This is a guest post. Though, author preferred to stay anonymous.
I want to describe one case, when my site was hit by Google filter for low-quality links. There are many speculations on possible reasons of penalties posted on the Internet. This time we had several reasons and I’m going to describe them in details.
The site is big – over 1 million pages of content, and, naturally, number of incoming links is also big – >3 million. Another thing to notice is that the site is rather old – about 10 years. Purpose – informational resourse. Penalty was applied locally – traffic left on the level, but several HF keywords fell out of TOP10, which is still bad.
Initially site went under the penalty in november 2013 because of black hat actions of certain bad people. They’ve put over 50 thousand links from about 1 thousand domains on one of those pages.
Here is the first answer for first reconsideration request (I’ve hid most of it’s data, but you can see where it goes):
Fixing this was easy. It was simple to discern those links and domains they came from, as all of those links led to the same page. They had only 7 sligtly variable anchor texts, so with enormous number of those links they became clearly visible in anchor cloud. Neither one of those texts was relevant to site’s thematic.
We didn’t manage to find those who did it, so we sent all those domains into Google Disavow tool with a comment in the import file (see screenshot below). I personally think, that explanation put into this file will improve your chances of successful reconsideration. Anyway, it won’t make it worse, so why not?:)
Right after sending list of bad links to Disavow tool, we sent a reconsideration request. We’ve received negative response and a list of other links, that google don’t like.
With the second e-mail we received a list of link, some of which were hard to tell that they are bad links, thay came from decent quality domains, and had nothing to do with high frequency keywords that lost positions. It was embarrassing. We didn’t manage to find anything in common between these links – anchor texts varied reasonably, and sites were different by several metrics: age, PR, YC, trust, spamness.
Ahrefs came to help us in this matter. It wasn’t easy though to address the problem, especially as we had 3 millions links to search from. Not to mention, that we had to find those 3 millions before we can start analysis, and ahrefs, alas, can’t guarantee to see all the links that google does.
After we checked anchor texts in the report, it came clear to us, that search engine is banning links, that come from same domains and with same anchors. Why? Unfortunately, many sites have duplicate pages on them – due to navigation flaws. The worst one had 200 copies of one page! So that was 200 links with same anchor text from same domain, from same content…
If you see, that you have lots of links from a certan domain, you should check them for duplicate pages.
It took 2 weeks to review list of our links and locate any occurences of such issues. Some of them we sent a mail with link removal request, most of them we just added to Disavow tool. We also added some comments into disavow import file.
Actions described before haven’t brought any result, and in the next mail we’ve received more bad link examples, that had in anchor text one of penalized keywords, mentioned before.
This time we decided to clean up all the links, that are leading to all penalized keywords’ landing pages. First of all, we gathered list of domains, that had links with mentioned anchor text, using Ahrefs. Then we sorted them by trust rank, and disavowed those with low trust.
This took much less time, than previous job.
After this, the penalty has been lifted. Positions on penalized keywords restored, but keep slightly oscillate, as only two weeks passed. You may see general picture on a screenshot below.
As you can see from this case, there can be multiple reasons of getting under penalty, and you should always use your common sense and analyze reconsideration responses thoroughly. You should remember, that reasons of penalty for your site may vary from described above, so don’t take this case study as guide, rather as an advice on what to do.