When Link Removal Requests Turn Ugly — How Do You Deal with Threats?

There is a saying that you should never wrong a writer because they get their revenge in print. I have always said the same thing about bloggers, because while bloggers are indeed writers, there is a difference between the two. Writers who choose to channel their craft into stories for more traditional outlets, such as papers and magazines, have an audience that is limited to those who have access to those specific papers or who subscribe to those magazines. Writers who run blogs, on the other hand, have the ability to transcend those limitations and reach a bigger audience. The only people a blogger cannot reach are those without access to an internet connection. It is wise to never wrong a blogger, because when they channel their craft and put you in the metaphorical crosshairs, there is no telling how far their story will go.

Which brings this blogger to this story.

Google has recently undergone some major changes. Many bloggers are acutely aware of this because several of those who once sat atop search engine results are suddenly nowhere to be found — or at least buried under several dozen pages. Their Google PageRank has slipped a digit or two, or has been stripped completely, and in more drastic cases, business relationships and income have been lost as a result. But bloggers are not the only webmasters to feel the heat from Google’s recent updates; those who run internet businesses from their websites have also begun to be penalized.

Up until recently, online businesses have been busy linking to their websites in the comments section of blogs. They have been doing this for two reasons: first, and least importantly, it’s promotion that they did not have to pay for; but the real reason is that having their website linked to from another, perhaps even more reputable, website has made them look good in Google’s eyes. This linking practice works especially well if they filled out the name section of a comment form with their business name, which then linked to their website, banking on the anchor text that would propel them higher into Google’s search engine results.

This linking practice has been going on for years — longer than this website has even existed, which is impressive considering 2013 marks Woman Tribune’s fifth year of being up and running. Businesses have hired “SEO experts” and “internet marketers” with no real grasp of ethical linking policies, while others have merely taken the ball and run with it, saving their dollars and instead trading in their time to spread their links far and wide on their own. This has never really been an ethical internet business practice, but it took until Google began to penalize the businesses who have been doing this to get them to pay attention.

So, that is more than five years of businesses commenting on blogs, leaving behind their business name and a link to their website. That kind of significant spam has left bloggers responsible for combating it. Spam filters will flag and capture a certain number of these comments, but even the best spam filters fail to put a dent in this unique type of spam — especially when a lot of these comments don’t look like spam. In fact, a lot of these comments can even be legitimate and genuinely add something to the conversations being had, but are left by underhanded and unethical businesspeople looking to get ahead. This is what makes them so tricky to tell apart from the other comments left by well-meaning people, fans of your space, and fellow bloggers. When spam filters fail, it is up to the bloggers themselves to manually get rid of spam comments, but it is unrealistic to expect even the most diligent bloggers to be able to track down and delete every last comment that has been left by a self-serving business. But that is exactly what we are being expected to do now.

Over the past several months, I have received more “link removal request” emails than I care to even begin counting. These same people who left numerous comments on several of the posts published on this website have been emailing me to ask that I remove the links to their websites — links that they put there themselves — because Google has caught onto their linking practices and their past actions are now significantly hurting their business. Bloggers are basically now being told by the very same people who are responsible for leaving hundreds of spam comments on their websites that they are responsible for cleaning up their messes, and that we should all understand the need to do hours of unnecessary work in order to make this happen for every business who has ever done this because they are now being hurt by what they did. They had absolutely no consideration or regard for the spaces in which they spammed, but we need to care about them and their businesses right now. Right.

I have tried to remain helpful when I receive these emails. Every couple of days, I go on a mass comment deleting spree, sure to double-check my email and even search for the keywords “link removal request” in my inbox, just in case an email slipped through without me seeing it. I like to think that I have been pretty understanding and awesome amidst the scrambling businesses, but then I received a new kind of link removal request email, and I am not pleased.

Below is the email I received from a webmaster who left three comments on three different posts on Woman Tribune several years ago. All identifying information has been removed because, well, if they could send such a ridiculous email about me not getting back to them within a couple of days, who knows what someone is capable of when you publish their ridiculousness for all to see? I also left the typos in, so please don’t think that I am the one without a grasp on how the English language works.

Hi Holly,

Last Friday, I emailed you requesting to remove our link from your site but didn’t got any reply. I know you’re a busy person and I understand that. But we really need to have the link removed as it affects our business. We have not asked you nor paid any SEO companies to put the link on your site.

Thus, if I won’t receive any favourable response from you in the next 3 days, then I will be force to include your site on the disavow list and file a formal complaint on your hosting provider for having unscrupulous links of our site without permission.

All the best,

[redacted]
Webmaster

The Google disavow list is nothing new; mention has been made to it in nearly every link removal request email I have received. Here is where my problem lies: filing a formal complaint with a website’s hosting provider because a link that you placed on that website wasn’t removed as soon as you sent an email and in the time frame you would have liked? And to add to the utter absurdity, the reason as to why this person believes that they could file a complaint with my hosting provider is for having links to their website on my blog — links that all appear in the comments section of posts that pretty much prove they were put there by the business themselves.

