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WilliamHill.com Bet Big Stakes on Spammy SEO…and Lost

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Toxic Subdomains and Paid Links Penalize William Hill

William Hill SEO Google Link PenaltyThe house doesn’t always win. The UK-based gaming behemoth, William Hill, bet on paid links, toxic subdomain links, hidden image links and worthless sitewide affiliate links. It cost them dearly. In January, their search visibility plummeted. Was it an algorithmic or manual penalty? It took some digging to uncover why their SEO went broke.

In his second LRT case study, Rick Lomas uncovers the dark secrets buried in WilliamHill.com’s link profile and uncovered multiple abuses. Tragically, they could have been avoided with closer scrutiny and regular link audits.

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

- Enjoy & Learn!

Christoph C. Cemper

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Table of Contents

About William Hill

William Hill is a huge brand in the UK and now worldwide. The company was founded by William Hill in 1934, when gambling was illegal in the UK. I can remember back in the 1970s when my Granddad would jump onto his bicycle and cycle off into town to put his bet on the horses. The local bookies where he lived were with William Hill. Since then, WilliamHill.com has become one of the Internet’s most established sites for online Sportsbook, casino, poker, bingo and games. William Hill PLC is one of the largest bookmakers in the United Kingdom. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is in the FTSE 100 Index. In 2013, William Hill PLC made a profit of more than £226,000,000.

The 2014 Loss of Visibility

Here’s the drop on Searchmetrics, looking at their SEO Rank in January and February 2014. The country is selected as UK:

SearchMetrics Visibility

Clearly something occurred on the 30th of January 2014, causing quite a huge loss of visibility, so let’s try to find out what happened.

Which country does WilliamHill.com get most of its traffic from?

I have already mentioned the British origins of William Hill, but we cannot assume that is the major source of traffic for the website. You can easily see this in Searchmetrics by going to:

SEO Research › Rankings › World SEO Visibility

Here we can confirm that the UK is obviously the main source of traffic.

Searchmetrics Country

What are the losing keywords?

By looking at the “Winners and Losers” section of Searchmetrics, we can see there are some high search volume keyphrases with dramatic losses in ranking:

Searchmetrics Losers 1

The terms irish lottery and horse racing results both have search volume > 500,000, but a trend of -79 and -74 respectively; this must represent a serious loss in traffic. Looking further down the table, there are some more:

Searchmetrics Losers 2

The keyphrases world cup winners and cheltenham gold cup both have very negative trends. Although I would expect them to have varying traffic throughout the year, a negative trend in ranking does not look right. The last keyphrase on the screenshot, todays horse racing, does not have an enormous search volume, but I would guess this would be a highly profitable, well converting keyphrase, so a trend of -85 is not good.

So, William Hill should be paying attention to the following keyphrases whose rankings I checked in Google.co.uk on March 28, 2014 (I like to use the Firefox SEO Global add-on to get accurate positions):

  • irish lottery (currently at #17 in Google.co.uk)
  • redcar races (currently not ranking in the top 100 in Google.co.uk)
  • horse racing results (currently at #45 in Google.co.uk)
  • york races (currently not ranking in the top 100 in Google.co.uk)
  • world cup winners (currently not ranking in the top 100 in Google.co.uk)
  • cheltenham gold cup (currently at #16 in Google.co.uk)
  • todays horse racing (currently at #53 in Google.co.uk)

WilliamHill.com Subdomains

It is interesting to note that all these losing keyphrases are in the subdomain sports.williamhill.com. Before we leave Searchmetrics, we can quickly check what subdomains exist and look at their SEO visibility. Go to SEO Research › Subdomains:

Searchmetrics Subdomains

You can see here that the subdomains with the most SEO visibility are:

  • sports.williamhill.com
  • bingo.williamhill.com
  • www.williamhill.com
  • vegas.williamhill.com
  • games.williamhill.com

I’d also like to take a look at the following two subdomains, as these are riskier niches where it can get interesting:

  • casino.williamhill.com
  • poker.williamhill.com

CKA – The Competitive Keyword Analyzer

As we have already discovered seven losing keyphrases, I would like to find out who is ranking for these phrases now. A quick way to do this is by using the CKA tool. Here I selected the Search Engine, Language, Search Engine Country, and a few extra metrics as shown here:

CKA Setup

We have a lot of data from the CKA that we can use, but for the moment we will focus on the competition for the keyphrase irish lottery, which is a losing keyword with a huge search volume:

CKA Irish Lottery

I can spot a few URLs in other results that need to be added to the project blacklist, as they are only going to confuse our results in future reports. While I am there, I will also set a few default settings.

