As much as Google is trying to move away from links and Page Rank as being the primary drivers of rankings, links are still an important driver for rankings, and they are not likely to go anywhere soon. Most webmasters are aware of the fact that buying and selling links is frowned upon, and they know that joining “link networks” is bad too, so what is a safe way to get links?
Creative Link Building Schemes
One common way of building links is to offer products for review, and request that the reviewer provide a link in return for getting to keep the product. It makes sense, on the surface, to do this – it looks like a creative way to draw attention to your website, and an ethical one too. What a lot of people don’t realise is that this isn’t a “safe” method of SEO. In the eyes of Google, soliciting product reviews in return for links still counts as a “link scheme”.
Penalties for Link Schemes
When Google sees a blogger make a post that says “The kind people at This Company provided me with a widget to review” they have no idea whether the blogger provided that link as a well-meaning thank-you gesture, or because the company that provided the product demanded it. Google will often penalise the company on the receiving end of the link, on the assumption that they made the link a requirement of getting the product. The link is considered to be unnatural, and treated the same as any other unnatural link. Even non-keyword links and no-follow links can sometimes cause an unnatural link penalty.
Recovering From the Penalty
If you are in this position, then you will need to try to have as many of the links removed as possible. If you still have contact with the bloggers that are linking to you, then you should contact them and ask them if they will edit the reviews. Most bloggers will be happy to do so, especially if they provided the links of their own accord because they were simply trying to be nice to your company. If you hired an SEO team to get links for you, then you may not be able to reach the bloggers yourself, in which case you may need to take a different approach and disavow the links to recover from the penalty. You can get a list of incoming links from your Webmaster Tools profile, and use that as a starting point for your cleanup process.