This is a coupon site based in India that works in a similar way to Groupon. At the time of writing this website is enjoying plenty of traffic from the United States and India. The site is currently ranking in the Top 20 on Google.com for 44,600 keywords. They are receiving about 18,000 visitors each month. They don͛t use paid traffic, but if they did, this level of traffic would cost them $20,800 each month:
United States Organic Traffic Overview June 2016
India Organic Traffic Overview June 2016
Although this site is now doing well, things have not always been so fortunate for them. Back in October 2015 they were only getting 5,192 visitors each month. To increase traffic, they began an aggressive linking campaign using web 2.0 sites, press releases, bookmarking sites and blog commenting. Initially this worked well and by December 2015 they were getting 19,313 visitors per month. This dropped to 10,083 in January 2016 and by April they were down to 9,168. Something had happened, something terrible…
Google Manual Action for Unnatural Inbound Links
On April 13,2016 this message was received in Google Search Console:
You can carry out a closer inspection in the Google Search Console by going to Search Traffic > Manual Actions. The detailed message reported that the Manual Action was a Partial Match because of ‘Unnatural links to your site – affects some incoming links’. But what does this actually mean?
A partial match manual action means that specific parts of your site have been impacted. Unfortunately, in this case, the home page was affected as it was no longer ranking for any of the keywords that it had been.
The ‘affects some incoming links’ means that some of the links that were benefiting your sites ranking are now hurting your rankings. This type of penalty is not as serious as a Site-wide match, nor as devastating as an ‘affects all’ type, but it still has to be fixed. The traffic in April 2016 was down by 53% since December 2015.
The process of removing a manual penalty is exactly as described in Google’s 5 steps, but in reality this is much more difficult than Google imply:
- Download a sample of links to your site: indeed, this is all that Google give you; a sample. The links Google provide in the Google Search Console are not sufficient to do this. We use 24 different link sources to make sure we find every link we can
- Collect a list of artificial links to your site: this is easier said than done. Typically, you need to look for overdone anchor text, paid links, links on pages not indexed by Google, comment spam, forum profile spam, link networks and much more
- Contact website owners who have artificial links to your site: this is an almost pointless exercise that often results in zero response or a handful of extortion emails demanding large amounts of money for link removal. Nevertheless, you still need to provide evidence that you have tried to do this
- Disavow remaining links: the worry here is that you might throw away good links that are helping you as well as ones that are harming you
- Submit a reconsideration request: this step is essential. The Google Webspam Team can take up to one month to respond to a reconsideration request, meanwhile your site is losing money daily. We have found a way to get a response typically in about one week, which saves time and money amounts of money for link removal. Nevertheless, you still need to provide evidence that you have tried to do this 4)Disavow remaining links: the worry here is that you might throw away good links that are helping you as well as ones that are harming you 5)Submit a reconsideration request: this step is essential. The Google Webspam Team can take up to one month to respond to a reconsideration request, meanwhile your site is losing money daily. We have found a way to get a response typically in about one week, which saves time and money
A link audit is done by using Link Detox which is the flagship product of LinkResearchTools. The software works by analysing each backlink the site has and then applying its own self-learning algorithm to calculate how risky each link is. A domain-wide Link Detox Risk is then calculated for the entire domain.
Generally speaking, we like to see a Domain-wide Link Detox Risk of less than 800. At values over 1000 we start to see problems with Google algorithmic and manual penalties. The site that we are analyzing in this study had a value of 1087, which is bad but not terrible.
In this case it seemed unusual that a manual action had been given where the Domain-wide Link Detox value wasn͛t completely off the scale. We believe that in circumstances like this a ͚red flag͛has been raised, which has then triggered a manual review. More often than not this is because there has been some very unnatural link building. By spotting certain kinds of patterns in anchor text unnatural links can easily be found.
Brand v Money v Compound v Other anchor text
When a Link Audit is performed, all anchor text is classified as follows:
- Brand Anchor Text: This can be your brand name, domain name, URLs etc. For example; “Tesla”, “tesla motors”, “teslamotors.com͟”, “www.teslamotors.com͟”, “https://www.teslamotors.com/”, “https://www.teslamotors.com/model3”, “Tesla model”
- Money Anchor Text: This is a phrase that someone is likely to enter into a search engine that could ultimately result in a sale, conversion or opt-in. Examples of this would be; “electric car”, “what is the range of an electric car”, “buy electric cars in Palo Alto”
- Compound Anchor Text: This is a combination of Brand + Money anchor text. Examples of this are; “Tesla electric cars”, “tesla model x review”, “are tesla͛s electric or hybrid cars?”
- Other Anchor Text: This is any other anchor text that does not fit into the above categories. Examples could be; click here, technical specs, data sheet, this website, download here
Typically sites with poor SEO work may have too many money keywords in their inbound links. This was certainly the case in our example:
This represents 35% Brand, 3% Compound, 49% Money and 13% Other keywords. This link profile has very unnatural anchor text ratios. The anchor text ratios do vary between different niches, languages and target keywords, but generally sites that rank well have below 10% Money anchor text.
