I’ve been discussing the niche site I built for the Niche Site Duel 2.0 a little bit, and a Google penalty that I had received just as my site traffic and earnings started to take off. Ouch! Well on December 17, 2013 I woke up to find that Google had lifted my penalty and I was ranking on page 1 again.
My traffic had returned.
Here’s the full story of how I beat a Google penalty on my Amazon Associate niche website. Hopefully it will help somebody out in the same situation. I’ll try to give as much information as possible to explain the situation in detail.
Let’s start with a basic timeline, a.k.a. the quick version.
- I launched my niche site on July 22, 2013.
- I reached page 1 of Google for the keyword I was targeting on my homepage on September 30, 2013
- I was starting to make regular commissions.
- I reached a position of #3 on October 22, 2013.
- I earned over $48.92 in October in Amazon commissions.
- My site got hit with a Google penalty on October 31, 2013
- I earned $3.32 in November in Amazon Commissions.
- My site had the penalty removed on December 16, 2013
- We’ll see what happens next …
I wrote a post a while back that gave an in-depth look at how I built my niche site. Check it out if you want to get a clearer picture of the whole story. My Niche Site Timeline – Pre-Launch
So my site was built, I started adding content and some backlinks, and things started to go really well eventually, although it took a while. A little over 2 months after I launched my site I made it to page 1 for my main search term that gets about 5400 searches/month . The traffic started coming, and as I rose up to position #3 in Google, my traffic and Amazon Commissions went up with it.
The site’s time in position 3 was cut short and one afternoon my traffic dropped 90% and my commissions with it. Just when things were starting to go really well. I made a few adjustments to the on-site SEO right away and removed all of the affiliate links on my homepage (10 of them above the fold)
and I waited … and waited …
What did my backlinking profile look like?
All of my backlinking was 100% manual and slow but steady. Most of my backlinking was blog commenting on related blog articles, some directory listings, a good dofollow industry directory listing, and a few dofollow links within comments using my main keyword as the anchor text (only 2 or 3 of these). I also used a few methods outlined in Neil Patel’s Backlinking Guide.
I currently have backlinks from about 29 root domains (as reported by Moz.com),and about 1800 backlinks total due to a few sites that I am listed in a “recent comments” widget. When I added a .edu blog comment, that’s when it bumped me up to about 4800 backlinks, 3000 of which were on the .edu blog in the footer of all pages in the site with the anchor text “Dave” for the link back to my site.
Once I got penalized and looked at my backlinks, I discovered all of these new links and took action right away to get the link in the footer of the site bumped off by adding new comments. I got my extra links removed right away, but it took Google about 40 days for the extra links to be removed from the report of backlinks on Google Webmaster Tools. About 3 or 4 days after the last links got removed my penalty was lifted. I don’t really think it was just these links that were hurting me though, I explain below all of the factors that I believe may have contributed to the penalty.
How do I know for sure my Niche Site was penalized?
I’m positive I was penalized because I am tracking a set of about 8 closely related keywords / key phrases. My rankings were very good for all of them and when the traffic dropped on October 31, I didn’t even rank in the top 500 anymore for any of them on some days. I was still ranking well for a few terms that were much different keywords, but almost all of my rankings for the 36 keywords I was tracking over time had tanked. then after about a week, I started showing up in the results for my main keyword again on pages 5 – 10 and it bounced around like crazy and was always a sub-page of my site, and not the homepage that was ranking any more. That was one of my signs it was a Google Penalty.
Now that my penalty was lifted, it’s my homepage ranking again on pages 1 and 2 for the 8 main keywords and my normal rankings have returned for all of the 36 keywords I’m tracking. This to me spells out GOOGLE PENALTY!
Why do I think my Niche Site got Penalized?
All I have are theories of course, but here’s what I’m thinking. I don’t think it was a single thing that caused my penalty, but a combination of things that made my site fit a specific “profile” of site that Google does not like and penalizes. I’ve done careful controlled SEO to my site and was very slow and careful in my backlinking, and I think that the event that tipped my over the edge into that bad website profile was when I got listed in a “Recent Comments” widget on a .edu website – on over 3000 pages. it was only a few days after those links went up that the penalty hit.
