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The Horrible Consequence of Penguin – DMCA Takedowns

by Fraser Cain on May 14, 2012

I might be a simple caveman, but I know that a DMCA takedown notice isn't the right way to deal with bad links

I might be a simple caveman, but I know that a DMCA takedown notice isn't the right way to deal with bad links. Image credit: NBC/Universal

We’re about three weeks into the aftermath of the Google Penguin update, and SEOs have been reeling from the impact. Anyone who has been doing heavy artificial especially getting low quality links from off-niche websites, has been hit really hard – essentially getting wiped out of the index. Google has decided that making its index slightly worse in the short term is a necessary step for sending a message to webmasters.

If you know me, you know I’ve been trying to convince people to get away from linkbuilding for a long time now (by dissuading linkbuilding, Keyword Strategy customers have been largely insulated from this penalty).

I always considered linkbuilding risky, but I never expected Google would come down this hard on people. By allowing bad links to drag down websites in the rankings, it’s opened up a new era of negative SEO. Instead of making your own content great, there’s an incentive to ruin the search rankings of your competitors by driving bad links at them. Let’s hope Google’s algorithms can tell the difference.

With their websites dragged down in the rankings, webmasters are now embarking on “unlinkbuilding” campaigns, where they try to get the spammiest, lowest quality links removed from other websites in the hopes of getting the penalty lifted. If an email request doesn’t work, they’re shifting to a new and devastating technique: a DMCA takedown notice.

Enter the DMCA Takedown Notice
DMCA takedown notices give copyright owners a way to force internet service providers and search engines to take down content that infringes on their copyright. For example, if you discover that your website content has been scraped and duplicated on another website, you can contact the webhost running the site and file a DMCA takedown notice. The host notifies the content owner and gives them a very short period of time to resolve the copyright issue. If not, they can shut down the website. Furthermore, if you discover that Google is ranking stolen content above your own site in the search index, you can have the content removed.

Search engines and web hosts are protected by the Safe Harbor Provision, which means they’re not held responsible for the infringing content if they act quickly to get it removed from their computers when copyright owners claim there’s a violation.

If a website owner receives notice of a takedown notice, they can remove the content, or challenge it and claim copyright; eventually winding up in court if things go far enough.

The bottom line is that a DMCA Takedown Notice is a blunt weapon that webhosts will listen to. And now webmasters are using this club to hammer other webmasters into removing links. Even though they only need a link removed, they’re sending DMCA takedowns which will get entire websites wiped off the internet. This is horrible.

If You’re Getting DMCA Takedowns to Remove Links
If you’re getting a lot of DMCA takedown requests, my heart goes out to you. But this is very serious business, and you need to make compliance with the requests your top priority. Whoever is claiming the copyright infringement is completely in the wrong: they built the links in the first place, and now they’re threatening your entire website’s existence to get those links removed again? Uncool.

But honestly, until Google changes the rules, there’s nothing you can do but hustle. Fix the links when people email you. And definitely fix the links when you get DMCA complaints, either through Google Webmaster Tools or from your webhost. Get them out of there.

Who knows, you might see a boost in the rankings with all that dead weight removed.

You might want to be proactive and search through your site for bad outbound links and wipe them out ahead of time. Check out a great plugin called Broken Link Checker, which will help you find broken and 301 redirections and clean them up. It’ll also help you see all the sites you’re linking to. Be proactive and clean up your outbound links.

If you’re thinking of using this technique… please don’t
If you created a bunch of bad links and now you need to have them removed again, please don’t resort to this nuclear option. It’s a total misuse of the rules, and only works because webhosts are so responsive to them.

And if you’re a webmaster looking to clean up your bad links, take your time and be patient. Politely send emails to other webmasters to get the links removed. If the webmasters don’t respond, they’re probably not taking care of their website any more anyway, and it’ll get pushed out of the index soon enough. But if they do respond, you might be able to make a new friend, and work together in more sustainable ways.

Finally, claiming copyright infringement and wasting people’s time could backfire on you. Threaten the wrong company and they could easily countersue you for making false claims.

Google could easily fix this
As Sheseo pointed out, Google needs to come up with a way that webmasters can reverse no-follow bad links pointed at their site from within Webmaster Tools. Allow webmasters to disclaim the value of bad links pointing at them.

I suspect Google would learn a tremendous amount about bad link profiles this way, and teach their algorithm to be a much better judge of who’s creating bad links, and who’s getting unfairly targeted. It would also remove the spectre of negative SEO overnight.