Today’s guest post comes from one of our favorite customers, Wayne Barker, SEO Manager at Boom Online Marketing. You can connect with him on Google+ and Twitter.

With the recent updates Google, it is more important than ever to know who is linking to you and how they are linking to you. Link pruning has been on a lot of smart SEOs agendas for years – or at least being incredibly familiar with your backlink profile.

However, following the surge of Webmaster Tools ‘Love Notes’ and the Penguin update, link removal has become necessary for many sites.

I have recently been working with a client that has a domain that they can’t just ditch like Matt Cutts suggested a while back – the simple fact being that it cost a shed load of money. So what do you do in that situation?

Whether you have had an unnatural links warning or you have been hit by Penguin you need to start looking at cleaning up your link profile.  

Link profile cleanup has some interesting requirements:

  • you need to get rid of as much garbage as you can
  • you need a way to organise this, as you potentially looking at thousands upon thousands of links (if not more!)
  • you need to document what you have done (for an unnatural warning you need solid documentation for Google, for Penguin you need it for your own records and potentially for Google further down the line)

Although there are plenty of tools that seem more than capable of helping you out with this this problem for your site or a client site, I chose to use Buzzstream because of my familiarity with the tool and I am already a paying user.

Here is run through of how you can use Buzzstream for link removal rather than link building or blogger outreach.

Gather your data

You aren’t going to get very far without some solid data. If you are looking at link removal, then the odds are good that you are in trouble with Mr Google himself. Head over to Webmaster Tools and download all the link data that Google is going to give you. The odds are that the issues that you have with your link profile are lurking in the somewhere!

backlink cleanup with buzzstream

link profile cleanup with buzzstream


Of course, Google being Google, they are never going to give you the most complete data – call them a tease – but at least you are going to have the majority of the trouble causing links in there somewhere.

You are also going to need some other sets of data to make sure that you cover all bases – c’mon you don’t trust Google that much do you? There are plenty of solid resources out there for this like the ‘getting more amazing with every week’ ahrefs! However due to the tools that I subscribe to and use on a regular basis, I gathered further information from Open Site Explorer:

Although Open Site Explorer has a tendency to miss out the less than desirable sites on the web, you are going to have some cracking data that will save you some work in the long run – like the anchor text of the links that it picks up.

Got enough data? Well I wanted to be sure! I then headed over to Raven Tools and got the Majestic SEO data that I needed to fully understand the link profile:

link cleanup with buzzstream

This bad boy was also exported to Excel and I now had some data that I could work with:

link data for cleanup

Now if I wasn’t  using Buzzstream I would need to sort all this data out in Excel and work from there (and in this post Sean Revell goes through a lovely process using Webmaster Tools, OSE and Link Detective) – but we are going to let Buzzstream sort this out for us!

Organising the Project

Create a new folder in Buzzstream for the client (if you don’t already have one) and then create a separate folder called something not dissimilar to Link Clean Up

link cleanup in buzzstream

removing bad links with buzzstream

This is where you are going to import the link profile spread sheets that you have gathered in previous steps. You may want to check the box that will automatically check backlinks (of course usually Buzzstream does so that you can see if there is a change in the links that you have spent days building – in this case we will be checking to see if the links have been removed!)

Note: Make sure the Auto Discover button is not checked.

Take your Webmaster Tools data and upload it to the new Link Clean Up project. For this data, you will need to check the Match My CSV option, check the example data and then upload:

removing penguined links with buzzstream

For the Open Site Explorer data, you can choose the option for OSE spread sheets and Buzzstream will match the data for you.

If you have Majestic data there is an option for that as well. If you have Majestic data via Raven you are going to need to go back to the Match My CSV option.

After you have uploaded all the spread sheets you will now have a lot of the data that you are going to need for the link removal project.

Get Up and Get a Cup of Coffee

Whilst brewing up some quality coffee of your choice, Buzzstream will go to work collecting the metrics and details that you will need to conduct some real link removal outreach. Whilst enjoying your coffee (or two), Buzzstream will start pulling in:

  • PageRank
  • Moz Metrics
  • Possible email addresses
  • Domain age
  • Social media accounts
  • And lots of other bits and bobs that you may find helpful in making contact with the webmasters

Create Some Custom Fields

One of the great things about Buzzstream is that you are not limited to the fields that are already set up. You are going to need to set up a few custom fields that are relevant to the project that you are working on. For this project, you can see in the picture below that I created new link types and relationship stages, so that anybody else who came in on the project could understand at a glance what was happening:

removing low quality links with buzzstream

cleaning up your link profile with buzzstream

Now for some actual graft! (Editor’s Note: In the UK, ‘Graft’ means to work hard – the US equivalent is Grinding.)

