Learn from an SEO and Backlink Audit.
This analysis tries to identify why that drop in traffic happened, if the backlink profile looks natural or not, and if bad links, paid links, spammy tactics, or participation in link networks or sneaky redirects could be responsible for their massive drop.
I am proud to present you this 11th case study, that shows you what our latest Certified LRT Professional, Geraldine Edel, found - and it was... A LOT.
We would greatly appreciate your feedback
and sharing this story as well!
Enjoy & Learn!
Christoph C. Cemper
How we will look into this Penguin 2.0 victim.
- Ups and Downs – directline.com’s SEO Visibility
- Directline.com’s lost Keyword Rankings
- Too much of a good? – directline.com’s Keyword Ratios
- The Advanced Keyword Classification Process
- One is not enough – directline.com’s sitewide links
- Healthy, suspicious or toxic? - Directline.com’s Link Detox Risk
- High Link Risk – A common thing within the branch?
- → → → ← ← ← - directline.com’s redirects
- $$$$$$$ - Directline.com’s Paid Links
- Directline.com’s Press Portals Links
- Directline.com’s Web Directory and Article Directory Links
- Directline.com’s Wikipedia Links
- Too many weak links? – directline.com’s link quality
- NoFollow & DoFollow – directline.com’s Link Status profile
- Startpage Links & Deep Links - Directline.com’s Deeplink Ratio
- Finance, Business, Travel, Games? – Directline.com’s Theme profile
- It’s all about Balance – directline.com’s Power-Trust-Balance
- UK, US, NL, DE, … - directline.com’s country profile
- Jan., Feb. March,…- directline.com’s Link Velocity Trend
In this case study I am going to examine the deep dive of directline.com. A few days after Google’s Penguin 2.0 update, Econsultancy.com listed some of the UK-losers affected by this long awaited update. The company defines a loser "as any domain which has lost at least 20% and 3,000 of its tracked click volume".
Directline.com is one of those losers.
So regarding to the above definition, directline.com is not only a loser, but a BIG LOSER! So what dirty, sneaky SEO tricks did directline.com do that broke its neck? Let’s find out with help of the LinkResearchTools!
Ups and Downs – directline.com’s SEO Visibility
We all won’t forget the 22/05/2013 – this day Penguin 2.0 got released. After this release directline.com had a big drop of its visibility:
Was it really because of Penguin 2.0 or did directline.com maybe lose lots of traffic that affected the rankings in this way?
Here we see that directline.com’s paid visibility increased after the decrease of its SEO visibility. In my opinion adwords have been increased in order to balance the loss of visibility and consequently the loss of traffic.
Directline.com’s lost Keyword Rankings
Which keyword rankings did directline.com lose? – Searchmetrics has the answer:
Further great losses:
A quite common reason why a website gets hit by Google updates is because of an unnatural keyword ratio. Hence, let’s check if this is issue caused the drop.
Too much of a good? – directline.com’s Keyword Ratios
- Enter the domain we want to compare
- Find competing pages via the CLA search function
- Boost the links 5x
- Set the sitewide filter to 2, otherwise we get all sitewide links displayed. To categorize all sitewide links first can take a very long time (depending on the websites’ dimensions) and second is just useless, as we all know that Google stops counting sitewide links at some point.
- Start the report
After the report is finished, we need to scroll down to the "Comparison by Metrics" chart and select the tab "keyword". Here the chart tells us how many anchor texts are classified already. As at least 90% of them have to be classified in order to get appropriate data. By clicking the "here" link the classification procedure starts:
Here is your classification table:
The Advanced Keyword Classification Process
- Start classifying the keywords (either brand, compound, money or others)
- Go and get a coffee because classifying takes time ;-)
- Classify at least 90% of all keywords. How shall you know if you reached the goal already? Well, click the "Back to Report Page" button and switch to the keyword tab. Here the tool tells you how many of all anchor texts are classified already:
- Go and get another coffee and classify the rest ;-)
As soon as we finished our job, we go to the report, select the keyword section and see if the money keyword ratio of directline.com fits into the link profile of its competitors:
a) directline.com and its competitors for the keyword "cheap car insurance"
As we can see, directline.com has more brand keywords and less money keywords than its competitors. An unbalanced keyword ratio can be a reason why a website doesn’t improve its rankings. But a keyword ratio like you can see in the chart above can’t be the reason why a website gets hit that hard by Penguin as it happened to directline.com.
