Today, I received a rather unusual e-mail.  Or more precisely, nine rather unusual e-mails within about a second of each other.  They were of the following form, altering only the onlydreaming.net link in the middle to use another WordPress tag (always ending with /feed):

Hello,

I work for the digital marketing agency iProspect on behalf of British Gas.
As part of our ongoing SEO campaign – we looking to edit or remove some of the backlinks pointing to the https://www.britishgas.co.uk/ domain name.
:
We have identified the following link to British Gas on your site (onlydreaming.net):

We would like to work with you and request that one of the below actions are taken regarding this link.
This is to ensure that our client avoids violating the Google Webmaster Guidelines in any form due to a historic decision they or a previous agency has made.

  • Please remove the link from your website

Please note that we are not trying to imply that your website is of fault for violating any guidelines, but that we have advised British Gas should remove any historic links that they acquired which could be interpreted as paid or intended to manipulate PageRank.

Please let me know if you are able to action this request or if you require any further information.
Apologies if you have received multiple emails, this is due to their being multiple links on your website (please review each one).

Kind regards

Has anyone seen the like of this before? To me it just seems utterly bizarre that in order to help British Gas meet Google’s guidelines for search listing, a third party is asking bloggers to take down links to their site.

(For reference, the blog post that features in each of the feed URLs I received e-mails for is this one. It is not defamatory towards British Gas, does not deep-link into their site or do anything to influence British Gas’s search results – it is simply a link to https://www.britishgas.co.uk/, with the text “British Gas”.)

I’m considering the following as a response, and would be interested to know if you thought it was appropriate, if you would add/remove anything, or whether you think I should ignore these e-mails completely, etc.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have read your many automated e-mails of August 7, 2012 and would like to let you know that I will not be removing a link to British Gas’ website from my blog. Although the link to British Gas adds little to the content of the blog post concerned, aside from as an aid to visitors not from the UK who may not be aware of the company, I would prefer not to bow to what seems like a very odd request. I perceive your request as odd for the following reasons:

  • It is no business of mine whether or not British Gas’ website meets Google’s requirements. I have no particular animosity towards British Gas or iProspect, but simply feel that the contents of my blog are no concern of theirs, and neither will they be a concern for any staff at Google who review adherence to the Webmaster Guidelines.
  • If your concern is “links that they acquired which could be interpreted as paid or intended to manipulate PageRank”, a few moments of investigation will assure you that neither is the case here. My web presence is fairly transparent and it should be plainly obvious that I am not in the pay of British Gas. Furthermore, the blog post of mine that your links point to (https://ianrenton.com/blog/the-perils-of-gas-supply/) simply contains a link to https://www.britishgas.co.uk/, with the text “British Gas”, which is obviously not an attempt to affect British Gas’s PageRank or associate certain keywords with the site.
  • The post you have picked on is over two years old and posted on a blog that averages only 150 visitors per day. Like everyone else, I have no access to the calculations that set my own blog’s PageRank – however, it is surely low enough as to have no impact whatsoever on that of the British Gas website.
  • I feel some desire to refuse your request simply because your process is automated and clearly wide-ranging. For it to have picked up the problematic post nine times in quick succession – all nine being RSS feed URLs rather than the URL of the blog post itself – implies an automated crawler is at work. A vast number of people may have been hit with similar requests to this.
  • The final proof, if any was required, that my blog post is not an attempt to affect your client’s PageRank is that all nine of the URLs your crawler has flagged are explicitly disallowed in the robots.txt for onlydreaming.net. Although your crawler clearly disregards the requests made of it in this file, Google’s crawlers do not, and thus do not index any of the URLs you have identified.

I hope these reasons satisfy you as to why I do not wish to remove the link you have identified. If you and your client concerned with removing “astroturf” links and links intended to manipulate their PageRank, perhaps the pages containing these links should be identified first by investigating any “historic decision(s) they or a previous agency has made”, rather than deploying a web crawler to notify everyone on the internet who has ever linked to British Gas’ homepage.

Regards,

Ian Renton