Project Settings

Here are the domains from the CKA report that are irrelevant to our results, either because they are nearly impossible to beat (e.g. Wikipedia, MSN, BBC) or because they are not really competition for William Hill (eg. Newspapers and National Rail):

  • http://en.wikipedia.org
  • http://sport.uk.msn.com
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/26583472
  • http://www.theguardian.com/sport/cheltenham-gold-cup
  • http://www.mirror.co.uk/all-about/cheltenham%20gold%20cup
  • http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/times_fares/

To set these as blacklist domains, I simply go to “Settings” at the top of the page, and then “Click here to manage projects.”

CKA Settings

You can then click on the “Settings” icon to set your defaults for individual projects…

Project Settings

…and then set all your defaults: Competitors URLs, Blacklist URLs, target countries, etc.

As the competition is going to be different with the various subdomains of WilliamHill.com, I am not going to set them here, but I will add the Blacklist URLS. From now on, when I start a report, it will be pre-populated with these values, which will save some time.

Project Settings Countries

At the top part of the Project Settings you can set your default URL and International Settings. For reasons we have already discussed, we are concentrating on the UK as the primary target audience.

At the bottom of the form, you can add your blacklist URLs and save all the settings:

Project Settings Blacklist

Why Isn’t WilliamHill.com Ranking Well for Irish Lottery?

This keyphrase concerns me the most as it may be responsible for a lot of lost traffic. So, where is it in Google.co.uk? Well, here it is at #17, but do you notice anything odd?

Google UK Result

Why are we seeing a URL like this on the UK site?

http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/lotto/IR6/Lotaria-Irlandesa-6-bolas.html

“Lotaria Irlandesa 6 bolas” is surely a Spanish phrase. Why isn’t there a more English-looking URL there? Could it be that the English version got penalized and so they have copied the English page to the Spanish one? Now we need to find out if the English version still exists, and if it does, why is it penalized?

To find the English page, I made the assumption that if Google had penalized this page, then Bing probably hadn’t. I did a simple search on Bing to reveal the English version of the URL.

Bing Result

Here it is:

http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/lotto/IR6/Irish-Lotto-6-ball.html

This is exactly the same page as the Spanish URL. So is this one even indexed in Google?

Google No-Index

NO is the answer! Something happened to this page that Google didn’t like. Let’s go deeper.

BLP to Find Out Why Google Doesn’t Index This Page

The Backlink Profiler can be used for a domain, page or subfolder. At the moment, I am only interested in the backlinks to this one page, so I set it up like this:

BLP Lotto Page

In the Metrics section of BLP, I enabled Link Check, Basic SEO stats and Google Indexation. I was very interested in the Google Indexation because I had a feeling I was going to find some pages that were not indexed by Google at all. The results were indeed interesting:

BLP Lotto Graphs

There are 282 backlinks here, 238 of them with a Power*Trust = 0. Also, you can see from the anchor text cloud that the phrase irish lottery online has been used too often, with play irish lottery online coming second.

BLP Lotto Graphs Site Type

By looking at the Site Type, you can also see there are many links on blogs and CMS platforms. I am starting to smell some cheap link building now. To find out more, I am going to filter the main table like this:

  • Anchor Text ≠ [LinkNotFound]
  • Link Status = FOLLOW
  • Power*Trust = 0 to 0

The logic here is to show links that are actually found and FOLLOW links only (spammers don’t really build NOFOLLOW links) with Power*Trust = 0. This should now show some of the very worst links:

BLP Lotto Worst Filter

InternetBetting.co.za

This is an odd-looking URL with a South African domain name. Here is the link: http://ftp.internetbetting.co.za/playing-the-lotto-online.html.

Internetbetting.co.za

You can also see how they have written the amounts you can win: “…was sitting at US$108’000’000 – to the Euro Millions lottery worth €32’000’000!” Using an apostrophe instead of a comma looks like the work of an overseas outsourcer.

By using domaintools.com, we can see that the site is registered with a South African address. The Reverse Whois says, “Topboss Media CC is associated with about 166 other domains.” Does this sound like there could be a link network going on here? The answer is almost certainly, “yes.” By doing a quick search in Google for “Topboss Media SEO” you can easily get to this page:

http://www.topbossblog.com/component/content/article/1-blogs/82-what-happened-at-topboss-in-2010.html

On this page they mention, “Topboss has nearly 150 live websites which all need to be updated regularly and we own a website design and hosting company which entails the design, maintenance and hosting of many client websites. Never mind all the added extras of liaising with Affiliate Managers, Players, Link Exchanges, Advertising, SEO work.”
I would guess that William Hill paid Topboss Media CC to build links for them.

GameApparant.com

http://gameapparent.com/responsible-gambling-brings-more-fun-in-playing-irish-lottery-online/

GameApparent

This one has some sentences that read as complete rubbish to a native English speaker, but they don’t look like they have been spun with a typical spinning program. I would guess this is just a cheap outsourced article written by overseas writers. Here is a good example:

“The thing is each lottery actually has specific detail. It will make your betting experience to be unique. The unique value may range from the winning amount up to the lottery detail. Things will be a lot easier since you can also make your bet through online betting means.”

