4 Surefire Linkbuilding Strategies for Ranking After Penguin

Quick article today. SEO is not dead, nor is link building. But you’ve got to be very careful with it. Of course, I advocate trying your best to build a website that can attract natural links. And if it’s such a niche where this is very hard to do, network with other people in the niche and build relationships which can translate into natural links over time. But that doesn’t mean you have to completely throw away manual link building; but if you choose to “linkbuild” you need to be careful about how you do it. Since I know that 99% of you won’t just sit back and wait for links to come to you, it’s important to link build the RIGHT way.

These strategies are strategies many of us have been talking about for years; the difference now is that NOT doing them can get your site penalized far easier now than in the past.

 

 

Strategy 1: Vary the hell out of your anchor text links to your sites

This should be quite obvious to you by now, but if you are slamming links with the same anchor text over and over to your site, you are going to end up on the wrong site of the penguin updates. SEO’s often are faced with choosing a keyword they want to rank for or a keyword they don’t want to rank for when selecting the anchor text for a link. It goes without saying that most choose the later. You should really now be ensuring MOST of your anchor text is for keywords you are not directly trying to rank for.

I’ve given a basic breakdown. This is not necessary scientific or anything, but rather a safer rule of thumb to follow when building anchor text. The basic idea is to keep your exact keyword anchors (especially the main keywords you want to rank) well under 50% of the anchor links you get. I’d say between 10-20 percent of the links should have your exact anchor text. The other 20-50 percent of the time, you vary the exact keyword with other words included, as part of a sentance, or just use semantically related keywords instead part of the time). The other 30% – 40% of the links should straight out just be your domain name exactly with or without http:// (vary it) or without the domain extension and some spaces between each word. The rest of the time, use CLICK HERE, HERE, WEBSITE or some bunk word you absolutely don’t want to rank for.

The whole goal here is to simulate natural link anchor text patters. MOST real natural links won’t have your exact anchor text. This is where having an exact keyword domain comes in really handy for natural link building — many of the links (which are usually your domain name or some variation of the keyword in the domain) will contain the exact anchors you want to rank for. More general sites that don’t have the keyword in the domain will find it much harder to rank for that term.

 

THE 60%


(40%)

yourdomainname.com

yourdomainname

your domain name

http://yourdomainname.com

 

(30%)

CLICK HERE

HERE

website

 

THE 40%


(50%)

(Title of Website)

(related keywords to the main keyword, i.e. “pet clothing” instead of “dog clothing” or “short term loans” instead of “payday loans”)

(50%)

(main keyword you want to rank for)

(main keyword + extra stuff/sentence)

(h2 title of a page on your site)

 

Strategy 2: Create Related MiniSites to Support Main Site

The idea here is not to set up a bunch of general (and shitty) mini sites and hastily link them to the main site. That’s asking for trouble. Minisites are highly focused sites that often can rank faster for a specific topic/keyword because they are so focused. Yes, they’ve been slammed the past few updates, but with proper links and good content (both in quality and number of content), mini sites can still rank well. The key now is to develop quality mini sites solely to SUPPORT your main site/es.

The basics of a mini-site network:

  • Mini Sites are semantically related to whatever they are linking to — Having a “payday loan mini site” link to a “dog training” site will not be a topically related site and may trigger flags now. A general “pet mini site” or a cat website or a website about animals linking to a dog training site IS a topically relevant link and wont’ trigger flags. I’m not saying every link from unrelated sites will hurt, but too many of them will. It’s best to try and keep everything related now.
  • Links (preferably quality ones!) to every mini site – if you set up a mini site network with a bunch of new domains that have no links at all to them, don’t expect to shoot up through the rankings. True, the links will count and make some difference (especially if the whole network is a year or two + in age), but not anything like if the mini sites have links to them. The better quality links your mini sites have, the better your main site will rank.
  • Min Sites don’t link to each other — you may be able to get away with some linkage, but for the most part, try and keep all the mini sites distanced from each other.
  • You don’t have mini sites (and the money site/s) on Google Webmaster Tools, SAME google adsense ID, or google analytics — This is a dead sure way to let google know these sites are all a network.
  • Different C-Class IP’s, unique RDNS, and unique name servers. Basically, proper SEO hosting — there’s a lot of debate about SEO hosting, but I’d say bite the bullet and get it if you plan to set up a network of mini sites to support your money sites. You should make sure your mini sites are all on seperate C class IP’s, RDNS’s and name servers. This is most easily achieved with SEO hosting, though you could just get a ton of cheap hosting services and spread things around in a pinch.
  • Privacy WHOIS Enabled on Every MiniSite

 

Strategy 3: GET LINKS SLOWLY

Don’t build links to fast. There is nothing more suspicious than a website suddenly getting dozens or hundreds of links over a short period of time and you could trigger a penalty. As a rule of thumb, one or two new links every few days. This depends largely on the number of links you already have. If your site has thousands of links, then a handful of links every day won’t hurt. If you have 20 thousand links, then you could probably get dozens of links every day. If you have no links or a couple hundred or less, only a couple links every few days!

 

Strategy 4: Get Different Types of Links (but mostly links from pages/posts)

You don’t always want links from the same source, unless those sources are self-hosted blogs. If your links are ONLY from comments, directories, web 2.0′s, RSS, or other low quality link fodder, you absolutely want to make sure you are getting OTHER kinds of links, mainly links from real sites. I’ll take a properly anchored link from a self hosted blog / static website any day over a comment link, profile link, RSS links, web directory link. Web 2.0 links (ezine articles, goarticles, and such) are better than the lowest tier links (comment/profile), but not by that much these days (the exception being if the web 2.0 actually has some PR + backlinks to it).

