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.
Protect your business before it's too late
Imagine you built your business years ago and are running a successful and mature company. Or imagine you are a fast-growing startup running a couple of profitable websites, and you owe most of your success to the Internet.
In one day your sites could be penalized and your profit will be gone. Your Google traffic will disappear; registrations or sales from organic traffic will plummet, and all you worked so hard to achieve will be gone in a blink of an eye.
Depressing, isn’t it? However, this catastrophic and likely scenario can be avoided. Do you know how to protect your business online?
Read this case study and learn:
- How to properly perform Link Risk Management
- How to create a website that is almost Google-penalty-proof
- What is important to know about your website’s data
- What you can learn from your competitors
Enjoy & Learn
Christoph C. Cemper
Table of contents
- Protect your business before it’s too late
- How to analyze a penalty victim in detail
- Step1: Figure out the penalty
- Step 2: Know your link risk
- Step 3: Categorize your anchor texts
- Step 4: Get competitor insights
- Step 5: Dive into your link profile
- Step 6: Link audit and rating
- Step 7: Outreach to link sources
- Step 8: Set up disavow file
- Step 9: Reprocess DTOX and pray
- Step 10: Set up your link risk management
- Final Penguin bulletproof wrap-up
Banish the Panda Update
First of all, make sure your website isn’t affected by a Panda update. The Panda update targets your website’s onpage quality and content-related issues. If the following is true of your site, then you could get into real trouble with this algorithm update:
- Doesn’t have unique content
- Has a high percentage of boilerplate content
- Has a high amount of ads above the fold
- Has unnatural keyword density
- Has poor quality user experience indicators like time on site and bounce rate
If you aren’t sure if your website was hit by Panda, check with the following tools:
- Google Analytics
- Barracuda Digital’s Penguin Tool
- Sistrix’s visibility index score check in relation to known release dates of Google updates or
- The Fruition Google penalty checker
These tools will help you determine whether or not you need to take action on your website’s onpage quality. If your onpage data passes the test with those tools, you should focus on the bigger risk and deep dive into your link data.
Why is Penguin the bigger risk?
You will now ask yourself why Google Penguin is the biggest risk. Well, Google Panda was more iterated than Penguin, and at very short intervals. Since March 2013, it’s integrated in Google Everflux, so the data refreshes are coming faster and faster.
The Google Penguin 2.0 update was more than a year ago, and version 3.0 has been rolled out since November 2014. It’s more likely to lose ranking with a Panda than a Penguin penalty. Even worse would be the combination of Penguin and manual actions.
How to analyze a penalty victim in detail
Here is a step-by-step plan for a detailed preventive or remedial action for your website´s link risk based on a real example.
Our example penalty victim is www.ottoversand.at, an online shop for fashion, shows and lifestyle. The domain was hit hard by Penguin 2.0 on 3rd of June 2013 and lost 50% of its Sistrix visibility index for Google.at, from 26 to 13 points. Organic traffic shrank in the same proportion when looking at Google Analytics. Ouch, that really hurts for an e-commerce website!
Step1: Figure out the penalty
First, you have to figure out if your website got hurt by a Google update and which one. For that, you can simply check your web analytics tool like Google Analytics, Piwik or a similar one. If you have a large drop in organic traffic, then you can assume there is a technical tracking error or you have a problem with your organic rankings. You can also use SEO tools like Sistrix, Searchmetrics or any other tool of your choice to check the visibility index value. You will then know for sure what happened and if there was a large drop in visibility following the rollout of a Google Update.
If your visibility graph doesn’t look like that, and your website traffic is still at its benchmarks, then it’s good to be proactive as well. You probably don’t know the risk level you are exposed to and how close Penguin is to hitting your website. In this case, follow up with step 2.
Step 2: Know your link risk
Now you know the reason for your ranking drop can be found in your link profile. Analyze your website with the DTOX tool to get your score and an idea of how bad the situation really is.
Start a DTOX report and categorize your anchor text links. Take your time for that important step. In some cases your link profile will be huge and going through it will take hours. There can also be a huge difference in the results by changing the settings of the DTOX report. The results depend on the place analyzed, if nofollow links should be ignored or not, if there is a disavow file attached or not, and (finally) in which mode you start the report. I tried some reports with different settings for ottoversand.at and there are two examples with two different values. One with a DTOXRISK of 770 points and the other with 448 risk value. Both numbers are not that high, and color marks barely reach yellow/orange.
This is the average domain DTOXRISK of ottoversand.at without using the already disavowed links, ignored nofollow mode, domain backlinks as source, and skipped sitewide links after 5 found links from the same URL.
The same settings were set for the second report, but here a disavow file with about 825 links was uploaded during the report setup.
Important Note: Not only highly risky link profiles can be bad for your rankings. You can also be affected by a Penguin update or manual penalty when your link profile does not look so risky, like this one from ottoversand.at!
Step 3: Categorize your anchor texts
After completely categorizing the anchor texts, I started reprocessing the DTOX report so that the DTOX rules can be used for the new classification. As I did this, many links were filtered out because of the settings in the DTOX report. For ottoversand.at, 61,131 links were filtered out automatically when sitewide links of 5 or more are found, and 1,290 more links were filtered out because they were dead.