Using DomainTools, the Reverse Whois says “Amiya Patra” is associated with about 182 other domains. The address is:

Registrant Name: Amiya Patra
Registrant Organization: none

Registrant Street: 1373/1, Carvalho Vaddo, Carona
Registrant City: Goa
Registrant State/Province: NA
Registrant Postal Code: 403523
Registrant Country: IN

We will discover more about Amiya Patra in a moment, but first we will look at another spammy link.

IHaveAGame.com

http://ihaveagame.com/overview-of-william-hills-irish-lotto/

Ihaveagame

This one is actually written fairly well, as if it was a review of the William Hill page about the Irish Lottery. The page lets itself down by using old school SEO techniques such as using the Money keyphrase William Hill’s Irish Lotto in the H2 tag and again as a hyperlink in bold. It also looks like the image was put in there without much care as it overlaps the text around it. I would say that the only purpose of this page was to provide a link.

Looking at Domain Tools, you can see:

Registrant Name: Amiya Patra

Next…

BlockGambling.com

http://www.blockgambling.com/emergence-of-william-hill-irish-lottery-online/

Block Gambling

This one has some definite non-native English. I don’t think it is spun by software, but it reads very badly:

“In the current economic situation, people are searching for different modes for making money. Especially majority of people are looking forward for a simple ways to earn money, with the tremendous use in internet.”

Does the image of the lottery balls look familiar? I wonder who owns this?

Looking at Domain Tools you can see:

Registrant Name: Amiya Patra

Who is Amiya Patra?

A search on Google for “Amiya Patra SEO” quickly shows us this site that features “Amiya Patra”:

http://sureshthoughts.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/webmasters-gmail-id-for-link-exchange/

Amiya Patra

So, that’s who you need to contact to do link exchanges in Goa, India. ☺

For the last one, we will give Amiya a break.

CommunityLottery.co.uk

http://www.communitylottery.co.uk/game-tips-online/

Community Lottery

This one has some truly awful English:

“You cas is well check the online william hill’s irish lotto Just keep in mind some reservations, as noted above, and you can have a great time, money and new friends through chat rooms all sites .”

Looking in DomainTools.com, we have a new name to investigate:

Registrant: Mithilesh Chaubey
Registrant’s address:
A-41 2nd Floor Sec-22
Noida
Uttar Pradesh
201301
India

A simple Google search for “Mithilesh Chaubey SEO” brings up this page:

Chaubey LinkedIn

As we can see, Mithilesh currently works for SEOPride.com, which is based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India.

I can conclude from this that William Hill used overseas SEO companies to build low quality links to their Irish Lottery page. As these linking sites were de-indexed by Google, the URL http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/lotto/IR6/Irish-Lotto-6-ball.html suffered badly.

At this point, William Hill moved the content from this page to their Spanish URL http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/lotto/IR6/Lotaria-Irlandesa-6-bolas.html, which has not ranked as well as the old one did. This is why they have lost their rankings for the phrase irish lottery.

Why Isn’t WilliamHill.com Ranking Well for Horse Racing Results?

This is the other keyphrase we saw at the start with a huge loss in visibility and traffic. In Searchmetrics, this keyphrase currently has a search volume of 528,416, but it is only ranking #45 in Google.co.uk. First of all, let’s find which actual URL is ranking in Google.co.uk.

I found this result at #45:

Sprint Valley

I don’t think this is the page they really want to show. If I navigate back to “Horse Racing” in the breadcrumb navigation, I get to this page:

http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/9/Horse-Racing.html

I believe this is the page that is supposed to rank in Google, but it doesn’t. To confirm this, I will do a search on Bing for “site:williamhill.com horse racing results” – this is assuming that Bing has not penalized this page like Google has. Sure enough, the result returned is:

Bing Horse Racing Results

http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/9/Horse-Racing.html

Since Penguin 1.0 arrived in April 2012, I have noticed that once Google penalizes a site for a certain keyphrase, the first page you see in the results is not the most relevant page from the site. Usually the first page you see in the results is a page that has had no SEO work done to it at all! Bearing this in mind, I now need to look for strange backlinks to this URL using BLP. Because of the blatant use of overseas SEO workers with the irish lottery keyphrase, I am going to enable some extra metrics this time:

BLP Extra Metrics

The BLP results were stunning! William Hill had lost a lot of ranking for the phrase horse racing results, but it was clear from the anchor text cloud that they were going for horse racing.

BLP Extra Results

That makes sense, of course, so where is our page if you Google horse racing? I found it at #81 on Google.co.uk. That’s terrible for one of the UK’s top bookmakers.

