Many businesses have been feeling the unwanted effects of Google’s recent algorithm updates. This case study provides a framework for recovery, writes James Norquay.
Many businesses have been negatively affected by ongoing changes to Google’s search algorithm, with updates such as Panda and Penguin having serious ramifications for brands.
Having worked with a number of businesses that have suffered at the hands of these ‘improvements’, I would like to share with you a particular case study that involves a large start-up in the US and Australia, fixing the issues that prior SEO agencies had created.
This particular case study will be relevant to nearly all brands that have seen a negative impact on their search rankings due to recent algorithm changes. In this case, as in most, the key problem is related to the link profile of the specific website in question and the work which the prior SEO agency had completed.
The client previously engaged with an SEO company that was using link networks and low quality link-building methods , which in turn had degraded the client’s link profile (sound familiar?). There was no transparency with the client in regards to what was been done on the project and this resulted in Google penalising the website quite heavily on the original roll out of Penguin. This resulted in the client losing significant revenue, due to a large drop in traffic.
The client has a large mix of branded traffic, direct traffic and also generic, non-branded traffic coming to its website.
1. The Analysis Stage
Analysis of the direct problem areas involved investigation of the client’s link profile to find out exactly where the negative links are coming from. Some tools that can be used to view your link profile include the following:
Majestic SEO (Paid Tool)
Ahrefs (Paid Tool)
Open Site Explorer (Paid Tool)
Google Webmaster Tools (Free)
You need to determine which update has hit the website in question using Barracuda’s Panguin Tool. If your website has been hit by a Panda release it is probably a direct result of duplicate content on your website. Your web property could have in fact been hit by numerous updates.
Example report above from a different website in question, you can also find more information about the specific updates from this website.
Once you have looked into your link profile to decide which links are negative, be sure you’ve covered all bases. The problem is many websites have large, complex link profiles that can be in the 100,000+ range.
2. Further Analysis Stage
You will need to use a third party tool that provides further analysis of your link profile. Two tools currently on the market which do a decent job of this are:
Link Detox (paid tool)
Link Detox will provide a report similar to the one below, which will indicate what percentage of your link profile contains toxic backlinks.
An example report from Link Detox.
Link Risk (paid tool)
An example report from Link Risk analysis.
Another tip is to contact your prior agency and ask them directly if they have been using any link networks or negative link building tactics, and to provide evidence from the information you have collected from the analysis tools above.
Further to this, you should disregard any links which are pointing to your website that are ‘No-Follow’ links, Google is only after ‘Follow’ links in its updates.
It is highly advisable that you also have a SEO professional who has link building knowledge to review the data provided by the reports from the tools above, because it can harm your website if you instantly take the data from the 3rd party tools as a final point of analysis. I have come across one case for a US-based client where they actually removed a large number of good quality links.
3. The Removal Stage
The next stage involves working out which links you need to remove, it is advisable to reach out manually to sites via email to take down links first, let each site know you have been hit by a penalty and email them on mass with the links you need to remove. If people ask for money to remove links, don’t pay – just move onto the next target and note this in your reconsideration request.
It is highly advisable to contact each site at least twice, you will need to retrieve the emails using the 3rd party tool above or by using a service such as Domain Tools to gather the correct contact details for the websites. The 3rd party tools listed above such as Link Detox will also provide a percentage of data on contact details.
The next step is to use the disavow tool. You need to add all the links and root domains into the tool. Also, please be advised you only need to use the Disavow Tool if you are 100 percent certain that you need to remove the links in question and you have not been able to manually remove these links.
Here is a guide from Google on how you need to construct your disavow file.
When this process is complete, you need to submit a ‘reconsideration request‘ to Google, which involves writing a full response on the process you have used to remove the links, including experiences with past agencies you have used, the impact a Google penalty has had on your website, the construction of the disavow report and also attach all documents and working from your reports as Google Docs links.
It may take a week, if not a month for Google to reply to the reconsideration request. If it is successful they will notify you. If it is not successful it’s back to the drawing board to remove more links and try again.
The client in question saw a monthly increase of around 400,000 (in organic traffic) unique visitors after the successful completion of link removal and the submission of a reconsideration request (the blue line pictured below indicates three months after the update, whereas the orange line is the month prior).
Further to this we also implemented a new strategy for the client’s business and conducted high quality content market and high quality link building efforts to do things the right way with a focus on long term results.
A comparison of unique visitors one month before (orange) and three months after (blue) this SEO recovery process was undertaken.
Using the same methodology above, we have also been working on a different client in the US on a similar project that yielded similar results (please note the results below are quite new).
The top graph indicates overall keyword increases, the bottom graph shows the increase in overall traffic according to Google Webmaster Tools.
I hope this top-level guide helps anyone who has been hit by a Google update after engaging with a low-quality SEO company. If you have any specific questions or you need additional advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment in the space provided below.