Dejan Marketing, formerly known as Dejan SEO, a very reputable agency led by the one and only Dan Petrovic got a link penalty, a manual penalty in Google Search Console for unnatural links.
Google gave the agencies' domain dejanseo.com.au a harsh penalty that led to
- A drop in their organic rankings (Dan didn't reveal details)
- A total loss in rankings for their brand name "Dejan SEO" for the www.dejanseo.com.au and all the subdomains, like their HREFLANG-checker tool.
It sounds like Google very harsh against an agency that hasn't made any mistakes and distanced themselves from any Blackhat or even grey hat tactics for a long time.
Is this a case of negative SEO?
Is this the new switch of the Penalty System to a more automated approach as it was mentioned by Google just a couple weeks ago that went berserk on Dan's website?
here's an interesting discussion about the announcement
Legit website receives link penalty?
Some you may ask - who's getting penalized next?
Spoiler: this case is not unusual and no surprise for us. At LRT we've been recommending ongoing Link Risk Management since 2013. However only six years later we have a new automated product that will help single webmasters take care of dozens of websites.
Interesting enough some high-profile industry people really thought that link penalties were gone and the recent couple more public ones are a new spike.
Not at all.
I certainly cannot say that Manual actions went down since Penguin 4.0 from three years ago. In fact pretty stable until end 2018, where we saw a massive rise until now. Lots of Manual Actions seem to be even harder to get rid now also...
If you are in the group of people that believe "Google will take care of your disavows" let me tell you that they are not. At least not always. Who knows.
Want to bet your (business) life on it? I guess not.
This harsh domain-wide Google Penalty will get lifted with our experience, like 1000s of others were lifted since 2012.
Move forward: Dejan Marketing to DejanMarketing.com
I had the pleasure to be on a Zoom call with Dan Petrovic and learn more about their situation.
Dan Petrovic confirmed, that they decided to finally migrate their company to a new domain.
DejanMarketing.com is a kind of fresh domain.
The rebranding to "Dejan Marketing" happened years ago, and they always pushed the migration back.
Now that we're in the water, we need to swim. ~Dan Petrovic
Dan and his team
- Moved the content over from dejanseo.com.au to dejanmarketing.com
- Reached out to the best link donors (sources of their links) they could find
- Want to "start over" with the cleanest natural backlink profile they can come up with.
So all "good links" shall be moved over, with the old ones left behind.
Will they succeed in this undertaking?
Make sure you read the full blog about the "Link Move Experiment" and the historical changes with daily log entries.
Was DejanMarketing.com really a fresh domain?
When I heard about the plan, I immediately fired up my tools to do a due diligence of the new home for Dan's website.
After all you don't want to migrate your website to a domain that has problems by itself.
A couple things I found about DejanMarketing.com seemed concerning, but were discussed with Dan. I find it valuable to mention them here to give the experiment, as Dan calls it more context.
DejanMarketing.com had a template website on it from 2016 to mid 2019.
During those 3. 5 years Google could figure out that they belong to the same company due to same Email-domain dejanseo.com.au, same phone number and same address. Typical pattern.
The old hobby site Analogik.com linked to DejanMarketing.com from 2016 to ca. Jun 2019 since when the Analogik.com site threw server errors according to WebArchive.org
Interesting part here. Some links of the "template site" that was on DejanMarketing.com, were linking to the same URLs of the now active website on DejanMarketing.com
We can see that pretty well in the link trace for the linking home page Analogik.com
- when the links were published
- when we hit the 500 error (last WebArchive.org date about a month ago however)
- some links "work"
What was interesting is that John Müller of Google chimed in and pointed out, that Google would treat the two websites the same. So an explicit 301 redirect would not be required.
What he leaves open is, if that means the manual action would also pass over or not.
We keep a reminder for this important question here.
Is Dejan Marketing trying to evade the penalty?
While some people may consider DejanSEO moving to a new domain to some sort of evade the Google penalty.
The practice to redirect penalized domains or even just pages worked really well for a very long time and is not uncommon in Blackhat circles. However these days you need to have your sources clean to not inherit any bad signals.
The Orca method described by LRT Certified Professional Bart Goralewicz was a pretty fancy approach in times before Google Penguin was ongoing AKA "real-time" and changes would work in also on the same domain.
Dan Petrovic wants to highlight that he sees his exercise of the domain move as the very ultimate link disavow. If you look at it from that point it doesn't seem like just another SEO trick but a genuine move towards a clean slate.
Who's guilty for this penalty?
And then some people assume that Dan is trying to put the blame on someone else. But he's a great guy and director of his company.
And while he can remember exactly who and and when did those Link Experiments and Scholarships back in 2014, those employees were just that - his employees.
Dan owns this and takes full responsibility, for the penalty and the clean up.
...but I do remember exactly which staff member wanted to try out that technique. Before it went spammy. But what I said is true we weren't link building in the last 5 years. Instead we were earning our links.
