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Link Removal: The New Negative SEO

When most of us hear the term “negative SEO” we think about unscrupulous folks bombarding their competitors with a deluge of spammy backlinks. And while Google’s Matt Cutts admits that negative SEO is possible, he insists that it’s extremely rare. I leave it to you decide the relative effectiveness of link-bomb negative SEO. But that’s not the subject of this post. There’s a new potential negative SEO threat out there. And this one might be a bigger cause for alarm than the traditional kind.

As explained by Craig Addyman at Dave Naylor’s site, from the results of a link removal campaign:

39% REMOVED THE LINKS NO QUESTIONS ASKED – FROM A GMAIL ACCOUNT!!

Let me back up for a moment.

As you may have heard, Google has been on the update war path. In particular, their Penguin Update has been fairly effective in terms of targeting link spam, especially those links with spammy anchor text.

As sites that were engaged in these link spam tactics began to feel the impact of Penguin, they scrambled to find ways to “undo” the Penguin damage. One of the solutions that many webmasters have been pursuing is link removal. Basically, you contact other webmasters that have spammmy links pointing at your site and ask them to remove the links. It has given rise to an entire SEO cottage industry of link removal services, tools and even whole companies.

Which brings us back to Craig Addyman’s case study. In a nutshell, Craig’s company was hired to reach out to other webmasters on behalf of his client to ask them remove certain links pointing to his client’s site. Importantly, in this instance, Craig’s team was using a throw-away generic Gmail account to reach out to these webmasters to request that they remove the target links.

The astounding part is how well it actually worked.

39% of the webmasters that Craig’s team sent link removal requests from a generic Gmail account actually complied with the request. Which got Craig thinking that if it’s that easy to get links removed without some verification of the legitimacy of the request, other webmasters might try to get their competitors’ back links removed.

In other words, we need to be on the lookout for a new type of negative SEO: Link Removal Negative SEO

So what can be done to protect against dastardly do-baders?

First, you should implement some form of link tracking for your site. I like Raven Tools, but there are many others that are just as good for link monitoring.

Next, you should put in place some type of verification policy with other webmasters who link to your site. Especially for your most prized link assets.

Next, you might even consider putting other webmasters in your neck of the web on notice about this strategy. Let others know how they should be verifying link removal requests.

Periodically check the status of links and set up notifications that let you know when links go down. That way you can try to contact the other webmaster quickly to rectify the problem. You might also be able to track down the negative link remover (although this is highly unlikely).

I’d like to believe that most webmasters wouldn’t arbitrarily remove links without some form of authentication. Based on Craig’s example, it looks like I’d be wrong. I’d like to know more about how common a problem this really is. If you’ve been a victim or heard a horror story, please share below.