LRT Link Research Tools

Third-party toxic links incur Penguin’s wrath: analysis


iphonefixed google penguin penalty

IphoneFixed hit hard by Penguin 2.0 and 2.1

You have to feel sorry for Since May 2013, their search traffic has plummeted. Though the site and its backlinks look fake, they’re a real business. Even the BBC and O2 recommend and use them. They could use some RCS.

But, looking generic is the least of their worries. Rick Lomas takes us through a deep dive of their site, and why this unfortunate site’s traffic was gutted by Penguin 2.0 and 2.1.

We look forward to your feedback and always appreciate you sharing the work of our Certified LRT Professionals.

- Enjoy & Learn!

Christoph C. Cemper

Bonus: You can download a PDF version for Easy Offline Reading. Get it FOR A TWEET HERE

Table of Contents

The Business

In November 2013, I created a Google+ Community to help people recover from Google Penalties. I also intended to get a lot of experience using the LRT tools, in particular Link Detox Genesis. The next month, the owner of contacted me. This is a real business based in Cardiff, Wales, UK, that repairs iPhones and iPads.

He told me that before May 2013 he had been enjoying plenty of traffic and was actually having to turn down some repair work because they were just too busy. But between May and October 2013, he saw significant drops in traffic. He was convinced that he had been hit by Penguin 2.0 and Penguin 2.1. He gave me access to his Google Analytics account, which has data all the way back to July 2010.

The Drops

Looking at the overall history of the site you can see that enjoyed some excellent traffic until May 2013.

IphoneFixed all time traffic

Let’s look at the drops in more detail. The data is from Google Analytics so I’m going to select Unique Visitors and look at the time around Penguin 2.0.

IphoneFixed Penguin 2 Drop

This were the biggest drops around Penguin 2.0:

  • May 20th 2013 – 637 Unique Visitors
  • May 25th 2013 – 206 Unique Visitors


And, of course, the final nail in the coffin for Penguin 2.0 victims was Penguin 2.1…

IphoneFixed Penguin 2.1 Drop

  • September 19th – 364 Unique Visitors
  • October 19th – 59 Unique Visitors


This seems to be a classic “hit by Penguin 2.0 and then killed off by Penguin 2.1” scenario. However, the drops aren’t quite as severe as some Penguin victims I have seen. In my experience, this is usually because the site is still ranking for a lot of longtail keyphrases as well as local keyphrases.

Main Keyphrase Losers

Before Penguin 2.0, this site had number 1 rankings in for the two major keyphrases: ‘iphone repair’ and ‘iphone repairs’.

During 2013, ‘iphone repair’ suffered badly:

iPhone repair organic search traffic 2013

I looked for this manually today (February 8th, 2014) in Google using Firefox with the Global SEO add on. I wasn’t having much luck so I set Google’s number of results per page to 100 and then eventually found it at position 901.

iPhone repair ranked 901

The phrase ‘iphone repairs’ is not quite so popular, but had a rough time in 2013 too.

iPhone repairs organic search traffic 2013

Looking at Google again, I found a subpage ranking at position 127. That’s better, but it’s still pretty much invisible to anyone searching for ‘iphone repairs’.

iPhone repairs ranked 127

So what SEO had been done to this site?

I talked to the owner of to find out what he had been doing to promote his site since 2011. Initially, he had paid for some SEO services to help get his site ranked, which worked fine. He merrily sailed by Penguin 1.0 in April 2012. But when Penguin 2.0 hit in May 2013, he realized what had happened and stopped using the SEO service. A typical link built by the SEO company looked like this:

Trilogy Groveland

After the first drop, toned down their SEO work and decided to only work with SEO companies that were ‘Penguin Friendly’ – Really? A disavow file was produced which contained 1,235 disavowed pages and 722 disavowed domains. I believe this was uploaded on October 13th, 2013.

Just before I started working with, they had employed someone who advertised himself as ‘White Hat SEO Service’. Here’s an example of one of his ‘white hat PR9 links’:

IphoneFixed no white hat link

As you can see, this is clearly not a white hat PR9 link. It was actually a Deadly Risk TOX3 Toxic Link! There were hundreds of these.