The ratios for the other keywords look pretty much the same:
b) directline.com and its competitors for the keyword "car insurance"
c) directline.com and its competitors for the keyword "cheap insurance"
d) directline.com and its competitors for the keyword "cheapest car insurance"
e) directline.com and its competitors for the keyword "cheap home insurance"
One is not enough – directline.com’s sitewide links
To get these results we simply:
- Enter the domain
- Select "Domain" in order to get a list of all the domains backlinks
- Activate the 5x link boost
- Here we also tick some boxes to get some data for further analysis
- Set the sitewide filter up to 1
- And start the report
Let’s get back to the results: directline.com has 40.521 sitewide links out of 42.950! That’s a very high ratio! Let’s see if directline.com’s competitors have that high amount of sitewide links as well.
The most simple way to compare sitewide link ratios is by using the Bulk URL Analyzer (Juice Tool).
All we need to do is to list the website we want to analyze and its competitors, boost as hell, switch to "Detail Analysis" mode and tick the "Link Ratio Metrics" box:
Of course, don’t forget to start the report ;-)
Here we are: The SWR column doesn’t show the total number of a website’s sitewide links but tells us the ratio between domainwide links (BLdom) and the number of linking domains to the domain (DomPop).
Here we see, directline.com’s SWR is the second highest one! This can be a reason for the drop. We should look at this issue in detail:
The BLP also tells us how many of directline.com’s backlinks are coming from the same IP address and Class-C:
Here we see that more than 5% of all backlinks are from only 4 different IPs. Further, more than 6% are from only 4 Class-Cs. What kind of links are these? We don’t have to check them manually, the Detox Tool can do that for us!
Healthy, suspicious or toxic? - Directline.com’s Link Detox Risk
- Enter the website we want to analyze
- Choose the right topic
- Now the tool asks us if the site received "unnatural link warning" from Google. Well, I dare to say that none of you is a member of directline.com’s SEO-Team, of course neither I am. So the only answer we can give is "I don’t know". If you use DTOX for your own website, of course you would know if you got a warning from Google or not. By clicking yes, you get a request to report DTOX the full warning e-mail text. The tool is able to check the e-mail and improve the analysis results on this basis. A very good feature!
- Choose the DTOX mode. What did we want to do? Right, we want to check directline.com’s existing backlinks if they are good or bad, hence we select the classic mode.
- As we also don’t have directline.com’s links from Google Webmaster Toolkit, Sistrix, Moz, Majestic and so on, also we don’t have its disavow file (If you have it please let me know ;-)), therefore we skip this step.
But don’t forget about these options! They can be very useful by analyzing your own website! Especially if you want to check your disavow file or if you want to generate a new one.
Perfect! Now Link Detox my site!
Here are the results:
The results in summary:
Directline.com has a very high link detox risk. Only 35% of its backlinks are identified as "healthy". As we want to see what kind of toxic links directline.com has, we have to filter the results by two of the following rules:
First let’s apply "TOX1" link rule:
Directline.com has 173 links from websites that are not indexed. There are several reasons why a website is not indexed. In this case, it is pretty clear that most of the TOX1 websites got de-indexed as a result of a Google penalty: all domains that have the word "bestukdirectory.co.uk" are from the same IP address.
By applying the filter "bestukdirectory" in the "From URL" box, there even appear more of these websites:
All these websites have the IP address 184.108.40.206. And of course they all look exactly the same.
Let’s see if directline.com has even more links from websites with this IP. Before we can search by IP, we first need to enable the "IP" column.
Here we are! Directline.com has links from 77 pages that have the IP address 220.127.116.11:
By applying the suspicious filter, we can see that DTOX rated 62 of the pages with the IP 18.104.22.168 as suspicious looking and none of them as healthy. There are several Suspicious Link Rules. If you do a DTOX for your own website, read the suspicious link rules and check all your suspicious links manually in order to see if they are good or bad. I suppose Google rates all the links from the chart as bad, as they are all from the same network. So we can rate these links as bad, which in fact means that directline.com has 219 toxic links (see summary above) + 62 toxic links = 281 toxic links in total.
Let’s see if we find more interesting links and pages. Again we apply the "TOX1" filter, this time we sort the results by IP:
Also by filtering the backlinks by the IP 22.214.171.124 we get interesting results:
All of them are blogspot.com posts! Here you see some examples:
I think this is clearly:
So it seems that directline.com generated lots of free blogs in order to gather links.
This is the last IP address we want to look at in detail: 126.96.36.199
Here we see 52 Polish URLs. This fact is already very suspicious, as directline.com offers insurance services for UK. Further, all their anchor texts contain exact match keywords.
