Google has sent out oodles of the above messages over the past couple of months, and it has caused a lot of people to question if and how they should remove links in the first place.
I’m a strong believer in focusing on building good links rather than dwelling on the past, but sometimes, the past is so egregious that trying to remove your bad links is the only course of action. Here’s how to do it.
First, pull an inventory of all of your backlinks. Use Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO to pull this data to Excel. These are my columns:
Ease of Removal (1-5, 5 being very easy)
Harm (1-5, 5 being very harmful)
Priority (Ease X Harm)
That’s the easy part.
Analyze What You Have
Now, you have to manually vet out each of the sites to determine just how egregious the links are. Use URLOpener.com to open a handful of them at once.
Sadly, there isn’t a science or formula to determine how terrible a link actually is, which makes this process a little harder and a lot more tedious. Still, here are my big red flags:
Unreadable content: Read 1-2 sentences and you can easily tell if the content was written by a bot.
Duplicate content: Copy and paste the first sentence into Google to see if it shows up across 100s of other sites.
No contact information.
Other links to random sites outside your industry, like oversees drugs, casinos, or adult sites.
Your link randomly inserted into the content with no context.
Your link is with others under a section called Friends, Partners, or Sponsors. That’s a clear sign to Google that it was paid.
Factoring in those, I’ll then put in my numbers for Ease of Removal and Harm, which will multiply it out to give me a priority of what I need to tackle first. Sort by high to low, and you’ve got your first targets.
Remove Only What You Need To
You may be tempted to do a mass exodus of every shady link. Don’t. Google is vague to tell you what specific links they noted as unnatural, so removing hundreds of links at once could end up causing you more harm than good.
Instead, start small. I’ll target the top 5-10 links (based off priority) each month to try to remove. Doing it in small chunks also allows you to not get consumed with the task because remove links can sometimes be even harder than getting one in the first place.
How To Remove The Links
How you go about removing them will largely depend on how you got a link placed in the first place. If you bought it from a link wheel or paid network, that’s easy: Just stop paying for it.
If you’re emailing webmaster directly, save yourself some time by creating a template email explaining who you are, the link you want removed, and where it lives on their site. Just link building, make it easy on the webmaster. If you don’t hear from them, follow up every 4 days or so. Boomerang makes this easy to keep track of.
Once you’ve had some success, communicate with Google. Keep detailed reports of your progress, and submit a reconsideration request. Then the only thing left to do is wait