3 Ways to Ease the Pain of Your Link Removal Campaign
By Michael Rough
Link Removal Campaigns Suck
Let’s face it, the process and time it takes to identify, categorize and contact site owners can be a down and dirty nasty business full of brick walls, dark hallways filled with redirects, and shady characters with slightly damp trenchcoats offering link removals for only $2…
Perhaps your journey into the dark world of link removal is a nasty revisit of SEO campaigns past, where for only $10 you could get a thousand links. Maybe its the remnants of desperation while living on page 8, looking for a quick ranking fix, and not caring about tomorrow.
Whatever your situation, I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. When faced with a massively negative link profile there is light at the end of the tunnel, and if you play your cards right, and pay attention you just may find some diamonds in the rough that make the effort pay off in ways you never thought possible.
Whatever you do, don’t try to game Google by submitting a blanket disavow file and then withdrawing it. You can roll the dice and play the odds, but like Vegas, eventually the house wins and you get Cutts.
Weapons of Choice
If you are just beginning your link removal campaign, here are some of the tools I use when preparing to attack any link removal projects:
I use Google Docs. You can use any spreadsheet you prefer to create your list of inbound URLs to make it easier to track and organize your progress. I typically only populate the inbound link url and the anchor text used in the link to reduce the amount of noise on the sheet.
GWT: Links to your site
By itself the Google Webmaster Tools “Links to your site” list is pretty worthless since it is a list of root domains and not complete URLs making it difficult to decipher if the link is good or bad. The key to filtering these root domains is adding a field to designate its source origin as GWT so when you gather all your urls together and sort them you can see all the urls listed under the GWT listings. Export the list of URLs to your spreadsheet.
BWT: Inbound Link List
Bing Webmaster tools, unlike Google, provides a fairly robust listing of inbound links to your domain. As noted in the GWT advice, tagging all Bing inbound link URLs with BWT in an associated field in the row helps to verify the veracity and importance of the links pointing to your site. Export the list of URLs and anchor text.
Open Site Explorer, SEM Rush, Raven Tools Backlink Explorer, Whitespark, etc:
Export the lists of URLs and corresponding anchor text into your spreadsheet. Don’t worry about duplicate information as you will sort this out later. Remember to ensure that your final list of all URLs conform to the same column configuration or you will have a mess that is hard to read and track.
This is a list of URL’s that I discovered and compiled during link removal campaigns that violated Google Link Removal best practices (Pay for Removal). Most were discovered through direct links on the sites themselves and others through response to removal requests via email or contact forms.
Attacking the List!
1. First remove all instances of http:// and http://www. to create uniformity in my list and make it easier to build my disavow file at the end of the process.
2. Next sort your sheet by anchor text in order to locate and remove all the “Good Links” from your list. Basically anything that isn’t a keyword. This includes words like website, http://domainname.com, here, or any combination that I wouldn’t really try to rank for. Delete these from your list.
Finally I check my list against the Auto Disavow List and highlight all matches in red denoting them as Pay for Removal.
3. Check each domain that is on your list and contact the admin for link modification or removal. Be sure to track how many times you have contacted the site and by which method with a response. If a link has been removed I mark it with green. If you use standardized response codes you can sort by a given column, enabling you to organize and build your disavow list primarily through copy/paste.
Loving the Mother Node!
The more you delve into the inbound link structure of your site you probably have noticed that there are a few templates that represent the majority of directory sites that are typically associated with low quality links. They typically fall into three categories, pay for link removal, contact form, or email address.
Through experience I have found that most of these directory templates share in some part or all the same database. By contacting the a few of these directory nodes and waiting to contact the rest of them you may be pleasantly surprised as I have by seeing a large chunk of bad links disappear in a short time.
My favorite Mother Node is firstname.lastname@example.org when you have links from members of the Imperial Directory Network.
Diamonds in the Rough
It’s easy to get into a mindset that views all toxic links as chore to modify or remove. The flip side is that at one point these links were valuable and some still are, with the exception of over-optimized anchor text.
I will often create a separate sheet in my link removal project spreadsheet to copy add URLs that may be useful to build citations or listings for other clients in the future. Care should be taken to properly evaluate any potential directories that you may wish to gain links from so you wont have to repeat the link removal process.
In the end, most link removal campaigns are going to take time and effort to do correctly. While the process may be a pain to deal with, the results of properly executing link removal while building positive ranking signals will help you get your site back in Google’s good graces and on track to regain and – in many cases, increase – your site traffic.
(If you have a domain or list of domains that you feel should be added to the auto disavow list (pay for removal) email me.)
Good luck and happy hunting!