We have recently been doing one of many link clean-ups that come along with new clients, where we analyse the client's backlink profile and follow that up with link removal requests that we have agreed upon with the client; so basically finding all the problem links and attempting to get them removed.
We try to mix things up here so we can evolve our way of doing things and run tests to ensure we are being as efficient as possible, one such way recently was to use a throw-away Gmail account for the removal-request email blasts, simply stating that we were working on behalf of the client and we'd like the link removed – nothing more, to see what the response rate would be like. From our initial attempt we sorted the responses into folders for further action, here's the breakdown:
More Action Needed:
53% of the replies ended up in this folder and the overwhelming majority were due to the emails bouncing back.
4% were requesting payments, this ranged from $2 to $2,000. Some of these were also responses telling us about a company they were using for their removals – looking into this it appeared to be an affiliate scheme where they gave a directory (or whatever) a kick-back for allowing them to remove the link for them but charging us for the pleasure.
Shockingly only 4% of replies were asking for the client to verify that the request was genuine by sending a follow-up from a company email address.
Last but not least, 39% of replies were successful removals, no questions asked.
On the surface this may look like a successful start with the majority of emails needing little more action then simply finding new contact details or trying the email address again. Really you should be feeling very vulnerable!
39% removed the links no questions asked with the majority of responses simply replying "Done".
39% REMOVED THE LINKS NO QUESTIONS ASKED – FROM A GMAIL ACCOUNT!!
This is nothing short of alarming; a quick download of ahrefs, MSE or OSE, a fake Gmail account and you're good to go. This is where I’d like to be able to tell you some sure-fire way of protecting yourself but sadly there isn’t really one, how could there be? As long as links hold as much authoritative weight as they do you’re at risk, all I can say is if you have a website and you get a removal request, double check it and ensure it is coming from the company and hopefully someone else will do you the same courtesy.
The silver-lining if you are trying to recover from a link penalty, is that links are relatively easy to get removed, depending on their type. A branded email address will have an even greater success rate for your removal attempts but as we have found out, any email will do!
The fact that I’m seeing people still comment spamming tells me this will become a popular ‘tactic' among some circles to take out the competition, if it isn’t already. As there was such a high success rate I'm willing to bet it wouldn’t be too difficult to have links simply changed to another domain – We'll leave that test for someone else I think.