My fears about a particular type of link removal scam evolving have been realised it seems.
I wasn’t going to write about it as I didn’t want to give anyone ideas, but as the cat is out of the bag I may as well.
Google’s crackdown on spammy links from low quality sites appears to have built a new industry – link removal scams.
How they work
A low quality link directory or splog (spam blog) is built and numerous links to online businesses added to it. It doesn’t matter to the scammer if the splog is listed in Google or not. As soon as the splog/directory is built, they are ready to move into the next phase.
Owners of the sites listed are contacted and warned about Google’s distaste for inbound links from low quality sites, then a demand is made for payment in order to remove the offending link.
Another variation of the theme is a “concerned visitor” might say they followed a link from a junk site and being a concerned netizen and all, thought they should contact you to warn you about it. The site owner visits the splog, sees the link, contact the scammer and then the request for payment for removal of the links is made.
My advice in any of these situations is – don’t pay them, starve these parasites.
In most cases, a few crappy inbound links aren’t going to hurt you.
If you are particularly concerned, use the Disavow Links Tool in Google Webmaster Tools. The format for a disavow request allows you to include a comment about why you are making the request – this is the place to flag that the site in question is up to no good.
Just a general note on the Disavow Links Tool – it is a last resort. Google says it doesn’t want site owners to use it as the first port of call. There must be some prior attempt at contact made with the site in question (hence the need to include a comment). Again, having a few low-quality sites linking to you is not a sky-is-falling scenario. If the bulk of your inbound links are natural and on sites of reasonable quality, then you should have nothing to worry about.
For further information on the Disavow Links Tool and how to format a removal request, check out this post on Google Webmaster Central.
By the way, it seems even a few long-established low quality directories are also requesting payment for link removal. It’s a little bit of a different situation there as the links aren’t added by owner of the directory, but have been placed by the owners of the sites being linked to, or whoever they’ve engaged for promotion… or a competitor engaging in a negative SEO campaign, with the latter being another relatively recent and disturbing development.