Learn from a SEO and Backlink Audit.
Here is the 13th deep-dive case study into a sharp drop in traffic and rankings after the Google Penguin 2.0 update – this time for Lifed.com
This analysis is a very interesting one, as it looks at a domain that appears to be reborn a couple times. Snatching up expired domains is nothing unusual in SEO. However, it seems that some things finally went wrong when Penguin 2.0 arrived.
Our Certified LRT Professional Guntram Bechthold found a bunch of things to fix, and we highly recommend following those.
Decide for yourself.
We look very much forward to your feedback.
I greatly appreciate you sharing this.
- Enjoy & Learn!
Christoph C. Cemper
Learn how toxic links killed this high traffic blog
- 1.0 Background
- 1.1 Aim of the Case Study
- 1.3 Business model of lifed.com
- 1.3.1 What type of Site is Lifed.com?
- 1.3.2 What is the Businessmodel?
- 1.3.3 How did the Site look like?
- 1.3.4 What is the Technology behind the lifed.com?
- 1.3.5 What is the history of Lifed.com?
- 1.3.6 How does the SEO Strategy look in detail?
- 1.3.7 How does the average article look like?
- 1.3.8 What was the content-update frequency in the time from Feb 2011 to Aug 2013?
- 1.3.9 What about the Author Rank?
- 1.3.10 What are the Statistics?
- 2.0 Impact of Penguin 2.0 on Organic Search Visibility
- 3.0 lifed.com lost visibility, Lets find out what’s going on
- 4.0 DeTOX of the Domain
- 5.0 Conclusion for Lifed.com
- 5.1 Factors that did NOT contribute to the drop
Google’s Penguin 2.0 Update is keeping Webmasters stunned. When Searchengine Land published their Blogpost on Penguin 2.0 losers I was quite surprised: Some websites were hit that did not fit into the normal penguin pattern.
"Lifed.com" is one of these "normal" and not necessary typical websites that were hit hardest.
Not only did lifed.com look nice and clean, but also its content was well readable and the whole look and feel appeared to be well made and professional. That made me curious and I started to dig a bit deeper.
Lifed.com was one of the hardest hit pages during Google Penguin Update 2.0
After having checked out the website in detail, I verified it also by using several tools. Search Metrics, as well as Sistrix showed a dull picture (see chart below). The site had been losing more than 82% of its previous visibility.
The big question was: Is blogging still a business model? If yes, what did the owner of lifed.com mess up?
Let’s start with first things first: What is the point of this case study?
Blogging is a viable business model in the Information age. That's at least our working theory. Being a reader, that is most likely true. But, does Google still work for bloggers? At least for lifed.com, it does not as it used to.
So let’s break down this project into a general analysis and a detailed analysis
Lifed.com is News blog with strong SEO orientation.
The site is sharing interesting facts and selling the ads on the Site.
SEO was one of the key traffic sources for them. They also used social media and E-Mail marketing as traffic sources as well, yet these were significantly weaker.
The Website Design is strongly inspired by Business Sites like inc.com. I was pretty surprised to find out that they “only” hat about 300 posts. The Site made the impression to host thousands of articles.
Screenshot of lifed.com Homepage
- The Site is powered by a WordPress blog, with short Permalink URLs: Domain.com/HEADLINE
a. Author Microformating
b. Social Sharing Plugins (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google plus)
- Used and visible Plugins were:
a. Yoast WordPress SEO plugin
- An "Nginx Cache Plugin" that generates the Site within 0.103 seconds
d. Google Adsense
Lifed.com got 2 different “Projects” running on this Domain:
- Project 2004: A Sports-Fan site, with focus on the fan’s view of sports in New York, Boston and Chicago. Users could discuss and complain about their clubs, success and failures
- The Domain then most likely dropped and was reregistered on Domain Registered on: 05.Feb.2005
- Project 2008: Domain for Sale, automated Affiliate Campaigns running on lifed.com
- Project 2011: Blog on Lifestyle topics: Career, Entertainment, Health, Life Hacks, Personal finance, Relationships, Style, Technology, Travel
- Redesign in 2012: A new Theme was developed with a more “light” and “professional look”
The history of Lifed.com
What type of content was employed to build out craft this site, how was it structured and what blueprint did the articles follow? Typical articles followed one of these three patterns:
- How to Articles: "How to Build a Professional eBook in 9 Easy Steps"
- "Secret" Information: "7 Books that Were Banned in the U.S."
