Link Removal is Serious Business!

Well, it’s official – the Google Penguin updates are costing me money. Thanks a lot, Matt Cutts! Just kidding. It’s actually kinda funny.

Zoidberg gets angry when you don't remove your links to his site.
Zoidberg gets angry when you don't remove your links to his site.

Well, it’s official – the Google Penguin updates are costing me money. Thanks a lot, Matt Cutts! Just kidding. It’s actually kinda funny.

The Backstory: I have a few Web 2.0 properties that I don’t really care about. I never post new content on them, and I never update them. Ever. Really. I never ever even look at them. But a long time ago in a land far, far away (circa 2005), I signed up for Text-Link-Ads because I thought maybe I could make some extra money by selling links on these properties that I don’t really do much with. And wouldn’t you know – I’ve been making about $25-$50 a month for the past several years from those sites. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, it’s nothing to brag about, but it is some extra money. I’ll take it! [BTW just to be clear, I would never ever sell links on yourseosucks.com because I actually like this site and I don’t want any ads/paidlinks on it simply because I don’t want anything screwing up this really crappy design I’ve got going here.]

Every few months, I’ll get a ‘link requested’ or ‘link cancelled’ email from TLA, and I LOL because it’s still funny to me that anyone would want to buy a link on any of my crappy sites that altogether get maybe 20 visitors each month. I shouldn’t laugh when they cancel their links, but I do because it’s funny to me that they bought them in the first place.

Most of the time when a link is cancelled, I leave it live on the site. I rarely take links down. I simply don’t care enough to actually go update those sites. So whoever bought links from me and then cancelled – you are probably still getting links on my sites for free. Not a bad deal, right? Wrong! It is a bad deal. Because now we live in the age of Penguin, and Penguin is rabid for bad links.

For the past 15 years, the SEO world has profited on the fact that Google likes links. Now it’s time to profit on the fact that Google Penguin hates bad links. It’s like everything has been reversed, or maybe it’s like everything has come full circle. I don’t know. I’m not good with analogies and metaphors. But I do know this: smart, opportunistic SEOs will use Google’s hatred of bad links to make even more money.

That’s right, folks: LINK REMOVAL IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. I predict that the next few years will be marked by a massive rise in the number of link removal services offered by independent SEMs, SEOs, and agencies alike. I don’t typically make predictions, so I’m kinda nervous about that one. But seriously, take a look at this email I got from TLA:

Link Removal Request Email from Text-Link-Ads.com
Link Removal Request Email from Text-Link-Ads.com

After the 5th day and 3rd notification we will remove your site from the marketplace!

Wow. That is serious! I’ve never received an email like that from TLA. Like I mentioned earlier, I always leave the links up – even after the person stopped paying for them. Maybe I’ve missed these email before, but I’ve don’t ever remember seeing an email from them with an ultimatum like “Take them down or else!” I feel like they are bullying me. Yeah. This is link removal bullying. Well, not really. But they’ve definitely taken a new approach to link removal requests. On the bright side, the email included a complete list of all the links I’ve never taken down. So I guess I’ll set aside some time to remove all of them. And there goes my $25-$50 per month that I was making. Thanks again, Google Penguin. Now how am I supposed to buy all those +1’s each month?!?

Now let’s get back to link removal and link removal services.

My theory: Text-Link-Ads.com didn’t change their link removal policy just because they had nothing better to do. Well, maybe this has been their policy all along, and I’ve never really noticed. Or maybe this is just the first time they’ve ever decided to enforce it. It doesn’t really matter. Regardless of the cause, this is the first time I have ever received an email about it. And this email was obviously catalyzed by the Google Penguin updates.

There are a ton of webmasters, link builders, and SEOs that are really scared of the Penguin. It is only logical that the same people who have been interested in building links are now interested in removing them. So, not only does a company like TLA have to provide  a high level of service and support in the acquisition of links – they also have to add a new level of service and support dedicated to the removal of links (when advertisers stop paying publishers for the links).

As noted earlier, when advertisers cancelled links on my sites, I just left the links up. I didn’t take them off my sites. Did that cost me money? Sure. Was I giving something away for free? Yeah. But I didn’t really care enough to spend time updating my sites every time a link was cancelled. It just wasn’t worth it to me. But now, with this new policy from TLA, I’ve got to remove links when they are cancelled…OR ELSE!

In the end, I think this is a good move on the part of Text-Link-Ads.com. Over the years, I have enjoyed using their services. Any time I’ve needed additional support, their customer support team has been very quick to respond and very helpful. So this new addition to their service makes me happy as a publisher. Ultimately, if you’re buying links from anyone, you should be able to have the links removed whenever you want.

I have worked with enough link publishers to know that they don’t really specialize in link removal. In fact, in my experience, the removal of links is the one thing that most link publishers could care less about, especially the link publishers who specialize in building private network links in bulk. I mean, seriously: how do you expect someone to remove 100,000 links? Even if they are on private networks, it’s pretty much impossible. It’s even more impossible when the links were built in comment threads, profile pages, and articles that were built on sites not owned by the link publisher. So really, good luck with all of that. But that is exactly why I think it is a good thing that link publishers are taking the time to create processes that make link removal an easier thing to manage.

