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While doing an SEO audit for a client, we discovered their previous SEO placed 20+ hidden links in the footer of their websites that go to "guest articles" on their website with each "guest article" linking to another website in a cross-linking network. Beyond removing the links, if you were in our situation what else would you do?

- Disallow the links in Google Search Console?
- Report the links to Google? If so, how?
- Report the link scheme to the other sites involved?

Thanks for your advice!
 

Andrew Nguyen

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Hey Paul!

Andrew here from Marie Haynes Consulting.

Great question. This is a situation where we would recommend you disavow these links. As you likely know, this is a clear violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines specifically the Quality Guidelines on Link Schemes. In the Link Scheme Section “Widely distributed links in the footers” is given as an example of violating the guidelines and should be disavowed. For more information check out the guidelines on Link Schemes here.

Hidden text and links are also viewed as deceptive and manipulative and is another example given as a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. For more information specifically on hidden links you can read the guidelines for those here. We often ask ourselves when looking at links:

“Are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors?”

If so then we consider a disavow.

Given that these are unnatural links, and that they do appear to be there with the sole intent of manipulating rankings, we would definitely want to remove them from the site and also disavow the domains that they pointed to. The purpose of the disavow is not to do harm to those sites (as Google has told us this doesn’t happen), but rather, to stop the flow of link signals coming from those other sites to your client’s site.

We’d also recommend doing a thorough link by link audit to see if you can find more incoming links of this nature just in case there are other sites in the network that are linking to you.

Should you report these? You can report the link scheme here. The question though is whether reporting them will actually accomplish anything. Google tells us that every webspam report filed is seen by the team, but they don’t always act on the report. Reporting it could result in the whole network being found and discounted by Google. It could result in the sites linking out getting a manual action. Or, they could do nothing to those sites, but instead, they could turn the info over to their engineers so that they can work on ways to make it so that those links are useless algorithmically.

Our philosophy is generally to not report schemes like this unless they are overtly causing damage to our client. It would be unfortunate for other past clients of this SEO firm to get a manual action. But others would argue that perhaps they deserve it as they used to benefit from unnatural links.

Really, removing the links on your client’s site that are a part of this network should remove the possibility of you getting an outbound unnatural link manual action. Disavowing those and any others you can find with a manual link by link review really should remove the possibility of the site getting an inbound link manual action or being algorithmically affected by the unnatural links.

We would also recommend looking for other types of unnatural links. If they’ve previously used this link scheme, there are likely other sneaky things going on as well.

Hope this helps!
 
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