This case study was created using an LRT Superhero account.
Some of the use cases explained in this case study are not available in lower plans.
The LRT Superhero Plan (and higher) includes all our 25 link data sources and allows you to perform link risk management, competitive research, professional SEO and backlink analysis for your own or your competitor's sites. You get to see your website's full backlink profile picture and this can make all the difference for your SEO success.
Fund Brokerage Site Google Recovery Story
This is the success story of Fondsvermittlung24. They were able to revoke their manual penalty with the help of Link Detox and LinkResearchTools. We’re going to show you exactly what they did. It wasn’t easy, and one thing is clear from this analysis – using EVERY one of our 24 available data sources is crucial if you want to succeed.
Google or some “experts” telling you that Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) links are enough to use are just wrong. This case study proves that as it shows how the Google Spam Team pulled some links as spam examples out of their magic box that didn’t even show in the GWT links.
This recovery story started in May 2013 and completed successfully before the Link Detox Genesis launched in October. Today, we see even faster recoveries, thanks to the data-driven self-learning algorithm in Link Detox Genesis and, of course, Link Detox Boost.
- Enjoy and learn!
Christoph C. Cemper
Bonus: You can download a PDF version for Easy Offline Reading
Table of Contents
- About the website
- The Drop
- The Backlink Audit
- Doing a detailed link audit to analyze our link profile risk
- Google Spam Team shows us Example Spam Links
- YEAH! Manual action revoked
- Our Current Situation
- The very helpful Link Alerts
CEMPER Power*Trust is now LRT PowerTrust
You may still see CEMPER Power*Trust™, CEMPER Power™ and CEMPER Trust™ on some screenshots in this case study.
In 2015, we renamed these metrics to LRT Power*Trust, LRT Power and LRT Trust to reflect the shortname of LinkResearchTools - which is LRT.
About the website
Fondsvermittlung24.de is a German online broker for open-end funds and closed-end funds – among other financial products. With over 16,000 customers and an investment volume of more than 250 million Euros, Fondsvermittlung24.de is one of the leading fund brokers in Germany.
SEO History – We Confess: We did crappy links
In its almost 12 years of existence, this website has been through almost all trends in search engine optimization. We exchanged, rented and bought a lot of links. We bought links from crappy link directories, especially those automated ones that place your link with the same text on over 1,000 websites at once. We posted the same or similar texts in many article directories and PR websites. We created our own network with over 100 websites just to increase our backlink amount and exchange more links. We linked a lot of exact match Money keywords – just to name a few outdated SEO tricks.
The goal of this case study is to show how we recovered from a manual action from Google for unnatural links last year. Some reports from LRT shown here are the actual reports we used in our analysis at the time, and were created between May and October 2013.
Drastic drop in traffic
The strategies we implemented were good at the time they were used. Even though Matt Cutts kept saying that some old tactics didn’t work anymore and were not good for our website, we just kept changing the strategy and never thought about undoing the bad stuff we have done before. In fact, I think no one ever did. Had we done proper link risk management back then, we might have avoided a penalty. But even being penalized was more concept than reality in 2012/13.
We felt the results in May 2013 when Google manually penalized us on May 8th. Our website’s visibility crashed hard, and we lost about 20% of our visits.
Fondsvermittlung24.de got hit so bad that it was even mentioned on Sistrix’s biggest loser list. At least we got a new backlink to compensate for the thousands that we were about to disavow! 🙂
We use Sistrix to check the visibility of our websites, and this is what Fondsvermittlung24.de’s visibility looks like:
Manual action notification by Google
Manual actions have existed for a long time now, but Google has been reporting most manual actions only since October 2012.
As expected, Google also reported ours. We received this manual action notification for unnatural links in Webmaster Tools (sorry it is in German):
The Backlink Audit
As we found out, Fondsvermittlung24.de got a manual action. We then checked all possible off-page measures, not only the quality of the backlinks. We started by checking our most important keywords.
Keyword drops that hurt us most
With the huge loss in traffic, it was clear that our Money keywords had lost many positions. The most profitable ones suffered the largest drop, and some were even kicked out of Google’s search results for a while. You can see here the drop course according to Sistrix:
Geschlossene Fonds (eng. Closed-end funds)
Before May 2013 this was the Money keyword with the highest amount of conversions in the organic search. It went from position 2 to 15 in the blink of an eye. Now we are trying to stay in the top 10 again.
