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Deep Dive into the Penguin 2.0 Penalty of DebtConsolidationCare

This is our 5th deep dive case study. Our new Certified Link Research Tools Professional, Michael Marshall, analyzes the reasons experienced a drop in visibility following the global rollout of Penguin 2.0. This Case Study looks at a website like any professional SEO would conduct a SEO and link audit. The research looks into Spammy Links, Suspicious EDU links, Low Quality Links, Link networks, Bad linking neighborhoods and much more.

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We are proud to present the 5th deep dive case study by a Certified LinkResearchTools Professional. We greatly appreciate you sharing this quality piece of work by Michael Marshall.

Christoph C. Cemper

Looking into this Penguin 2.0 drop in visibility

This case study is set out to analyze the reasons for the drop in visibility, that experienced after the global rollout of Penguin 2.0 update.

We will look at their website like any professional SEO would conduct a SEO and link audit. This research will look into Spammy Links, Suspicious EDU links, Low Quality Links, Link networks, Bad linking neighborhoods and much more.

Cemperpower trust is lrt power trustCEMPER Power*Trust is now LRT Power*Trust

You may still see CEMPER Power*Trust™, CEMPER Power™ and CEMPER Trust™ on some screenshots in this case study.

In 2015, we renamed these metrics to LRT Power*Trust, LRT Power and LRT Trust to reflect the shortname of LinkResearchTools - which is LRT.


Looking at the visibility, we can see a massive drop in traffic right around the time Penguin 2.0 rolled out, there was a steady decline in SEO visibility from December of 2012 onwards, but the drop in mid May 2013 was massive and not comparable to the gradual decline throughout the year.

Quick Analysis

A first quick look at the affected domain and some of their competitors


Using the QDC tool, we compare them on some important metrics

And the result is below:

Quick Domain Compare – how do they match up?

Low LRT Trust™

When you look at compared to these competitors it is definitely deficient in the area of LRT Power*Trust™, and especially in the area of LRT Trust™.

Suspicious EDU Links

Another thing that stood out to me was the high number of edu links relative to the competitors excepting

By using a filter slice on the list of links, I was able to dig deeper into that number, 692, and I saw that the anchor text distribution for those EDU links consists almost entirely of money terms!

Anchor Text


It also became clear that all of those edu links are on pages that have low or no LRT Trust™, in fact 99% edu links had a LRT Trust™ of 0 and the highest of any is 1

Host Country

I also noticed that the majority of those edu links are from non-US countries. Only 38% of the EDU links are on sites hosted in the US.

Spammy Content

So I decided to examine some of the pages. Below is an example of some of what you’ll find.

First line of text reads like this:
“Many borrowers find the higher payment out of reach and choose a 30-year mortgage. Justice scalia, or that prompted his question in any event, is.”

The remainder of the content on the page is even worse, clearly spammy, low quality content, like a mosaic of machine generated or scraped content with bad grammar and semantic coherence that is dodgy at best.

Quick Competitive Landscape Analysis with CLA

Here you can see that for the distribution of anchor text is slanted much too heavily on money terms, not just with edu links as shown above but with the link profile as a whole.

Anchor Text

Once again, the level of LRT Trust™ is very low and a huge deficiency for compared to competitors just as it was shown for the edu links earlier.

LRT Trust™

Link Detox Risk Analysis

Only 19.8% Healthy links is an extremely toxic backlink profile.

Quite a number of them pose a huge risk, over 10%!

Those are links that especially trip multiple Link Detox rules, which can be reviewed on a per link basis later.

Here is an example of one with deadly risk that actually trips multiple Link Detox rules:

Click the (+) and you can see more detail showing which rules were tripped, in this instance: Tox1, Susp5, Susp1, and Susp2.

Other very disturbing finds are as follows:

De-indexed Sites

426 have been de-indexed by Google. This is usually a sign for a link network penalty or at the very least very weak sites, duplicate content or any other site that at least doesn’t add any link value.

Malware or Malicious sites

504 are listed as Malware, Malicious, or Virus

Hacking or Pornography sites

275 are listed as Suspicious (Hacking, Suspicious or Pornography)

Link networks and Bad Neighborhoods

112 links are all on the same IP and all have LRT Trust™ of 0; a clear sign of a possible link network. That IP address in question is: and there are 157 domains hosted on that IP.

a. There is also an interesting warning from one reverse IP lookup service:

“It appears that the web server located at may be hosting one or more web sites with explicit content. The web sites in question are highlighted in red below. There is a possibility that all of the web sites on this web server may be blocked by web filtering software. Search engine rankings for these web sites may be affected as well.”