From 14,329 pages there are 14,137 with a Power*Trust = 0.

BLP Power Trust

From these pages, 1,309 are not indexed in Google. Now we can filter the table to see the very worst links. From a quick look at the table, I could see that “Footer“ dominated the LinkLoc column, so I filtered it like this:

  • Anchor Text = horse racing
  • Link Status = FOLLOW
  • LinkLoc = Footer
  • Power*Trust = 0 to 0
  • G!idx = 0

Even after this intense filtering, there were still 1,246 pages:

BLP Horse Races US

All these links come from http://www.horse-races.us/ and its subdomains. This is a sitewide link which is FOLLOW, in the footer, has no Power*Trust and is not indexed by Google. William Hill needs to lose this today.

Now we have the REG metric enabled so we can easily see that Christian Khoury is the registrant:

BLP Horse Races US 2

DomainTools.com will give us more information about him.

Registrant Name: Christian Khoury
Registrant Organization: Christian Khoury
Registrant Address1: paseo pins melis 1 3o4o
Registrant City: Castelldefels
Registrant State/Province: Barcelona
Registrant Postal Code: 08860
Registrant Country: Spain

Christian’s email address ends in @cmedia.es. We can find out more about their traffic services by looking at their site: http://www.cmedia.es/servicios/trafico-web/.

cmedia.es

Translated, the last paragraph reads:

Link Campaigns

We can expand the scope of gambling operators by a link building strategy that amplifies your brand, generating viral, and maximize their visibility and search engine optimization.

To find more bad links that were not from horse-races.us, I filtered the BLP table like this:

  • From URL ≠ horse-races.us
  • Link Status = FOLLOW
  • G!idx = 0 to 0
  • Power*Trust = 0 to 0

BLP Not Horse Races Us

The results from this are really odd. There are 44 results, all of which are the same page, just with a varying subdomain. If you go to http://anyoldsubdomain.horsehats.com/, the link will be displayed.

Horsehats Wildcard

This is actually a misconfiguration of the webserver; it was probably not intentional.

When looking at DomainTools.com, this looks fairly normal:

Registrant Name: Thoroughbred Promotions, LLC
Registrant Organization:
Registrant Street: 4101 Tates Creek Center Suite 150 121
Registrant City: Lexington
Registrant State/Province: KY
Registrant Postal Code: 40517
Registrant Country: US

I can’t think of any reason why this site should link to William Hill, unless of course they were being paid. However, these pages are not indexed by Google, have a Power*Trust = 0 and have suspicious anchor text. This is a bad link and needs to be removed or disavowed.

These are two of the worst examples of links to William Hill’s page. There is definitely some search result manipulation going on with low quality link building, and it seems that Google has picked up this violation of their guidelines.

Besides the subdomain sports.williamhill.com, we know there are other subdomains, so now we can explore further using another tool.

The Strongest Subpages Tool – SSPT

This tool is designed to find the best subpages on a site to get your links on. The SSPT analyses folders and subdomains, too. I assumed that William Hill was going to make the biggest effort to push their profitable subdomains, so that might give me a better idea of where to look. We had already found some of the other subdomains when we used the Searchmetrics tools earlier, but to put them in order of importance I used the SSPT.

SSPT

Sure enough, you can see that – after the home page – the subdomains of sports, poker, bingo, casino, vegas, games and skill come next as the strongest sections of the website. This made me realize that subdomains are very important to WilliamHill.com. I think what might be interesting now is to run the CDTOX tool, but this time comparing the sports subdomain with its subdomains that we found using SSPT.

Competitive Link Detox with William Hill’s Subdomains

Using CDTOX, we now pretend the subdomains of WilliamHill.com are competitors and compare them to sports.williamhill.com. This gives us an understanding of how bad the links are per subdomain.

CDTOX Subdomains

The result was surprising:

CDTOX Subdomains Link Risk

There is a lot of RED in this result! The interesting thing is that the sports subdomain looks the healthiest of all with the skill subdomain looking the worst. If we sort the table by Risk we can show the worst links at the top and pick out some examples.

The worst links on the subdomain poker.williamhill.com

Here is one of the worst links: this is a TOX1 link on carding.su:

Carding Su

This doesn’t actually appear to be spam. It seems like it could be from a William Hill employee advising someone how to do the age verification on the site, even providing the fax number for the client to fax his ID documents to. The sad fact is that carding.su has been dropped completely from Google’s index:

Carding.su no-index

We now know that sites that are not indexed by Google are one of the worst places to have your links. This is the TOX1 rule, and this subdomain has 184 TOX1 links.

There are also 98 links that trigger the TOX2 rule. The TOX2 rule means that the domain’s theme is listed as dangerous with possible malware, malicious activity or a virus, which is classified as a bad neighborhood. If this link is pointing to your site, then Google may automatically assume that you are connected to this bad neighborhood. Here’s one:

CDPoker

These links really need to go. I don’t often see many TOX2 links on a Link Detox report. This is the most I have ever seen.

