Should You Remove Bad Links? A Twitter & Google+ Debate

So this morning I woke up, opened Tweetbot on my mobile and found out that I’d received 29 @mentions from 3 people…

Earlier in the day yesterday, I left this reply to a tweet by @barriemoran about lifting penalties:

I’ve done a bit of manual action work myself (as Morgan Freeman can tell you!) and I always try to remove as many links as possible as part of the process. However I admire Leeds-based SEO agency Branded3 and @Tim_Grice‘s bold claim that “Branded3 [have] had over 60 manual penalty recoveries without removing a single link” (source). I threw @Branded_3 into the tweet as I was curious if they’d chip in with a response on the topic, which they did (in the form of Tim). Dozens of @mentions later…? Well…

Boxer image
* DING DING! * Ladies and gentlemen, in the red corner, we have Barrie and @ChrisLDyson, arguing that you should definitely try and remove links as part of the process. And in the blue corner (very apt, given their branding!), we have Tim on behalf of Branded3, suggesting that simply disavowing is enough and link removal isn’t necessary (and that they have 60+ success stories to prove it)…

Here’s a Storify Wakelet embed of the Twitter debate (twebate?).* Below that, Barrie decided to move the conversation onto Google+ for the sanity of everyone involved, so I’ve featured an embed link of that, too (below the Storify Wakelet).**

Enjoy (…and don’t forget to grab the popcorn a cup of coffee)! ๐Ÿ˜‰

* I’ve tweaked the order of the tweets so that it’s more readable, as with so many @mentions flying around, the chronological order doesn’t necessarily make sense… if that makes sense!

** To see the comments, click the post’s date (“2 Feb 2014”) – for some reason G+ doesn’t let you embed it with comments already showing (unless I’m doing it wrong)…

[Boxers image credit: B, K & G]


  • Emma

    February 3, 2014 at 8:10 pm Reply

    Nice bit of banter! Seen this bit of back and forth before so happy to read a bit more.

    I will represent TEAM BLUE, and stand firmly behind Tim on this. I’m part of the team that helped create and refine B3’s manual penalty removal process, and manual penalties are still a firm part of my life – joy! Honestly, haven’t removed a link in at least 6 months (probably longer…) but we manually audit every single link – this is the kicker! We’ve tried using shortcuts (tools, filtering by anchor text, by site name etc) but in the end we’ve always had to go back and re-audit links. To me, going through every link manually is the only way! Then stick them in a disavow (if someone deletes it, well then, that’s what back-ups and smacks around the head are for) and write your recon. The success is not always instant (simply because Google WMT and other link grabbing services NEVER give you all the links) and you may have to repeat with process with a different data-set. There doesn’t seem to be a magical % of bad links disavowed that means you’ll pass a Manual Action (Well… 100% would work I suppose haha) but as long as you’re willing to admit “these are dodgy and I know they’re dodgy!” it does work.

    Another argument for keeping links live: referral traffic. Obviously not from spammy directories, but maybe you did some sponsored pieces or guest blogs, and the websites are good – why kill the chance to get some new visitors?

    Interesting read!

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    February 3, 2014 at 8:29 pm Reply

    Gambling. That’s what we all do in SEO. Seriously. Since we do not have direct insider access to algorithms, the spam team, or manual reviewers mind-set, it’s all gambling.

    So what it comes down to is how much are you willing to gamble that a raw straight disavow is all you need to do?

    How much are you willing to gamble that just because a previous method worked, it might continue to work?

    How much are you willing to gamble that what works in the short term won’t bite you in the ass down the road?

    I live and breathe long-term sustainability.

    While I absolutely agree that in most cases the majority of bad link domain owners are completely unreachable, I prefer to take the lowest risk path.

    I had one client who hired me after they were penalized. In that situation, they went straight to disavow. Within short order AFTER the disavow, they were manually penalized.

    In several cases, site owners have hired me, I’ve done an audit, they’ve put in the footwork to clean up links based on my recommendations (or hired someone to do the heavy lifting based on those recommendations), got some removed, did a disavow on others, did a reconsideration request, and got a partial lifting of the penalty, with instructions to do more. After a 2nd (or in some cases, a 3rd) round of clean-up attempts, and subsequent disavows, they’ve had the manual penalty lifted.

    While others may have a different experience, that’s all great for them. It’s not my business model and someone else’s experience isn’t ever going to sway me when I have my own high volume of experience getting success a different way.

    Sure I’m open to change – we all need to be if we’re going to evolve as professionals. Yet just one company’s experience does not make me a kool-aid drinker. #JustSayin

  • Stephen Kenwright

    February 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm Reply

    Love the banter Steve – here’s my two cents:

    At Branded3 we manually look at every link we can find, and then let Google’s own tools do the work – and it does work! There’s an element of human error, sure…but we’ve found human error is less frequent and less dangerous than machine error.

    In contrast, a lot of SEOs use a tool to automatically check their links, assuming that it’s creator must have known what a bad link looks like, and trust it enough to let it permanently take down everything it finds without being involved in the process. It’s the 2014 equivalent of article spinning. You can try to take them down manually, but the chances are you’ll never get a response – if you recover it’s because those links are in the disavow file.

    You’ve been hit by Penguin: you’re assuming that the guy who made your tool that costs a few hundred dollars is as good as a huge team of Google Engineers spending all their time on their algorithm. The last few years great SEOs have been shouting “don’t chase the algorithm!” – but that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re auditing your links with a click.