Thoughts on Beating the Penguin Update

cape promthep, phuket, thailand

And The Game has Changed (Again). Panda then Penguin. Seems like SEO’s/Internet Marketers can’t get no love.

I won’t rehash all that’s been said about the April 24 Penguin update — there’s PLENTY of hubbub online about it. Chances are, if you’ve SEO’ed your site in any significant way the past 10 years, you’re sites will have been smoked. Some less than others, some more than others. Plenty of innocent casualties thrown into the mix as well.

If you’re hoping that Google is going to reverse the update or change anything they’ve done, keep dreaming. They won’t. The update is here to stay, the game has changed again. Hoards of people are bitching about the update, saying the search engine is even worse than it was before the update, that Google is now a giant turd. I hate to break it to you folks, but outside the SEO/IM world, no one gives a damn about this update. Your mom, boss, and ex are still using Google search just like they did before and likely don’t notice a single change. They are not going to sign some dumb petition to get Google to revoke some 50 million dollar update on the bases of a few thousand signatures from webmasters who gamed the system with spam. Sorry, ain’t going to happen. Penguin is not going to fly away anytime soon.

The trick now is to game the search engines without actually looking like you are gaming them. Kind of funny really, one could almost call that marketing instead of SEO.

There are all sorts of theories about where to go and what to do post Penguin. Here’s my take on how the new Penguin algorithm works, based on what I’ve seen happen to some of my own sites. I had sites completely untouched and sites that were partially hit, and other sites that were completely smoked from the SERPs.

In general, it’s the sites that had NO SEO done, very light SEO, or careful “natural” link building type SEO that remained untouched by the update. Sites that I went too heavy with on the link networks / spam links, or aggressive link building usually suffered. Not all, but most such sites.

Frankly, I think the Penguin update did a very good job at weeding out many of the shitty, over-SEO’ed sites that shouldn’t have been ranking in the first place (or ranking because some SEO is paying Indians to slam non-stop spam links at the site for a year). However, the winning sites that replaced the victims of this update more often than not seem to be old articles from authority brand type sites or abandoned niche sites that have not had any SEO done on them in 10 years because the author practically gave up on the site.

The truth is that SEO’s/Marketers often put a lot of effort into a site’s content while doing serious SEO to compete.  Which means that more often than not, the sites ranked because of “dirty SEO” were actually pretty decent and certainly better than the abandoned crap that’s replaced them. SEO has kind of been like the website version of steroids: you have to do it because every one of your competitors do it.

Anyways, here are my thoughts on how the update works. I can’t be sure of course!

 

General

From what I’ve seen with my own sites, the update looked at both external factors and on-page factors. For the external factors, I believe google took a look at the overall quantity of anchor text used for a site’s total links (i.e. the same anchor text over and over) and also deeply evaluated the QUALITY of the link (i.e. where the link came from — good neighborhoods or bad, related sites or unrelated). I suspect google probably profiled other sites in the niche and some sort of bell curve for the expected link profiles for each NICHE. Your site’s one-page and off-page profile went into some sort of quality score which was evaluated against the niche’s bell curve and if you fell outside of a certain range, you get smoked.

Ono how the Penguin treats “bad” links to your site: Google may have simply devalued the (bad/suspicious) links pointing to your site or actually imposed a penalty. It’s either one or the other rather (though it could be some complicated combination of the two). My guess is that it’s probably some combination — bad links are devalued but if a site is way out of the normal range of what a proper link profile should be, a penalty is imposed in addition to the devaluatino (this would explain why some sites didn’t just lose SOME ranking as would happen if links were devalued, but actually were completely tossed out of the SERP’s).

Option 1: Link Devaluation

If it’s devaluation, then you may be able to scoop an increase in ranking by simply figuring out this new algo scheme and getting future links that don’t set any flags off.

Option 2: Link Penalty

If a penalty has been imposed by penguin rather than a link devaluation, you may be looking at a long road to recovery. Mixing in new link signals and modifying any offending on-page content triggers may reduce the penalty and over time a site may recover.  There certainly is probably a time factor involved before any site hit with a penalty can make any sort of recovery (3 months? 6 months? a year?). A penalty scheme gives rise to Negative SEO (more on this later) however, because one can easy simulate “bad/artificial” linkbuilding with run-of-the-mill link automation tools on the competition.

Option 3 (most likely) : Link Penalty and Devaluation

I think this is the most likely scenario and would explain why the whole Negative SEO scare is making big waves. Bad link get devalued but have too many bad links and you get a penalty.

I’ve had sites that have been completely dropped from the SERP’s to the point where they don’t even rank for the exact keyword (and I own the exact keyword .com — i.e. the BRAND of the keyword). If there were no penalty imposed, these sites would lose long tail traffic, but should still rank somewhat high for the domain name itself (but they don’t).


EXTERNAL FACTORS TRIGGERING PENGUIN

Anchor Text Should Have Disproportional Numbers of the Same Anchor Text

I’ve talked about this in the past, but I think it holds true, probably even more so NOW with the new penguin scheme in place. When you build links, you need to imitate the natural link process. And natural links don’t consist of your money keyword as 40%-100% of your backlink anchor text links. Seriously, think about this. If most of your links contain the exact same or semantically close keywords, it’s likely the links are artificial.

I would recommend trying to keep your “money” keywords between 10%-30%. I know most people ignored this in the past because, frankly, it simply worked having your money keywords as the anchor  text in most of the links you acquired.

I suspect you can get away with a higher number of exact keyword anchors in your anchor text IF you have the exact match domain for that keyword. This would make sense since the “name” of your site would more often be referenced exactly natural links to your site.

Too Many Links to Either Just Pages or Domain

Most “viral” links go to a specific page, NOT the domain usually. I’d recommend having most links as deep links (direct links to pages) rather than the homepage.