I think there is some serious link cleanup to be done in this subdomain. Let’s move on to bingo.

The worst links on the subdomain bingo.williamhill.com

There are lots of bad links to show you here, but I will show you my favorite one. This is one of the worst ones, which is actually triggering 7 rules (TOX1, SUSP1, SUSP19, SUSP2, SUSP20, SUSP23, SUSP24):

Tech Spider

I’m really not sure what is going on here: they seemed to have changed the word “breast” to “b****t” at a vague attempt at censorship. I can’t believe this was done by a human as I think even the most sensitive person wouldn’t object to this word being used when talking about “Breast Cancer Care”!

There are also a few TOX2 backlinks in this subdomain; here is what Firefox has to say about one of them:

Tox2

These clearly have to go; TOX2 links are no good for anybody. Similarly, there are plenty of old school TOX3 links with unnatural anchor text designed to manipulate Google’s search results. Here’s a Press Release from 2011:

IBwire

Putting three links like this in a press release worked fine in 2011, but not in 2014.

Once again, it is clear to see that there is work to do in the bingo subdomain, too. With a toxic + suspicious percentage of 98%, this is almost certainly a candidate for a Google Penalty.

The worst links on the subdomain casino.williamhill.com

Here’s a randomly picked bad link from newgamblecasino.com:

New Gamble Casino

The Whois record on this one shows:

Registrant Name: Trajan King
Registrant Organization:
Registrant Street: address
Registrant City: Kaysville
Registrant State/Province: Utah
Registrant Postal Code: 84103
Registrant Country: United States
Registrant Phone: +1.8019970075

But the real giveaway is what the Nameservers are called:

Name Server: NS1.BUYGAMBLINGLINKS.COM
Name Server: NS2.BUYGAMBLINGLINKS.COM

So now we can look at this page: http://buygamblinglinks.com/index.php/about-us-171.

Buy Gambling Links

This site boldly states:

BuyGamblingLinks.Com is a well-respected brokerage house that buys and sells links from and to gambling sites. By now you probably know that it isn’t easy to just go and buy links related to gambling. So a few years ago we started our business for our own purposes. By after 3 years our business of connecting buyers and sellers grew beyond our expectations. More and more webmasters are contacting us for quality and bulk links packages.

I’m not sure how much their links cost, but they are now a waste of money as this link is triggering the TOX2 rule which means it’s malware, malicious or a virus.

The worst links on the subdomain vegas.williamhill.com

I scanned through the list of TOX1 links in the table that were linking to vegas.williamhill.com to pick an interesting one. When I see a UK domain name as a TOX1, I’m always interested, so rouletteman.co.uk is my next victim. The link is in a banner that looks just like a straight link, not an affiliate link, so why is it there?

Roulette Man

RouletteMan.co.uk has made it really easy to find the source of the TOX1 link here; the clue is on the “About Us” page!

Roulette Man About

By providing a Skype address, vijayam401 has made the job very easy. By trying to add them as a contact on Skype, I see:

Roulette Man Skype

Job done! Next…

The worst links on the subdomain games.williamhill.com

On the games subdomain there are a lot of unverified links, so I would guess that WilliamHill.com is already trying to clean up this link profile. They have a long way to go, though. Gambling and porn do go together quite nicely, but for a company like William Hill, I don’t think they should have links here:

Ferommokcom

This is on ferommok.com. I actually don’t think it is William Hill’s fault that their link is here. This seems to be a site that just scrapes content from all over the web and then tries to push its dating and porn links. This site triggers 6 Link Detox rules:

  1. TOX1 – Domain is not indexed in Google – isually a sign for a penalty.
  2. TOX3 – The Link Detox Genesis™ algorithm classified this link as highly unnatural.
  3. SUSP5 – Domain’s Theme is listed as suspicious (Hacking, Suspicious or Pornography).
  4. SUSP19 - Old domain with no homepage PageRank™
  5. SUSP22 – Domain has the same Website Footprints as other linking domains – possible Link Network.
  6. SUSP23 – Domain has the same Website Footprints as other linking domains – possible Link Network. (This one is triggered by different algorithms than SUSP23.)

Regardless of how the links got there, this URL should certainly de disavowed at the domain level.

If the above link was not William Hill’s fault, let’s find one that most certainly is.

The page, http://travel-wire.com/5-impressive-casinos-to-visit-on-your-next-trip/, has a nice contextual text link saying, “slot machines with huge jackpots” linking to games.williamhill.com. This link is triggering the TOX3 link due to its unnatural anchor text link. Links like this don’t happen by accident.

