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I got an interesting email last week. It was from a guy who worked in SEO for a digital marketing agency. He was asking me to remove a link to a well-known travel company that I had put in one of my posts several years ago.

I don't accept money for anything on this blog. The link was in a perfectly decent blog post about family holidays along with links to several other travel companies.

It's hugely ironic.

Since Google started to really clamp down on guest posts and other attempts to generate links which SEO agencies have been using to try and game the rankings, people have become utterly terrified about links.

Why? Because Google is penalising some sites that have obviously large numbers of links linking to them from odd or inappropriate places. It's also penalising sites (primarily blogs) that seem to link out to lots and lots of other sites in ways that suggest they might have been paid to do so.

I explained to the emailer that this link he didn't like was totally in context. No whiff of anything dodgy about it. He replied that he agreed but this blog is 'themed around SEO' so better to be safe than sorry.

I explained that it isn't. I touch on SEO sometimes, but it's about digital marketing. His response was fascinating:

You’re totally right… it’s crazy. My job title includes the word SEO – yet when I see the words ‘SEO’ in a site, I assume something bad is going on. Unfortunately there’s been so much in the negative side of things with that word that even people who know it’s not necessarily negative (like me) still automatically assume it is. We killed a lot trust in our industry I think.

I've done quite a lot of work with mum bloggers recently too. Several of them now 'no follow' all their outbound links because they are worried that they might get penalised.

(A 'no follow' link is basically a way to link to something with out passing on any SEO value.)

The thing is Google's algorithm is still very much based on links - despite what they might say. If everyone stopped linking or using no follow links the whole thing would be pretty much useless.

I find it utterly hilarious that something I used to do to show I really rated a company, an article or a person (ie linking to them) is now seen as negative.

It shouldn't be. It's utterly contrary to the way the internet should work.

Have you had any weird link removal requests from SEO people?

Image: Ravages on Flickr

15 thoughts on “The utter irony of links

  1. I completely agree with you and the entire process of SEO is floored and always has been. It's gone from the extreme of 'get any old shit as long as it's a link' to 'remove everything because I've no idea our SEO actually works so I'll blindly follow bad advice online'.
    The fact remains you don't need to do 'SEO' if you understand the basics, create decent content and original ideas and have a product or service people want. The issue is most companies don't!!

  2. I'd agree with you here, some over-reactions around. I was also contacted and asked to remove a link from an article. I don't run paid articles, page rank isn't terrible. I suggested that this wasn't necessarily beneficial to their link profile, but as you say, some agencies are running scared on behalf of their clients.

  3. Haha, fascinating example of how the whole recommendation system any good search engine is based on, i.e. links, has become so corrupted nowadays.

    This pretty much hits the nail on the proverbial head, my friend: "The thing is Google's algorithm is still very much based on links - despite what they might say. If everyone stopped linking or using no follow links the whole thing would be pretty much useless."!

  4. We have yet to see (or receive) anything like this in SEO/link terms but remain baffled as to why people would want links removed when they could, potentially, lead to business. It certainly flies in the face of internet common sense and, if you take it to its logical conclusion, no-one will link to anything and businesses will lose customers by the droves! Just plain crazy, but in keeping with much SEO thinking.

  5. @Adam - completely agree. Increasingly I feel that for all but the really big players forgetting SEO and just focussing on doing the best thing for your customers us the way to go
    @Simon - I just found out something else. What triggered the request was the travel co in question has been penalised by Google. They've taken down a bunch of dubious links, but the penalty remains. So they're now asking people to take down anything that might conceivably be considered dubious and presumably a fair few that are perfectly good. So - yet more ironically still - Google is exacerbating the problem.

  6. Google have been making a rod for their own back for some time now and the nofollow link relationship is going a long way to in fact, ruining the web by Google themselves.

  7. Yup, it really is absurd. Now there's an entire cottage industry of "link removal experts" - the exact same people that used to be "link building experts" just doing things in reverse.

    On a scarier note - Google has also introduced a "disavow tool" that allows webmasters to blacklist sites with links they no longer want to count in their link profile. It's not clear what happens if you're inadvertently "disavowed" in this way but it can't be good.

    On the other hand I think that Google knows exactly what it's doing by causing all this chaos. It seems to be part of a general FUD strategy (fear, uncertainty & doubt) that is aimed at scaring SEOs away from anything vaguely manipulative. Maybe when all this settles down they'll have finally persuaded people to stop trying to "build" links in the first place.

    Whether or not it works, and whether it's worth all the collateral damage, is another question.

    Great to see you posting again Jeremy, don't keep us waiting so long for the next one!

  8. Great comment @Matthew.
    I don't know where the time goes sometimes. Not enough hours in the day are there?
    I have another post idea on the horizon though so it won't be as long til the next one!

  9. I think that many people are getting so scared of using follow links incase it incurs Google retribution that they will be devalued since a lot less people will use them. No-follow will become the new follow in the link world.

    1. Yes. Several mum bloggers who I know quite well started to no-follow everything after one of them got penalised. Interestingly she managed to get reinstated quite quickly once she'd taken down some links. Far quicker than many of the bigger companies I know of who got penalised. My hunch is that a no-follow link probably does pass some SEO value. It's hilarious. No such thing as black and white these days - just shades of grey.

  10. "Several of them now 'no follow' all their outbound links because they are worried that they might get penalised."

    That's really a truly ludicrous approach.

    Far easier is to follow G's guidelines. If the link is paid for or an affiliate/incoming earning link (in whatever fashion) mark it no follow.

    There was a school of thought a few years ago built around channelling "link juice" where you'd nofollow say login links and that kind of stuff -- I ended up implementing some of it after reading one too many "Expert advisories" but it turned out to be complete garbage.

    Link to whomever is going to benefit the reader - if you scored cash for it somehow, mark it nofollow. That's really about it.

    If SEO agencies like the above want to remove "real" links well, that's how it goes, but it is indicative of the client taking the piss in the past, so maybe not worth linking to anyway?

  11. Some clients' SEO agencies are so panic-stricken they point finger at PR agencies - when it's the rubbish links they've bought that are now causing the problem. On the other hand, it means links from authoritative editorial websites are even more valuable, which is where 'traditional' PR comes back into frame.

    1. It would be great to see traditional PR making a comeback. So much of what we see today is driven by blogging/SEO nonsense and 'celebrity' links. Ugh.

  12. I get link removal requests quite often, 3-5 a month, but then I have what looks like a directory with hundreds of links.

    There is a standard pattern. They ask if a link can be removed because it has been flagged up by Google. I point out that is impossible because all my links have been nofollowed for over a year. They apologise and thank me for the link.

    A few get under my skin by threatening that if I don't remove it they'll 'Disavow' the link, which they think will affect my Google rankings - it doesn't. Google have confirmed it makes no difference to the linking site, not least because Disavow is so open to misuse! ...and I don't like being threatened.

    (Only one went over the top. When I responded with the usual 'no prob, the links are nofollowed' a stag party business had the fucking gall to submit a copyright complaint to my host company. I had 24hrs to respond before they closed my site!)

    Anyway, my main point is made here on my site, on my NoFollow Policy page (http://www.travel-lists.co.uk/about/about-travel-lists/nofollow-policy): Google's linking policies have forced me to misrepresent what my site is & does by 180 degrees.

  13. Basically Google are happy to value links bought through them and wish to destroy any other link market. As any monopoly will do. Guess we've just got to live with it until maybe the search engine market splinters. Lets hope..

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