Links NOT from Relevant/Related Sites

Quite a few people made a habit of spamming links. Most such links ended up on blogs that are not in the same niche / completely unrelated. I would speculate that a certainly number of links from unrelated sites (sites not in your niche) don’t hurt at all (probably helps), but too much may impose a penalty. Unless your site/page goes viral, most natural links you get won’t be from unrelated sites to yours — they will be somewhat related in semantic content.

This also means that links from so called “bad neighborhoods” can actually hurt websites. Read into this, but it’s from this that the whole “Negative SEO” talk has exploded on the web. I’ve seen enough experiments done online to KNOW that negative SEO works. It worked before the penguin update, but I suspect it’s even more devastating now. Sites that are most vulnerable are new sites / medium sites that don’t have a strong link profile to balance any “bad links” out.

#3 makes gaming the SERPS much harder now. If you need to keep links from related sites (especially sites in your niche), that means you are going to have to work your ass off to get those links by:

  • Marketing (Linkbait, Social Media, Creating Compelling Content then promoting it, etc)
  • Networking
  • Paying for Links

Spammy Backlink Profile of Sites Linking To You

This has always been important, but I think google really looked deep into the profile of every link pointing to your site. That means links from strong authority sites (especially sites in your niche) count even more than they did before. Links from shoddy sites (especially sites not related to your site) may not do anything for you, very little, or in quantity actually hurt your site.

ON-PAGE SEO Factors TRIGGERING PENGUIN

 

Keyword Density Too High in Content

I’ve had sites that had pretty much 0 links to them (ones that were ranking) but with high keyword density for the money term in the content/page titles smoked bad by this update. I can certainly say that ON PAGE factors were taken into account during this update — it’s not just external factors like backlinks that were looked at.

It’s probably a VERY good idea to keep keyword density for your money terms (and LSI terms) low  (2% – 4%). I’m in the process of modifying a few sites that were hit ONLY because of onpage factors. My strategy here is:

  • radically reduce keyword density of money terms in content
  • remove money keyword from majority of blog titles/headers
  • add additional content to site that does NOT necessary relate to the money keyword directly

I suspect there are probably two cases where you can “get away” with higher keyword density terms on a site:

  • You’re site is aged and have a strong backlink profile of powerful links
  • Your site is an exact domain for a keyword. There *may* be some more flexibility for on-page use of the keyword if you have the exact keyword domain.

 

Titles / Headers Overuse Specific (Money) Keywords

Basically same as last point.

 

Overuse of Internal Links Using Same Keyword Anchortext

This is just a wild guess on my part, so take it as it is. But perhaps trying to use your many inner pages on a site to push a specific page higher in the SERPs for a keyword by using the same anchor text (I call this inner keyword sculpting) may trigger some sort of negative quality/seo score. Of course, it’s natural to link to relevant content internally on a site, but when say 20 blog posts (incidentally, the entire content on a site) link to a single page with the same anchor text, that’s a bit suspicious.

A Few Things That WILL NOT Save You From Penguin

*Domain Age Only — I’ve had aged domains that are over 12 years old with good links STILL smoked by this update, going from thousands of people a day to hundreds. If anyone says the key to beating the Penguin update is to have aged sites, this is not true from what I’ve seen. Domain Age (the age of when your site was first indexed, not the age of the registration date) may allow your site to “get away with” more than a new site, but it’s not going to save you or it won’t have saved on it’s own.

*Quality Links Only — I’m absolutely sure that aged links from quality sites were an important factor for ensuring sites fell on the right side of whatever quality score Google gives sites and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that the more quality links your site had, the safer it is/was from the Penguin update. But it’s no sure guarantee. I have two sites to use as an example here. Both are large sites (one much larger than the other, however with thousands and thousands  of indexed pages while the other site has only hundreds). Both sites are at least 6 years old. Both had aged, quality links. The smaller site was hit while the larger site was untouched (I can argue I gained traffic actually since my competition was wiped out while my site was not).

There is no argument that both the above factors influenced whether your site was affected by Penguin, but just because you had an aged site or you had mostly/all quality links doesn’t mean your site was guaranteed a free pass from Penguin. I suspect if your link profile was good but your onpage factors failed, you still would get hit. I’m sure if you’ve got an aged site with awesome links, you’re site has a higher “threshold” before it falls south of whatever quality score dips into negative territory.

*Perfect On-Page SEO – too much on-page overoptimization seems to trigger a penelty (i’ve had multiple sites with no links but really optimized on-page seo get hit). But if you’re on-page SEO was neither too aggressive or nor too little to help ranking, you still may have been caught by Penguin if your backlink profile triggered flags.

*Quality, Lengthy Content — Google can’t tell quality from shit. You could have amazing content, but Google Search being algorithmically driven, there is no real way to ascertain “quality” from “crap” on all but the most crude of terms (keyword density too high, duplicate content present). I’ve had plenty of quality content-rich sites with 4000 word posts hammered out of the SERPs.

So What to Do and Where to Go?

So where does linkbuilding stand as of May 2012? First: people will continue to build links and game the system — that won’t change. However, it’s just going to be a lot harder and you’ll have to be more sneaky about it. For now, the days of automated linkbuilding are probably at an end. I’m sure someone will find some loophole in the current algorithm and the spammers will engineer a means of getting, quick and effective links.

But if you are the average Joe, such complex tactics will be beyond you. And furthermore, one cannot build a sustainable business on the shifting sands that are SEO. I think the only way to really keep afloat of all these updates is to create a quality site that actually rises to the top naturally. As to how “naturally” depends on how well you are able to market the site.