Travel Wire

Travel-Wire openly advertises that they sell links on their site on their “Advertising” page:

Travel Wire Buy Ads

This link was almost certainly paid for, thus violating Google’s guidelines again. Now, for the final domain…

The worst links on the subdomain skill.williamhill.com

This subdomain has the worst link profile of all the subdomains. By sorting the table by Risk we can find one of the worst links: http://dupront.com/recreation_and_sports/gambling/poker.

This is one of those directories nobody ever looked at and is now de-indexed by Google. A link on there is now harmful. This particular link triggers 8 rules in detox including TOX1, TOX2 and TOX3. It really can’t get much worse.

The site even advertises “SEO Services” on the main navigation bar. Unfortunately, clicking this returns a 404, and I can’t find any history in The Wayback Machine either. However, Domain Tools gives this information:

Domain Name: DUPRONT.COM
Registrar URL: http://www.godaddy.com
Registrant Name: Vikas Kumar
Registrant Organization:
Name Server: NS1.CSTWEBSERVICES.COM
Name Server: NS2.CSTWEBSERVICES.COM

If you look at cstwebservices.com, you will see that it looks almost identical to dupront.com. Even the “SEO Services” link doesn’t work!

Previous work of Vikas mentions CheapoAir. CheapoAir was featured in a Link Research Tools case study last year by Scott Todd. In March 2014, Scott wrote the final part of his case study about CheapoAir being hit by Penguin…twice. Here’s the link: http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/cheapoair-google-penguin-seo-link-audit/.

The Backlink Profiler (BLP) for the Whole WilliamHill.com Domain

Before I conclude about some possible algorithmic (or even manual) penalties for the toxic links in every one of the subdomains, I just want to check that there isn’t anything else that might be affecting the William Hill search engine visibility. So, here we will run a BLP to look for anything out of the ordinary.

BLP Settings

I just went for the 5x Link Boost and enabled the extra metrics as shown. Once the report was done, I had a quick look through the metrics to see if anything caught my eye, and something did! By looking at “Link Location,” I could see that the majority of links are in widgets, 4,052 of them to be precise.

Links in Widgets

BLP Metrics

In the main table you can look at the “Link Location” column and check the box for “Widget.” Here you can see all the links coming from widgets. The majority seems to be from the URL soccerway.com. Let’s filter for “soccerway” in the “From URL” and simultaneously enable the “To URL” from the hidden columns. The result looks something like this:

BLP Soccerway

Here we have 3,872 links from soccerway.com, and they’re all FOLLOW with the anchor text of “Sign up to William Hill for a Free £25 Bet.” This is reflected in the BLP Anchor Text Cloud:

BLP Anchor Text Cloud

On the actual page they look like this:

Widget Link

The link code is:

<a href=”http://ads2.williamhill.com/redirect.aspx?pid=139123910&bid=14845205&lpid=1487425872″ target=”_blank”>
<span class=”href”>Sign up to William Hill for a Free £25 Bet</span>
</a>
<a class=”href” href=”http://ads2.williamhill.com/redirect.aspx?pid=139428910&bid=1487410205&lpid=1487410872″ target=”_blank”>
<img src=”http://cache-static-media.soccerway.com/img/betting/williamhill.png” title=”William Hill” alt=”William Hill” class=”bookmaker”>
</a>

The code looks like a fairly straightforward affiliate type of widget/banner. However, you can watch this Matt Cutts video to see what he says about links in widgets:

Bearing this in mind, I would suggest these links were made NOFOLLOW.

Hidden Images

Another phrase caught my eye in the Anchor Text cloud: “[img no alt-text][img] william hill sports.” I wonder what these are? By clicking the phrase in the Anchor Text list, you can see them – they are nearly all hidden images. This seems odd so I just cleared all the filters, went to the LinkType column, and checked “hidden image.” Here’s the result:

Hidden Images

Here we have 101 hidden images that are FOLLOW links. So what do they look like on the page? Well, you can’t see them because they are hidden! Here is a screenshot where I have highlighted the area where the image is. Does that seem right?

Aliez Hidden Image

Clearly there is something very strange going on here. I would guess that it is an error with the affiliate program as I am sure that Aliez would rather have an enticing advertisement there rather than grey space.

You can read what Google says about having links in hidden images here:

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66353?hl=en

But the important sentence has to be the first one, “Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

I think there is some work and re-education that could be done by William Hill and their affiliates to clean up what could be misinterpreted as violations.

Was Traffic Loss Due to Inbound links?

Well, I would almost certainly say that the loss in traffic was something to do with links, perhaps not the amount of them, but the type of links: the paid links, the toxic links, the hidden image links and the huge number of sitewide affiliate links. Let’s check a couple of things first.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer CLA

The CLA shows various metrics compared with your competitors.