This clearly puts a site into a Bad Neighborhood!

Summary and Conclusion

1. Domain Comparison

  • The site is very deficient in the area of LRT Power*Trust™, and especially in the area of LRT Trust™ when compared to competitors.


2. EDU Links

  • EDU links consists almost entirely of money terms which makes for a heavily skewed (in the wrong direction) anchor text distribution.
  • A whopping 99% of edu links had a LRT Trust™ of 0
  • Only 38% of the EDU links are on sites hosted in the US.
  • EDU Links are spammy and have very low quality content that would never pass something like a Panda review.


3. Competitive Landscape

  • The anchor text distribution for the site is slanted much too heavily on money terms.
  • The level of LRT Trust™ is very low when compared to competitors.


4. Risk Level Assessment

  • The link profile has a large number of links on sites de-indexed by Google
  • The link profile has a large number of links on sites with risk of Malware, etc.
  • The link profile has a large number of links on sites with risk of Hacking, etc.
  • The link profile has over 100 links from the same IP address, most likely a link network, that it is in a bad neighborhood


All of this adds up to a backlink profile that should not stand a chance of surviving Penguin 2.0.

The nature of the EDU links suggests a linking scheme across sites hosted in multiple countries intended to boost the authority and trust of the target site simply from the fact that they are EDU links with no concern for the quality of the content on those linking pages nor for the trust level or authority level of those linking pages and sites themselves.

The anchor text distribution is too heavily slanted toward money terms. Also the trust level is too low when compared to the competitive landscape. This does not result in a backlink profile that looks natural nor is it strong enough to compete.

There are too many links in the profile that are of high risk levels in many different ways, clearly putting the site in a very bad neighborhood.


The only solution here is to remove the risky and suspicious links and work on building new links that have higher trust levels. Work also needs to be put into getting more links using branded or mixed anchor text to get a more natural looking profile.

Digging Deeper

Often after an update by the search engines, people panic and are at a loss as to what they should do. It’s actually at times like this that it is most clear what you should do. You learn from the winners! You also learn from the losers. You just have to know how to study them. You need enough data. There is an enormous amount of information provided by LinkResearchTools and that is why analyses based on it can be so informative.

I believe the data LRT offers is very powerful in answering the question, “What just happened?” However, it is just as powerful in answering the question, “What do I do next?” . . . if you know how to look at that data.

Latent Competitive Analysis: LCA based on CLA

With all this data available, I thought it could prove useful to conduct a deeper analysis of that data. What if we mined it, you know, data mining? You’ve probably heard of latent semantic analysis (LSA) where you discover hidden or latent semantic relationships between words in a corpus of documents. I thought it would be interesting to do something similar with the data from the competitive landscape analysis (CLA) in LinkResearchTools. Hey, with that much data, how could you resist? We’ll call it latent competitive analysis (LCA), hidden or latent competitive relationships between backlinks of competitors in a landscape.

A little help from Artificial Intelligence

So, we can throw a little artificial intelligence at it and see what we can learn in more detail from the CLA data about what should be done moving forward. To conduct our LCA, I used an eigenvector-based multivariate analyses technique known as principal component analysis, (PCA). It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Okay it is; but there are plenty of tools that can do it for you. For example, the Excel Add-In XLSTAT is what I used.

The output from CLA has to be converted into the proper form to use as input for the LCA, so I wrote a program in PHP to do that so I wouldn’t have to do it manually. Hey, wouldn’t you? This transforms the CLA output of 21 selected factors into a sparse data set with 755 related factors, custom designed by this landscape. Once I finished the LCA, here’s what I found as the top 12 things for this landscape:

The most important things to be mindful of because of competitor performance in this landscape are:

  1. Links from sites with a Site Theme of Reference
  2. Google Plus activity around the site
  3. LRT Trust™ for the domain of between 5 and 7
  4. TitleRank Home of 1
  5. Re-Tweets
  6. FB Shares
  7. Links from sites with a Site Theme of Business/Economy
  8. Proper proportion of FOLLOW links
  9. LRT Power™ for the domain >= 4
  10. Healthy proportion of IMAGE links
  11. Healthy distribution of Anchor text with Keyword Classification of Compound
  12. Healthy distribution of Anchor text with Keyword Classification of Brand

So as you peruse the LRT data, and as you go about link building, these would be factors which you’d give special attention to for this landscape. That is the specificity made possible by conducting LCA on the CLA data and this is what I would add to my initial set of recommendations.