I see a few linkbuilding strategies:

1. Paying for Links — somewhat risky, but it’s a good way to get some solid links FAST. You’ll need to have a budget though to afford buying quality links and you’ll need to target sites in the same niche or at the very least, related sites. Still a shifty way to make a business though and you are risking it.

2. Linkbait — if you can figure out a way to linkbait, you can get natural links. The challenge is coming up with a good way to generate attention; if you can generate a stir somehow, links will follow.

There are a few ways to link-bait (these are just some examples):

*Write Something VERY controversial or offensive (this generate buzz/press). I’ll give one example. Check out Swedenson.com This is a MFA site if I’ve every seen one, but take a look at how many comments this mini site has generated? How and why? Because the guy has made the entire site about trashing Swedish people. You just have to be careful with this strategy though — if you are building a site that needs to have a white washed reputation, you don’t want to come off as a racist, angry, sexist person. In some niches though, this strategy is gold.

*Offer a useful service. That service could be a forum for a community (especially if that niche does NOT YET have a community-based site yet), some sort of service that people find useful (directory, online application), etc.

*Create contests/Offer Prize Giveaways. A tried and true strategy that can be leveraged into links if you do it right and network with others sites.

*Do/Create something newsworthy. The ultimate linkbait is if you can do something or create something that’s picked up by the mainstream media (CNN, BBC, etc). Perhaps come up with a unique website idea (beautifulpeople.com is one, whatsyourprice.com, etc) that’s controversial or interesting enough that the media will write about it.

Not that just because you offer something linkbait worthy, doesn’t mean it’s going to get picked up. This is where some legwork is required — you may have to hustle online and try and promote your site/service/content to the right audience so it can gain some traction.

*Be THE Expert in a Niche. This works best if it’s a new niche/field and there is not a resident authority site (unlikely these days) present. If you’re the “first” site in a niche, you are often THE authority.

I’ve seen a few examples where a guy with crazy knowledge about a subject joins the major community forums in a niche, debunks bullshit by other so called “experts”, offers tons of free, good advice, then sets up his own site and getting an instant following. Old Grizz did this in the MMO world years back and

If you actually have way more knowledge than everyone else about a subject, you can often make a name for yourself right away online and create a business. I’ve seen this happen in the fight / combat / MMA  niche with the guy who created the website www.8weeksout.com. That guy basically joined sherdog.net forums, started giving away amazing MMA fight conditioning information for free (he’s a trainer for some of the top UFC/Pride fighters), got tons of attention on the forums and became the resident expert after a few months of this, then set up his own site and started selling his own program. Insta business without all the waiting bullshit. Of course, the guy has crazy real world credentials and is a great writer to boot.

3. Networking in your niche — this is the traditional, slow way of building a name for your site. Join a community in your niche and start posting legit comments on related sites/forums. You’ll actually have to participate in real discussions though and likely actually know what you are talking about. Networking rewards hard work though and if you actually have something interesting to say, you can build a name for yourself. Once you do, it’s easy enough to get links from sites in your niche because they KNOW YOU. Take a look at many of the competative niches (say SEO) and you’ll see all the top sites have branded themselves by networking over the years by being active in the community. This can take months or years though, but it’s probably the surest way to generate real links.

4. Private Link Network — this is still a surefire way to rank, and it’s always been this case. Most people simply don’t want to put in the work or spend the money to set up a quality Link Network. And by link network, I don’t mean some low end network like Build My Rank and such. We are talking about your OWN network that only YOU use, usually consisting of blogs/sites topically related. I suspect topically relevancy is even more important now after the Penguin update. That means you want links coming from related sites in the niche or at the very least, pages containing related content. You can control this if you set up your own network of minsites that support your money site. To make this effective, you absolutely need to have SEO HOSTING, privacy enabled on your sites, all mini sites without the same adsense ID (preferably NO adense), not on analytics or webmaster tools. It goes without saying that you want each site in your network to have links to them. You’ve got to treat each site in your network as a legit site — that means no spun content or any shady shit. Put on 10 or so pages of quality content and fill out each site. They should offer value to the public on their own and there should be no “hint” that these sites only exist to send link power to your main site/s.

I suggest you check out my How to Create a Link Network and my Setting up a Blog Farm (this article is a bit dated, I would say that using self hosted sites instead of web 2.0′s is by far the better way to go when it comes to creating a link network).

 

CONCLUSION

I think the way link building is done is going to have to change. The fact is that most of us opted for the sloppy style of link building — utilizing easy link networks, tiered link pyramids propped up at the bottom by pure spam links, and messy 3 way link exchanges. I think those days are probably over. The fact is that “SEO” has reached the point where it’s simply the risk-reward ratio of greyhat/blackhat is just not really worth the effort anymore.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the name of the game is to market your site in such a way that people find it valuable and are willing to link to it, either at a prompting from you or completely on their own. If you’re site is purely informational based (the standard micro site), you are probably not going to have much luck getting any sort of natural links. You are going to have to think outside the box a bit on how to make your site a linkbait factory. Provide some type of extra service (outside of pure text-based information) that people find very useful (a service, software program, etc) that will have people naturally linking to your site always works well. There is a path to getting links by having amazing, compelling writing, but often this ONLY works for niches that are more “bloggy” in nature (entertainment niches, travel, fashion, etc). If your niche is PURELY commercial, you’ll have to come up with other angles to get those links.

Basically, the line between SEO and “Marketing” is not so distinct anymore. I think to get a site ranked high and to STAY ranked (the keyword here is STAY — what’s the point of getting a site ranked quickly then losing it 6 months down the road in a future Google Update?), you are going to have to actually market your site as opposed to building links. A big difference between the two.

ON the positive side, Google has pretty much reset the search results with this update (ignoring the fact that the huge brands are dominating EVEN more). So most of your direct competition — i.e. other marketers — have suffered the same penalties you have. So cheer up, the bottom 3 spots on the first page not dominated by brands are certainly up for grabs.