Let’s look at 2 of these pages in detail:
Even if you are not able to read the message of my antivirus software as it is in German, I think you can identify it as a warning. In fact, my antivirus says that this website contains malware.
This website even mixes Polish and English. It looks really spammy!
As we can see, there are pages listed that have the IP 188.8.131.52. If you remember: 7.1% of directline.com’s all backlinks are from this IP. So I think it is worth to take a deeper look. Let’s do the same steps for this IP as well: Search by IP 184.108.40.206 and apply the "Suspicious" filter:
Alright, 75 pages that have the IP address 220.127.116.11 are rated as suspicious by DTOX. Again, I suppose Google would rate them as bad as well, as they all from the same company (RBS Group) and same IP.
So now we have 281 + 75 = 356 toxic links. I am sure we’d find even more toxic links but let’s stop analyzing directline.com’s link detox risk here, as we already know that its link detox risk is very high – an issue that most probably caused the drop.
Let’s quickly apply the "TOX2" filter in order to see if directline.com really has malware infected links. I just closed my eyes and chose one of these links:
Even if you are not able to read the message of my antivirus software as it is in German, I think you can identify it as a warning. In fact my antivirus says that this website contains malware.
We could see that directline.com’s link risk is very high. As we all know that spammy links are a quite common thing for many companies, I am curious about the link risk of directline.com’s competitors.
High Link Risk – A common thing within the branch?
Finding out if directline.com’s link risk is higher than its competitors link risk
can be done easily by using the brand new Competitive Link Detox (CDTOX).
The Tool compares a website with up to 10 competitors for toxic and suspicious link ratios.
Starting the tool is as easy as usual:
- Enter the domain
- Select the theme of the domain
- Find competitors of the domain
Here we are:
The chart shows us that directline.com’s link risk is almost as high as the link risk of the total average. Here we see that having a high link risk is quite common in this sector!
→ → → ← ← ← - directline.com’s redirects
Maybe directline.com has some sneaky redirects that also could be part of the reason why the website suffered the massive drop.
To find out, we open the BLP we have done before. Here we can see the redirect ratio of directline.com’s all backlinks:
By clicking on "REDIRECT", the tool shows us all the redirects in detail.
Directline.com has 89 redirects. As we want to see all the redirects that transfer link juice, we apply the "Redirect Juice" filter:
Directline.com has 30 redirects that transfer link juice. Let’s look at the first one in detail:
- Enter the domain
- Select if you want to see the links of the whole domain or only of a certain page
- Set the sitewide filter
- Start the report
Here we see, that the domain has 279 links!
As we can’t check the whole domain, let’s look at some important issues. By clicking the "More" tab and selecting "IP-Popularity", we get some very interesting data: 16,5% of directline.co.uk’s backlinks are from only one IP!
By clicking at the IP 18.104.22.168, the tool shows all the links that are coming from this IP:
Here we see that all links have the same anchor text. Further, all the domains contain the brand "directline" and also have the same content!
And so on...
In my opinion, all these links are for sure seen as bad by Google as the domains are part of a link network! It seems that directline.com tried to address different target groups with different websites (e.g. "herdirectline.co.uk" is especially for women, "direktlineholiday.co.uk" addresses people who need a travel insurance e.g...). But because there are so many of them and because all of them are linking to the main website directline.com, this is of course problematic. I suppose Google sees this as unfair practices and penalized directline.com.
Let’s go back to our BLP report:
Let’s look at another domain that is redirected to directline.com and passes link juice:
The QBL shows, that this domain only has 2 links. They both look o.k. Let’s carry on to the next redirect:
Also this domain has only very few links (4). But especially the first one looks really spammy:
This page has 11 links. One of them is also from the same spammy website:
As we could see, directline.com has at least 279 sneaky redirects from the website directline.co.uk. Directline.com already had lots of bad links and lots of links from obviously link networks. In this chapter we discovered that it has even more bad links than could be seen at the first sight, namely from sneaky redirects. This is of course one of the main reasons for the drop and therefore a key finding of this study.
Now I’d like to analyze the rest of directline.com’s link profile. Let’s see if we find some other bad practices that are part of the reason for the massive drop.
$$$$$$$ - Directline.com’s Paid Links
As well all know, paid links that pass PageRank have to be marked as NoFollow (see Google's stance on paid links). If a website has paid follow links this can be a reason for a Google penalty.