Investmentfonds (eng. Open-end funds)
Open-end funds are the main product of Fondsvermittlung24.de. The position loss of this keyword definitely influenced sales. Investmentfonds went from position 17 to 99 right after the penalty.
Riester Rente (eng. Riester pension)
Riester Rente is another important product of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s portfolio. This keyword was “swinging” between positions 10 and 12. After the manual action, Riester Rente basically never got back to the top 100.
Abgeltungssteuer (eng. withholding tax)
This is not exactly a Money keyword, and it did not bring much traffic (or money) to our website. However, we had a lot of backlinks with this anchor text, and it had some influence on Google’s penalty. Abgeltungssteuer is another keyword that once in a while disappears from the top 100.
Shortly after we got the manual action, Google launched the Penguin 2.0 Update, which hit a lot of websites with low quality backlinks and more Money than Brand keywords. I then checked the keyword ratio to make sure it was also not one of our problems.
Using backlink profiler for initial checks
I created two BLP reports in July 2013. For both of them I inserted the domain and selected “Links to Domain”. I checked the option, 5x Link Boost (to get the highest amount of links as possible), and the three simple metrics. I never checked the option “Remove Dropped Links”.
After the reports were done, the first thing I did was to classify all the keywords.
For the first report, I asked the tool to skip sitewide links after 5 found.
As we expected, Fondsvermittlung24.de had twice as many Money keywords than Brand keywords.
If we look at the keyword cloud, it is easy to find the keywords I listed before.
If we take a closer look at the keywords’ statistics, we will see that, skipping sitewide links,
- Geschlossene fonds corresponds to 1.1% of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s anchor texts
- Investmentfonds corresponds to 1.6% of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s anchor texts
- Riester Rente corresponds to 1.3% of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s anchor texts
- Abgeltungssteuer corresponds to 1.4% of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s anchor texts
Another surprise in this report is the large amount of image links without alt-text and links with n/a anchor text.
Many image links came from our own link network. A while ago, we inserted banners on our thematic websites linking to Fondsvermittlung24.de. We ended up removing most banners, especially the ones from pages classified as suspicious, as we will see later.
Here is an example from http://www.riesterrentner.de/riester-banksparplan.html. The banner was linking to http://www.fondsvermittlung24.de/lp-dws-riester-rente-premium.html.
The second report was created without filtering the sitewide links, and the link profile by keyword was quite different.
I think it is safe to say that Fondsvermittlung24.de had a lot – I MEAN A LOT – of sitewide links with Brand keywords.
If we look at the keyword cloud by count, we will see that the keyword, “fondsvermittlung24”, had 6,362 backlinks alone, which corresponds to more than one third of the links.
Nearly all links with the anchor text, “fondsvermittlung24”, were either from blog rolls or link directories.
Doing a detailed link audit to analyze our link profile risk
After we realized Fondsvermittlung24.de got the manual action – and the shock phase was over – we started looking for the best solution for our big problem. As a consequence of the visibility lost, Fondsvermittlung24.de lost a large amount of visits and, of course, a lot of revenue. So we needed a fast, efficient, and effective solution. Unfortunately, it took us about 5 months to get rid of the manual action – almost a lifetime in the financial market.
And here is how we did it…
Analyzing our link profile
Google was clear on the reason why we were penalized: we had really bad links, and we had to get rid of them. We knew we would have to analyze our backlink profile and do some intense cleanup.
Link Detox Risk
At the time Fondsvermittlung24.de got hit, the website had over 100,000 backlinks from around 1,300 domains (again, a lot of sitewide links). To speed up and facilitate the process, we used the Link Detox tool. We compared the links from Webmaster Tools with the links from the Link Detox Report, and only a few domains were not listed by LRT. But, of course, we could upload the GWT links to LRT. Today the fully automated GWT live integration is even cooler.
The philosophy is always to analyze as many link data sources as possible, and LRT comes with 24 now. Google keeps saying that “usually” you should see all your problematic links in GWT, but especially the penalized websites are not listed in GWT. Comparing the output from GWT with LRT, it was clear that Google did not even show the majority. We are still puzzled by experts and self-proclaimed “authorities” that recommend only using GWT links and think that’s highly misleading.
We created about two new Link Detox reports every month after we got the manual action, always checking “yes” for the manual action question, and pasting the latest notification text in the text field.
Please note: that was an email form the time before they sent spam link examples. Today it is recommended to always paste every mail with spam example links into this box to improve the Link Detox results.
For the following data, I created a new DTOX Genesis report. I removed our disavowed links’ list from our account so you can have a real insight of what our link profile looked like. I asked the tool to skip the sitewide links, and I did not remove the dropped links.
