Some of our clients here at Clever Little Design are quite small businesses - and some of them are entirely dependent upon their website for revenue.
So, when we meet a business whose “SEO” company has been building spammy links to them, we feel a little annoyed on their behalf.
In one specific case, we listed out some of the bad links we’d found (many thanks to Cognitive SEO for the help, by the way)... and we sent them along to the client to say “these would all need removing” - their rankings had tanked, as had their revenue.
These links were mostly low-quality guest blogs with exact-match anchor text thrown in (keywords for which the client no longer ranks)... on sites such as
Not awful sites, but generic guest-blog farms that can only do harm. And with the added anchor-text links thrown in (lots of them), not helpful.
The company then sent that list to their previous SEO company, asking them to remove them. This is the reply they received:
Yes these are mostly all links we have built for you, but I would very strongly suggest that whoever is looking at the SEO for you is not only totally wrong about these links being bad for your site, removing them would do your site a lot of harm.These links, as they are from high quality pieces of content on diverse domains and IP addresses are what is driving your rankings alongside your page content, removing them will immediately take away your rankings in Google as a large part of Google’s search rankings are still to do with external linking. There are no unnatural link alerts in Google Webmaster Tools for any of our SEO clients, because we only use high quality content creation for both client website pages and any links that we build. What your site actually needs is a lot more links from relevant articles, not fewer.I’ve been optimising websites for Google almost as long as Google has existed, nothing much has changed despite what the general SEO community will jump upon in any given month. Google are going to start looking at blog guest posting on low quality blogs as this has been manipulated by some spammier SEO companies, I can assure you we only use quality link building methods and the links outlined by your SEO company don’t fall into this category.
My jaw dropped. If you know about SEO, I’m sure yours did too.
I could reply... but I’ve decided to reach out to the “SEO community” so that they can “jump upon it” and help me provide a solid de-bunking.
And this is where I reach out... got an opinion? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org... I’ll update the article with expert opinions as we go...
An agency with an opinion like this clearly has not got a lot of experience of the algorithm updates from last year.
The links they’re defending are exactly the kind that I saw given by Google search quality team as spammy placements that should be removed in order to remove a penalty on a site.
If you can’t make them remove these links I would immediately add them to the client’s disavow file.
Having said that - if they don’t have any strong links to support them once you remove the spammy/toxic/risky ones I would also aim to start getting some links to maintain the website’s organic visibility.
So there is a particular sentence on that reply from the “SEO company” which piqued my interest. One of them is “I’ve been optimising websites for Google almost as long as Google has existed.”
I would be slightly worried about that sentence. What I’m reading is that this company has been using the same method since Google existed back in the late 1990s (hello meta keywords!)
This followed by the equally comforting
…nothing much has changed….
I could have sworn there have been some algorithm updates…hmm, maybe that’s just me (sarcasm of course). Clearly this company is not aware or experienced enough to understand the impacts that the algorithm updates over the past couple of years can have on your website.
And then we finish off with
…despite what the general SEO community will jump upon in any given month.
Wrong, the community didn’t jump. If you looked at the “general SEO community”, many people adapt, look at the bigger picture and focus on the long-term benefits rather than scraping your way with some short-term quick wins.
I feel sorry for those small businesses, those moms and pops companies, who have been duped and fooled by those SEO companies, which can seriously damage the business. At the same time, these are the kind of companies who are giving us a bad name and tarnishing the reputation of genuine marketers. So I’m sure I speak for a number of genuine people within the community that we advise those small businesses to get those low-quality links removed and disavow those which cannot be manually removed.
At the same time, focus on creating an awesome website for your customers, not for Google. It will take time but if you do that and everything will eventually fall into place.
Unfortunately I think the industry is still rife with people who still genuinely believe the more links you have the better. People seem to think Google has changed when actually it’s just got better at been able to identify poor workmanship.
While I agree with the comments about links still being a factor for rankings, I don’t think it is the be all and end all, I’ve seen recently some people tweeting about technical SEO and how making small changes have increased traffic over a 28 day period.
A lot of agencies and freelancers are still going out and building links knowing that they can always justify it with the common ‘There are no unnatural link alerts in Google Webmaster Tools’. However this doesn’t mean you’re doing great SEO - it just means Google hasn’t found enough information yet.
I regularly run checks on clients’ sites and potential clients to see how their link profile is doing. This allows me to ensure the links I suggest are always healthy. I do feel a little for some people, as what they think is a good link now might potentially turn toxic within a few months.
I still stand by what I said 5 years ago! Build a good website which is useful for the user and contains answers to problems which the user might have. Do this and do it well and you’re onto a winner.
“...totally wrong about these links being bad for your site, removing them would do your site a lot of harm.”
Totally wrong? How?! Link/blog farms are spam.
“...removing them will immediately take away your rankings in Google”
Okay, so the website will drop off the face of the earth? I wonder (in the SEO company’s opinion) what will happen?
Building high-quality links within good networks & building a positive relationship with other website owners whilst the links are in the process of being removed will maintain & hopefully improve the rankings.
The whole reply is shocking and displays such ignorance and lack of common sense. Especially as they apparently have almost 16 years’ experience. A lot has changed. It’s scary that some apparent SEO’s have this same mindset they’ve had for years. SEO’s have to constantly adapt, learn and develop not ‘jump’.
I don’t see any jumping going on in the general SEO Community. In the spammers’ community however, well I’m sure that’s a different story.
That response seemed fairly quick to go on the defensive - I’ll be honest, even as recently as 18 months ago I put guest blogs on some of those very sites listed. If a client came back to me and said these have been diagnosed as bad, I would hold my hands up and either remove and/or disavow. This technique worked once upon a time and people worked hard on the content they put on those types of sites, the industry is always changing and in my opinion there’s no shame in having previously guest posted and now having to go back and remove.
The dangerous thing with this response I feel is ignorance and not admitting the links may now be harmful. If the client takes that advice and builds more of these type of links based on that response, things are only going to get worse.
This industry does change (500 algorithm updates a year anyone?!) and weekly research along with regular peer review work is vital to ensure we do our duty to customers and don’t take actions that can harm a site’s position. In my experience, clients tend to understand how complex this industry is and ALWAYS appreciate honesty with regards to links built and any other work completed.
Finally, in my opinion I think in cases where just one or two links may be questionable and there is no warning or penalty on WMT, it can be more worthwhile building some solid relationships and links “over the top” of the bad ones so to speak; traffic gains, a new contact and potentially some social traffic can be a better use of time than chasing one bad link removal.