A fashion blogger pal of mine sent me an email she received from a Big-Time Retailer, asking her to remove links from her page to their products. She was not paid for these links. She included them as part of her natural writing style. However, the email kind of scared her into thinking she had unknowingly used Black Hat Techniques (she hasn't - and I should know - I do SEO for a living):
Firstly we’d like to thank you for supporting our brand on your website, we always appreciate people taking the time out to link to us.
Unfortunately we’re writing to you to request that you move said links from your website as our marketing agency has informed us that search engines (specifically Google) could potentially view these as “unnatural links”, therefore negatively affecting both parties ability to rank in Google.
Here are some pages that our agency provided to us where a backlink to our website can be found: (pages redacted).
To provide some context to Google’s thoughts on this, In April 2012 google launched an algorithm update called the ‘penguin’ update. The penguin update served to penalise websites that employed what are considered ‘black hat’ SEO techniques in an effort to reduce webmasters ability to effect search rankings in this way.
The severity and range of this algorithm has increased over time. When it was first launched it dealt specifically with ‘webspam’ whereas now the scope is much broader, with the algorithm also targeting perceived incentivised links whether they are incentivised or not.
As a result of this we are attempting to remove any links to our website that Google could potentially view as paid for our mutual benefit. Regrettably any links that cannot be removed will be entered into our disavow file which could potentially be of detriment to your sites rankings in Google.
We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause, if you can let us know when this is complete so we can mark you off that would be greatly appreciated.
Was the Big-Time Retailer wrong in asking her to remove links? Well, yes and no. I don't think their Marketing Agency realized that there is another option. They were looking at Link Scheme contents, but could have asked her to "No-Follow" tag her links, and all would be well with the universe. Adding a no-follow tag means that you will not be passing link-equity on to the other site, which is the only thing Google is concerned about in this case. You're a fashion blogger. You're not a spammer. You may get paid to write about clothes (that's legal in Google-land) -- you just have to go about it in the right way.
So, here's what you do bloggers! Write an email back and ask if you can just "no follow" all the links. And if they say that's not enough, you will have to, unfortunately, remove the links.
My biggest suggestion is to go back through your blogs and "no-follow" all the links you have to retailers. Then, when you receive an email like the one we referenced above, you can tell them..."Hey! I no-followed all my links! There's no reason to do this." And then point them to this article from Google. "Best Tips for Bloggers Reviewing Free Products They Receive from Customers."
I realize this sounds like a lot of work. But, if it helps you avoid a penalty, and it prevents you from future headaches with retailers, then why not start doing it?
If you're not sure how to add "no-follow" to your links, here's an article from Google - and here's an article about how to do it in these platforms: - Wordpress - Squarespace - Wix (it is not currently possible in Wix, but check this link to see if they've updated it).
I hope this helps all you bloggers out there who are worried about emails you may receive from Big-Name retailers about removing links.