Watch Out for Low Quality Links

Several months ago we took on a new client who operates pest control franchises across the US.  Moxie Pest Control had great success using traditional marketing and brought us in to help build and implement their social media and SEO strategies.  They had worked with another company before, but weren’t seeing results, so they wanted to see if we could improve things.

The previous company had setup each location with it’s own website, and our first task was to get started on improving the websites from the North Carolina and Virginia locations.  Easy enough, we thought.

Shortly after bringing us in, we got things rolling with SEO and it was going great.  The previous firm didn’t have any reports to provide us showing what had been done, so we relied on our research using Open Site Explorer (OSE) and other tools to uncover what they did.  We found plenty of low quality links but didn’t think much of them, as they didn’t appear to be hurting the site.  We quickly moved on to our own strategies for generating new, high-quality links.

Enter the Penguin

Everything was going swell:  new links were coming in, they were rising in the SERPs and local rankings, and qualified traffic was hitting the site.  That was, until April 24, 2012, when the Penguin algorithm update hit.  Neither site stood up to this algorithm adjustment and traffic and rankings completely plummeted for both sites.

Because it took a few days for everyone to wrap their heads around what the algorithm consisted of, we literally panicked for 2 days straight.  We submitted reconsideration requests and pushed to get a few more high quality links quickly in case that helped.   But it turns out, neither helped, because the problem was completely different.

A Crackdown on Low Quality Links

It turns out that Penguin was a crackdown on sites that had a lot of low quality links pointing back to them.  The algorithm attempted to identify sites that were using low quality backlinks to manipulate their search rankings.

At first it didn’t make sense to us that our client would be hit because we are just so laser focused on good links (infographics, guest posts, content marketing, etc).  However, we quickly remember that we did see low quality stuff in our initial site audit.  We went back and looked at these low quality links, which we originally wrote off as no big deal, but with a new viewpoint post-penguin, they looked (and were) devastating.

Using Majestic SEO, OSE, and Google Webmaster Tools, we were able to uncover a bunch more of the spam links, which was step 1 in recovering from Penguin.

Taking Action

Having a solid list of these low quality links, we got to work doing the opposite of what we generally do – we emailed site owners asking them to remove links to our client.  We wanted to disassociate our client from as many low quality links as possible.

We had a surprising amount of success with this.  It turned out that one of the people we contacted owned a network of sites that had backlinks we wanted removed, so he was able to remove a bulk of them at once.  Many others had no issue removing the links.  In all, we were able to remove about 60% of the low quality links pointing to the clients.


Although it took over a month, removing the links while still continually building up solid, high-quality links, helped us restore the rankings and traffic to previous levels.  Fortunately our client was super cool and understanding through this process, which took some of the stress out of it and allowed us to simply focus on finding solutions rather than managing a client through turbulent times in regards to rankings.

Lesson Learned

In hindsight, we should have started with removal of low-quality links on day 1.  Of course, that is easy to say now that Penguin is here to stay and everyone is aware of the pain that low-quality links can cause.  Rest assured, low quality link removal is a priority for us with all existing and new clients going forward.

About the Author

Brian Patterson is Go Fish Digital‘s Director of Client Services, and is responsible for researching and developing strategies for Online Reputation Management (ORM), SEO, and managing web development projects. He blogs on the GFD blog and can be found on Twitter @brianspatterson.

Matthew Marley

Matthew Marley is a SEO specialist from Glasgow Scotland with a passion for the web and emerging technologies. With over 9 years experience Matthew specialises in SEO and has worked with some of the worlds biggest brands.

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