- General, Evergreen Questions: "Credit Score Blueprint: Everything You Need to Know"
- Fairly lengthy: 600 – 1.200 Words, some 1.600 and more
- Keyword density is about 1%
- Between 1 and 5 Articles Images with 600px size and Speaking image titles.
- Smart, but not overloaded HTML-Formatting (H3), sometimes Lists
- Comments are implemented with Disqus, and therefore not visible to Google
The Blog had 12 Authors, most of them connected to g+ profiles. Most of them have real looking profiles and good bios. Some profiles appear to be spun when searching the author images on Google image search.
Source: published by Owner of Lifed.com
Over 3,000 subscribers
Over 22,000 Facebook fans
Over 10,000 Twitter followers
Over 700,000 monthly unique visitors
Over 2,500,000 monthly page views
(Comment: Statistics were published before Penguin)
After the Site was hit by Penguin 2.0 on April 24th, 2013 the owner stopped adding content pretty fast.
We are walking through the following steps:
- Is the Site still ranked and accepted by Google?
a. If No: We start digging for artifacts of the site and what caused the blockage
b. If Yes: We start analyzing the severity of the penalty
- What parts of the site are affected by the penalty?
a. Are pages de-indexed?
- What is the Link scape?
- What traces of toxicity can we find?
Let’s start with checking the indexation of the whole site.
Using the Command “Site:lifed.com” on Google.com we see that Google has not de-indexed this site. Since we know that the total Number of Posts is around 300 Posts, we can see that 1,750 is a very reasonable figure for a WordPress site: All Posts are indexed (300), we also have the author pages, some keyword search pages and tag pages.
When checking a website for indexation, you do not only want to check the homepage or the site in general, but also random subpages and posts. I’ve developed the following, pretty handy workflow:
- Surf the website open random posts/pages/sites on in new tabs. Try to have a good mix of old and new posts, as well as a diverse mix of different, unique site-types: News, Archive or Author pages.
- Keep “site:” in your Clipboard and post the command in front of each url.
- Hit enter, and hopefully you have Google as default search engine in your browser.
- If you get a Google search result with that page, you can verify that this page is indexed correctly.
I’m doing this for 20 or 30 pages on average during a check, since I’ve figured out that website sometimes do not necessarily have all pages indexed or de-indexed. In a recent check, I’ve spotted a site that has about 20% of content indexed and 80% was missing. Nobody recognized it, only when checking this behavior in detail we found the real source of the problem.
When looking at Sistrix.com’s indexation chart we see that there is no movement of site indexation during the last months.
Sistrix Indexation statistics tells the same for the trailing months.
The Sistrix Visibility Index can have some movements that are not exactly correct. Don’t be distracted by the minor ups and downs. We see that the major trend is correlated to the Searchmetrics graph from above. We can say that we can now verify the initially gathered data from search metrics by using the Sistrix visibility index.
Several Top Ranking Keywords lost almost all of their ranking positions. For example the keyword “inspirational quotes” got several matches.
For example on 22.04.2013, “inspirational quotes” the site lifed.com got a top10 ranking, position 9 to be precise. This specific keyword got a stunning 1,220,000 exact, local monthly searches. Dropping from 9 to 32 will cause a significant traffic loss
The site also got position 4 for “funny quotes” and dropped to position 24. The term “Funny quotes” also got a blazing 1,220,000 exact local monthly searches for Google.com – US Market
This means that some of the most relevant Traffic Sources have disappeared for Lifed.com with the Penguin 2.0 Google update
Several Significant Drops of Keywords that used to deliver high search traffic for lifed.com
The Strongest Keywords, for example “must see movies” have disappeared completely
- Lifed.com dropped 93.3% in the Sistrix Visibility Index since 22.05.2013 (Penguin 2.0)
- Lifed.com has NOT been completely de-indexed by Google.
