It’s Tuesday, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to answer a few of your burning questions (also, we never let a good rhyming opportunity go to waste). So, without further ado -today’s topic is link removal.

I thought links were a good thing, why do you need to remove them?

If the links pointing to your site violate any of Google’s guidelines and are found to be manipulative, there’s a good chance you’re going to find yourself at the business end of a penalty. And, trust us, you don’t want that.

So how does one go about removing unhealthy links?

We’ve found it’s most effective to do it like this: first, we conduct a link audit of all the backlinks on your website – flagging any low quality or spam links. We then divide risky links into 3 categories: The bad, the very bad and the ‘win-a-free-iphone’. We then start with the worst (pure spam, malware, and manipulative anchor text) and get them cleaned up as quickly as possible, before moving on to low quality sites and directories.

This process involves contacting the webmasters – often several times – to ask politely, badger incessantly and then threaten with violence (just kidding) until they remove the link completely. Thereafter, we will submit a disavow file to Google – a file which tells Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.

Why not just submit a disavow file and be done with it?

Oh you sweet, summer child. Unfortunately, ugly links are an ugly business and it doesn’t always work out so neatly. Often, submitting a disavow file isn’t enough on its own and to ensure that the harmful links are well and truly off your site we have to clean them up manually.

The problem is that even if the process was foolproof, you can only imagine the backlog of disavow files that some poor team of disavowers have piling up on their desks in some dark office in Google. That’s why it can take weeks, even months for the disavows to take effect, and you may have lost out on some quality leads in the mean time. Removing them manually is always the best and most effective option.

It also helps to keeps your link profiles in order (typically third party tools that cannot accurately validate which links you have or have not disavow and whether Google will listen to you or not) and makes your data easier to review and manage.

Will you remove all my bad links at once?

We can, but here’s the thing: Google may not have identified some of the bad links as bad (yet), which means that if we nuke them all at once you might notice a very steep drop in your rankings.

Of course we get all those ‘win-a-free-iphone’ links off your site straight away, but when it comes to the middle-ground ones we’d rather replace them with good, healthy and high-quality links as we go along – instead of simply removing them all in one fell swoop without having anything to take their place. It’s a fine balance, but it works better that way.

If Google hasn’t identified them as bad, surely you can just… leave them?

If only. But, no. Google is creepily good at sniffing these things out and although they might not be right on top of you, you can rest assured that they’re breathing down your neck. The minute they run a link spam update or manually review you’ll be at risk of being penalised – which will do a hundred times more harm than those links ever did good. It’s just not worth the risk. Removing the bad links completely is the only way of future-proofing your website against Google’s nasties.

Yikes. So what does Google see as an illegal link? (I’m asking for a friend, obviously).

The following are examples which Google sites in their guidelines:

  • Buying or selling links. This includes exchanging money for links, exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
  • Creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Below are a few common examples of unnatural links that may violate the guidelines:
  • Text advertisements that pass PageRank
  • Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
  • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
  • Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites
  • Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites
  • Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature

Okay I’ll remove them! Now what can I expect to see?

Your mother was right when she told you all good things come to those who wait, and it seems not even the internet is immune to your mother’s wisdom. She was also right when she told you that, sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better – so don’t get a fright if you notice a drop in rankings at first.

Wait, what? Why?

Let’s say 50% of your link profile is spam, but Google has not yet caught you and those links may, in fact, be helping your rankings – for now. But you’re smart and you know that if Google catches you, you run risk of losing 80% of your rankings overnight, so you decide to remove those bad links to future-proof your site.

Unfortunately, because these links may be helping you in the short term, there is a strong chance that the portion of rankings that those links were “positively” influencing will drop off.

This, of course, can be rather alarming, but the good news is that once you’ve replaced the bad links with the good ones you are not only able to restore and eventually exceed your former rankings – you can do so without the threat of penalties. That’s why it’s a better approach to phase these links out while adding new quality ones.

Confused? Intrigued? If you have any questions feel free to give us a shout.

Title image courtesy of Hernán Piñera on Flickr



About Steph Von der Heyde

Our resident wordsmith’s love of digital lured her over from advertising to the online space, where she fell in love with content marketing. Since coming to the online world Steph has made her mark on all outgoing CleverClicks copy and is passionate about using words to build brands. Her obsession with the writing is rivaled only by her love of trail running, yoga and green juice. When she’s not submerged in content strategy you’ll find Steph in Downward Dog.

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