On a more serious note, I would highly recommend you look at alternative means of making money OTHER than just internet marketing. Find a way to build traffic / generate income online not directly related on Google. Because if you rely on google ONLY for your income, you are vulnerable. I don’t care if your site is as white hat as they come, you can still end up as collateral damage during an update. Work on a real-world side business that doesn’t necessary need Google, build an online list so you have customers outside of organic search, create a brand/service so people KNOW your site without finding it in the search.

It’s a changing world out there guys and online is the fastest of them all. As for me, I’m still kicking after this. I lost quite a few sites, but I’ve had enough big quality sites that were untouched by the taint of SEO (natural links from the quality content + services the sites offered to the public) that they passed whatever quality score Google has been handing out with the past updates. These sties are still earning money. And believe it or not, some of those old micro sites that have been much lampooned have survived this update (probably because I haven’t done any SEO to them) and still make money. My focus the past few years have been a few big projects that offer services to the public, both online and offline (i.e. stores). This update only has me working even harder to diversify off Google — I HIGHLY suggest you pursue opportunities outside of organic traffic. It’s a pain in the ass at first, but it’s well worth the effort. Build a business that can survive with or without Google!

Good luck.

Ben K

How to Resurrect a Deindexed Site – Part 2

Ko Phi Phi at night

Ok, it’s been a few weeks since my last post. I was waiting until the experiment was concluded.  This a follow up to my post about restoring a deindexed site.

As stated in my last post, I committed the following changes to my deindexed website before doing a reinclusion request in the Google Webmaster Tools:

  • changed the wordpress theme to a custom theme that looks good
  • removed all monetization — adsense + affiliate links taken off
  • modified the content to change anything remotely salesy to non salesy
  • added 3 new posts (site has a total of about 25 posts). Made sure to include videos and pictures on the most recent post
  • filled out the nav bar with more stuff (contact with picture + address, about page, a  forum link)

This took me a couple hours to of playing around with the theme and site to do. I then submitted a re-inclusion request with a long paragraph about how I’ve revamped the site and the current aim is to help people with that health problem and to deliver legit and quality content.

Submitted the request Jan 14th

Statcounter log showed Jan 16th a Google IP from India (i’ve noticed this is where the quality inspectors come from). They stayed on the index page for 0 seconds.

Jan 19th, I received this in my Google Webmasters Mailbox:

Reconsideration request for [WEBSITE REMOVED]: Site violates Google’s quality guidelines

Dear site owner or webmaster of [WEBSITE REMOVED]

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider [WEBSITE REMOVED] for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We’ve reviewed your site and we believe that some or all of your pages still violate our quality guidelines.

In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, pages from [WEBSITE REMOVED] may not appear or may not rank as highly in Google’s search results, or may otherwise be considered to be less trustworthy than sites which follow the quality guidelines.

If you wish to be reconsidered again, please correct or remove all pages that are outside our quality guidelines. When such changes have been made, please visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration?hl=en and resubmit your site for reconsideration.

If you have additional questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

Ok, back to the drawing board for this one. I completely changed the theme, I removed all monetization, I updated the site with 3 new posts each around 1500 words. I included videos and pictures in the latest post. STILL not enough as whoever inspected the site from india still felt the site violated quality guidelines. A few reasons occurred to me:

-the site was in a health niche. Google stated in the past that health type sites need to be pretty trustworthy. Misinformation can have consequences

-the domain name itself was a spammy. It was a 6 keyword domain. It’s easy to argue that “healthcheck.org” is a legit site. But “howtogetridofcornsfast.net” or “howtogetridoftoepain.org” types of domains might be viewed a bit more critically, especially since they are ultra targeted. I’ve stated in the past that search seems to be favoring big general authority sites or big niche specific authority sites. Too specific might land you in trouble if the content and site layout is not appealing, especially if you start ranking for the root keyword and getting lots of traffic.

So I’m a firm believer in trying something until you can get it working. I went back to the site and modified it even more:

  • added a custom logo to the site (before it was just a generic text logo) designed with logo software. Logo name was NOT the exact domain name, but more of a brand name (community related to the health problem)
  • Changed the site title to something community orientated (not the same as the website domain, which is an EMD for the original term I was targeting).
  • added another 3 posts with the last post being 2000 words and full of pictures and videos and LINKs to legit health sites.
  • pumped up the sidebar with social media buttons, links to authority sites, some generic tips
  • went through the entire site and removed about 10 low quality articles that were first put on the site 2 years ago. These were basically ezinearticle rewrites and the content was pretty similar in theme. Many of these had similar titles — they were basically created to target the long tails from google keyword tool.

All in all, I spent another 4 hours working on the site and designing that custom logo. Total time spent fixing the site up about 8 or so hours. I resubmitted another re-inclusion request January 20th.

I’m a firm believer in showing some proof and giving examples. So here is the before and after shots with site info/information edited out (for obvious reasons guys):

this layout/site was deindexed

this layout/site was deindexed

This is the final layout after changes made

This is the final layout after changes made

As you can see, the improved layout is dramatically better in terms of the look. Really, the look of your site makes a big difference to google. Back in the 90′s and early 2000′s, you could get away with a craigslist looking site. Ugly was ok (tripod/geopages for those who remember) and in fact normal. But in the era of wordpress blogs and web 2.0, sites have to look good.

Well February 8th, traffic states suddenly spiked. It had been over 2 and a half weeks since my second re-inclusion request had been submitted and I had not seen any increase in traffic or reviewed any message from the Google team so I assumed I had been rejected again (from past experience, there can be a week or two delay between when they reject/accept your re-inclusion request and when they send you the official letter).

