Recently I started working on a client’s website that required a good amount of anti-link building.
Anti-link building? Isn’t SEO all about link building? Well, it was. Until the recent Google Penguin and Panda algorithm updates, almost any kind of link helped prop up a site’s ranking. Obviously, quality links had a better impact than poor links, but overall it was all good. With the recent algo updates, bad/spammy links not only stopped adding value to a site, but they can even lead to a site being penalized. For this particular site, a third party marketing company had built thousands of overtly spammy links over five-ish years that left a definitively clear, and bad, footprint. (In their defense, for years it worked really well.) A hefty percentage of them were contextual blog links: links with exact-match anchor text within blog posts that contained essentially (if not exactly) the same content.
My job was to make sure those links were no more. Mafia-style. To that end, I started the exhaustive process of aggregating data and contacting the owners of hundreds of sites to tell them to point those links somewhere else. (Just kidding…I merely wanted them deactivated. I would never do what I just implied I did…really.)
The problem, however, is as follows: spammers want to make a quick buck. Any quick buck. And thanks to Google’s lovably named and universally reviled Penguin update, they have an entirely new technique by which they can do precisely that.
Webmasters and businesses are scrambling to undo what they spent the past few years doing. Links from older, authoritative (albeit irrelevant) websites were the holy grail, and now they’re like the matza that you have left over after Passover. It’s everywhere now that it’s no longer useful. And thanks to the blogosphere buzz (actually more of a dull, resounding roar) generated by the Penguin updates, spammers are highly attuned to the general air of online desperation.
So when I emailed a bunch of spammers who’d initially charged the site a fee to put the link up, I received a statistically significant quantity of responses indicating that they’d likewise be charging the site to take them down. Responses such as “We could understand your urge to remove link. But, due to increase in spam link removal requests and spammers claiming link. We charge $3/ link removal from the site.” (And yes, that’s a verbatim quote.) My personal favorite was the guy who kept on insisting it was his “friend’s” blog, and his “friend” wanted a $10 fee to remove the links.
Fortunately, although the percentage of blog owners demanding compensation was quite substantial, those who responded by immediately removing the links was much more so. And Penguin being an algorithm update (as opposed to a penalty), reinclusion is automated – manual reinclusion requests won’t help. But the automatic side of things in this particular instance is a good thing. It means that although a bunch of sites are still going to have spammy links pointing to my client’s site, a solid 80% of them will be gone, and I’m thinkin’ that should be enough of a difference to trip Google’s sensors during their next update. (If anyone knows/thinks otherwise, feel free to contradict!)
So those of you out there who also have to remove links: the situation isn’t as bad as it could be. It seems that enough sites are willing to remove links without compensation, so hopefully that should help you balance things out in the big G’s eyes.
P.S. All of this is assuming that the remaining webmasters don’t catch on to the compelling advantage that the more opportunistic spammers clearly recognized early on. SEO…can’t live with it…
P.S.2 Before you’ve decided that your site has been affected by the latest Penguin update and subject yourself to the link removal process, you might want to read the handy-dandy guide for diagnosing Penguin that Distilled put out. You never know – you might just have an unrelated penalty. That having been said, it doesn’t hurt to be proactive and get started on the sites that leave the most conspicuous footprints.