A Guide to Link Removals
Google is continually making tweaks to its algorithm as we all know and with this, link removals are becoming a way of life for many SEO agencies.
This being said, numerous agencies struggle to remove the bad links from a client’s backlink profile, this is due the time and effort required to remove links from sites.
So why are we removing links?
Google is constantly modifying its algorithm and as such, we need to move with the times so that clients rank higher in the SERPs, with the consequential aim of increased traffic to a client’s website. Some clients may have been hit with a penalty, blasting them out of the SERPs entirely or just dropping them down the rankings so that they are not seen.
Can this be recovered?
To an extent yes, you can recover your rankings by submitting reconsideration requests to Google. But, to do this you have to show Google that you have tried to remove the links that you think may be affecting your site. Doing this is a long process.
Firstly you need the data set to use
Since Google is the main search engine do we just use the Webmaster Tools data?
Here at Branded3 we try to get as much data as possible.
By collating Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO link profiles, we have a larger range of data available to classify and try to remove the bad links. This is useful as you can only download a sample of data from Google Webmaster Tools. The more data you have, the more understanding you have of the links in your client’s backlink profile.
If the client is fairly vast, then you may find that you have tens of thousands of links to check, for smaller clients, there may only be a few thousand. Create a master spread sheet and include all the data that you have gathered.
Checking that the links are live and classifying them.
It is essential that the classifying of links is right in the first instance to avoid having to re-classify any of the data, which could mean many more days of work. You could classify at a domain level and find any bad sites that link to clients and remove them first rather than checking every link.
This may be a quick way to classify links as many sites may have sidebar links on them and discounting one domain rather than looking at the thousands of links can save time.
We have often pulled 70,000 links for clients which can equate to over 3,000 domains, so you can see that this may be a quicker way to classify any potential bad links.
How do you prioritise classifications?
If your client has been hit with a penalty then you could start by classifying specific anchor text variations, again this may be a good way to try and get them ranking again but you must think about how this is going to affect the client’s link profile as a whole. Removing just specific keywords may mean an overall drop in metrics.
As mentioned previously, the classification of the links is important, as getting this wrong and submitting a reconsideration request may be both pointless and time consuming.
The next stage does not bare up in terms of simplicity but is of paramount importance to the process.
Once you have classified the links and decided which links need to be removed you need to start contacting site owners to ask for the removal of the links.
Finding the information isn’t always easy and you may need to use a WhoIs tool to find the site owner’s details. Making records of email addresses, email dates and responses on your spread sheet is a must as when you submit a reconsideration request, Google will look for evidence that you have tried to remove any links that they deem bad.
If a site has a contact form use this and make a note of this on the spread sheet as well, but try to find other methods of contact too. For some sites you may be able to find an email address so you may be able to email the site owner to try ask for the removal of a link.
In any correspondence it is essential to be polite.
Initial contact with the site owner may mean that you email them with a list of links on their site to remove as well as mentioning the clients name; this is something that you may need to check and get signed off by the client.
You may get mixed responses but in our experience genuine site owners will want to help you. If a site owner replies asking for payment to remove any links then you can report this to Google.
Article syndication sites may no longer be live so record if they are dead sites too. If they are live then the site owners may no longer be interested in the site as many of these sites were built purely for article syndication and may now be neglected so receiving a response from these sites may be very limited.
Make sure that you record any responses that you do get as well as any dead email addresses.
As for the sites that have responded, you can then email them back requesting the removal of the links from their site, or they may have already done this. If they have already removed the links then be sure to thank them rather than ignoring them.
For those that haven’t responded, a second email may be required as your initial email may have been ignored or landed in the site owner’s junk folder. Again recording dates and responses is key.
If they do not respond after the second email then you may want to try and find alternative contact details for the site. This may mean that you collect hosting data from the WhoIs database. You could collect hosting information at the beginning but collecting this is time consuming and may not be necessary for all sites.
You may feel that a third email is necessary before emailing the hosting companies, this should be discussed with the client.
If you have had no contact with the site owners at this stage then it may be time to move on to the hosting companies.
This often has some good responses. When emailing the hosting companies be sure to email about each site individually, as many of the hosting companies may forward your message on to the site owner or open a ticket at their support centre with different reference numbers for each site.
Some hosting companies may email back asking for permission to pass on your details to the site owner so checking all your responses is essential. Remember to record all the recipients’ email addresses and dates of sending to your spread sheet.
Recording any reference numbers on the spread sheet will help you find sites and track any response better.
What’s left to do?
You should now have a spread sheet with all your links, email addresses that you have contacted with dates and responses. So now you can start to filter out the links that you still need to remove and focus more on these.
There is now the Google disavow tool which you can submit these links to. The Disavow tool works simply by disavowing either links or domains that you specify to Google. Once this is done it cannot be undone in a hurry which is why Google is saying to use this as a last resort.
These may be links that you may not be able to remove but if you have the proof that you have tried to remove them when you submit a reconsideration request, Google will be able to see the hard work and effort that you have put in to link removals.
If you have requested Google disavow certain links, they will look at your spread sheet to see if you have at least tried to remove these links before disavowing them.
Removing links is a long process that requires a lot of work. If your clients have received a penalty and this gets lifted as a result of your hard work and efforts then seeing them rise in the SERPs is a great feeling and a job well done.