CLA

Here you can see that William Hill has 24,667 Referring Root Domains compared with its nearest competitor bwin.com, which has only 10,188. Also, you may notice that William Hill has the same CEMPER Power*Trust as Ladbrokes and Betfair, the difference being that these other two companies have achieved this with far fewer Referring Root Domains (9,574 and 7,889 respectively) than William Hill.

Competitive Link Velocity (CLV)

I was hoping that the CLV tool would give me some extra clues to why the traffic dropped at the end of January 2014, but it didn’t. All I can really see is that a huge amount of links were deleted in August 2013, and at the moment I don’t know why that was. Maybe they realized something was wrong and tried a frantic cleanup operation. Anyway, here are the results:

CLV

Conclusions

The drop in search visibility that William Hill suffered in January doesn’t coincide with any major known Google updates, so we could assume that this might have been a manual penalty. Many people believe that Penguin only hits at defined intervals, but some SEO experts believe this is no longer true.

There is absolute evidence of link buying in each of their main subdomains. This may have worked very well in the past, but in this case study I gave an example of extremely harmful, paid for links in each subdomain. It is very likely that WilliamHill.com is being penalized because of this.

The hidden images and widget links that were discovered in the final part of the case study could also have been considered and the site was penalized because of that.

Overall though, the volume of traffic running through the site is massive, and it is not going to stop, but they have certainly lost some traffic. The sad fact is if they had kept a closer eye on their inbound links and the behavior of their affiliates, this drop could have been avoided.

One of the LRT Associates, Andrew Edwards, went to see the William Hill affiliate representatives at an event in the UK (early March 2014) and asked them about their drop in search visibility. They denied that they had experienced any drop whatsoever and said that their traffic had increased. Interesting? Please comment below, and tell me what you think.

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 written by Certified LRT Professional, Rick Lomas, who has taken the next step to become a Certified Link Research Tools Xpert.

Rick continues to demonstrate his expertise by peeling back the layers of WilliamHill.com’s link profile to uncover why they lost so much search visibility. It was no easy task to decipher why they lost ranking, but he was persistent and it paid off. I’m very happy to share his research with you and encourage him on his way to becoming an LRT Xpert.

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
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27 Comments

  1. @TravMonkey April 9, 2014

    http://t.co/NvRpu3TMIf Bet Big Stakes on Spammy SEO…and Lost http://t.co/aLge9cW54v via @cemper

    reply
  2. @DerDevlin April 9, 2014

    Very interesting case study from my fellow LRT Professional @ricklomas http://t.co/V5iA5vP77ihttp://t.co/L4KNOeQXTq via @cemper

    reply
  3. Duncan Newbury April 9, 2014

    Thanks for this analysis Rick, really comprehensive, professional and interesting. I’ll be sure to give you a shout when I’m next looking at SEO. All the best, Duncan.

    reply
    • Rick Lomas April 9, 2014

      Please do Duncan. It’s not all about SEO per se anymore, it’s to do with looking after your inbound link profile now. In this case WillHill may have taken a bit of a gamble for sure, but sometimes even a low key fun ‘local’ site can suffer from the wrong kind of links that you may have no control over – I know that :) I believe that regular link audits are the future SEO. Later on after I had finished this, I looked at some other online gambling sites. I was hoping to maybe find my next case study – really I can take my pick, this a risky niche! Thanks again Duncan, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want me to check the health of your site.

      reply
  4. @LGoergey April 9, 2014

    http://t.co/MZQIHZEqV8 Bet Big Stakes on Spammy SEO…and Lost http://t.co/8qXDmCF5Cs via @cemper

    reply
  5. Bartosz Góralewicz April 9, 2014

    Really good CS Rick! I definitely learned some cool tricks ;) See ya in Viena!

    reply
  6. @bart_goralewicz April 9, 2014

    Interesting #SEO case study by @ricklomas Gambling site penalized after some extreme spamming http://t.co/VOonN7gFpY

    reply
  7. @marcoslujanl April 9, 2014

    http://t.co/RIay868lig hit by Google for some very spammy link buildling http://t.co/caPjnnIRoD

    reply
  8. Dorrien April 9, 2014

    Good work Rick!

    reply
  9. @alexgop April 10, 2014

    http://t.co/WoWRs6X1Pe Bet Big Stakes on Spammy SEO…and Lost http://t.co/jZGd585dzA via @cemper

    reply
  10. @chrisdalrymple April 10, 2014

    @wayne_field Seen this? http://t.co/qBHILgH7rX

    reply
  11. @bart_goralewicz April 10, 2014

    Really interesting case study and great read by @ricklomas http://t.co/GvAvM1435M #GOOGLEPENALTY @linkresearchtools

    reply
  12. SEOinsider April 11, 2014

    It would be refreshing if you were to do this analysis on a site in this vertical who ISN’T using shady tactics to rank.