Appendix: The Geeky Stuff

The following information is not included to provide any additional insight regarding the case study itself or to the recommendations already given. It serves merely as a little peek behind the curtain showing what the PCA process looks like. The scree plot of the PCA component factors is below:

F1, F2, F3, etc. correspond to those latent competitive relationships in this landscape.

The plot below looks at the 755 metrics and plots them against their correlation with the 1st (F1) and 2nd (F2) principal components. The red box highlights those factors with the highest scores.

Remember this is only plotted against the first two principal components. The LCA based recommendations given above were based on 5 principal components but I can’t easily plot that for you. Here is a list of some of the factors in that red box.

  • Links from sites with Site Theme Business/Economy
  • LRT Trust™ for the linking domain of 3
  • FB Shares up to 151
  • Image Links
  • Links from sites with Site Theme Charitable Organizations
  • LRT Trust™ for the linking domain of 4
  • FB Likes up to 658
  • Links from sites with Site Theme Education
  • Links from sites with Site Theme Art/Culture
  • LRT Trust™ for the linking page of 3
  • LRT Power * Trust™ for the linking page of 6
  • LRT Power ™for the linking page of 3
  • LRT Power™ for the linking domain 4
  • Links from sites with Site Theme Reference

This case study was written by Michael Marshall,CLRTP and was reviewed and approved by Christoph C. Cemper for publishing as Certification work for the LRT Certified Professional level.

A word from Christoph C. Cemper

LRT Certified Professional

This analysis was conducted and post written by our LRT Associate Michael Marshall, CLRTP.

Michael not only condensed the major issues down to crisp results but also suggest completely new methods to look at the problems, something we consider for implementation in LinkResearchTools as well. Therefore I'm happy to certify Michael for the Certfied LRT Professional level by approving and publishing his research on our site.

This is Michael's next step towards the LRT Certified Xpert level which is pre-requisite for the LRT Certified Agency certification. Both will qualify him to receive consulting leads from us. Our goal is to provide our community and clients a high quality service, and our certified experts are key to that.

I am sure Michael will continue to perform as well in our program and for clients. As you can see from his work already, I can really recommend him to work with you whenever you get a chance!

Michael Marshall, CLRTP


Christoph C. Cemper

Christoph C. Cemper is the CEO and Founder of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox. A well-known and distinguished expert in SEO who started link building for clients in 2003, building LinkResearchTools since 2006 and marketing it as SaaS product since 2009. When the famous Google Penguin update changed the rules of SEO in 2012, Christoph started Link Detox, software for finding and disavowing toxic links. 


  1. giankar on June 21, 2013 at 14:39

    As always, very details analysis of a Penguin 2.0 victim but this time from Michael.

    • Michael Marshall on June 21, 2013 at 18:10

      Ευχαριστώ, Γιάννης!

  2. Michael Marshall on June 21, 2013 at 16:25

    Ευχαριστώ, Γιάννης!

  3. Kelly Land on June 21, 2013 at 18:06


    OMG – I read this post and though it’s soooooo over my head – I’m gonna really try and implement it. My site is 14 years old and the backlink profile is…. well…. HUGE. But I know I need to get in there and figure out where it’s going wrong.

    This helps so much!

    • Michael Marshall on June 21, 2013 at 18:18

      Hello Kelly,

      I’m glad this was helpful. You can do it, I’m sure. Having the right data makes things so much easier.

      (Just keep in mind that the extra recommendations based on my LCA is specific to this competitive landscape, not yours, so make sure you don’t directly implement those unless they apply to your situation.)

  4. Ross Barefoot on June 21, 2013 at 23:08

    Great analysis Michael. When you got into the LCA stuff you said that your list was of things to “be mindful of” because of competitor performance. 2nd on the list was Google Plus activity. Could you elaborate a bit on that?

    • Michael Marshall on June 21, 2013 at 23:22

      Yes. Like most other things with search engines, an evaluation of your site is relative to that of your competitors.