~Dan Petrovic - via DM 2019-08-28
Dan was one, if not THE, very first SEO who pointed very clearly out how poor link networks were manufactured, and that they ultimately have to fail the moment people start to cut corners, of if they get to big (AKA "Public" instead of "Private" blog networks, like some of the large networks penalized just a year later)
So between that article and 2014 we completely phased out all forms of link building with little experiments here in there if my staff wanted to try something new
It was a gradual process it took years to wean people off 🙂
"But Dan", they would say... And then I hear about some cool link building idea.
~Dan Petrovic - via DM 2019-08-28
But now let's get started looking at the actual victim - the agency site of DejanSEO that brought in the dough - until this day.
WOW. almost 1700 DTOXRISK.
Everything above 1000 usually means a penalty if you include No Follow links in the analysis, enable all default options (i.e. not use Link Detox Tune to tweak the Link Detox Genesis algo for your "special niche") , use stand.
And that's what we see here confirmed.
Obvious problems at a glance
Starting with the section on the right, the Issue we see
There's a disavow file that was changed and not yet uploaded. Maybe because they added links to it since. But this is more important in the ongoing in the team.
Links from Virus and Malware sites are the worst. You always want to disavow them, as too many of those can cause your website get flagged as Malware site itself. That would mean an immediate loss of all traffic for Google and other search engines.
The Globe Spam. A common spam footprint that became so common that we automated it here. The next step is that we automate the clicking of the "Fix" button for you. However, if you're not used to it you can easily confuse it with a negative SEO attack as Dan did.
Very high-risk links with "Unavailable Status" are a Negative SEO pattern we know and warn from. Having over 3000 of such links is a clear call to action. Luckily it will only take one click to do a first machete style disavow.
More Links with very high risk call for review. Often there are some obvious toxic links among them, but sometimes you may find links to keep. Do not expect this to be a one-click action. The fact that we have over 11.500 seems scary, but we have a lot of extra feature to support the review, namely fast sort and filter operations (more on that later).
And a lot of Money keywords on weak domains! What's a money keyword? Well "SEO" is, "Link Building" is - any generic phrase. When we look at the anchor text breakdown next we spot a lot of them - and some of them seem very scary.
Links from Private Blog Networks (PBNs) - oh wow... didn't Dan say they didn't build links? Where are these coming from? Certainly requires more time to review, but this sounds like it could be part of a negative SEO attack - some competitor of Dejan Marketing building bad links to them.
Good links disavowed? It happens to everyone, including myself. The LRT system gives you a clear signal about it.
Be aware - and you'll see it in the video - there are a lot more issues, but this is good for a taster.
Looking at the next screenshot we see how we sort the anchor text (the linking word) by estimated risk (DTOXRISK).
- 47795.dejanseo.com.au is part of the Globe Spam footprint and shall be disavowed, ASAP. We've seen penalties been caused and revoked from just such scraper spam. And while Google is getting better at ignoring obvious footprints also, what guarantee do we have that they will do? And KEEP doing it?
- SEO - most competitive keyword for Dejan's industry. Why so many risky links? Worth looking deeper.
- "." - a simple dot as linking keyword. That is an old "trick" to remove the anchor text from strong links to avoid anchor text penalties. Large brands and many SEOS used them for years to de-optimize their link filters. And I mean since 2005ish or so - when the anchor text penalties were simply called "+30 penalty" or something like that.
- Scholarship links! We will investigate those by just typing in "Scholarship" in the anchor text box.
- HD Wallpaper links - we see them everywhere. Scraper spam with deep links to your images. Disavow - just to be safe than sorry.
While we're in the keyword breakdown I'm curious to see how the internal linking structure is optimized, as we can still assume that "everything goes" for internal links.
And wow, I like it - very simple, straight forward internal linking with the main money keywords.
I've talked about internal linking in the past and will continue to do so, as we've finally connected the dots from external to internal links, and loops and redirects in and out of the site, and back.
So that topic is exciting for me, but not for this penalty. At least I assume so for now.
By typing in "Scholarship" in the anchor text box we get to see only those links with Scholarship in the anchor.
And immediately, judging from the grey color for one anchor text and the deep red for others we see that we've missed to disavow some scholarship links.
Dan Petrovic told me that they simply didn't find all those links in other tools.
And that's true. In fact, a lot of those links were not disavowed at all. Other only with page-level disavows. That's not what I call "Machete style".
HTTP 410 gone - for the offending target scholarship page
While taking a screenshot showing that some pages had two links to DejanSEO.com.au I noticed that their team has removed the landing page and return a "410 gone" error that instructs Google to ignore the page.
But the spamming intention!
I don't believe this will help in lifting the penalty.
Just like with NOFOLLOW links, it's the spamming intention that is penalized.
Google has said a couple times that you don't need to worry about NO FOLLOW links, but they also said the opposite.