Luckily, had been very good at keeping all the lists of links built and had a copy of the disavow file, too. I was able to use these for the next step.

Let’s open up Link Research Tools

I will now show you some results from my first run of Link Detox on December 21st 2013. Now, I must stress at this point that I did not have a Superhero Plan, just the stand-alone Link Detox with 10 extra credits, so I could not use all the tools that I would do today.

Rather than beginning with the QBL tool, I went straight in with the Link Detox. I don’t have a full set of screenshots here, because I did not think it would become an LRT Case Study. However, I did make 5 videos of myself going through the whole detox process if you have a spare hour or so:


First of all, I combined all the lists I had been given into a very long csv file, which I uploaded into Link Detox. I also uploaded the latest links from Google Webmaster Tools and the current disavow file. Classification of the keyphrases was fairly easy as they were all things like ‘iphone broken screen replacement’, ‘iphone color change’, etc. After reprocessing, the results were quite horrific:

IphoneFixed deadly detox risk

And this was after classifying all the keyphrases!

As you can see here, the money keyphrases have been very overdone:

IphoneFixed overdone money keyphrase

And the link breakdown doesn’t look good either. This is taking into account the previous disavow file.

IphoneFixed link breakdown

I decided to disavow all the links that were toxic and then worked my way through the suspicious ones. Most were fairly obvious spammy links, but some were not quite so obvious. My client had been quite busy on some forums, offering genuine advice to people with iPhone problems.

From Link Detox Genesis I created a disavow file, mostly disavowing by domain rather than page. This file was uploaded on December 21st, 2013.

Enter the Superhero!

In January 2014 I got my LTR Superhero account so I was able to look at this in more detail. We hadn’t seen any improvement in rankings yet so it was time to go deeper.

QBL Quick Back Links Report

The QBL tool quickly found 13,907 links and, as I suspected, the anchor text is overdone:

IphoneFixed QBL overdone

I checked a few of the links and couldn’t actually find the link to, so let’s get some real-time links using the BLP tool.

BLP Back Link Profile Tool

I decided to look a bit closer with the BLP tool at the 5X boost setting to find as many links as possible.

IphoneFixed BLP settings

I used the competition finder function to find the main competitors in the iPhone repair industry. The business is UK-based so it made sense to only look at the results in

IphoneFixed BLP Find Competitors

Of course, the main competitor it found was, which I removed. This is not a realistic competitor.

I also selected a few extra metrics, just to give me a better overall picture:

IphoneFixed BLP metrics

I probably selected more metrics than I needed for the BLP as the report immediately showed some very poor results. I could have probably got away with doing a quick report rather than a detailed one.

BLP Anchor Text

The BLP report shows completely overdone anchor text for the phrase, ‘iphone repairs’, at a whopping 45.1%. This is astonishingly over the top when you consider that the second most popular anchor text for the backlinks is the brand URL,, at only 6.7%. This is looking highly unnatural.

IphoneFixed BLP anchor text

It might be possible that there really are lots of sites genuinely linking to the domain with the anchor text ‘iphone repairs’, but I think not. A good place to look is the themes tab of the BLP to see the type of sites linking to

IphoneFixed BLP Themes

You can see here, personal pages and blogs are the most popular. Let’s look at a typical link:

Low quality comments spam

Okay, I think you get the picture. It’s just low quality, automated comment spam, and there appears to be quite a lot of it.

However, all industries and niches are different, so let’s look at the competition with the Competitive Landscape Analyzer.

CLA Competitive Landscape Analyzer

I love this tool, but once again I probably selected more metrics than I needed so it took a long time to run. The competition was found using

IphoneFixed CLA find competitors

I settled on these domains for the competitors:

IphoneFixed CLA competitors

The report showed some interesting results. In almost every aspect of the CLA report, was standing out in some way. Let’s look at a few:

Referring Root Domains

IphoneFixed CLA linksWith 684 Referring Root Domains, is immediately looking suspicious. is coming out 2nd with 433 domains.