- The most commercially damaging keyword drops occurred in the “inspirational quotes”, “funny quotes” and “must see movies” keyword verticals.
Since the keyword is the strongest traffic driver, we start to focus on the term “inspirational quotes” for digging deeper into the link profile of lifed.com
Let’s start with searching for our Keyword on Google:
When searching for "inspirational quotes" on google.com, English and US Setting, we find 3 Types of Sites in the top 10 Search results
1. SEO Projects, like lifed.com, in this specific case these Pages are popping up:
brainyquote.com (Positions 1 and 2)
2. We have 1 Authority Site
3: Social Media Sites:
This pattern continues on Google Search Result pages 2-10.
Authority Sites: inc.com, play.google.com, health.com, apple.com,
Social Media Sites with, aggregated Pages or User Accounts: youtube.com, tumblr.com
We learn 2 Things about this Search Result Page:
1. There is competition: Competing with an Authority like Forbes.com is hard
- Forbes.com has created specific content. They may have also done some internal link building
2. There is Space for Ranking: Social Media Sites are ranking.
- Either users created content for content marketing, or in this case, these are aggregated pages
- Outranking aggregated pages is doable since they are created automatically
In order to create a more comparable result, we ignore Authority sites for the following reasons:
- We will have a hard time to read the statistics data, because they will win all comparisons
- It is very hard to make valid assumptions on the ranking behavior
We chose the following players to be considered relevant competitors
The things significantly different to the other, still ranking sites are:
- High Number of Backlinks to Domain compared to other Popularity Factors
- Domain “CEMPER Trust” is low
- Low “CEMPER Trust” is also manifested in the specific Backlink types:
a. Lower .Edu backlinks
b. Low .Gov backlinks
- The existing “Google Pagerank” of “3” is a good sign:
a. We see that the site itself is not penalized, but some parts of it have been de-valued
From other LinkResearchTools case studies we see that many penalized Sites have high “CEMPER Power” and relatively low “CEMPER Trust”. This is the case here, too.
When checking the other Domains, we saw that they have maintained or gained in rankings from Penguin 2.0. This is obvious; otherwise they would not be in the current place. On the other hand we can also see that there are strategies to keep or extend Google Ranking with business models similar to lifed.com.
Next, I’d like to know if the Average Domain Popularity Growth has similar or different compared to the competition.
We see that in the 12 Month Check, the average Domain Popularity growth is significantly off, compared to other players. This indicates unnatural behavior and strong marketing activity.
Competitive Link Velocity (CLV) is one of the hottest tools in the LRT Suite. You can see how fast others are building their backlinks in absolute and relative statistics. For us this is very valuable, since we can see how the site was developed and how other sites behaved during that time.
When we are looking at the relative link building velocity of our Competitors we see that a discontinuity can be strongly seen. If it was a relationship, we could say it’s a on and off thing with link building for lifed.com
Comparing all players, we see that brainyquote.com is not only the biggest site in total, but also is picking up most back links. All other players appear to be almost invisible compared to brainyquote.com
8.7% of all Links, or 232 Links in total are related to "positive quotes" or "funny quotes", yet only 137 transfer "Trust"
When going into Detail using the QBL, we see that the strongest Links, filtered by “quotes” got very little trust: Many are from strange Article directories, paid Blogs, Dating Information Sites and Sites that have already suspended the User that created the Link
The problematic Websites pointing to Lifed.com are just the tip of the Iceberg
The “Onlinedatingschool” Blog is not only home to “Funny quotes” but also to many other SEO marketing publishers, publishing content from “Ads For Sex”, to “Adult Friend Finder” as well as “Chemistry” Articles.
Article Directories with SEO Formatting and follow Links are relatively easy to spot. The formatting, site-type, and related content quickly reveals itself.
The same is true for “Hot Droppers Directory” that got the H2-Headline “Link Building and SEO Services”. The site is free and therefore the quality is low.
The Account that used to publish these Links is suspended, yet the Google cache is still aware of the original content that used be hosted there. In the Google Cache, the old site is still available.
