Are Your Rankings Suffering from Bad Links?

Ethical link building for ecommerce sites requires hard work, creativity and a bit of good fortune. It’s tough to get quality backlinks to commercial sites, and many shops have wittingly or unwittingly (through contractors) engaged in spam or borderline spam activities to get them — including paid links, blog networks and comment spam.

Ever chasing shady link building tactics, Google has changed the way its valued links many times over the years through search engine algorithm updates. Perhaps no update has ruffled as many feathers as Penguin in April, 2012. Not only did some sites’ rankings hit an iceberg, thousands of webmasters found warning in their Google Webmaster consoles of suspect “unnatural links” (spam and/or paid links) in their link graphs, with a recommendation to go after and remove them.

Naturally, that spread panic through the search blogs and forums. Google webspam lead Matt Cutts assures us that the warnings were sent out to improve transparency, and receiving a warning does not mean your site has been penalized. Unless you’ve experienced a dramatic drop in traffic (that hasn’t rebounded since the update indicating it could have been some other factor responsible), you’re likely okay. You can determine this from your Webmaster Tools account or web analytics. (Hint, rankings would tank across your keyword profile, not just individual words). Remember, the update occurred in February, 2012, but “aftershocks” have been and will continue to be felt as the algorithm is tweaked further.

How to take action on link removal

Whether or not you’ve been slapped by Penguin, there are a few tools that can help you organize a “link teardown campaign:”


Download your link profile from Webmaster Tools and upload it to SEOGadget, and for the price tag of zero dollars, the tool will flag low quality links and even attempt to find contact information for each linking site so you can follow up with a removal request.

Remoove’em and Rmoov

Despite the dreadfully difficult to spell and remember branding (and confusing as Removem is a video game), these services can help automate the campaign for you, creating and sending email, following up with reminders to contacts, and reporting on results. Though they are paid tools, the time you save and errors you spare make them worth it. (You don’t want to risk copy-and-paste errors so common with manual PR and link building campaigns).

Other options are and

In the future, Google may adopt a “disavow” feature, similar to Bing, which allows you to flag links from domains you don’t support linking to you. Matt Cutts mentioned at a recent conference that it’s something his team is considering.

If you’re on the receiving end of these removal requests

I’ve been receiving a lot of requests from sites who, in the past, have spammed Get Elastic‘s blog comments, and slipped through moderation (years ago, we did not pre-moderate blog posts, as we grew we had to stop it before they got through, don’t want spam links live for any amount of time.

If like us, you’re a blog or website receiving these requests – it’s the TYPE of link, not your site, that’s the problem. The blog comment spam is the tactic getting in trouble, it doesn’t mean your blog or site is not trusted by Google. Don’t be offended! Though you may be annoyed at the demands of spammers, think of it as helping you find spam you missed in moderation.

How to build good links to ecommerce sites

If you missed it, we have a number of ideas in our Guide to Link Building for Ecommerce.

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4 Responses to “Are Your Rankings Suffering from Bad Links?”

  1. Rebecca says:

    I tried the SEO Gadget link that you had referenced in this article. It offered all inaccurate information. How (or why) would I trust a company like that when their data doesn’t have integrity?

  2. Joel says:

    I wouldn’t waste my time removing links – a majority of the time it’s not an actual penalty (which would benotified in Webmaster Tools) but it’s just that Google has started ignoring those dodgy links.

    You might have been ranking well for a while…on the basis that Google gave you credit for those links and now it’s taken that credit away. It’s like getting a gold medal but then later on it’s found out you took drugs to get it – and that gold medal gets stripped

    Point in case for me – I had a #2 rank for for “fathers day gifts ideas” however it did not rank well for “fathers day gifts” which is a higher volume term. I set out on a link building campaign targeting 5 specific keywords using anchor text, it was exactly the best form of link acquisition but my god it worked. I then started ranking #3 for “fathers day gifts”. Along comes April and bam. “Fathers day gifts” drops down to page 3, but “fathers day gift ideas” remains in #2. This tells me I haven’t had my page punished, but those specific links that helped me rise before have now been ignored.

    Instead of removing the bad quality links – we should be focusing on building good links to make up for the slack of the bad ones.

  3. Sha Menz says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for including us in your post. Great job of covering all the bases and I really love your take on how to approach link removal requests!

    We’ve tried while developing rmoov to make the process as painless as possible for webmasters who are receiving requests, and have been particularly happy to hear positive feedback from those who appreciate our efforts.

    Your point about not feeling offended is very relevant, but should also alert those who are making requests to the need for polite and friendly emails when making requests.

    Joel – just wanted to let you know that manual penalties are not necessarily advised via webmaster tools. We have had clients come to us who have never received an unnatural links warning nor any other notification of the reason for their problems. On submission of a reconsideration request (based on an analysis of their situation) manual penalties have been confirmed.

  4. Linda,

    Thank you for the tips on creating good links for eCommerce sites. As a strategist starting out, it is comforting to see that amount of professionals who are open to giving out their hard earned information to better everyone’s life.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles!

    Thank you again!

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