The first impression was pretty scary: Fondsvermittlung24.de had a very high Link Detox Risk.
Only 7% of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s backlinks were healthy.
We removed toxic and suspicious links from domains in our own network right at the beginning of our cleaning process. It was clear that those links were a problem to our website.
Most links were TOX1 (the domains are not indexed in Google), which means they probably got a penalty. You can see it under Rules in our report:
Many of the toxic links were from duplicated websites, for example:
They all look like this:
The next step was to check all the links that had our most profitable keywords as anchor text. It was easy to find them on the keyword cloud again. I sorted the anchor text by Link Detox Risk.
We gave special attention to the links with the commercial anchor texts, “geschlossene Fonds” and “Investmentfonds”, since they were responsible for a good part of Fondsvermittlung24.de’s visits. We used the anchor text filter to refine our list and started by looking at the suspicious links. Most healthy links looked okay to us, so we basically ignored them.
Websites with no visibility, SUSP2 (domain has no LRT Power*Trust™), SUSP5 (domain’s theme is suspicious, e.g. hacking, pornography), SUSP9 (possible link network), SUSP14 (page has no PageRank™), and SUSP17 (massive number of outgoing links) were put in our disavow list as well.
Let’s take a brief look at these links.
Links with anchor text, “Geschlossene Fonds“
Most links were toxic with a deadly risk.
Links with anchor text, “Investmentfonds”
Most links with the anchor text “Investmentfonds” were suspicious and presented a high risk to Fondsvermittlung24.de.
Links with anchor text “Riester Rente”
Most links were suspicious. All links presented high to deadly risk to our website.
Links with anchor text “Abgeltungssteuer”
As I said before, “Abgeltungssteuer” is not a Money keyword to Fondsvermittlung24.de. Still, we had to consider it due to its large drop and the number of backlinks. Also, here most links are toxic with a deadly link risk.
We read many articles talking about the possible (bad) consequences of disavowing links. At the beginning, we were a bit skeptical about using the tool, and we decided to try to only remove the links manually.
We wrote very nice emails to website owners, kindly asking them to remove the links. Then we waited a couple of weeks, expecting them to do it. Unfortunately, only a few did. We even called many people from our list, and the results were not as positive as expected. Some website owners required us to pay a fee to remove the link, which we (of course) did not.
After spending a lot of time on manual link removal, Matt Cutts posted this video on YouTube:
Then we realized that it was time to stop wasting our precious time and finally start disavowing links.
We selected all the remaining toxic links, plus the suspicious and healthy links we thought were harmful to Fondsvermittlung24.de. We then created a list directly from our DTOX report on LRT by simply clicking on “Google Disavow Links”.
For websites with too many sitewide links, we decided to disavow the entire domain. For websites with 1 to 2 sitewide links, we disavowed only the page.
The first disavow file had about 600 links. We submitted it and sent the first reconsideration request on September 6th. Google denied it about one week later. We disavowed links and sent reconsideration requests another four times until Google revoked our manual action on October 31st. Our last disavow file had around 1,300 pages and domains.
Google Spam Team shows us Example Spam Links
After each denied reconsideration request we sent, we received a few examples of bad links from the Google Spam Team. Most of the mentioned links had the same anchor texts we analyzed before. Some links were not listed by Google Webmaster Tools or LinkResearchTools.
Great – so much for “GWT is enough”. We had no idea where Google was getting these links.
Some example links had another risk status at the time. And some other links were just not properly analyzed by us before.
So, lesson learned - always check ALL links! Upload your old link building reports, whatever you can get.
I created a new DTOX report to check Google’s examples. This time I linked our Webmaster Tools account to LRT in order to get more link data. Since some links were removed manually back then, I checked the “what if mode”.
I then uploaded a list with all the links mentioned by Google and selected the upload type “Potential”.
Let’s take a look at Google’s examples.
Google’s example from September 12th, 2013
This website does not exist any more, and the exact page where the link existed is not cached, but it is easy to see it is an article directory. I checked another subpage on the Wayback Machine from which we had a link, and this is what it looked like:
The anchor text was one of our main keywords, and it is possible that every entry on that article directory had the same text. This website had no visibility, a few bad backlinks, and too many outgoing links from every page.
We checked all links with the keyword “Riester Rente”, but we might have been a bit easy on those ones:
Note that I rated the links on the report.
