Toxic Subdomains and Paid Links Penalize William Hill
The 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.
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Table of Contents
- About William Hill
- The 2014 Loss of Visibility
- WilliamHill.com Subdomains
- CKA - The Competitive Keyword Analyzer
- Project Settings
- Why Isn’t WilliamHill.com Ranking Well for Irish Lottery?
- BLP to Find Out Why Google Doesn’t Index This Page
- Why Isn’t WilliamHill.com Ranking Well for Horse Racing Results?
- The Strongest Subpages Tool – SSPT
- Competitive Link Detox with William Hill’s Subdomains
- The worst links on the subdomain poker.williamhill.com
- The worst links on the subdomain bingo.williamhill.com
- The worst links on the subdomain casino.williamhill.com
- The worst links on the subdomain vegas.williamhill.com
- The worst links on the subdomain games.williamhill.com
- The worst links on the subdomain skill.williamhill.com
- The Backlink Profiler (BLP) for the Whole WilliamHill.com Domain
- Was Traffic Loss Due to Inbound Links?
CEMPER Power*Trust is now LRT PowerTrust
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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)
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:
You can see here that the subdomains with the most SEO visibility are:
I’d also like to take a look at the following two subdomains, as these are riskier niches where it can get interesting:
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:
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:
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.
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):
To set these as blacklist domains, I simply go to “Settings” at the top of the page, and then “Click here to manage projects.”
You can then click on the “Settings” icon to set your defaults for individual projects…
…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.
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:
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?
Why are we seeing a URL like this on the UK site?
“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.
Here it is:
This is exactly the same page as the Spanish URL. So is this one even indexed in Google?
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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":
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.
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
A-41 2nd Floor Sec-22
A simple Google search for “Mithilesh Chaubey SEO” brings up this page:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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/.
Translated, the last paragraph reads:
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
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.
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 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.
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.
The result was surprising:
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:
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:
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:
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):
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:
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:
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:
The Whois record on this one shows:
Registrant Name: Trajan King
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.
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?
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!
By providing a Skype address, vijayam401 has made the job very easy. By trying to add them as a contact on Skype, I see:
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:
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:
- TOX1 - Domain is not indexed in Google - isually a sign for a penalty.
- TOX3 - The Link Detox Genesis™ algorithm classified this link as highly unnatural.
- SUSP5 - Domain's Theme is listed as suspicious (Hacking, Suspicious or Pornography).
- SUSP19 - Old domain with no homepage PageRank™
- SUSP22 - Domain has the same Website Footprints as other linking domains - possible Link Network.
- 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 openly advertises that they sell links on their site on their “Advertising” page:
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
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 LinkResearchTools 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: https://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.
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
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:
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:
On the actual page they look like this:
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 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">
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.
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:
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?
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:
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.
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 LRT 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:
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 LinkResearchTools and Link Detox.
This analysis was conducted and written by Certified LRT Professional, Rick Lomas, who has taken the next step to become a Certified LinkResearchTools 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.
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I look forward to his future work, and personally recommend working with Rick Lomas whenever you get the opportunity!