Site owners who were negatively affected by Google Penguin must come clean. Google Penguin will continue to have updates, and at some point, ALL site owners will have to come clean about their links and linkbuilding history. How many of the bad links do you need to remove? Well, according to this post and this thread, the answer is 85% of the inorganic links need to be removed before you submit a reinclusion request. I’m not sure if that’s a solid number or if it will work for any situation. At any rate, Google wants to see you at least trying. In fact, at SMX Seattle last week, Matt Cutts said that he’s actually had webmasters sending in screenshots of their please-take-down-my-links emails to link publishers. Matt’s point: he wants to see some effort.

So good luck and Godspeed with your link building…err…removing!

 

iAcquire, Paid Links & SEO Noobs

It’s been a little over a year since the last big SEO scandal hit the news, so I guess we were due for a big story. And what do you know – IT’S ABOUT PAID LINKS! Good lord. Are we still outraged about people buying links? WTF, man. Get over it.

More paid links drama?!? SERENITY NOW!
More paid links drama?!? SERENITY NOW!

It’s been a little over a year since the last big SEO scandal hit the news, so I guess we were due for a big story. And what do you know – IT’S ABOUT PAID LINKS! Good lord. Are we still outraged about people buying links? WTF, man. Get over it.

The SEO industry is full of a bunch of amateurs right now. They think buying links is a black hat strategy. LOLz. If they knew anything about blackhat tactics, they would know that blackhatters are not paying for links. Not in the traditional sense anyway. And not good blackhatters. Blackhat SEOs are much more intelligent than spending all of their time building links. They write software for that. Also, while blackhat SEOs operate in the gray area of SEO and Google’s guidelines, many of them also tend to operate in the gray area of the law. Furthermore, they are more interested in making money than giving it to someone else for a crappy link.

It’s pretty clear that the SEO industry has an abundance of  ignorant SEO noobs. They actually have no idea WTF blackhat SEOs are doing these days. Paying for links is blackhat? Shut up and get back to your title tags and robots.txt files.

As far as calling out iAcquire – no shit iAcquire has a linkbuilding component to their business! They bought Conductor’s paid link business, and everyone knows about that. Big deal. Do a little research (i.e. go to LinkedIn), and you’ll find that iAquire’s co-founders are Joe Griffin and Jay Swansson. These guys have been in the game a long time. Joe founded SubmitAWebsite and the search agency at Web.com. He was also a VP at iCrossing. And Jay Swansson used to work at Text-Link-Ads. He knows all about effective link building. These are two smart dudes who have a track record of producing results. Now everyone is under the impression that iAcquire is some evil blackhat company. That is a gross reduction of their company.

And Mike King – that guy is a fully registered SEO badass. He is the kind of person that most SEOs wish they could be. He’s got mad skills as a coder, developer, SEO, speaker, and blogger, and it’s like someone fine tuned his brain to be an SEO. If you’ve ever heard him speak at conferences, you’d see what I mean. Also, Mike is someone who shares a lot of information about modern SEO strategy. Take a look at his post on SEOmoz.org called ‘The Noob Guide to Link Building‘. Yeah. That’s some good stuff right there. I’m really not sure why Mike was even mentioned in Josh’s post.

Link building is not a bad thing. If I was approached by an SEO that didn’t have a linkbuilding strategy, I’d be like “GTFO! NOW!” Go ahead and call it ‘inbound marketing’ – it’s a service that everyone needs. It’s integral to SEO. It’s basically digital PR. Nowadays, ‘inbound marketing’ is the safest word in SEO. Some people use it as an umbrella term that covers paid link building, but it covers so much more than that. And here’s a shocker: nearly every aspect of inbound marketing involves getting links, and getting links is going to cost money. Press releases don’t write and distribute themselves. Someone has to connect with influencers and bloggers. Guest posts don’t write themselves. Building links is an art, and it can take on 100’s of forms. But at the end of the day, you’ve gotta do it if you want to succeed in organic search today.

Here’s a little secret: Every good SEO has a good link builder. Never forget that. It’s the reality today. But now that Penguin and Panda are out, a lot of SEOs are scrambling to find new linkbuilders and new linkbuilding tactics. A lot of the HPBL networks got nailed, and now those network owners are going even more private. And believe me: shit is about to get really expensive because the cost of intelligently building links on private networks is going to skyrocket. Content has to get better. Hosting has to get more sophisticated. And they’ve gotta erase any and all footprints. There can be no evidence.

Ultimately, with PageRank becoming less and less of a ranking factor, gaming it with links will increasingly prove less valuable over time. There will always be paid link networks, but eventually paid links will become too expensive to produce, manage, and maintain (for most link buyers). All the money will move over to content generation and social media, where buying Likes and Tweets and +1’s is much safer and affordable – and effective! But that’s an entirely different post. I’ll save that for some other time.