Link Detox Rules
Each link found in Link Detox is analysed in many different ways using 97 metrics which ultimately can trigger Link Detox Rules. The pie chart below shows the breakdown of Link Detox Rules:
From this chart we can see that we need to give priority to the links that are triggering these rules:
- SUSP1: This rule means that the link is coming from a page on a very weak domain that has no external links. This is often the case for links from forums or when the link is coming from some special automated spamming activity or listing in a link directory
- SUSP22: This rule means a footprint has been found on a domain which is closely related to other domains that link to you. Usually the sign of a link network
- SUSP31: This rule means that the anchor text placement looks suspicious
- SUSP2: This rule means that this is a link coming from a very weak domain. This domain could also be very new
There are also some other links that we should almost always consider for removal, these are:
- TOX1: This rule means that the link is not indexed in Google. This could mean that Google has de-indexed the site due to a Penalty
- TOX2: This rule means that the domains theme is listed as dangerous with possible malware, malicious activity or a virus
- TOX3: This rule means that the Link Detox algorithm has classified this link as very unnatural. Sometimes there are false positives here, so we review each link manually
Disavowing and Removing Links
In our case we have a manual action so it is important to not leave any bad links in place. This can either be done by contacting the webmaster and asking them to remove the links or by using the Google Disavow Links tool. If the Google reviewer finds one bad link, the reconsideration request will be refused, so it is important to manually review every link found:
At this point we rate each link good or bad and then decide if we want to disavow it by page or domain. Google have suggested in the past that disavowing by domain is preferred as quite often links can also exist in archive or category pages.
Reviewing links is a long and tedious process. There are a few short cuts that can made along the way, but generally the more care taken at this point, the better the results will be. One of our obvious goals here was to lose as many worthless Money anchor text links as possible. Especially those triggering the SUSP1, SUSP22, SUSP31 and SUSP2 rules.
After all the links have been reviewed the Link Detox report can be ͚reprocessed͛ which means that all the rules are re-calculated to give greater accuracy.
Results after the Link Detox Reprocessing
The Domain-wide Link Detox risk is now at a much more comfortable 500 which is a below average Domain-wide Link Detox Risk:
To achieve this value, 669 backlinks had to be disavowed. The breakdown of the Link Detox Risk is now looking much more like that of a healthy site.
It is worth noting that some inexperienced users of Link Detox have been known to take a machete to their link profile. This was something that Matt Cutts suggested back in 2013, but this is not always really necessary. By understanding the real problems with your link profile, you can still have a mixture of very low to high risk links and not suffer a penalty.
The Google Disavow File can now be downloaded from within Link Detox, ready to be uploaded to the Google Disavow Links tool.
Uploading the Disavow File
After logging in to your Google Webmaster Search Console account you can go straight to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main and select your domain:
The Google Disavow Links tool is easy to use, but Google do stress that this tool is not for everyone and most webmasters will never have to use it. As you would expect there are some scary warnings contained within the tool, but in most cases you have nothing to lose.
The file for the domain we are studying was uploaded on April 20, 2016. This was 7 days after the manual penalty was issued.
After the disavow file has been uploaded, the reconsideration request can be written and uploaded to Google. In the Reconsideration Request you should:
- Explain how the bad links were acquired
State what you have done to clean up your link profile
Assure Google that this will never happen again
Link to a Google Document with evidence of your link removal attempts
The reconsideration request was submitted to Google on the same day as the disavow file, April 20, 2016. Then we had to wait for Google’s reply.
What to do while waiting for an answer from Google
Whilst waiting for a reply from Google we set up a Link Research Tools Link Alert which notifies us of any new links as soon as they are found. If the new links look unnatural it is best to add them to the disavow file as soon as possible and re-upload the disavow file.
We received a Link Alert on April 27, 2016 telling us about 31 new links:
Some of these we had disavowed already – because we had disavowed a previous link by domain, some were OK and some were bad and needed to go. These were added to the disavow file and this was re-uploaded on April 27, 2016. Luckily this was just in time…
Google’s reply to the reconsideration request
On April 30, 2016 we received one of the most satisfying messages you can ever get from Google:
The manual action was now removed, so what happens next?
Traffic after the manual penalty removal
In some cases, where the majority of the links have been removed or disavowed, recovery is minimal. In our case we only disavowed 22% of the links, but we were very sure that these were the correct links to disavow. The hard work paid off, within one week their main keywords were all ranking on page one of Google. The top keyword has an incredible monthly search volume of 9,140,000. The site now ranks in Google͛s Top 20 for 26,266 keywords.
On Google.com in April 2016 the average daily traffic was 9,168 visitors. Traffic has been increasing since the penalty was lifted and so far the average traffic in June 2016 is 17,026 visitors per day:
What about the future?
There are several things that we recommend for this site, which include completely rethinking the whole SEO strategy. A manual action was given because of 2011 style SEO tactics. The poor SEO strategy was not viable in 2016 and the manual action caused collateral damage. The site has recovered well and it is now essential that a ͚red flag͛ is never raised with Google again.
This can be achieved by:
- Regular Link Detox Maintenance
- Link Monitoring
- Using a risk free link building strategy
- Regular monitoring of main competitors in the niche
We were very pleased to be able to remove this Manual Action in just 17 days. We were equally pleased that the main keywords started ranking again a few days later and the site has become extremely profitable again. The sad fact is that the penalty should never have happened in the first place. The site was in a bad way due to years of careless link building. The worst of these links could have been disavowed, so that no manual action was ever issued. For this reason, we seriously recommend Link Detox Maintenance and disavowing any bad links when they are acquired or as existing links become problematic.
If your site has a Google Penalty, either manual or algorithmic, please contact us immediately. You are losing money every day if you don͛t. Similarly, if you are worried about picking up a Google Penalty contact us about Link Detox Maintenance.