It helps LRT improve their DTOX accuracy not only in my reports, but in yours, too. 🙂
Google’s examples from September 19th, 2013
This domain existed since 2003, according to the Wayback Machine. At the beginning, it used to be a service for insertion of websites on search engines. In 2007, the website became an informative and static website about finance and insurance. The domain did not expire. It was probably sold, since the contact information is different now.
This blog is a typical SEO-Finance-Blog. Almost all articles have the combination of 1 external link + 1 internal link + 1 authority link. It also had a low visibility and a few OK backlinks. I believe the problem is the amount of spam comments that are published without revision. They all have follow links in the comment text.
Once again, the anchor text was one of our Money keywords. The DTOX tool classified the webpage as toxic with a deadly risk.
The exact page pointed at by Google was probably filtered by the sitewide link filter, since the link is still there. In the report with the “what-if mode”, it was classified as suspicious with a high risk. Still, the page of the article was considered to be toxic.
Again, we have a blog with no visibility, a few low quality backlinks, and a lot of outgoing links. Most old articles, including ours, had many links with exact match Money keywords. They also have many Google Ads in the middle of most articles, including the homepage.
Here, the keyword “Geldanlage” (eng. investment) is linked to Fondsvermittlung24.de. The link was manually removed after we contacted the website owner. Here is a look at the website on September 2013 with the Wayback Machine.
Originally, we would not think this website is bad: it has a visibility higher than 11 in Sistrix, PR 4 and high domain popularity. The DTOX tool classified it as healthy, and I believe it is. The problem here was probably the exact match anchor text and the fact that the link was hidden.
Google’s examples from October 3rd, 2013
This was clearly another low quality website. It has no visibility, and it has a few links from low quality finance blogs. We can find exact match Money keywords with several different outgoing links in the articles, in the blog roll, and even in the footer (very old fashioned!).
From this website, we had also a link with a Money keyword: “Edelmetalle” (eng. precious metals). All pages of this domain are suspicious.
The title of that blogpost, “Schwere Arbeit ist keine Frage der reinen Kilogramms“, really is pure nonsense, too!
The page where the link was placed has a very high risk.
As we can see, this is a crappy blog from Blogger that looks abandoned since 2012. All articles have an advertising character, which is understandable considering the domain name. And the articles also have many external links. This blog has only eight backlinks from two different domains (one from France and one from the US) with no power trust.
The link to our website had also an exact match Money keyword, “Goldbarren kaufen” (eng. buy gold bars).
I’m still wondering if Mr. Jones really thought a link to our website would add value to his article or if someone was working on some negative SEO…
At the time we analyzed the links, this website was not listed as a backlink by any tool. Now the DTOX report in the what-if mode classified the link as suspicious with very high risk.
I am not sure how we got this link, but it is reasonable to think we exchanged it. At the time this article was posted (June 2011), the website still had a little visibility, but now it is close to zero.
The website existed since 2001, and it had a lot of “faces” since then. It looks like it is an expired domain. It has not been changed between 2004 and 2010, when it became an English language “how to make money” website. Still, in 2010 this website became a German finance blog.
The page has a lot of ads and external links in the article.
In this case, we also had our website linked to an exact match anchor text, again “Goldbarren kaufen”.
This link is suspicious with deadly risk.
Google’s examples from October 17th, 2013
Google gave me this category page. Since it does not exist anymore I will show you the article page where the link was placed.
This is basically another finance blog with a lot of external links in its articles. It has almost zero visibility and not very impressive backlinks.
The problem again was the exact match keyword, this time “Abgeltungssteuer”. All links from this domain were also toxic with deadly risk.
This was the only website from Google’s examples that the DTOX tool classified as suspicious with low risk, and it belongs to our own link network. We removed the link a long time ago, but we can see it with the Wayback Machine.
Here we have another link with the exact match anchor text “Abgeltungssteuer”. This blog had a few external links, most of them to our own websites. (Not so) funny story, we (thought we) removed all the suspicious links from our link network when we got the manual action. It looks like some links might have escaped our link analysis.
Finally, the last link from Google’s list! This is an article directory where “experts” can publish their own texts. Not different from the other websites, this one had also little visibility and low quality backlinks.
This article had actually two links to fondsvermittlung24.de. One had the anchor text, “Abgeltungssteuer”, and another had the anchor text, “Dachfonds” (eng. fund of funds). Again, they are all deadly and toxic.
YEAH! Manual action revoked
Yeah, we did it, baby!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 After 5 and half months checking links every single week, we finally made it. On October 31st, 2013, we got this notification from Google (sorry again, it is in German):
Our reaction was a mixture of happiness and relief. We could finally go forward with the website’s optimization.