On another note: I’ve seen the term ‘myopic SEO’ flying around Twitter today. Myopic should not have a negative connotation. That isn’t fair. Some SEOs are myopic by nature because that’s how they survive in their niche. They are nearsighted because all they care about is making money RIGHT NOW! Today even! Those SEOs are probably some of the most industrious, entrepreneurial people you will ever meet. But guess what – they are not out there sharing their secrets, and you’ll probably never meet them.

In the past, SEOs would share their secrets at conferences, in forums, on blogs, etc… But around 2009/2010, SEO went back underground, and the people who know how to make quick money sealed their lips (and/or their keyboards). Oh sure. You may still catch people blabbing about their victories on forums here and there, but DM any of those forums’ senior members, and they’ll tell you that the forum is full of noobs and that it’s nowhere near what it used to be in terms of content. And if someone on a forum goes public with a strategy that works, 99% of the time all the readers will go out and beat it to death.

So if you’re not the myopic SEO, you probably fall into the group of SEOs who is interested in sustainable SEO. In reality, this bucket is where most SEOs reside. They promote the idea that SEO is a longterm strategy, where good guys finish first in the SERPs and Alt tags make a difference for your rankings. Sustainable SEO means that you are most likely working for a client where you are fitting into a larger marketing machine. You can’t act alone, and if you do something dumb, you could end up costing yourself and/other people their jobs. SEO for this group is a longterm strategy, and you’d better get buckled in because it’s going to be a long flight.

Sustainable SEO is the place where you have to be really smart about link building. You might even call it white hat link building…which is kind of an oxymoron. It means that you need to be smart about your link building strategies. 2011 was an amazing year for building links via private blog networks. You can’t rely on that any longer. You also can’t only go after unbranded anchors. You’ve gotta diversify. When it comes to paid link building, there’s a lot of stuff to consider these days. Do your research and be smart. You don’t want the Penguin catching you.

BTW here’s a great post Danny Sullivan wrote about all of this. I’m really looking forward to Aaron Wall’s blog post about all of this.

Well, that’s my rant. Smell ya later.

Link Building Idea: Buy Some Links on Google Profiles

Hey check this out. It’s Mashable’s Pete Cashmore and his Google profile (now with more Google Buzz):

Google Profile: Mashable's Pete Cashmore on Google Buzz
Google Profile: Mashable's Pete Cashmore on Google Buzz

It appears that Google has placed a nofollow on the links within Pete’s Google Buzz feed. However, the links in the right-side column are dofollow. How about that?! Holy crap! These are dofollow links from the domain google.com!

Because Pete is obviously a smart guy, he realizes the value of linking to his own properties. Hence, he has linked to Mashable.com and various Mashable properties on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

At the time of this screengrab, Pete had 9,647 followers, so it’s only a matter of time before this page has a high PageRank. This Google Profile will ultimately have a lot of authority, and those dofollow links in the right-side column will drive some serious link juice. And remember: these are links from google.com!

Now, let’s be realistic. Despite the current dofollow status, I’m sure Google has discounted these links in some way or another. But the fact remains that these are dofollow links coming from google.com. Furthermore, check out the bottom of Google.com’s robots.txt file:

  • Allow: /profiles
  • Sitemap: http://www.gstatic.com/s2/sitemaps/profiles-sitemap.xml

When you read the XML sitemap file, you see several hundred txt files of Google profiles, such as this one. Inside each one of these txt files, there are 5,000 user profile URLs. The take home message: Google wants these profiles crawled, and they are actively making it easier for all spiders to find them. Google Profiles are obviously important in Google’s venture into social media and social search.

What about the buying links idea?

Well this should be fairly obvious. Google is allowing dofollow links on Google Profile pages. While it may be tough to get links from reputable profiles, there are many users who may be open to the idea of selling links. And some of these profile pages will end up with high PageRank, especially when people begin to link to their Google profiles. These are links from the google.com domain. Even if Google moves to disallow these links, there is still value from these links. Why not offer the profile owner(s) some money for a link in the right-side column?

Here’s a simple plan of action to acquire links from Google Profile users:

  • Google profiles have custom URLs
  • These URLs take one of two possible formats:
    1) google.com/profiles/101849747879612982297
    2) google.com/profiles/mashable
  • If you can find the username at the end of the URL, then you will know the gmail address of the profile user.
  • And that is how you can contact them.
  • Then it all comes down to your ability to not creep people out by offering them money for a link to your network of phentermine and poker websites [cuz those 2 things always go together, right?]

There it is. I hope you enjoyed that. Stay tuned for more. And stay tuned for a nofollow attribute from Google. I’m sure it’s right around the corner.

Happy Link Building!

[Full Disclosure: Neither Mashable or Pete Cashmore compensated me for the free brand exposure to my 10’s of readers. I’m just a fan, and I think everyone should be a fan of Mashable. #teammashable]

Update: Feb. 17, 2010: Nofollow attributes added to Google Profiles

It seems Google is onto us. Google has added the nofollow attribute to all links in the rightside column of Google Profiles. I wanted to see if they nofollow’d links to Google Profiles, so on my Google Profile I added a link to my Google Profile. No luck. It’s nofollow’d, too. Damn. Nice work, Google. Until we meet again…