To me this link seems like a typical paid link with the exact match anchor text "car insurance". The article is about "reducing tips". It contains two links, both of them are pointing to directline.com. By reading the article I can’t see the point why there is a link to directline.com at least not with exact match anchor text. Don’t forget: a natural link is a recommendation. To me this link seems very unnatural and like a typical paid link.
Here you see another example for a paid follow link with exact match anchor text. Also here, there is no clear context between the topic of the article and the recommendation (=link!) to directline.com in my opinion.
Here you see another typical example for a paid Follow link.
This article is even marked as advertorial! The link is Follow, which is against Google’s Guidelines!
If you are unsure what Google thinks about paid links from advertorials, you should checkout Matt Cutt’s Video here
Oh no, it seems that directline.com carries on with its spammy linkbuilding tactics even after the drop:
So in my opinion, paid follow links are another reason for directline.com’s drop.
Directline.com’s Press Portals Links
It’s not a secret that Google doesn’t like links from low quality press portals that spread those "press articles" that include follow links automatically in the web.
As those links are easy to get, the result is that there arose a kind of "press portal spam".
Google actually explicitely stated that Linkbuilding via Follow-Links in Press Releases is considered SPAM which was recently commented on SEL.
Directline.com used these portals as well for getting lots of links:
Here you see a typical press portal article with an exact anchor text link to directline.com:
Again, a typical press portal link with exact match anchor text. Directline.com has 5 more links from this website, all of them have exact match anchor texts as well.
And another press portal link. This time directline.com chose a brand anchor text:
Directline.com’s Web Directory and Article Directory Links
Are article directories good or bad sources for backlinks? Well, there is no clearly answer to this question. According to Google, article directories that only have SEO aims are for sure a bad backlinks source. Editorial ones however are usually non-problematic sources.
Directline.com has several article directory links from obvious SEO directories. Here are some examples:
Here you see a typical spammy article directory link. Directline.com has even more exact match anchor text links from this website.
Here we are another exact match anchor text link from a SEO article directory. Directline.com has several links with exact match anchor texts from this website.
Directline.com’s Wikipedia Links
Although Wikipedia links do not give out link juice – all of them are NoFollow – they are trusted links in Google’s eyes and of course a great source for traffic.
Here you see directline.com’s business entry on Wikipedia. This link seems natural to me, as it is very common that big brands are represented on Wikipedia.
This Wikipedia doesn’t seem very trustful to me. Apart from the fact that it is a dead link, it is very off-topic as the article is about roughcast!
This is a German Wikipedia entry about a "KIA" sportscar. Hence, a link to directline.com doesn’t really seem on-topic to me.
Another off-topic Wikipedia link to directline.com:
Too many weak links? – directline.com’s link quality
a) CEMPER Power*Trust™
Going back to our BLP report and ticking the Power*Trust we can check the quality of directline.com’s backlinks.
This diagram tells us that 63% of the total links pointing to directline.com have Power*Trust 0! This is very suspicious. Further, the website has barely any links from pages with Power*Trust 8 or more. In order to see if these values are problematic, we need to see if these numbers are normal/abnormal for this particular branch.
Therefore, we need to go to the CLA report we have done before and select the "Power*Trust" tab. The tool shows us a clear diagram:
Here we see that having lots of weak links is natural for this specific branch. directline.com Power*Trust link profile fits quite well into the link profile of its competitors.
b) CEMPER Power™
Let’s switch to the "Power" tab of our CLA report to see if there is any unnatural link distribution:
Directline.com has only 1% of Power 0 links, the total average lies 18 times higher! In contrast, directline.com has 49% links that have Power 0 in comparison to only 33% of its competitors. To me it seems that their linkbuilding policy is based on the rule not to build links on domains that have Power 0. The consequence is, that there have been build a lot of Power 1 links or higher, which seems very unnatural and is for sure a signal for unnatural links in my opinion.
c) CEMPER Trust™
Let’s switch to the "Trust" tab:
Although the ratios differ less than in the Power chart, also this distribution seems unnatural.
NoFollow & DoFollow – directline.com’s Link Status profile
As we all know, NoFollow links don’t pass any link juice. However, they are essential for a natural link profile. That’s why we need to have a look at this issue as well. Therefore we use our CLA report again: We simply select the "Link Status" tab and the tools shows us the link status ratio of directline.com and its competitors immediately:
Directline.com has about 5% more Follow links than its competitors. Although this ratio isn’t very much higher than normal, it can be seen by Google as another signal for an unnatural linkbuilding.