The deep dive into the anchor text categorization shows the site´s developers built about 63% brand links, no compound, 20% money and 17% other links. I took a quick look at the link profile by keyword, and brand keywords totally over-optimized at first glance. Also, the money links are pretty high.
But to know if this is really too much optimization, I need to look into a competitor analysis.
Step 4: Get competitor insights
If you don’t know the exact competitors of the website you are analyzing, then data from the Competitive Link Velocity report are really helpful. Start the report, type in one of the main keywords, and get the top 10 competitors for this keyword (don’t forget to ignore Wikipedia and Amazon in some cases). The results are displayed like a heatmap (see image below) so you can see the link building activities over the last 24 months.
The text links tab tells me that the link building activities were not too high for ottoversand.at during the last month. Compared to the competitors’ activities, it’s a low link growth per month, except for some small peaks in July, August, December 2013 and January, April, May and June 2014, and a huge growth rate in October and November 2014.
Another pattern can be seen in the heatmap of image links. There is a high growth between 600 and 2,000 links from March until September 2013, and about 2,000 image links in December 2013 and January 2014. The end of the first image link-building period matches nearly with the time when the domain was hit by the Penguin update.
Next, we look at nofollow links. Here we see the number of nofollow links after September 2013 is higher than before. This can mean the SEO team of ottoversand.at spent more time building nofollow links, or that some existing links were set from follow to nofollow. I don’t know exactly.
Through all tabs, October 2014 has a deep impact on the data, especially when looking at the number of deleted links and redirects that were really high in that month. Maybe they tried to clean up the link profile and a big outreach campaign impacted it.
After that first competitors’ overview I wanted to go deeper, so I picked 4 competitors and started a Quick Domain Compare report to get an overview of some competitors´ link data. The really interesting fact in this chart is that ottoversand.at and c-and-a.com have a lot more Power*Trust rank then zalando.at. Also, the amount of backlinks to the domains, the domain POP, IP Pop and Class C-Pop give an overview on which link building activities have been carried out in the past and if there are some patterns worth investigating.
After another few hours going through 94,000 listed links to categorize the anchor texts of the Competitive Landscape Analyzer report, I got some interesting results in the competitors’ analysis:
It looks like ottoversand.at built many more bad quality links compared to their competition. The peak in backlinks with Power*Trust value 0 is almost double that of the top 5 average.
They also have more Brand and Money anchor text links, but half of other link texts in their link profile. So this does not seem normal in comparison to the analyzed competition.
Looking at the link status gives us some information on the diversification of follow and nofollow links. The total average has about 20% more follow links and 16% fewer nofollow links then ottoversand.at. That’s also a signal there is something wrong with this link profile. The percentage of follow/nofollow links look unnatural in this case.
As an opposite to the last screenshots, the link type shows a good share of types. No pattern can be found in link types.
Last but not least is the share of deeplinks and homepage links. It is nearly the same as the average of the competitors’ ratios. Again, here we don’t have a reason to get deeper into the data. To validate this ratio, it’s good to start a Strongest SubPages Tool report. It confirms that the homepage is the strongest page with a value of 30 Power*Trust.
The Competitive Link Detox report puts all this information together against the DTOX rules and delivers the average risk levels. This shows us the total average and risk value of ottoversand.at is nearly the same, but the total average of the top 5 domains is above the average DTOXRISK.
As you can see in this screenshot from LinkDetox, ottoversand.at has an average risk, but one-third to double the risk of the average of the analyzed domains. Universal.at, which also suffered a Penguin penalty, has the only high DTOXRISK. The other analyzed domains are all below the average risk level, and (as far as I could see) not affected by a Penguin or manual action.
Some LinkDetox rules that have been triggered in this report are the following:
- SUSP22: Possible Link Network – Domain has the same website footprints as other linking domains.
- SUSP1: Links from a page without external links on a weak domain.
- SUSP23: Possible Link Network – Domain has the same website footprints as other linking domains.
- SUSP8: Possible Link Network – Domain has the same IP as other linking domains.
- SUSP20: Above Average DTOXRISK score calculated for this link.
- SUSP9: Possible Link Network – Domain has the same DNS as other linking domains.
- SUSP7: Possible Link Network – Domain has the same IP as other linking domains.
- TOX3: High DTOXRISK score for this link calculated, classified by the Link Detox Genesis algorithm as unnatural.
- SUSP2: Link coming from a probably new or very weak domain.
- SUSP4: Link from possibly penalized page.
Based on those triggered DTOX rules, ottoversand.at probably has a link network problem caused by a private or agency network. Now I am switching back to the DTOX report to go into more detail.
Step 5: Dive into your link profile
Now I put aside the competitors to get into the link profile of ottoversand.at. For this I started a Backlink Profiler Report and looked for extra patterns in the link profile. This analysis shows many patterns, and I chose to pick four screenshots out of the report as examples. The full list of patterns is below:
- A lot of paragraphs, in content and link lists.