IphoneFixed CLA Keyword

Here we can see that, once again, is standing out as having the least percentage of Brand keywords, the largest percentage of Money keywords and the smallest amount of other keywords. Not good.

Home Page / Deep Link Ratios

IphoneFixed CLA Deep Link

Yet again, you can see that has a higher percentage of links to the home page than the rest of them. Conversely, has the least percentage of deeplinks.

Okay, so now we have a pretty good idea that the site has way too many low quality links, so it is nearly Link Detox Time. But before we do that, let’s just have a quick look at the Competitive Link Velocity for this niche.

CLV Competitive Link Velocity

IphoneFixed CLV

Well, there are no surprises here; most of the link acquisition was done in 2013 during the months of March, April and May, just in time for Penguin 2.0. There are some strange spikes from other competing websites too, such as, and

This might be because, when disappeared from the top results in May, others saw this as an opportunity to get to the top with some frantic link building.

It would be interesting to run the CDTOX Competitive Detox Tool on these domains and work out what they are up to, but now it’s time to run the Link Detox Genesis tool.

Link Detox

The owner of has been good enough to supply me with some large lists of URLs that have been built by various SEO companies and the current disavow file that was submitted on October 13th, 2013. These were various text files, spread sheets, PDFs and Word Documents. The next step was to combine all these lists into one big CSV file ready to upload into Link Detox, along with the current disavow file. This is going to take some time because there is a lot of it!

[Time Passes]

After spending a day or so cutting and pasting thousands of URLs from various documents into a CSV file, I eventually came up with a CSV file with 7,761 URLs in it! I also asked IphoneFixed for the latest ‘more sample links’ and the ‘latest sample links’ from Google Webmaster Tools. I normally ask my clients for both just in case there are some differences. I also asked them for the current disavow file. In addition to this, I had an inbound links report from from a month or so ago which I thought I may as well upload, too (although I have every confidence in Link Detox probably finding these anyway!).

IphoneFixed detox upload files

Okay, files ready, off we go…this is actually a re-run of the DTOX I did before I had my Superhero account and before I had all the supplied backlink data.

IphoneFixed detox tool

The settings I used were:

  • Detox topdomain and subdomain – I need all the data I can get
  • Theme of the domain – I checked ‘Internet Telephony’ and ‘Computers/Internet’
  • This is an algorithmic penalty so no manual spam action selection
  • We are running this in Classic Mode


Now to upload the inbound link data and the old disavow file. The files from the previous run are in there, so there is now quite a spectacular array of files ready to detox.

IphoneFixed detox inbound links

IphoneFixed detox upload disavowed links

I like the new ‘credit confirmation’ message you get now:

IphoneFixed detox credits

Yes indeed, ‘Process all links’. There is a lot of data in Link Detox data now so this is probably going to take the best part of an hour to run. It’s time for a cup of tea while we wait for the results.

Even looking at the preview you can see there are a lot of links processed already. Link Detox actually found 155,334 links, but filtered out 143,862 links due to excessive sitewide links. I was also quite pleased to see 6,924 deleted links as I think they might have come from the lists I uploaded, which looked pretty awful.

IphoneFixed Detox Preview

Link Detox Results

This is the part of the report that I always look at first:

IphoneFixed Detox Risk

This looks pretty nasty. However, looking at the breakdown, it looks like the rather large previous disavow file has taken many of the links into account, but there is further work to do.

DETOX Health Breakdown

So what sorts of links are causing a problem?

Well, there are certainly a lot of links that are disavowed, but even so there are some that seemed to have slipped though the net from earlier attempts to detox the site. Here’s a good example in the ‘deadly risk’ category:

caribbean cruise blog

This is clearly nothing to do with iPhone repair, but way down amongst the plethora of comments is this one:

DETOX Comment Spam

Clearly the pre-Penguin comment spam from 2011 has now come back to haunt

Conclusion has been heavily spammed over the years, and the inbound link profile is not pretty. The problem is that 3rd party SEO companies built many of these links, and link removal is going to be very difficult. Various attempts to try and disavow many bad links have not been successful so far, and the traffic has been paralysed since May 2013.