When I carried out this section of the work I hadn’t read Sean Revell’s aforementioned post so some time could have been saved. At the end of the day though, I am a firm believer that you should be visiting the sites that are in your list and giving them a once over to prioritise them from instinct as well – don’t forget that Google wants to serve the user as best they can. As good as all the metrics that Buzzstream gives you still need a quick eye cast over the sites, so you can them prioritise them in importance of removal.

You may also need to cast an eye over the links that are in each record – don’t forget that Google gave us very little data and although this will have had gaps filled in by OSE, you still want to check that the links are live/correct/not dead in the water.

Finding More Contact Details

Buzzstream is pretty good at finding the contact details that you need to conduct outreach but it is never going to be able to find them all without a bit of intervention from us.

Next select the sites that have prioritised for link removal using the amazing filtering systems that Buzzstream has. In the example below you can see that I have filtered by Link accepted (read live link) and the types being Article Directory and Web Directory. (Essentially I am looking to reduce the anchor text from sites that we know Google doesn’t like too much!!). You can further filter by PageRank or whatever metrics you deem important.

custom fields in buzzstream for link removal

At this stage Buzzstream has found maybe 50% of the contact details – but we want more. In the check box on the left check the boxes of the sites that have insufficient contact details.

Head over to the research button and you will see the whois search. Amazing! Click that followed by OK, and treat yourself to another coffee.

In the meantime Buzzstream will be doing all the leg work for you, don’t get too excited there is a little bit more graft yet.

Like prioritising it would be unrealistic for us to expect that Buzzstream could cast its eye over this data and make decisions for you. You have get your hands dirty and make human judgement on the contact details (be it email or social profile or in extreme cases the postal address that you can use to send link removal requests).

Simply hover over the found details and click add to put them in the record:

tracking removed links with buzzstream

Congratulations, You are Now Ready for Outreach

Connect whichever the email account you are going to use for outreach to Buzzstream. I prefer Gmail just because it is simpler to organise busy inboxes.

This where Buzzstream manages to get even better! Use the filters to choose the type of sites that you want to conduct link removal outreach for (for example article directories that have PageRank of less than 3).

Then create an email template that you can use for all the emails that you want to send including merge fields (unfortunately the merge for links will only bring in one link per email, so if you want to include more you will have to do so by hand).

The interface for outreach includes the template, lets you know if merge fields are missing and has all your notes and details of the links on the left. This makes it incredibly easy to add personalisation, more links, details or whatever you think is necessary to get the webmaster to respond.

templated emails for link removal

Wait, Respond, Test, Rinse and Repeat

By now you are going to be firing emails out left, right, and centre to get the nasty links removed, but don’t go bull at a gate. (Editor’s Note: Bull at a Gate is a UK phrase that means to do something very quickly.) Here are a few tips for getting the best possible results from link removal outreach using Buzzstream:

  1. Have multiple templates. One for article directories, one for web directories and so on and so forth.
  2. Just because you are asking for links to be taken down, don’t forget some level of personalisation.
  3. Don’t forget to thank people as they take links down (they often own multiple domains that tat old SEO companies may have used). I use a combination of Gmail, Gmail labels and Yesware templates to follow up emails rather than doing it in Buzzstream itself
  4. Have multiple follow up email templates (follow up 1, follow up 2 etc.) You will be surprised that people respond on the 3rd email and are still super helpful.
  5. Buzzstream has helped you gather valuable information, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send one of those real letter thingy’s that they used to use in the olden days.
  6. Test your response rate (Buzzstream now shows you email response rates), tweak your emails, and create further templates to find out what gets the best response.

Thanks for reading, and good luck removing those links!

Guest Author

This is a post by a Guest Author. Disclaimer: The author's views are entirely his or her own, and don't necessarily reflect the opinions of BuzzStream.

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