A caution for other entrepreneurs about how one brand’s SEO strategy can undermine a more important outreach strategy. 

Modern Fellows sent the below note to the founders of Boden, the stylish British clothing brand, in response to several emails the company sent regarding a link by Modern Fellows to Boden’s online menswear section.

Dear Boden,

Modern Fellows is an online effort to get to know the entrepreneurs who are helping men dress sharp in the digital age.  In 2014, MF published a post, Not Just Another Tie: 6 Stylish Christmas Gift Ideas for Men, that pointed our readers to Boden’s fledgling menswear section.  Boden produces really spectacular, stylish clothing for women, which I’ve bought for loved ones, and I wanted to feature the brand’s menswear for Modern Fellows’ readers.

Occasionally, when brands have discovered they are featured on Modern Fellows, I’ve received a short note of thanks from a founder or communications director. It’s a nice gesture.  Instead, when Boden discovered that Modern Fellows had linked to them, a representative from the company sent multiple emails requesting that Modern Fellows remove the link to their site.

The reason? According to one of the emails Boden sent, “our marketing agency has informed us that search engines (specifically Google) could potentially view these as “unnatural links”, therefore negatively affecting both parties ability to rank in Google.”

Boden also threatened that, “any links that cannot be removed will be entered into our disavow file which could potentially be of detriment to your sites rankings in Google.” The message? Do what we say or your site could be negatively affected.

This is a baffling example of a seriously myopic SEO strategy and is a potential disaster for the brand’s media and influencer outreach strategy.

Modern Fellows takes pains to follow best practices that Google offers to create original, appealing and non-spammy content while simultaneously complying with U.S. federal regulations that require publishers to disclose when they have received a product for free.

Boden’s attitude is appalling for several reasons —

  1. The post Boden found so objectionable was an attempt to feature the company in a positive light for Modern Fellows’ readers.
  2. Requesting the removal of a legitimate link from a legitimate post and threatening a publisher’s search engine ranking if it doesn’t comply is way over-the-top and conveys the uncomfortable impression that Boden is trying to limit free speech.
  3. Boden has ruined a relationship with an unsolicited advocate for its brand.
  4. As an added bonus, you’ve gotten me to break this blog’s golden rule of focusing only on the good, hopeful, shiny and positive things that this world has to offer and to publish this letter online outing a ridiculously misguided SEO strategy.

Now, because it seems to mean that much to you, Modern Fellows has removed the offending link to your site. (You don’t deserve the love.)

But next time, a short thank you note will suffice.