As oxygen is to the body, links is to a website. Simply put, the modern search engines’ core algorithm ranks web pages based on a crucial factor – how many other sites are linking to a site and how good those sites are. It suffices to say that the higher the quality of sites that link to you, the better the chances of your site ranking.
However, what about all the bad, supposedly spammy, low-quality links pointing to your site? Should you be worried about them? Can they harm your site and do they have the ability to bring down your rankings? We’d like to think “not” but Google has sent out mixed signals about that recently with their latest Penguin updates.
This fad about removing links has gained momentum in the last few months after Google has been sending out “Unnatural Link Warning” notices. With the most recent set of notices sent, it was surprising to see that even a site like SEOMoz.org got an unnatural links notice. So the question that begs itself, if Google is issuing such notices, should you remove some of those links pointing to your site?
Well, there are two ways of looking at it:
1. You could spend hours removing (or at least attempting to remove) as many suspicious links as you can, contact Google informing them of your efforts and hope your site recovers in their next algorithmic update.
2. You could spend the same amount of time that you would’ve spent in removing links but instead on renewed link building efforts that result in a stream of quality links flowing to your site. The resultant effect of such an effort being that your rankings do eventually recover because of a rebalanced link portfolio and that the penalty effect of the unnatural links wanes over time.
I am of the opinion that the latter might be a more sound strategy because the Penguin update is an algorithmic update after all and not a manual update. So what that means is that when your link profile does start looking stronger and more diverse, your sites’ rankings will automatically come back in the fold.
You could ask, what about the “penalty” effect of those “unnatural” links if you don’t remove them? What if Google is not just ignoring the value of those links but in fact imposing a penalty? I believe that there are two aspects to be looked at here to understand how Google could `possibly be interpreting your links where the Penguin update is concerned:
a) They’ll look at the quality and diversity of your links in terms of the kind of sites that are linking to you. The basic premise of PageRank remains, the value you get from each link would be determined by the quality of the site. However, if you have one too many links from a very similar profile of sites, then the site could possibly be “Penguined”.
b) They’ll look at the diversity in your anchor text. If you have a large number of money keywords and little to few branded/domain based keywords or natural linking words, then this could be another possibility of your site being “Penguined”.
However, in spite of the conditions above, I believe that such a “penalty” would (or rather should) be based also on the overall strength of the site’s link profile. If a site does have a decent number of authoritative links, it should ideally override any such penalty effect because otherwise should a site like SEOMoz.org, which got such a notice, be subject to a ranking drop because of these Penguin factors? Also, if a penalty had to be imposed irrespective of the overall link profile, then many small business sites could just so easily be forever stuck in the dumps with competitors continually engaging in “negative SEO”. Imagine a small business site building a few good links, then being bombarded with thousands of spammy links ever so often whenever their rankings reach a certain level. Once the good “power links” reach a certain level, they should ideally hold stead over the bad ones and the poor quality links could then possibly be just ignored for their value. It should work that way, even if it doesn’t right now or that’s what I believe anyway.
So coming back to the question of having to remove links I’d say you rather focus on your link building strategy for the future then dwell too much on what you could have very little control over. It is very difficult removing links, whatever anyone might say. There are a few exceptions though to ignoring removing links altogether, such exceptions would be that:
a) You really have built a set of suspicious looking links from private blog networks, scraped/spun articles on a bunch of web 2.0 free blogs, bought very obvious looking paid links, etc.
b) You have a certain amount of control over being able to remove them with some effort or influencing.
c) Most of your links do really seem “unnatural” because of the lack of diversity you have in your anchor text, in which case you could either try removing/modifying some links to balance the ratios or just strengthen your link building efforts from here on in trying to get as diverse an anchor text profile as possible.
Apart from the scenarios mentioned above or even in cases of those scenarios where you really don’t have control over removing the links, I believe that you might just be better off focusing your efforts on renewed link building activities. After all, if your link profile does consist of some good quality sites linking to it and it being better than what your competitors are getting, you’re bound to start ranking again.
I’d like to believe that Google’s intention with this update is to serve as a warning more than to impose any penalty as such. If your site has fallen [dramatically] in rankings [and suddenly], it’s time to revisit your link building strategy. If removing links is going to be easy for you to do because they’ve been in your control, then it’s something you should definitely do but otherwise I believe that time could be better spent in renewed focus on your site.
Each update from Google might be different focusing on different things & it is not possible to delete links or change your site’s strategy to suit any one particular update. Basically, as with everything in life, you just move on – get the basics right, focus on quality content, good usability, building the right kind of links & things will surely work out in the long run.