Well I logged into webmaster tools and found this waiting for me in the inbox:

Reconsideration request for [WEBSITE REMOVED]: Manual spam action revoked

February 7, 2012

Dear site owner or webmaster of [WEBSITE REMOVED]:,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider [WEBSITE REMOVED]: for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Previously the webspam team had taken manual action on your site because we believed it violated our quality guidelines. After reviewing your reconsideration request, we have revoked this manual action. It may take some time before our indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the new status of your site.

Of course, there may be other issues with your site that could affect its ranking without a manual action by the webspam team. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see this article for help with diagnosing the issue.

Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of our search results.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

A look into the visitor history on statcounter revealed this:

visitorstates

Interesting to note:

  • reviewer spent 12 minutes on the site
  • left from a different page (meaning they were browsing around the site quite a while looking at things)
  • two and a half weeks after the request was submitted (which was right after the first request was denied).
  • it took about two days after the spam action was revoked for Google to start sending traffic again. The third day, traffic jumped by about 20x.

Let’s take a look at the traffic stats:

stats_after_change1

google-traffic

Now, at the peak of this site’s ranking, I was getting over 2000 visitors a day (sorry, I don’t have the stats for that anymore. I was using analytics. I deleted the site from my analytics account  — I barely use analytics anyways as I don’t trust google — when I made the re-inclusion request).  Now even with the spam action revoke, I’m only getting a bit over 200 people a day now, 1/10th of what I was getting a year ago.  I expect it will take a couple weeks, even a month for the rankings to stabilize. I fully expect that traffic will continue to increase every week. I’m still not ranking for the main two keywords I was before the deindex and it remains to be seens if ALL my rankings will recover. It’s been about a year since the site was deindexed, remember this. Frankly, if ALL my rankings are recovered in time, then that’s a very good sign of hope for some people!

My plans are now to build up the site a bit with more content, send a few new backlinks to it, and sit on it for a few months. If the traffic returns to 1500-2000 people a day (and it certainly could!), I’m going to sell the site and maybe make a quick 8-12k on it. All and all, not bad for a site that was completely traffic dead for a whole year as of about a month ago!

A few points to take from this experiment

- You can recover deindexed sites, even if your site was a load of shit

- You must make prettify your site dramatically to recover your site

  • custom logo
  • remove old content that might be “thin”
  • remove content that’s similar to other content on your site
  • don’t have content that’s thinly targetting google keyword tool long tail results
  • ensure your site has plenty of content (i’d say at least 10 pages of content, preferably 20ish+)

- Make sure to write a long paragraph in the reinclusion form stating your intent to make a community-based site that’s all about quality

- If your site is about a specif topic (especially in the health niche or about something salesy), make sure to change to site to be something community orientated. Convert the site into a forum only site (you can swap it back after you get back in the index), add a bunch of community features, etc.

- Sites that have spammy domains or real longtail domains may struggle to get reindexed. You’ll have to work extra hard with a site like this. I suggest making sure the logo is a custom one and NOT the domain name. Also change the title to something general.

- If you get rejected, KEEP SUBMITTING NEW RE-INCLUSION REQUESTS OVER AND OVER (could be one quality reviewer might accept what another rejects)

- The Google Search Quality Team that reviews your website will be from India

I made substantial changes to the site the first time around and in my mind, the changes were good enough to get the site reindexed. Apparently not. Now it could have just been the mood of whoever reviewed the site (the first review spent less than 30 seconds on the index page before rejecting my request, the second reviewer spent 12 minutes shuffling through my site). So tinkering with the look of the site and making a couple surface changes might not be enough to fix your site. You can try, but you may have to significantly beef up the content, remove content that’s thin, etc.

I hope this case study /experiment has been helpful to you folks and I’m glad the experiment proved successful. So if you have a money making site that gets the boot, it’s totally possible to restore the site to Google’s good graces. You just might need to revamp the site dramatically and submit multiple re-inclusion requests. There is that saying that’s true: The Squeaky Wheel Get’s the Oil.
Cheers from Thailand

Ben

How to Resurrect a Deindexed Site

Phuket, Thailnd

5 Minutes from my house in Phuket, Thailand

Back again folks. I’ve been living it up large here in Thailand the past 5 months that I just haven’t gotten around to post anything new. Bad bad I know. As much as I’d like to say I’m living the life of the party every single day, my life is actually more spartan than a monk’s! All I’ve been doing is training training training to the tune of about 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, so I actually have a good excuse when I say I had no energy to post!

Ok Ok, enough excuses.

One of the biggest fears people have is having their site deindexed. If you have an entire network of sites deindexed, you can forget about getting every single one of those sites back. But what about a couple of the top money making sites? Or what if you have only a few big sites and they suffer a deindex. Is it possible to bring these sites back from the dead?

I suspect with a big of elbow grease and a lot of pleading with the google spam team, you can. I’ve actually brought a few brand new domains that had some deindex penalty associated with them I back into google’s good graces. So it’s completely possible to do, and I’m going to prove it from ground up with a real example with this case study.

Now I’m going to get on my soap box here and say this first: if you’ve had a site get deindexed, there’s probably a good reason for it. The google spam team does NOT go around deindexing quality sites that contribute value to readers. If you’ve got a site you’re quite active on, that the community finds useful, and is basically a clean site, and all your links don’t consist of spam, you won’t be bothered by google. If your site is ugly ass, your content is thin (ezine rewrites, dup content, or just basic content non-native speakers pumped out for a couple bucks and article, or fluff content that really says nothing new, and your navigation on the site sucks or tricks people into clicking on google ads, you’re going to have problems.