Receiving this email damn near made my head explode, and it turns out that I don’t take too kindly to having the website I have put five years of my life into threatened. In fact, I got mean.

Here is the email I sent back — again, all identifying information has been removed.

Hello [redacted],

I have removed the links you repeatedly left in the comments section of the various posts on my website. I apologize for it taking me a little while to get back to you, but since Google has updated its policies and algorithms, I have received countless emails just like this one from people whose comments slipped through the cracks of my spam filter.

Also, how dare you threaten me with the possibility of losing my hosting. I am one person who works incredibly hard to run my blog. I’m sorry it took me a few days to respond to your email and remove links you chose to put on my website on your own. I’m also sorry that Google is now hurting the websites who have shamelessly spammed their links far and wide on as many smaller websites as they could, but that is not my fault and I will not be threatened by some smarmy, underhanded, faceless businessman on the internet when it comes to the hard work I have tirelessly put in on my website over the past five years.

Please have a little more consideration for the people you are emailing to remove your spammy comments from their websites in the future. It will likely have much more favorable results for you.

You should have no reason to contact me again in the future.

-Holly

Bloggers already take on a lot of responsibilities and are expected to do so much. This is only getting more difficult as Google changes up their policies on a whim and the FTC gives us more rules to adhere to than any other type of media that exists today. We have collectively worked our asses off, oftentimes wasting time on the backends of our sites that could have been spent creating worthwhile content, and we have stood for it all. But one thing that we must never stand for is being threatened. No one has the right to scare us into action because they are finally the ones who must bend to the Almighty Google Machine. No one has the right to take it upon themselves to decide that we must do something to help them when they have done nothing but add to our already immense workload.

Have you been inundated by link removal requests? How have you been dealing with them, and if you’ve been threatened, have you handled it better than I did? Share your insights!

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About Holly

In addition to being the driving force behind Woman Tribune, Holly is a self-taught web designer, gamer, and wannabe baker living in NEPA with her fiance and 5 cats.

14 thoughts on “When Link Removal Requests Turn Ugly — How Do You Deal with Threats?

  1. I am one of the people who was taken from a PR 3 to a PR 0 literally in two hours from when I was notified by Google. I have not yet gotten an email to remove links from comments–but then what Google doesn’t catch-I usually do-not to say I haven’t missed a couple-never say never! I do know the type of comments you are referring to–I delete at least 10 of them as spam daily–I do leave the links to other legit bloggers in the comments. Something has to give with Google–they are truly becoming a Monopoly which is illegal in this country. I have my own opinions on what they are attempting to do—–will not get into it here. If you look at all my other stats you will realize (as should legit advertisers if they weren’t being cowed by Google) just how hard I work at my 2 year old blog. I will not tell you how many links I have been asked to remove from blog posts–How can these advertisers think that a PR 3 blogger can suddenly not know how to write? It boggles my mind!

  2. WOW. That is just astounding, I can’t believe the audacity of someone who spams you, then insists you pick up their trash and even threatens you. Your response was perfect, I am sorry you had to even write it though. Sad.

  3. How absolutely exhausting. Though I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised…if businesses are going to be shady in the first place, they’re going to be unethical in their removal requests as well. This sort of thing is why I’m thinking long and hard about reviving my hobbyist blog.

  4. WOW! I’ve had a couple very polite requests, but nothing like this. One company explained that they now regret their practices from years ago and they appreciate my help to make it better. It was easy to accommodate them, and then I got a thank you note. Too bad not everyone is like that.

  5. I haven’t had any of these requests, probably because I only started my blog 5 months ago and thus, have a small following and no page rank. Is there really anything they can do to harm you? Isn’t there anything bloggers can do to complain about them? I would be disinclined to help them at all, given how time consuming running a blog is without the trouble (unless they approached as humbly as Karen’s requesters did).

  6. I’ve had several who pull the “disavowing” trick – I always tell them – you paid an SEO company to have me put the link on my blog. I am contracted with them, not you. I cannot remove the link until explicitly told to do so by them.

    What floors me is that I get emails to addresses *no one* should have because they’re not for my blogs, they are personal email addresses that are not posted anywhere on the internet – or at least shouldn’t be.

    I agree, Google is getting too big for their britches and something should be done. They’ve no right to make themselves kings of the internet and determine what sites are worthy of attention and what sites are not. That should be up to the people viewing the internet.

  7. Fortunately, I have not (yet) been in this situation, although it’s probably only a matter of time.

    Even so, to answer your question, I think that you handled it marvellously and I’m sure that he has heard the dear names you called him before. If not, he will.

    I hope that there is an end to this craziness for you.

    Besos, Sarah

  8. Wow… what nerve they had. But you handled it very well…. much nicer than I would have in your place :)

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