The above title might seem far-fetched or odd at best, since, as most people with a bit of SEO-savvy know, Google still ranks websites by the number of links back to them. However, the recent Penguin update has gotten people worried and relatively frantic over what constitutes relevancy in Google’s view. Companies that have, in the past, paid hefty amounts of money to have their websites linked to in the comments sections of various blogs and websites are now being threatened with legal action for their black-hat strategies of yore. As such, they are now resorting to new tactics: they are writing to the blog or website owners, whom they themselves spammed in the past, and asking them to take down the damaging links. Why is all this link craziness going on and where could it possibly be heading?
Google Gets Vocal about Bad Links
In December 2012, numerous webmasters around the world started receiving emails from Google, which informed them that some of the pages on their website were being linked back to in ways which the search engine giant considered to be in violation of its Webmaster Guidelines. At first, a wave of hysteria swept the web, with some publications reporting that more and more bad links are popping up everywhere. The issue was subsequently clarified by Google themselves, whose representatives explained that the plethora of messages being sent out to webmasters did not indicate an increase in the number of ‘bad’ or ‘artificial’ links. It was simply a sign of the post-Penguin times. The search engine is now implementing a new policy regarding back-links (some of which had been previously quietly tolerated, but are now being reported as bad).
Charging to Un-Link
As Google upped their game against link schemes and other methods of manipulating PageRank, just as many SEO experts and webmasters increased their frantic search for the afore-mentioned bad links. And, as is always the case with new rules and regulations, an opportunity for profit emerged, in the eyes of some. Last summer, before Google had launched its link disavowal tool for webmasters, several websites were asking for money in order to remove links – specifically, $25 for removing a given URL from a directory which allegedly contained one hundred sub-directories.
While the legal situation on the matter remains tangled up in a gray area of sorts, it should be noted that linking to another website has been found legal in several U.S. court cases. As of yet, putting up a link to another site cannot be prosecuted, as long as that link is not infringing, damaging, or does not include copied content. One case, tried in 2006, saw Ford Motors trying to take down websites with vulgar names that were critical of General Motors. The court did not see in favor of the automaker, as they came to the conclusion that said websites did not damage the brand in any way. This having been said, companies that took part in link building schemes are now seeing the damaging results of such actions, as Google continues to drive down their PageRank—and it is yet too soon to tell when and where it will all end.