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How to Handle Unnatural Links

If you’ve noticed a drop in traffic from Google or received an unnatural links warning in Google Webmaster Tools, you’re likely in a panic to start having links to your website removed. But before you go on a link removal crusade, you need to take the time to make sure that you don’t inadvertently remove…

If you’ve noticed a drop in traffic from Google or received an unnatural links warning in Google Webmaster Tools, you’re likely in a panic to start having links to your website removed. But before you go on a link removal crusade, you need to take the time to make sure that you don’t inadvertently remove good links to your website. Let’s look at some steps you need to take before banishing links to your website forever.

Make Sure It’s Your Links

The Google slap happens to websites for more than just links. Unless you received the following notice or similar in Google Webmaster tools, then you need to consider whether your search ranking drop was really because of bad links.

google-unnatural-link-warning

One way to determine if a major Google algorithm change was to blame for your website’s loss of rankings is to refer to the Google Algorithm Change History. Use this to try to match up a change in organic search traffic to a specific update.

drop-in-organic-search-traffic

If your drop in search rankings coincides with a Panda update, then you don’t need to focus on your links – you need to focus on the quality of your content. If it coincides with a Penguin update, then you should run through a checklist of offenses your website has made against Google Webmaster Guidelines including the following:

  • Keyword Stuffing – Too many keywords in meta tags or in website content.
  • Cloaking – Presenting different content to search engines than what is presented on the page to visitors.
  • Duplicate Content – Deliberately creating multiple pages / websites full of identical content.

If you haven’t done any of the above or something else that you know goes against Google’s guidelines, then your links should be your next destination.

See What Links Bring Direct Traffic

Before you start tearing down the wall of links you’ve built, take a moment to visit your Google Analytics again and look at your referral traffic sources.

links-that-drive-traffic

You don’t want to remove links that are driving visitors to your website, especially now that you’re receiving less traffic thanks to the hit on your search rankings. Chances are, if the links are driving a significant amount of visitors to your website, they are quality links. If you do identify them as potentially bad links, we’ll look at an alternative way to handle them besides outright asking for them to be removed.

Identify Your Bad Links

What does Google consider an unnatural link? According to their link schemes page, they are links that are paid, exchanged, non-relevant, use over-optimized keyword anchor text, or were created through other automated means.

If you’re having trouble identifying unnatural links because they were built by someone else (like that shady 1,000 links package you bought on Fiverr), then you can go by location. Links in the following areas are ones that are targeted heavily by Google’s algorithm updates:

  • Sitewide locations like sidebars and footers.
  • Within content and author signatures.
  • Blog comments and forum signatures.
  • Exchange pages often labeled as resources, partners, links, etc.
  • On pages that have no contextual relevance.

Are all links in the above areas bad? Not necessarily. Once you’ve actually laid eyes upon them, you’ll likely be able to tell the difference between a good link and a not-so-good one.

Some tools that can help you out in the identification process include CognitiveSEO, which allows you to analyze your backlink profile and see your links based on anchor text, position, category, and page type. Link Research Tools also offers a Link Detox report that lets you see a list of links that it deems as unsavory.

Request Link Updates and Removals the Right Way

So how do you approach a webmaster and ask them to update or remove your link? The answer is simple: you do it politely and in an easy to follow way.

This means that you shouldn’t threaten the webmaster with legal action if they don’t remove your links, nor should you send them multiple emails with one link to remove at a time. Your goal is not to annoy the webmaster as an annoyed webmaster will probably just delete your email and leave your links intact. If your email looks like the following, then you should consider making some major edits.

link-removal-email

If you have a link that is driving you traffic but is questionable (ie. uses over-optimized keyword anchor text, is located in a blogroll, etc.), then you may want to have the webmaster update the link as opposed to remove it altogether.

Your first option is to ask them to change the anchor text of the link from say, seo company to ABC, a SEO company. This way, you still have the co-citation for your keyword without it actually being in the anchor text.

Your second option is to ask them to add a rel=nofollow tag to the link. This way you can avoid modifying how the link appears to visitors and keep getting click throughs to your website.

Your third option, if it’s a blogroll link, is to ask the webmaster to make the blogroll a homepage-only widget as opposed to being sitewide. Assuming it isn’t a paid blogroll section, you can explain that this is good for everyone on the blogroll. WordPress site owners can do this easily using the Widget Logic plugin, which will allow them to set the widget to show on the homepage only.

On the other hand, if you have a link that is driving zero traffic to your website and is questionable, then you will want to ask the webmaster to remove it altogether. If you happen to know that the link was paid, you can try to word your request to sound like you are trying to help them as a webmaster not suffer the repercussions of having a paid link on their site. You can even link to Google’s post on selling links for more on the issue.

If you’re desperate to have your link updated or removed, then you can always offer a little monetary bonus for the webmaster for taking the time to make the change on their site. This can be especially handy for sites whose webmasters no longer maintain them and could otherwise care the less if your link gets fixed or not.

Use the Disavow Tools

If you absolutely can’t get some of your links removed, then you can use Google’s Disavow tool to let them know that you’ve tried to have the links removed, but cannot get the webmaster to comply. Be sure to thoroughly read the help page for this tool. You can’t use it as an alternative to not asking for your bad links to be removed, and you shouldn’t use it to try to avoid a penalty if you don’t have one already.

What have you done in response to an unnatural links warning or Penguin penalty? Please share your tactics in the comments.