Image source: http://gt-source.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/google.jpg
A few days later, our visibility loss stabilized and important keywords to Fondsvermittlung24.de started ranking again. After a while, the number of visitors and the revenue increased again and returned to the initial level.
Unfortunately, the visibility is giving us a hard time. Since we had to remove too many links, the visibility increase is going a bit slow. We realize that we need to earn a lot more high quality and trusted links.
To build high quality links is neither an easy nor a fast task. Fondsvermittlung24.de also lost Power™ and consequently Power*Trust™.
This was our LRT Power*Trust™ in May:
This was our LRT Power*Trust™ last Saturday:
Our Current Situation
We are working pretty hard to recover the website’s visibility and are engaged in link risk management. We check the backlinks of Fondsvermittlung24.de regularly with the DTOX tool, the Quick Backlink tool, and the Link Alerts, and we disavow all new bad links.
Since Christoph C. Cemper launched the Link Detox BOOST tool in December 2013, we are using it every time we disavow new Links. It helps us speed up the processing of our disavowed links. This is how we do it:
We upload the exact disavow file we uploaded to Google, we confirm we disavowed the links 48 hours before, and we upload the disavow file.
Then we agree with the Terms and Conditions.
After the report is done, we can see which pages and domains were boosted. To check when Google’s last crawl date was, we must click on “Reprocess Last Crawl Date”.
The very helpful Link Alerts
We also created a link alert with the Link Alert Tool a long time ago and check all new backlinks to Fondsvermittlung24.de. It has made our job way easier since we do not need to create new QBL reports and compare huge lists of old and new links anymore. Besides, we can control if some competitor is working on negative SEO for Fondsvermittlung24.de. We get all new links via email once or twice a week.
To create a link alert, insert the domain for which you would like to receive backlink alerts. For Fondsvermittlung24.de, we also checked the options, “Google Analytics Referrers” and “Sistrix Backlinks”. The linkage with other tools allows us to get more complete and precise data from LRT.
Done that, the Link alerts are then sent via email once or twice a week, and they look like this:
If we click on “more…” or “here”, we get a complete spreadsheet with all links. They can be easily exported and edited before we import the links to our link management tool, or we disavow them.
We also created link alerts for our competitors so we can keep on track of their SEO activities.
Compared to most losers, fondsvermittlung24.de did not have a crazy high average Link Detox Risk. Although, with over 1,000 risk, it was high enough for a penalty. And a bunch of highly risky links were bad enough to screw the website’s visibility.
Fondsvermittlung24.de was penalized mainly because of outdated SEO strategies that nobody took care of, as is suggested in the concept of link risk management. With a link risk management process in place, we would have gotten rid of most toxic links (like the ones exemplified by Google we got before 2012) before the penalty.
The website had also too many links from several link networks, including our own. This looked a lot like we exchanged links (by the way, who doesn’t?), and Google strongly disapproves of it.
Fondsvermittlung24.de had too many backlinks linked to exact match Money keywords. Most of them were from low quality websites.
Fondsvermittlung24.de may be be a victim of negative SEO, or attempted at least. Even though we used some bad strategies in the past, some links are just too absurd and were never part of our strategy. However, we could have uncovered that with proper link risk management using Link Detox and Link Alerts, as suggested by Christoph a while ago.
It was not an easy process to analyze all the links and remove the bad ones, but it was definitely worth it. We got rid of the manual action after 5 and half months, but we got out.
The focus now is on the recovery of lost visibility and to keep building only high quality links to avoid new penalties. 🙂
This case study was written by Aline Alquati, Online Marketing Specialist at treefish, and proud user of LinkResearchTools.
A word from Christoph C. Cemper,
As a long-term LRT user, Aline joined the group of LRT associates in October 2013. This recovery case study is probably the best certification work one can write – a successfully removed Google Penalty and a start in recovery.
Aline demonstrated her expertise in doing a long-term link audit on their penalized web site, leading to a successful Google Penalty recovery. We warmly welcome her into the exclusive circle of Certified LRT Professionals.
This means Aline is also invited to our exclusive “LRT Certified” event in Vienna in May. I’m looking forward to shaking hands with her again.
Our goal is to provide our user community and clients with quality service and knowledge. Our Certified LRT Professionals and Xperts are key to achieving this goal.
I look forward to Aline Alquati’s future work, and I personally recommend working with her whenever you get the opportunity.