    It’s more of a case that Google’s broken rather than these individual sites pushing the envelope.

    I’ll let you into a secret, everybodies at it, you just choose to highlight the ones Google wants you to.

    Start banging your own drum and not there’s.

    reply
    • Rick Lomas April 11, 2014

      “It’s more of a case that Google’s broken rather than these individual sites pushing the envelope.” – hmm regardless of Google being broken or not that is how it is. The point here is to discover why they lost their traffic, how it could have been avoided. Indeed ‘pushing the envelope’ will always be a tactic especially in these high risk niches, which is why we have tools like CKA, CLV and CDTOX to work out our battlefield. IMHO Link risk assesment is now the most important factor of SEO: push the envelope too far and you are out of the safety zone and in free fall.

      reply
  13. Nick Garner April 11, 2014

    interesting case study…Of course william hill are as spammy as many other domains in iGaming, so I’m very curious if other big iGaming brands have been hit as well.

    also semrush does not corroborate the drop in traffic so… im not sure what to think here

    reply
    • Rick Lomas April 11, 2014

      Thanks Nick, I haven’t looked at any other iGaming brands specifically, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had suffered too. The traffic drop is in certain areas of the William Hill site, but not all of it. The SearchMetrics visibility is a good place to start though, which is how I got alerted to this in the first place.
      The next few weeks should be interesting with Penguin 3.0 just around the corner!

      reply
  14. @ryan_murton April 11, 2014

    http://t.co/zNGdoGD9uf Bet Big Stakes on Spammy SEO…and Lost http://t.co/0CBtOWgUEP via @cemper

    reply
  15. Christiaan Bollen April 11, 2014

    Good case study Rick!
    Nice to see one in the gambling niche.

    reply
  16. Niall April 13, 2014

    Great breakdown on the spam Rick. I don’t know if you saw this breakdown of pokerlstings’ spam. (tl;dr=> Over 1 M spam backlinks, and they still rank okay for a lot of head-terms. ) – but it seems WH aren’t the worst Spamtards on the web in iGaming!

    http://gamblingseoconsultant.com/05032014/pokerlistings-blackhat-spamming-like-aces/

    reply
  17. Conty April 16, 2014

    Just another case showing how wrong Google got all this anti spam tactic. If legitimate pages from legitimate sites like William Hill get deindexed imagine how stupid the algorithm has become and the implication.
    If you have a link from the spacific page on the Willhill site that just got deindexed, you used to have one of the most relevant, legitimate and high quality links. Suddenly that link turns into a bad link since the page got penalized.

    For example one of the links showed here as an example of bad link came from the CDPoker website. This has been an established poker site for years and anyone in the industry would consider it a gem. They had what was once a ‘great’ link and now is causing harm.

    When William Hill is considered non-relevant for horse racing, i can say that the non-relevant one is Google itself.

    Shame on Google, not on WillHill.

    reply
  18. Swayam Das May 19, 2014

    Honestly speaking its a shame for Indian so called “SEO Experts” who claim to be “I know it all” :( :( Seriously shameful and irresponsible stuffs from India…

    reply
    • Rick Lomas May 19, 2014

      Swayam, thank you for your comment. I have employed companies and individuals in India myself and I must say that their work has been very very good. The whole point about this article is that WilliamHill.com were probably very very happy with their work until Penguin came along. It is just unfortunate now that some of the old school SEO that gets uncovered now seems to originate from India. I guess Indian SEO companies are having a very difficult time at the moment. I have noticed that since I wrote this case study that the same names keep cropping up all the time who are not doing things so well.

      reply
  19. Vikas Kumar June 27, 2014

    Hi Rick,

    Today some one told me that your name is present in this article. I gave a look and find the same here.

    To be frank, I was not part of this project and I even didn’t do a single work on this. I was part of a hotel project. I just used cheapoair name because of they have good names in OTA industry. I thougt instead of mentioning start up hotel project I should mention this name. Here I got wrong and spoiled my name. I am really shame of using this name in my linkedIn profile.

    Above you mention, some domain name register by name. I do not have domain and some one with same name must have booked mentioned domain.

    I do not have any relation with registered domain and cheapoair.

    I request you to please remove my profile image and my name from your article. I will be thankful to you.

    Waiting for positive response.

    Thanks,
    Vikas Kumar

    reply
    • Rick Lomas July 1, 2014

      OK your LinkedIn details are now removed. So are you saying that you are not the owner of cstwebservices.com or dupront.com?

      reply
      • Vikas Kumar July 3, 2014

        Hi Rick,

        Thanks alot for removing details. Really thankful to you for the same.

        Yes Rick, I am not the owner of cstwebservices.com or dupront.com?

        Might be somebody with same name booked these domains.

        Looking forward to your more valuable articles. Keep in touch.

        Regards,
        Vikas

        reply

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