Now I always assumed that Google could identify recent comments types widget links, and not count them, but it was a few days after this happened that my penalty was handed down, and a few days after Webmaster Tools showed the links had been removed form their index that my rankings came back up.
There was however a few other things that I did and that happened that might have helped my penalty get lifted as well.
Here are the factors that I think might have hurt me and what I did to remedy them.
All changes I made to my site were slow and over time so that if I did get penalized, which I did, I could backstep a bit to just before I got penalized and try again.
- Damage Caused By: Over optimized website
Remedy: I de-optimized the site a bit. I switched the keyword on my homepage in the h1 tag from an exact match to a partial match. I removed many instanced of my keyword in the content lowering my keyword density a bit. Often I would change them to a related term or variation of the main keyword.
- Damage Caused By: Too many affiliate links above the fold
Remedy: Removed all affiliate links from homepage. I figured it couldn’t hurt to remove them and it might help. I wasn’t getting traffic anyway at this point.
- Damage Caused By: Unnatural back linking anchor text distribution. I left a comment on a .edu blog that got listed in a recent comments widget on over 3000 pages. the anchor text was my name, and although it wan’t the keyword I believe it did give me a very unnatural anchor text distribution.
Remedy: Knock my backlinking profile back down to a few steps before I got the penalty. I did this by leaving more comments on the .edu blog until I knocked off the one linking to my niche site from so many pages. I also had a few spammy looking directories that had picked up my site submitted with the Google Disavow tool for removal.
- Damage Caused By: too many pages of “thin” content. My buyer’s guide required me to have about 30 products in it, and I needed each of them to have their own published page on my site. The page gave a zoomable image of the product and all of the the specs a buyer would need and want to know. It was exactly what I needed for my guide and my visitors – unfortunately I think Google would consider it “thin” content due to the lack of words on the page, although it was working great for the visitors I was getting.
Remedy: I don’t have time right now to write full reviews for all 30 products in my buyer’s guide, but I’m in the process of adding 1 paragraph to each review page that already has a zoom-able image of the product and all of it’s important specs. Now each page will have a short paragraph overview. I will be building out a detailed long review for every single product in my guide as I’ve outlined here, when I have the time as I want to write all the reviews myself for now to make sure tha quality is up to my standards.
Unexpected Help and Backlinks?
One other thing happened about a week before my rankings and traffic came back. I logged onto my analytics one day to discover that I had about 25 visits in a 2 hour period and was the most traffic I’d seen on my site since I was penalized. I looked at my referral traffic for that day and discovered that somebody had tweeted a link to one of my in-depth 2000 word tutorial related to my niche. I found the link on twitter and it was from somebody who owned a pretty big website in my niche and had a lot of followers. After he shared the link, a bunch of other people shared it and liked it on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Thanks whoever that was!
And now the data …
This is for anybody who wants to see the numbers.
|Month||Visits||Avg. Visit Duration||Page Views||Bounce Rate||# of Commissions|
|July 23 – 31||105||unknown||unknown||unknown||0|
|October||1,423||00:02:59||3,401||48.77%||28||October 31 my Google Penalty was Applied|
|December||1,346||00:01:58||2,802||56.09%||21||December 19 my Google Penalty was Lifted|
|Month||Monthly Amazon Earnings||Cumulative Amazon Earnings||Number of Commissions|
|July 23 – 31||$0||$0||0|
Traffic Screen Shots
Google Search Traffic Only
As you can see, the trends follow the overall traffic because most of my traffic is from organic searches.
Here is another screenshot of my analytics showing my traffic the week before my penalty and the week after. As you can see I experienced a 94.81% drop in overall traffic – overnight.
Tracking My Rankings of 36 Keywords / Keyphrases
So what do you think?
Now that you’ve heard my story, I’d love to get some fresh thoughts on the matter! Am I on the right track? Does my analysis make sense?
Also, if there’s any information that I didn’t discuss here that you would like to know, please ask in the comments below.
Let me know in the comments!