      So, the performance of the competition (i.e. what factors they are working hard on that is make a difference in that landscape) really determines where you need to focus your efforts to compete against them.

      Google Plus activity happened to be one of the areas that set folks apart in this space. It is a good sign of user engagement and that is one of the things Google looks for when judging whether a site is useful to visitors, right? You’ll notice other social signals there as well. The sites linking to you should have good social signals just as yours should a la the recent change in Google’s article on Rankings (cf. here [], and my comment on a post here [])

  5. Michael Marshall on June 22, 2013 at 19:08

    My Hangout mentioned at the end of this case study will be hosted on

    Date – Monday 06/24/2013
    Time – 9pm EDT [GMT -4]
    Place – Details at:

    Membership in the community is all you’ll need to access the hangout.

  6. shahzeb on June 24, 2013 at 04:21

    Another brilliant analysis of penguin algorithm, thanks to you guys for taking so much time to analyze and summarize all of your findings. As seo is getting on the tough side, Google Algo’s are turning in to an living organism that is keep on updating itself by learning from different patterns and reports we submit to them by using disavow tool or even the forums/blogs/sites we post our queries, suggestions or the posts we like regarding seo stuff. I definitely agree with your analysis that links from Low Quality, Non relevant, already penalized sites, low quality contents as well as shady link trading sites definitely should be avoided and more over their links should be removed but the problem we see is that it’s not simple as we speak. Tracking down non relevant and low quality backlinks are not very difficult but get them removed sure is 🙁
    i mean a site with hundreds or even thousands of pages and hundreds of link removal queries every month from various sites definitely not going to be followed by web admin of those site, So in the end we won’t have any choice rather submitting our website as well as those low quality various backlink sites to the google, to literally tell them we have been an bad boy can you punish us both 🙁 in that case adwords come in to game since literally its almost impossible to tell a specific time to rank the specific keyword for a consistent period of time(off course white hat). Perhaps Google has find a brilliant way to hunt to the low quality and same time have increased the demand of the Adwords (Check their stat from last year after 1st penguin algo release) 😀 but i think they are getting to far :/ i mean its not justify to list 3 or may be 4 top search results from a single big brand site in various countires of even continents and backing up that result by saying that those are the best searches which closely match to the search term, i mean whats the method of ranking in to first 3 search results for one keyword in multiple countries, are google guys doing SEO for those brand sites samsung, apple etc ? or those guys putting some millions of dollars straight to Google (Adwords Wallet) as a smarty paying the up front charge and we the people the not big brand ones are at receiving end of changes 🙂

  7. Adeel Sami on June 24, 2013 at 09:29

    Great job, Michael! Very detailed analysis and easy for us to determine how our sites doing and not violating Google algorithm.

    Congrats on successfully acquiring your LRT certificate!!

    • Michael Marshall on June 24, 2013 at 19:35

      Thanks Adeel

  8. David on June 24, 2013 at 19:31

    Under “the most important things to be mindful of” section you list a couple things that could use a little more clarity (with the understanding that this relates to this space, not necessarily all spaces):
    1. “proper proportion of follow links”- what is the “proper proportion” in your opinion?
    2. “healthy proportion of image links”- what is the “healthy proportion” in your opinion?
    3. “healthy distribution of anchor text with keyword classification of compound”- what does “keyword classification of compound” mean? what is a “healthy distribution”?
    4. “healthy distribution of anchor text with keyword classification of brand”- what is a “healthy distribution of branded keywords in your opinion?

    • Michael Marshall on June 24, 2013 at 19:39

      Hello David,

      Anywhere you see a reference to proportion or distribution, the desired amount is going to be determined by further information from LRT data and primarily from the CLA section.

      Remember that the LCA recommendations are specific to the landscape analyzed in this case study and not really intended as general guidelines for anyone.

  9. Jon on February 12, 2014 at 01:54

    What I would like to see next is a comparison of sites that have been totally unaffected by Google Penguin with those that have.

    Most of the affected sites have the same sorts of problems, but I am sure some of the surviving sites must also have some of these same types of link. Would be interesting to know for sure.

  10. Jennifer on March 11, 2014 at 19:09

    Thank you for your review of this update. I am new to the industry (just completed an seo training), so it’s always helpful to have a review.

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