    You’ve got a manual action: some poor guy on Google’s end is wasting his day looking through your link profile and you don’t bother doing the same. HE’s not losing HIS money…

    …and when they’re not making several tweaks PER DAY to their algorithm, Google are making tools to help you help yourself and nobody wants to do it, when it totally works.

    • Chris

      February 3, 2014 at 9:20 pm Reply

      Let’s not turn this into a sales pitch eh?

      Believe it or not I also manually audit every single link and I grab several data sources including running GWT data over different days to get every example link possible.

      Now the debate we had was should you bother wasting time & money removing links… My answer is

      1. Contact those people to remove/edit
      2. Document everything
      3. Disavow whatever is left

      It’s best practise it’s lower risk

      After all some people like to buy advertorials at scale & some just disavow & don’t remove if it works & your client wants to do it go for it…

      • Stephen Kenwright

        February 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm Reply

        Completely understand Chris, not saying there’s no merit to removing links, and I definitely take your earlier point that it’s the ideal scenario…I’m just saying it’s not essential to remove them in order to get the penalty lifted.

        Massive respect to you for manually auditing them in the first place though Chris, that is essential in my opinion.

  • Barrie

    February 3, 2014 at 9:16 pm Reply

    Ding Ding , not sure if this is Rocky or Grudge Match ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Gambling, I like the analogy that Senior Bleiweiss used.

    Most of my comments are visible on the G+ thread, but, I thought I would drop by and summaries my opinion.

    First off, I have not removed 60 penalties, but. I have removed just under half of that and whilst I have developed a process for gathering the information no two have been the same. That is because no two web sites are the same. They don’t have the same footprints, they operate in different verticals etc.

    I have tested a few approaches, on sites I created to deliberately incur a penalty. I personally have had no success in having a manual penalty lifted by simply using the disavow process.

    However, even if I had, I am of the opinion that I would still want those links which I realistically can get removed, removed.

    By investing the time and effort in removing a percentage of the footprint, clearly disassociating the domain with other garbage in the disavow file, providing evidence of the approach, methodology and outcomes, the majority of my reconsideration requests are approved first time!

    This to me is much more favorable for the client. They have the action lifted, the hard work is done up front and multiple reconsideration requests spaced weeks apart are not required.

    The domain is then in a stronger position to move forward the right way.

    It is essential, in some verticals more than others, but, essential none the less to monitor the links to the domain, NSEO as we all know is a reality, and form some domains a continual update of the disavow file will be required.

    NB: Google does not store the data, so, when you submit a new file make sure you include all previous disavowed domains and not just the new ones, or you overwrite the previous file with fewer disavowed domains and cause future problems.

    We all have different approaches, we all have different successes. I for one would much rather be working with clients, spending their budget on proactive elements of a campaign which deliver tangible ROI.

    Without a concerted effort to remove, I have not witnessed penalties lifted or improvements to the visibility of the domain.

    If engaged by a client or asked my opinion by a peer, I would recommend the hard route, but, I commend those who find solutions and Tim and his team have found a solution that works for them and their clients.

    But, its not the road I would take.

    Take your time with the process if you have a penalty, do the hard work work and aim for that first time submission to get the clean bill of health, it tough, but it can happen and when it does and the domain gets a lift, well, as I said in my original tweet that sparked this great conversation, I still get pumped.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      February 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm Reply

      Completely agree with you Barrie, much prefer doing the things that will deliver results and grow after a penalty. It’s unfortunate how much hard work goes to building a platform you can do that from now. Like you said, maybe it’s just a case of different approaches working best for different people.

  • SEO Bomber

    February 7, 2014 at 4:34 pm Reply


    Can you please stop biting the bait?

    The sole purpose of the branded 3 controversial post was to generate noise and links. It is indeed a very good link bait example.

    Their objective was to rank top in for “link removals” which is how owners of penalised websites are searching for. They managed to make this happen without anyone realising.

    Who do you think business owners will contact to “disavow” the right links for them? I’m sure Branded 3 will be getting some nice leads for a long while.

    • Steve

      February 7, 2014 at 4:40 pm Reply

      You honestly think that it was their “sole purpose?” Seems to me it’s more than just linkbait – it’s a process that they preach and practice on more than 60 of their clients. They would have to be really, really stupid to say that they don’t remove links solely for linkbait purposes and not follow-through with it…

      I also disagree with your last statement. If it were me, I’d want to hire the company that disavows and tries to remove the links – not just the former.

      • SEO Bomber

        February 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm Reply

        Have you thought that what they say may not be what they do?

        • Steve

          February 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm Reply

          So you think that they’ve asked/convinced all of their staff (some of whom have commented here) to go along with the lie? Sorry mate, but I don’t think your conspiracy theory has legs…

        • Emma

          February 7, 2014 at 8:44 pm Reply

          Hi there Mr Bomber.

          You can come and sit next to me as I manually classify loads of links and I’ll keep you posted RE eventually remove a penalty by using the disavow tool.


          • SEO Bomber

            February 8, 2014 at 8:02 pm

            Just a screenshot of a successful reconsideration request would do. Don’t want to distract you from classifying the links – sounds like a fun job ๐Ÿ™‚

  • SEO Bomber

    February 8, 2014 at 2:50 pm Reply

    No need to waste time – A screenshot of a reconsideration request would do ๐Ÿ™‚

  • […] some believe that you don’t need to bother with link removals, I feel you are doing your client a disservice by not even attempting to get some of their bad […]

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