Startpage Links & Deep Links - Directline.com’s Deeplink Ratio
To see the deeplink ratio of directline.com and its competitors we simply need to select the "deeplink ratio" tab of our CLA report:
Directline.com has 13% more startpage links than the total average. Also this issue can’t be the reason for the drop, but this ratio doesn’t fit very well into the link profile of the competitors and can therefore be seen as another bad signal by Google I suppose.
Finance, Business, Travel, Games? – Directline.com’s Theme profile
As we could see, directline.com has lots of toxic links as well as weak links. Usually these links are merely from off-topic websites. Is this the case here as well? By selecting the "Theme" tab, the CLA report gives us the answer for this question:
As we can see, directline.com’s link profile almost fits perfectly in this issue. Well done directline.com! ;-)
It’s all about Balance – directline.com’s Power-Trust-Balance
- Enter the domains you want to compare with or use the "Find Competing Pages" function
- Choose between "Analyze Domains" or "Analyze Topdomains"
- Start the report
As the name says, the QDC is quick; it only takes 2 seconds to generate the following chart:
Here we see that Power and Trust are well balanced. Sometimes domains have high Power but low Trust or the opposite. This is usually a bad sign. But again, direcline.com’s Power-Trust-Balance is fine.
UK, US, NL, DE, … - directline.com’s country profile
If a website wants to rank for a certain country, it helps to have most of its backlinks from this particular country. But again, also this ratio has to fit into the link profile of its competitors. Is this the case for directline.com? This task can be solved easily with the CLA report we already used many times in this case study. All we need to do is to select the "CNTRY" tab and the tool gives us the following information:
Directline.com has less US links than its competitors but as the aim of the website is to rank in UK, this ratio is fine. The ratios for the other countries fit perfectly into the link profile of the competitors.
Jan., Feb. March,…- directline.com’s Link Velocity Trend
An unnatural link velocity can also be seen as a signal for unnatural linkbuilding practices.
So let’s check this issue as well, before we finally end our analysis.
Therefore we start another useful tool we haven’t used in this case study yet: The "Competitive Link Velocity" tool.
- Enter the domain
- Choose your competitors
- Choose between 24 months and 30 days: for this case study it is important to see directline.com’s link velocity BEFORE the drop. As it is already end of July, the 30 days analysis only gives us the opportunity to see its link velocity AFTER the drop, therefore we skip this option and only start a CLV for the last 24 months
- Start the report
Now we get a clearly represented heatmap of directline.com’s link growth and the link growth of its competitors within the last 24 months (don’t forget to select the domain popularity tab otherwise all the sitewide links are included and distort the result):
Even here, I can’t identify any unnatural signs.
This case study examined the massive drop in directline.com’s SEO visibility. It found out, that directline.com’s link profile looks pretty natural, apart from the unnatural ratio of Power 1 links.
As could be seen, directline.com has lots of bad links and also participated in link networks. Some of these bad links derive from sneaky redirects. Further, directline has got plenty of obvious paid follow links as well as several links from SEO article directories. All of them have exact match anchor texts. In my opinion, the high amount of links from same IP addresses, free blogs, sneaky redirects, paid links and lots of links from spammy article directories caused the massive drop.
Just before the release of Penguin 2.0, Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, announced that "Google plans to target more link networks this year (..)". Being part of a link network becomes more and more risky.
It seems that directline.com’s SEO team only focused on having a natural link profile. Especially it tried to build only few money keywords in order to not provoke any distrust at Google. As we could see, this policy did not lead to success and couldn’t avoid the massive drop in directline.com’s SEO visibility.
This case study was written by Geraldine Edel, Head of Inbound Marketing at Mediabase, and long-time user of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox.
A word from Christoph C. Cemper
Geraldine showed proficiency in doing a backlink profile and SEO audit using the LinkResearchTools and pointed out quite some critical issues to fix. I am thrilled by the detail and structure she accomplished in her case study. Therefore, I'm very happy to certify Geraldine as the latest Certfied LRT Professional by approving and publishing her research on our site.
Geraldine is on the team with Harry and helps him get closer to the pre-requisite for the Certified LRT Agency certification for his company as soon as he reaches the level of the Certified LRT Xpert. This will allow Mediabase to market their brand and service with this highly sought after certification AND receive consulting leads from us.
Our goal is to provide our user community and clients a high quality service, and our certified experts are key to that.
I look forward to future work and personally recommend Geraldine Edel to work with you whenever you get a chance!