Blog Commenting on Low Quality sites made the problem worse: The Environment of “Boston Escort Services” is not related to “inspirational quotes”. Other outgoing Links from this specific Blog are also problematic.
About 300 Backlinks are coming from Huge Image lists that are hosted in China. The Services share Logos and Links around the web in very long lists. Link neighborhood quality is very low on these logo lists.
Going down the List Backlink List fully reveals that Backlink profile goes on like this. You can see the proof of this in the DETOX Report below.
Typically I also check the following Factors, yet they are all in “normal” distribution for a Website of that Type:
- Deep Link Ratio: 25.6% Startpage / 74.4% Subpages : A bit too much on the homepage
- Geographic Location of Links: Normal: Mainly US, but also some other Counties
- IP Address Link Diversity: Uneven, too many Directories and SEO Blogs
- High-Risk Links: Were involved. See above
- Links from De-indexed Sites: Were not involved
- Links from Malware Sites: Were not involved
- Link Networks Being Used: Were not involved. As you see below: Links from the same IP are originating from Forums and site wide links.
Deeplink Distribution: relatively Normal
Country Distribution: relatively Normal
IP Distribution is distorted by SEO-Directories
The total of Toxic and Suspicious links is at 87%! I’ve never seen this before. The CEMPER Danger Zone might start at 15-20% of Toxic Links, but Lifed.com has an Average Link Detox Risk of 2107. THAT is A Deadly Risk rating!
That is extremely high. Before going into plans how to revive the Site, we should find the greatest problems:
From the Link Detox overview we learn:
The 31% of Toxic Links are Blogs and SEO Directories that should be removed immediately.
When Analysing all Links, we see that only 13.7% of Links are Healthy. All other Links, more than 4700 Links are contaminated.
Inside the Risk breakdown we also see that the contaminated Links are in very bad condition with a very high leap towards strong contamination.
Now let’s see what are the most toxic Links?
What are the highly toxic Links?
- Rescue is still possible, but hard effort is required!
a. Most Pages are still indexed and available in Google.
b. The Link graph is toxic
- The existing “Google Pagerank” of “3” is a good sign
a. We see that the site itself is not penalized, but some parts of it have been de-valued
- All marketing efforts have damaged more than they have contributed to the site's trust.
- Most harming Situations are:
a. Bad SEO Directory Links have negatively influenced lifed.com’s link graph and disproportionately increased the signals for exact match money anchor texts and homepage link ratio.
b. Poisoned blog links target exact match money keywords.
c. Bad article Marketing links target the homepage.
d. We can see that lifed.com have overdone it with free links as well
e. Too many blog links at the expense of ‘bad neighbourhood’ sites from the dating sector.
f. Too many links from old school content farm sites.
g. Too many links from strange linking schemes offered by cheap seo services.
h. As a whole, link profile is far more toxic than competitors.
- To summarize: lifed.com is not a trusted domain because they have too many weak links coming from sites that pass CEMPER Power but very little CEMPER Trust.
- Link profile is out of proportion with the competition, far too many links from weak and low quality domains with Cemper Trust 0. Not enough quality links as a percentage of their overall links.
- The Owner even worked during the last months on cloning the model of lifed.com to the German market. A Site the same theme and automatically translated content can be found here:
- Actual number of site links and site wide ratio is not an issue.
- Link velocity has not been a contributing factor in the lost rankings.
- Proportion of followed vs. no followed links is acceptable and not a contributing factor.
A word from Christoph C. Cemper
This analysis was conducted and post written by Guntram Bechtold, now a Certified LRT Professional.
Guntram showed proficiency in doing a backlink profile and SEO audit using the LinkResearchTools and pointed out quite a few critical issues to fix. I am excited by the detail and viewpoints that Guntram brought up. Therefore, I’m very happy to certify Guntram as Certfied LRT Professional as his next step towards the Certified LRT Xpert and Certified LRT Agency certification – joining an exclusive circle of experts with direct access to my team and getting leads from us at no charge.
The goal of our LinkResearchTools certification program 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 Guntram Bechtold to work with you whenever you get a chance!