Do I need to remove links to my website?

You might have started to receive the occasional email from other website owners asking if you could remove the link you have to them. Or, your SEO people may have told you that you need to start removing links or even "disavowing" them. It all sounds rather a mystery.

There is currently quite a fuss about links, all created a year or so ago by an update to its algorithm by Google. Part of the update was designed to remove the impact of low quality links on the ranking of otherwise good sites. However, it has spawned an entire industry in "cleaning up links". And with that has come a fresh bout of rumours and speculation.

So, let's look at the facts. Google is trying to ensure that when we search for something we get what we are looking for. Part of its ranking system is the number and kind of links that a website attracts. Clearly, the more popular a site is, the higher it deserves ranking in the search results. However, many of the more dubious website owners have "cheated" the system by gaining thousands of links in a bid to increase their rankings. It is this practice that the Google search algorithm update was seeking to deal with.

The Google algorithm now emphasises the quality of the sites that link to you. Helpfully, within the Google Webmaster Tools system, you can check who links to you and see if any of them are of low quality. Google explains this in its article about "unnatural links".

Quite clearly, Google says that it is NOT suggesting that you need to remove all the links. It is merely saying that the list is something you should review. And having reviewed it, of course, you might not need to do anything. If Google itself spots something that is doing your site harm, it will show this under the "Manual Actions" section, which is within the "Search Traffic" part of Google Webmaster Tools.

The chances are that most people will get nothing at all listed on their "Manual Actions" page of Webmaster Tools. That's because most website owners have built links naturally, not using any odd techniques such as seeking multiple links to a specific piece of content or syndicating their content far and wide. Equally, most website owners seek links from other high quality websites, not from dubious sites.

However, as a website owner you could start to receive emails asking for links to be removed or made "nofollow" links so they do not count within the Google algorithm check.

Generally, such requests will come from people who have lots of websites to consider in their list of backlinks on Webmaster Tools, largely because they have been seeking links to their website from all and sundry. The easiest way for them to review and deal with their links list is to ask every site to remove the links. If you are asked to remove links do not go thinking that your site has been deemed dubious by Google.

So, do you really need to remove links? There is plenty of speculation online that "links are no longer relevant" or that "links are worthless". I have even seen an article on the "fact" that "Google ignores links". All of these notions are untrue.

Links are very important indeed. But what Google is emphasising is that it is the quality of the links that matter more than their quantity. So, stop worrying about this issue and start getting more quality links...!

And if you are asked to remove links from your website just do it and politely let them know you have done so. That just stops you being nagged. But if you have a quality website, the damage is done to the person asking for the link removal because by getting rid of all their links they are reducing their site's perceived value for Google. Far from helping their website ranking, their actions are likely to have the reverse effect.

So, what do you need to do in order for Google to rank you as high as possible? Get as many high quality and relevant links as possible, preferably to a variety of different pages of your website.