- A huge percentage of negative link velocity.
- A high percentage of backlinks in the link profile with 0 number of backlinks to this page.
- A huge percentage of backlinks in the link profile with no social signals.
- Many backlinks with a low or non-existent Majestic’s AC rank (0 and 1)
- Over-optimized link profile by keyword rich anchor texts (a lot of Brand and Money)
- An over-optimized link profile by link type (a lot of text links)
- Low link profile by Power*Trust metrics
- A link profile with backlinks from domains with a low Sistrix visibility index (79% < 0, 1)
- Many “Other” themed backlinks domains (45%)
Step 6: Link audit and rating
The link audit priority summary gives clear instructions for the next steps. First of all, I’m going through the whole list of links with a high audit priority. In total, 60% of links still have high or medium link priority where 23% were already reported to Google in the disavow file. That’s a large list to check and rate. The Link Detox Screener tool helps rate the backlinks one by one with DTOXRISK and shows a preview of the website where the link is placed. It feels a bit like working for Google, because this is kind of the work a Google Quality Rater will do before they send out manual actions.
Step 7: Outreach to link sources
Before you start the outreach process, you should divide your bad link list into a few categories:
- Links from an agency or private link network
- Links from direct contacts
- Really natural growing links from blogposts and self-published blog comments
To clear up the links from an agency or private link network, call them. They will probably already know their link network is full of crap and how to deal with it. You can similarly handle links from direct contacts – just call or write an email and ask them to remove the link to the website you are working on.
The hardest part will be to contact the owners of natural growing links and blog comments that have been written. First of all, you have to get all the contact information – site by site. LRT offers two ways to handle this a bit smoother than completely doing it all by hand:
- Use the Contact Finder report by inserting a URL list to get most of the domain owners’ information that can be automatically found.
- Use the integrated tool Pitchbox for an automated link removal outreach campaign. With the Pro Plus and Superhero account, you get full integration with LinkResearchTools and Link Detox.
Step 8: Set up disavow file
After you have tried everything to remove those toxic links, use the disavow tool. You can use the bulk actions to mark URLs for disavowing on a page or domain level. After you have completed this step, export your file in the DTOX report from the LRT interface and upload it to Google’s disavow tool.
Step 9: Reprocess DTOX and pray
Re-run your link DTOX report in the what-if mode with a link list of of the removed or disavowed links to see if your efforts are worth it. If you see green like in the screenshot below, congratulations! If not, there’s still some work to do.
Step 10: Set up your link risk management
One last thing remains to be (almost) Google-Penguin-bulletproof: set up a process for your link risk management. Here’s a good start:
- Familiarize yourself with your existing link profile
- Overthink your link building strategies
- Download your link data from Google Webmaster Tools
- Store the historical data somewhere in case you will need it
- Check your Detox risk every month or once every other month
- Always be open for a change.
That’s how you can help protect your business from a Penguin update or manual action.
Final Penguin bulletproof wrap-up
First, figure out if you got hit by a penalty or a manual action by checking website metrics like the visibility index and your domain traffic. Also, looking at your Google Webmaster is a good place to start.
If you were hit with a penalty or not, you should still know your link risk. It’s important to know the status quo in order to execute next steps in your link building strategy. Therefore, the LinkDetox tool is one of the best ways to know your risk level and bad links.
Take the time to categorize all your anchor texts and figure out where you have over-optimized anchor text links or lack them. Depending on the size of your link profile this step can take a huge amount of time. As this is very important, don't skip or hurry through this step.
Avoid tunnel vision. Don’t just look at your own link profile. Know your competitors’ links and tactics so you understand what’s working for your keyword clusters and what to avoid.
Dive deep into your own link profile. Use several reports from LRT to get the big picture. One quick look isn’t enough to know what’s happening with your link profile.
Now we come to the hard work. The link audit and cleaning is not easy going. Walk through your linking websites, rate them, and find a way to remove the bad links to reduce your penalty risk.
Reach out to your link exchange partners and ask them to remove the bad links for free. Set up good documentation on how and when you are contacting website owners and how they react. If you tried hard and there are no results, take the next step.
Set up your disavow file with all the links you can’t remove from your link profile. Upload your file to Google Webmaster Tools. In the case of a manual action, write your reconsideration request a few days after that.
Finally, reprocess Link Detox regularly and watch for a continuous decrease in your link risk level. Take further actions to hold or decrease that level. Set up a regular link risk audit to drive a link building strategy that is safe enough for future Google updates.
This Case Study was written by Florian Hieß, Digital Performance Strategist at Linkjuice, and proud user of Link Research Tools and Link Detox.
This analysis was conducted and written by our new Certified LRT Professional, Florian Hieß.
Link Risk Management is all about how to recover and protect your site from risky links and negative SEO and Florian demonstrated his expertise in this field creating this short but still very powerful how-to guide for Link Risk Management.
Our goal is to provide our user community and clients with quality service and knowledge. Our Certified LRT Professionals and Xperts help us with their experience in achieving this goal.
I look forward to Florian Hieß´s future work and personally I recommend working with him whenever you get the opportunity.
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