing to relevant resources which had been referenced at the event.
I linked to the page of my own volition as it was relevant and gave context to the article. I had no communication with the client prior to placing this link and no money changed hands.
So why was I asked to remove this link?
Over the past few years, Google has been cracking down on those who have been acquiring links in a way it deems to be unnatural. Those affected suffer penalties which can see their rankings drop, or in extreme cases, their domain drop out of Google’s index altogether.
One high profile casualty of this action was Interflora, who saw their entire site disappear from Google searches for not just generic terms such as ‘flower delivery’, but even the brand term ‘Interflora.’
Needless to say, many people have been spooked by these penalties and in a panic have begun sending out link removal requests – like the one I received.
What to do if you receive a link removal request
Unlike copyright, libel, or trademark cease and desist letters, there are no laws stating that you must remove a link on request. That said, however, unless you are receiving a high volume of these requests and they are difficult to remove, you would be well-advised to action any removals.
If the link isn’t removed, it could ultimately lead to a Google disavow request, in which the webmaster will instruct Google to ignore the link and no longer associate it with his or her site. It’s not yet known what impact this has on a site, but it’s reasonable to assume that numerous sites carrying out this activity will not reflect well on your site.
What to do if you think you may have been affected by unnatural links
As I’ve already mentioned, the only definitive way to know if your site has been affected by unnatural links is to receive a warning like the above in Webmaster Tools. If this is the case, you would be well advised to consult with an SEO agency that specialises in Google penalty recovery.
If your site has seen a drop in rankings, this can be caused by multiple factors, not necessarily spammy linking practices. Don’t panic. Calmly carry out an audit of your links using the export function in Webmaster Tools. Add an extra column to the sheet that is exported, and mark each page you review as either suspicious or not. Once you have this data, you can begin the process of contacting webmasters.
Moving forward, if you outsource your link building, ask for regular updates on the links that are being built and audit these to make sure they comply with Google Guidelines.
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater
Wholesale link removal requests are likely to do more harm than good in the long run, and could undo a lot of very valuable work. Before you make a link removal request be as sure as you can that removing the link is the right thing to do.