And in this No Follow Risk study we found out in 2014 that a lot of spam examples given by Google were actually NoFollow links, and that disavowing them helps.
That's why we support both opinions in the software LinkResearchTools (LRT) since 2014. The user decides if he wants to evaluate the risk of NoFollows or ignore them completely.
My personal advice - make sure you audit and disavow NoFollows as well.
My first 25 minutes of Link Audit in Link Detox Smart are shown in the video below.
Enjoy & Learn - we'll continue below.
But first finally a
The software shown, Link Detox Smart, is the most recent innovation that we worked on for over two years.
All our experience about links, SEO and penalties from over a decade with LinkResearchTools (LRT) are in there.
BUT - a 25-minute link audit just doesn't cut it. By no means should you assume that this is the typical process of a link audit.
To use the software for yourself you need to properly
- Prepare the data before the full link recrawl
- Iterate on post-crawling learnings and trainings
- Finalize the data after the crawl and calculations
- And finally spend sufficient time in the actual link audit which includes reviewing and maybe undoing past disavows done by you or someone for you.
So, to be clear, I need more time with the data myself, and will update this or another post for sure.
See also this thread.
Disavow Machete Style
The video gives you an idea of how fast you can spot those links that you can safely disavow in bulk. Matt Cutts coined this the "Machete Disavow style" saying
Many SEOs don't know this, but you can always Undisavow your links. After successful recrawl (we recommend using Link Detox Boost (BOOST) for that) of those undisavowed links, they work in really fast (that changed with Real Time Penguin in September 2016)
The second part of my link audit shows some very dangerous links found that need to be disavowed.
In this video I show exactly how I got there, in case you wanted to more details.
There were some links disavowed in the past, but DejanSEO's team didn't use LRT for that.
So, we spotted pretty strong ones (as measured by LRT Power*Trust) that were not disavowed yet.
These links could certainly cause the penalty, as very experienced Rick Lomas, LRT Certified Professional and LRT and Link Detox user since 2013 confirmed.
There were more spooky looking links as "leftovers" from SEO tests... 50 questionable links not disavowed yet, so we recommend just get rid of it.
Better safe than sorry with the Matt Cutts Machete link audit style.
Not done yet.
While the twitter convo has been going on, I came across quite a lot of interesting questions that I just want to link from here for you to read up on, maybe expand on the topic later.
And we're also not done yet with the link audit, as explained in the disclaimer.
Downloading the disavow file now would probably get you disavow some pretty cool links that were false positive.
We haven't spent a single minute on
- Looking for accidental disavows
- Training the machine learning Link Detox Genesis
- Reprocessing all the learnings and data
And as you probably saw in the video, there's
- almost 4000 super toxic links left to review and potentially disavow.
- a lot of link issues not discussed yet
- no deep dive happened yet, but we already suggest growing the disavow file from ~800 domains to 4.500 domains
- 2019-08-28: Added statements about guilt and the accusation that Dejan tries to evade a penalty by redirecting
- 2019-08-28: Dejan confirmed that he submitted the first disavow
- 2019-08-28: Added interesting discussion about the announcement if Manual Actions were further automated by Google or not
- 2019-08-29: Dejan SEO deleted all pages from the penalized domain dejanseo.com.au - except for the homepage
- 2019-08-30: Right after removing and 410ing of all pages these URLs show up in the SERPs - so it seems the "Penalty broke" as Dan called it
But Dejan SEO
- removed all content (i.e. not a "canonical anymore")
- returned a 410 on all pages
- BUT - where all those 410 crawled?
Lacking the navigation of the site you now depending on Google recrawling all the links, and acting upon it. Not sure if they submit an (old) sitemap?
However, running the full url map through Link Detox Boost would get them crawled and Google act on those 410 faster.
The other thing that happened
- new brand is "Dejan Marketing", and webmasters changed links for that brand name
- old brand name "Dejan SEO" is not linked to the new domain, only in the body copy - so result #9 here
It kind of makes sense for Google to show both sites now, now?
Do not delete your site to get rid of a penalty
It was to be said that on August 30 as detailed above the situation became a very untypical SEO experiment that we (so far) do not recommend to repeat.
We simply don't know how this may end up, but the current situation of Google surfacing multiple pages with 410 is very undesirable for anyone - the user searching, the publisher and of course Google.
Probably the click-thru and and bounce-backs to the SERP for these URLs will be dramatic. That could then cause other mechanisms inside Google to remove these results quick.
Google penalty revoked after a week
On August 31, 2019, the manual penalty was already lifted! This is very pleasing! Further details will follow, especially how to proceed with the old domain and the brand searches.
Want to start yourself?
Link Detox Smart is still not available to everyone. We slowly migrate everyone over to the new platform.
With the new Link Detox Smart plan you can start immediately by yourself.
Please note that depending on your domain you may need additional Link Crawl Budget.
If in doubt, just ask us.