Are you the owner of a good quality site who has been asked to remove a link, or multiple links? If so, you're probably wondering why a site like yours would get such a request.
Let's look at why webmasters and business owners send link removal emails, and how to respond.
Why Do People Ask for Links to be Removed?
These requests for link removal are probably coming from site owners who have received a manual unnatural links warning from Google. In most cases, if a site receives a warning like this, their site is penalized and won't perform well on Google searches. In order to get the penalty removed from their site the site owner will need to get as many of their unnatural links removed as possible.
There may be other reasons for site owners to go on link removal campaigns, such as attempting to recover from Penguin or performing a pre-emptive backlink cleanup. However, the majority of the time, when someone sends an email asking for a link to be taken down, it is because they are trying to escape a manual linking penalty.
But My Site Isn't Spammy!
There is a common misconception that unnatural links only exist on low-quality, spammy sites. In reality an “unnatural link” is one that is self-made as opposed to naturally earned and doesn’t necessarily have to be on a spammy site.
I've seen a number of websites that received unnatural links penalties as a result of excessive reciprocal linking, widespread syndication of widgets or tools that linked back to their site, and also for using a large number of advertorial links. Many of these links were on very high quality sites.
In my opinion, an “unnatural link” is any link that was self-made, regardless of the quality of the linking source.
Why Would You Ask for a Totally Natural Link to be Removed?
There have been several forum posts and Twitter rants from site owners who are shocked that someone would ask for a link to be removed from their site when it was truly a natural link.
You may receive an email requesting a naturally earned link be removed for any of several possible reasons.
In many cases, the person who is auditing links and asking for link removal is not the same person who made the links that got them into penalty trouble. Usually the SEO company that made their bad links is no longer working for them. In many cases the site owner has hired an SEO experienced in unnatural link penalties to do the work for them.
When I'm auditing a link profile, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a link is natural. If I'm not certain, then I usually err on the side of caution and ask for the link to be removed.
Here's a real life example. A site that I am currently working with to remove a penalty has a very large number of links from other site’s resource and links pages. It’s not wrong to get a few links like this, but when done on a large scale, it can be considered a linking scheme. The vast majority of these links were likely obtained as reciprocal links but some may have been paid for as well.
As I audit this site’s links, I mark each of these links as a “resource page” link. This business is a legitimate brand and it's certainly possible that some of these resource page links were truly naturally earned.
But how would I know which links were negotiated and which ones really were natural votes for the site? From experience, I know that in order to get the penalty lifted, I need to show Google that I have made a good effort to remove all self made links. As such, I am probably going to end up sending link removal requests to a few sites that linked on their own volition.
Another reason for a site hosting a natural link to get a request for link removal is if the site owner has used an automated tool to assist in the process of penalty removal. I have not used any of these tools, but I do believe that some of them can be very helpful.
There can be false positives, where a tool marks links as potentially unnatural. Some automated tools can also mark a link as questionable if it comes from a low PR site, but not all low PR sites are spammy.
Some tools may also mark links as possibly unnatural if they contain a keyword as anchor text. This may be another reason for natural links to get mistakenly flagged as unnatural.
Some sites have tens of thousands of unnatural links that need to be addressed, so it is possible that a few mistakes are made in classifying the good and the bad.
How Should Webmasters Respond to Link Removal Requests?
When I send out emails asking for links to be removed, I try my best to be polite. I always mention that the linking site’s integrity is not in question and that the business that I am working for is suffering greatly because of the penalty and really would appreciate their help.
Regardless, quite often I will get very nasty responses from site owners. Most of the disgruntled responses I get tell me that there is no way that a link from their site could be considered unnatural and I am an idiot for asking them to take it down.
Some site owners will say things like, “You are the one who made these links! Why should I have to remove them?” A lot of people will tell me that I don’t know what I am doing and should not be trying to get links removed but instead I should be building new links (or some other unhelpful advice).
If you feel that the link on your site is natural and should not be removed then it would be helpful to email back saying something like, “This link is one that was not created by an SEO. I liked your site and wanted to link to it. Do you still want me to remove it?” I would GREATLY appreciate a site owner doing this. In some cases this could actually help us to keep a good link!
Granted, some link removal requests aren't as politely worded as mine. Don’t get stressed out if someone threatens to disavow your site. All that disavowing does is tell Google to add an invisible nofollow tag to the link. It won't hurt your site at all.
Some Tips for Business Owners Sending Link Removal Emails
If you're sending out requests for link removal, there are a few things that you can do that may increase your chances of getting a link removed and decrease the number of unpleasant replies that you get:
- Be polite:Threatening emails rarely work. When a site owner feels threatened they are much more likely to respond in anger or simply refuse to take your link down.
- Explain that the linking site is not at fault:When I craft these emails I usually include a line saying, “Please know that your site’s integrity and business practices are not in question here.” I want to let the site owner know that I am not blaming them for my client’s unnatural links problem.
- Where possible include a link to the page that contains your links:I say, “where possible” because I know that it can increase your time burden if you are including a link in each email, especially if you have thousands of sites to contact. It is much quicker to cut and paste (or use Gmail’s canned responses), or even to bcc a huge list of webmasters. But, your chances of getting a link removed will be much higher if you can actually show the webmaster where the link is on his or her site. I will often include one link in my email and tell the webmaster that they can email me if they need a full list of links. I’d probably get even more links removed if I included an entire list of links in my email.
- Don’t spam the site owners with a crazy number of emails: Many people will advise you to send an email to site owners every few days until they either respond or remove your link. If you do this, not only are you going to annoy the webmaster, but you are also likely to get your email address flagged as a sender of spam. Personally, I send one email to any contact email address I can find on the site and one to the whois contact (if it is different than the contact email). If I don’t get a response then I will submit a contact form from the site if available. If that doesn’t work then I don’t keep trying. If you document these attempts well this will satisfy Google that you have tried.
Should Site Owners Remove the Link?
When considering whether to remove a link, please remember that on the other side of that request there is a business owner who is desperate to get back in Google’s good books. Most of the time the site owners who I work with will tell me that they are so sorry that they ever hired an SEO to build links for them.
Many of these businesses have been working for months to get their penalties removed and are at their wits’ end. The best responses that I get from webmasters are ones like these:
What do You Think?
Have you been approached for link removal? If so, how did you respond? Do you have any advice for people like myself who send out these requests?
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