This is a good business and the owner has built his brand well and has a strong social network presence:

  • IphoneFixed on Twitter has 7,296 followers
  • IphoneFixed on Google+ has 1,050 followers
  • IphoneFixed on Facebook has a very impressive 13,898 fans


Bearing in mind all the work that has gone into creating the brand, it makes a lot of sense to try and recover this site once and for all.

When I first showed the site to Christoph Cemper he wasn’t sure if it was an affiliate site or a real business. He made the following suggestion, “If it’s a real company then you should add more ‘real’ stuff to it, store photos, founders, clerks, ‘personal’ stuff and then it will have a great chance to recover”. As a result of this, the owner is busy adding videos, testimonials and more personal stuff. He is also hoping to get some video testimonials from ‘real’ customers, too.

In the next part of this case study, I intend to recover this site, getting rid of that Penguin Penalty that has plagued it for the past 9 months.

This case study was written by Rick Lomas, Owner of Indexicon, and proud user of Link Research Tools and Link Detox.

A word from Christoph C. Cemper

Certified LRT Professional This analysis was conducted and post written by our new Certified LRT Professional, Rick Lomas.

Rick demonstrated his expertise in doing a SEO link audit on why IphoneFixed lost so much organic traffic. He did a great job investigating the possible causes and isolating the penalized tactics in his case study. Therefore, I’m very happy to certify Rick Lomas as the latest Certfied LRT Professional by approving and publishing his research on our site.

Our goal is to provide our user community and clients with quality service and knowledge. Our Certified LRT Professionals are key to achieving this goal.

I look forward to his future work, and personally recommend working with Rick Lomas whenever you get the opportunity!

Certified LRT Professional Rick Lomas

This analysis was created using our Superhero Plan and the new Competitive Link Detox tool extensively. The Superhero plan allows you to perform professional SEO and backlink analysis for your own or your competitor’s sites. If you only need Competitive Link Detox (CDTOX), that’s also included in all new Link Detox Pro plans and up.

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Rick Lomas

Rick built his first website in 1997 when the main search engine was Altavista and the word Google didn’t exist. Since then he has learnt SEO from the ground up and has lived through every update Google has thrown at us. Rick now has a great deal of knowledge about healthy link maintenance and link risk assessment. In these days of manual and algorithmic Google Penguin penalties it is more important than ever to monitor your backlink profile very carefully, this is where his expertise is invaluable. Rick is from the UK, but has lived in the French Alps since 2001. Rick is available for SEO Audits, Google Penalty Removal and Back Link Health Monitoring.

Rick Lomas

Rick Lomas

Rick Lomas
Google Penguin 3.0 is here any day.

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  1. @lnkresearchtool March 6, 2014

    Third-party toxic links incur Penguin’s wrath: analysis

  2. @PageRankSEO March 6, 2014

    Third-party toxic links incur Penguin’s wrath: IphoneFixed analysis /by @ricklomas via @lnkresearchtool

  3. Marc March 6, 2014

    Quite an interesting study. I can appreciate the time it took (although it’s also good advertisement for Rick Loma – I got here by way of the newsletter so I guess his site will get more traffic these days )

    A couple remarks though.

    1- It seems like a really hard work. I could not imagine copying and pasting all these URLS and group them to upload them, etc. I mean, of course if the client pays you why not, but I would ask to be paid really a lot to do this because quite frankly it sounds like monkey work. Isn’t it the kind of work that could be outsourced to a third party ? I’m sure you could find someone in Ukraine (ok may be not !) of India who would happily get paid $16 an hour to do this. Am I wrong ? Under the supervision of a specialist of course.