If your site looks even remotely like one of the following sites below, by the seven saints and their seven beards, you’d have to be a fucking idiot not to realize why your site was deindexed:

green-xfator-blogger-templates-adsenseprosense-blogger-templatesbad-example

The Basic Process of Resurrecting a Deindexed Site :

1. Take off all monetization (affiliate links and adsense)

2. Ensure the theme/site design looks great, is user friendly, and looks like an authority site. This is critical if you want to bring a site back from the dead. I’ve had Google reject re-inclusion requests for a few of my sites with stellar content because the site layouts were not easy on the eyes.

3. Update site with at least two new posts (3-5 even better). You want to try and prove you actually care about the site.

4. Make sure you have at least 10 posts on the site. The most recent article should be huge: 1500 to 3000 words. You don’t want a bunch of articles about the same damn keyword topic over and over either.

5. Ensure post titles are not spammy or longtail phrases pulled straight out of the Google Keyword Tool

6. Include plenty of pictures and links to authority sites sprinkled throughout your posts. A few videos inserted into the post won’t hurt either. Do NOT link to spammy sites or thin sites. We are talking wikipedia/cnn style sites

7. Add your site to webmaster tools and submit it for reinclusion via Google Webmaster Tools’ re-inclusion request. Make sure you write a 2-3 huge paragraphs about how you didn’t know the site was violating quality guidlines and how you are creating the site to benefit the reader blah blah blah. Basically you need to convince whoever looks at your site that it’s a legit site and you won’t be doing anything questionable with it.

There are really two strategies you can try and employ here to “convince” whoever is looking at your site that you deserve a second chance.

Strategy 1: Admit Guilt and Swear You’ve Seen the Light

Complete bullshit, I know, but the goal here is to eat humble pie, tell google you fucked up bad, but you are now dedicated to creating a quality site that will serve the interests of the reader. It’s pretty key that your site has been completely revamped here and you’ve taken off ALL monetization. You won’t play a convincing part if your “reformed site” is full of affiliate links. This is the strategy I’ve taken a couple times.

This is sort of like when a cop pulls you over for going 25 mph over the speed limit. When they saunter up to the window and ask you if you knew you were speeding and you look them in the eye and say “Yes, there’s no excuse I can give you.” What happens is the cop is often quite shocked that you admit this upfront (they hear BS excuses all day long). Because of the honestly you actually might get a warning.

Strategy 2: Claim You Purchased the Website

You can also claim you recently purchased (or was given) the website and have no clue why it’s not indexed. It’s best to do this ONLY if you don’t have it added to webmaster tools (yet). Don’t bother  with this if it’s verified with Webmaster Tools and you have Analytics on it (easy to tell you are full of bullshit).

If you’ve done steps 1-6 right, you should have a pretty good chance of getting your site back. I’ve had a few sites that have been rejected 2 or 3 times, but persistence paid off in the end and I was able to get it re-added (Google is extra picky about the quality of a site when you request a reinclusion. Make sure your site looks REALLY good on the eyes!)

Now I’d say Strategy 2 is the last ditch — i’ve been rejected from re-inclusion 5 times sort of attempt. Really though, I feel (and read part 2 of this article to see why), that you can pretty much recover ANY deindexed site if you put some work into it without resorting to a fake “I’m a new owner of this site ploy.”

If you opt for this strategy, you’ll need to follow steps 1-7 above in addition to doing the following:

1. Put your site on a different / new hosting server. Don’t throw it on any hosting that has your other sites and definitely not the same hosting it was on when it was deindexed or rejected from reinclusion if you made an attempt in the past.

2. Change Registars. If you bought it on godaddy, transfer it to some other registar. This is critical as it fits in with the whole “I bought this site from someone else”

3. Change the WHOIS information to something completely new. Change the phone number, email address, and  owner name (you can fake this, but it’s not a good idea to put in fake owner information — you can lose a site in theory that way. Best if you have a business name or you put it in a family’s name or something).

4. It goes without saying that if you do use analytics (and you’ll need to connect the site to webmaster tools to do a reinclusion), you do it with a BRAND new google account that’s not connected to your old stuff. It’s best if you create a new google webmaster account /google account with a different IP. And don’t use the same contact info or email stuff! Whatever you do, don’t use google service connected with your old stuff!

5. You’ll need to do a complete site redesign. I have bought domains from other people only to find out they were deindexed. In one case, I submitted a reinclusion request and was STILL rejected because the new theme didn’t meet the quality guidelines. So the 1-7 guidelines at the beginning of the article still apply.

After you complete the above 1-5 steps, you then submit a new re-inclusion request (not before guys, not before).

Yes, strategy 2 is a lot more work than strategy 1, which is why I almost always employ strategy 1 unless I’ve bought a domain that’s been deindexed already for some reason (happened to me twice and in both times I have recovered gotten the domain reindexed).

My How to Restore a Deindexed Website Case Study

This post is going to be a bit of a case study on how to bring back to life a deindexed site using Strategy 1 from above. I had the google ban hammer come down one of my old sites about 9 or 10 months ago.

The site was about 3 years old, had 30 or so posts on it, and a few hundred backlinks. Before it was deindexed, it ranked #1 for a generic health term word and #1-5 for variations  on that term. It was in a fairly competitive niche. It was getting over 2500 uniques a day. It was an exact domain for a long tail term (one with very good exact traffic for a 5+ word long tail — roughly 45k exacts per month), but ended up ranking for the short tail term.

I can’t say the site was a huge money maker — I was probably only pulling in 200-400 bucks a month from the site with affiliate sales and adsense. I didn’t optimize it for money as much as I could of as I was busy with a bunch of other projects. However, I probably could have sold the site for a nice 7-12k because of the niche it was in, the keyword it was ranking for, and the traffic it was getting. The site is worth trying to bring back from the dead — if I can manage it, I can try and sell it and will have turned something completely dead into something that could make me 10kish.