    2- Given my remark above, and even if there are many followers on the twitter accounts and Facebook [and on a side note it would be interesting to know if all of these are genuine ? It seems to me that 16K followers is a lot, are these all genuine or are they paid for ? Two years ago it was not uncommon for people to buy followers, they were thinking it was cool], wouldn’t it be just simpler to create a new domain and add content and make it perfect ? I mean when you are at position #900 what do you have to lose ? I’d just buy a new domain and host it on a new server and get something 100% white SEO with quality content as Christopher Cemper suggested. In terms of ROI I wonder if it’s better to clean up such a spammy profile or create a new site. Of course it is not possible, but this is not such a huge site apparently and the brand name is somewhat common…

    And another small question, since comment spamming means adding empty texts to a blog post just for the link, does it imply that ALL comments are considered spam ? For instance, this comment.. I have added my name and a link to one of my websites that I care very little about so if it sinks in Google I don’t care (in fact I use it rather as an experiment for SEO and content writing, and also to share my personal story on how I found a russian wife but that’s another point). Does it mean that the resulting link will penalize this site, EVEN THOUGH this comment is a real comment with (I hope) some real value ? I used the same name and URL when I commented on a blog about nutrition yesterday, so we have one link from nutrition, one link from SEO, etc : there is no common point there, in the theme, and even if each time the comment is a real one, would it harm the website’s rankings (it’s now in the 8th position for the main keyword, after 2 months – that’s a very low volume keyword, I have to say, but the competition is fierce and it started at #35 when I launched the webste less than 2 months ago, doing only content and comments such as this one).

    • Rick Lomas March 6, 2014

      Hi Marc, thanks for the big comment! Here are my replies:
      1) Yes of course this could be outsourced, but as this is my case study I wanted to do it myself to make sure it was done correctly. In reality with a reasonably large monitor and my trusty Wacom Tablet and the wonderful UltraEdit Text Editor it only really took about 90 mins.
      2) I will get the owner to confirm that the Twitter/Facebook followers were genuine, but I believe they were. I built a FB Page a couple of years ago about Lemmy from Motorhead and got 10,000+ genuine followers in less than 1 month. I would guess that a site with (previously) high traffic offering genuine information for broken iPhones could also achieve this.
      3) New domain? Possibly, but John Mueller recently suggested that even if you moved your content to a new domain without any redirect, Google would try to canonically redirect the traffic to the new domain. Some people think that any penalties would also be transferred too – I also believe this to be true. So yes sure you could rewrite the whole site on a new domain, but that is quite a lot of effort to – isn’t it? is the brand they have built up and they want to keep it – so why not clear up the backlink profile?
      4) All comments are not considered spam, but some are, especially when your name is ‘Cheap Hotels Moscow’ – remind me in a few weeks time and I will test this page to see the risk factor on your Elena Models Review link that you mentioned. The LRT toolset allows you to see the types of links that your competition use and then you can blend in, sometimes this may indeed include using blog commenting. Nobody has a completely squeaky clean inbound links profile and it varies between niches – this is where the CDTOX tool is excellent – you get a good idea of the types of links that are working.
      FYI the links on this page from your name are NoFollow.

    • Hans March 6, 2014

      Hi Marc,

      if you repeat too much this strategy of using comments, Google will be considered this as link spam, but if the link is nofollow, like in above case, it would be not have any effect, negative or positive, only a waste of time.

      • Rick Lomas March 6, 2014

        That is true Hans, but even so having the right ratio of follow/nofollow links is always a good thing. That is where tools like CDTOX really shine.

        • B.S. March 7, 2014

          “right ratio of follow/nofollow links”

          Glad I didnt waste my time with yet another useless casestudy written by someone who doesn’t know what he is talking about.

          You should put this gem at the top of the page so people know not to read this bs.

          • Rick Lomas March 7, 2014

            Well I shall eagerly wait for your ‘gem’ when you have your case study published here. Why were you here anyway?

  4. @seo_mediabase March 6, 2014

    Third-party toxic links incur Penguin’s wrath: analysis via @cemper

  5. Ray March 6, 2014

    Okay, am I the only one a bit perplexed here?? We’re presented with a case where the author did everything correctly that Link Research Tools tells us we’re supposed to with gathering & disavowing toxic links, using these tools that LRT assures us work, using the Superhero plan which uses 22 sources of backlinks and includes Link Detox Boost, and yet in the author’s own words, “Link removal is going to be very difficult … Various attempts to try and disavow many bad links have not been successful so far, and the traffic has been paralysed since May 2013.” Huh?