To be frank, the quality of the site in terms of content was fine, but there was no way it should have been ranking number one for that single word term with the layout it had. Generally, I’ve found that if you start ranking for “big” generic keywords, your site really has to “look” like you deserve that ranking, otherwise it gets kicked out by the google team. You really want lots of articles, the ability to support a community (f0rums or such), a custom (or at least a well designed layout) layout and such.

Unfortunately, the site was an affiliate site that I had been meaning to convert over to an authority style site. I did not do this soon enough however and as soon as it started ranking for  that single word generic term, it shortly got a manual inspection followed by a deindex. It could be one of the competitors for that term reported the site.

So I will be following steps 1-6 exactly and I’ll report back to you guys with an update in a couple weeks. It usually takes about a week or two for google to process your reinclusion request.

Edit: Part 2 of the experiment is now up.

Cheers from Thailand!

Ben

Is Branding the New Way?

Everyone has a different path when it comes to internet marketing. I’ve done a lot in the 3 years. I’ve managed to take myself out of a job I hated and into a pretty decent six figure salary just through my online efforts. I could have done much better though if I had a more solid strategy.

I still get questions (emails and comments) about how one should go about internet marketing. I know from my own experience, it’s a scary world out there when you first start looking at trying to make some money online. As a marketer, you have to adapt quickly to change. The SERPS/Marketing world is dynamic and if you don’t evolve yourself, your boat will sink and you are going to drown. Just look at my own efforts:

2009: Web 2.0 “Bum Marketing”

Worked for about 6 months straight, building as many niche hubpage articles as possible. I ended up with something around 600 hubs. Managed to derrive my first “full time income” from my hub effort. Focus was on Adsense. This sort of marketing really took a nose dive early 2011 when Google declared open war on UGC (User Generated Content sites). This had huge ramifications, one which not only saw rankings for article directories/web 2.0′s tumble but also the tightening up of author rules. My feeling is that there are some legit platforms for user generated content, but on the whole, Google wants information to be disseminated from trusted sites (be the niche specific or general authority with some credence to them) not some joker writing bullshit hubs targeting adword longtail keywords. Really, what would you, as a reader, trust more if you typed in “How to Prevent Herpes”: a hubpage of dubious origin with no editorial monitoring or an article from health.com?

2010: Mini Sites

I spent part of 2009 building mini sites. 2010 I really ramped up my efforts though. In my heyday, I must have had close to 400 mini sites. The focus was on adsense. This model abruptly collapsed when a good 200 sites were deindexed May 2010. It was clear to me at that point that Google was moving in a different trend: brand and authority.

Mini sites really don’t offer too much in the way of user experience. There is nothing a large site (or “branded website”) can’t offer better than a mini site in terms of content, user engagement, or user experience. Many an authority site has started out as a mini-site, but if you don’t bother  growing your best niches beyond the mini-site phase, you are losing out big time and you may lose out completely in the end.

2011+: Brand & Authority

The strategy this year has been to diversify my efforts into building big authority sites with an emphasis on “Brand.” The search engines have really been changing the past couple years — there has been a big shift to Brands having blanket authority. The heyday of the micro site is really coming to an end (it actually did a couple years ago!). The focus here has been affiliate selling, though I’m seriously looking at moving in to the direct advertizing market or offering legit services.

One model that I’m really delving into is to buy premium generic domains and work on building a brand on that domain. You get an amazing, top-notch generic keyword domain (helps brand yourself as a player in that niche and people REMEMBER that domain), you get instant “trust” from your readers and more opportunities for link building via networking (people trust you more because you own the generic domain), and you even get natural links because of the domain. This might not be fore everyone though, since many premium generics cost XX,XXX to XXX,XXX but it’s one (of many) strategy you can pursue if you want to focus your efforts on flagship sites. Note that you can still build a strong brand/authority site on a non generic domain or some wacky “brand” domain name too. I find it’s just way easier working with generic domains for a focused NICHE. If you want to go really broad though, a brand-type domain is better. (See my post about exact match domains).

So why all this talk about branding and authority? I know that not everyone can become a quote “Brand” in terms of say TripAdivsor or Amazon. But you can, with some foresight and (a lot of) elbow grease, brand yourself in a niche. Building a “brand” is more than just throwing up some information about a topic. A Brand is more than that. A brand resonates with the users, a brand does not necessary require Search Engine love to sustain itself (though by God it helps).

Now, if you want to successfully tackle a niche, you need to at least try mimicing some of the branding signals. Yes, that means reaching out with social media as a means to engage your readers on some level. That means finding out WHAT the readers are looking for and catering to their needs. That might mean you need to get yourself out of your basement, throw a shirt on (because god only knows how many internet marketers spend all their time locked up inside wearing only their underwear), and actually gets some on-the-ground information.

If you think rewriting someone else’s information is going to give you authority status in a niche, don’t waste your time. Building a real site these days can be a substantial investment of both time and money. You might need to actually hire real writers, real experts about topics, that sort of thing. You might be able to trick your readers (and Google) for a short time, but eventually you are going to be found out for the fraud you are if you go this route. Google (and other search engines) are getting very good at detecting so called “branding” signals. Can you mimic these with SEO? Yes, perhaps, but it’s getting harder and harder. At some point, it’s just so much damn EASIER to go the legit route and do the real thing. You certainly won’t sit around worrying about getting your site canned.

Just some food for thought for you newbies looking to make some money online. It’s still possible and the web is still a bit in that “wild west” phase, but slowly but surely civilization is moving in. Now is the time to get started — in 3-5 years from now, the landscape will be even more competitive. If you stake your claim now and develop a collection of authority sites, you could be laughing in a few years while sitting on a beach somewhere!

Ben