    • Rick Lomas March 6, 2014

      Ray, this is the first part of what may turn out to be 2 or possibly 3 parts – this is the analysis part, we haven’t used Link Detox Boost yet. When I said “Link removal is going to be very difficult …” – that is what I meant – we can’t remove many of the links so we are going to have to disavow them and then make sure that Google knows about the disavow file using Link Detox Boost.
      The previous disavowing was not done by me and not done using LRT, so I am hoping to prove that this can be fixed with the Link Research Tools that we have.

      • Ray March 6, 2014

        Ah! Thanks for clearing that up Rick! I look forward to reading your next installment.

  6. Colin March 6, 2014

    Hello Rick

    Thank you for this report.good to see one on a relatively small website.

    What I would like to know is when you show the graphs for the decline in specific key words….could some of this be due to google blocking kW analysis?



    • Rick Lomas March 6, 2014

      Hi Colin, indeed I was really happy that Christoph let me do this one as a case study, because it was a smaller site and smaller business than a lot of the ones we have seen so far. Realistically this is probably more the typical work I am going to get while I am working remotely and living up a mountain in The Alps.
      I don’t quite understand what you mean when you say “google blocking kW analysis” – the main factor is that the site is getting far less traffic than it was before the penguin hits. The site still ranks very well for ‘iphone repairs cardiff’ but not for ‘iphone repairs’. Google Analytics showed this to be one of the most popular phrases before penguin, but not now – so that is what we need to get back to.

  7. @seonational March 6, 2014

    All #backlinks are not created equal. Stay clean.

  8. Ray March 7, 2014

    Hey Rick,

    Do you have an opinion about what Marc (above) asked regarding comments on forums:

    “does it imply that ALL comments are considered spam ? For instance, this comment.. I have added my name and a link to one of my websites… Does it mean that the resulting link will penalize my site, EVEN THOUGH this comment is a real comment …?”

    Thanks again,

    • Rick Lomas March 7, 2014

      Hi again Ray, all comments are not spam. But the important thing is that comments on forums are something that does happen naturally. This was the interesting thing with because when it was a high traffic site, people were talking about it on forums and saying where they got their iPhone screen replaced etc. This was normal, what wouldn’t be normal would be if the site had little traffic and no visibility and 100s of people were talking about it on forums. This seems to be the whole concept behind using LRT for SEO – knowing your battlefield and knowing what is acceptable in your niche.

      • Ray March 7, 2014

        Hi Rick. Thanks again for taking the time to answer. That was very helpful and insightful. One last question if I’m not being too much of a hog here with your time… do you think it matters what the subject/content of the forum is in relation to the link? For example I list my website link here, which is for a recording studio, but this is an SEO forum. I of course realize that music forums are a better place for that link to appear, but is it OK or does it look spammy to appear in an SEO forum? Should someone only list their links in forums that pertain to their industry?

        • Rick Lomas March 7, 2014

          Well again, it’s all what looks natural – Are people going to be commenting on an SEO forum and not want to mention their own site? Yes that’s quite likely. Is someone going to be mentioning their gambling site on a parenting forum? Probably not. Using the LRT tools like CDTOX and CLA gives you a great idea of what is ‘normal’ in your niche – it’s been a real eye opener for me!

  9. @LisaGuerrini March 8, 2014

    Case History -> Third-party toxic links incur Penguin’s wrath: Analysis #SEO #Penality

  10. @leojiang145 March 11, 2014

    “Third-party toxic links incur Penguin’s wrath: analysis” good read

  11. @tyseo May 19, 2014

    Étude de cas : site pénalisé

  12. @arnaudGuillaume May 20, 2014

    RT @tyseo: Étude de cas : site pénalisé

  13. @Cloe_Perrotin May 23, 2014

    [#Étude_de_cas] pour un travail de #référencement.


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