Google Penalty Removed from My Niche Site, and a Quick rise Back to the Top of the Rankings

how-to-beat-google-penalty-on-a-niche-siteI’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.

  1. I launched my niche site on July 22, 2013.
  2. I reached page 1 of Google for the keyword I was targeting on my homepage on September 30, 2013
  3. I was starting to make regular commissions.
  4. I reached a position of #3 on October 22, 2013.
  5. I earned over $48.92 in October in Amazon commissions.
  6. My site got hit with a Google penalty on October 31, 2013
  7. I earned $3.32 in November in Amazon Commissions.
  8. My site had the penalty removed on December 16, 2013
  9. We’ll see what happens next …

Background Information

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!

how i beat a 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.

Traffic stats

Month  Visits  Avg. Visit Duration Page Views Bounce Rate # of Commissions   
July 23 – 31 105 unknown unknown unknown 0  
August 181 00:04:04 576 54.70% 2  
September 349 00:03:18 936 58.45% 2  
October 1,423 00:02:59 3,401 48.77% 28 October 31 my Google Penalty was Applied
November 323 00:02:16 793 60.37% 2  
December 1,346 00:01:58 2,802 56.09%  21 December 19 my Google Penalty was Lifted

 

Earnings

Month Monthly Amazon Earnings Cumulative Amazon Earnings Number of Commissions
July 23 – 31 $0 $0 0
August $1.62 $1.62 2
September $1.28 $2.90 2
October $48.92 $51.82 28
November $3.32 $55.14 2
December $40.56 $95.70 21 

 

 Traffic Screen Shots

 All website traffic from July 22, 2013 until December 17, 2013, the day I’m writing this.google penalty traffic statistics

 

Google Search Traffic Only
As you can see, the trends follow the overall traffic because most of my traffic is from organic searches.

google penalty traffic statistics organic traffic only

 

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.

google penalty on niche site traffic reports

 

Tracking My Rankings of 36 Keywords / Keyphrases

google keyword rank tracking

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!

12 comments on “Google Penalty Removed from My Niche Site, and a Quick rise Back to the Top of the Rankings

  1. The Hair Care Pro on

    Awesome post, man! I’m glad you were able to recover somewhat quickly. I ended up restarting my site altogether since the site was still rather thin. Looking into some backlinking strategies, hopefully I can get it back to where it was!

    Reply
    • Dave on

      Thanks a lot, I’m glad you liked it 😉

      Yeah, I think sometimes the best way to go is to switch domains and start anew. In my situation, I had put a LOT into the site already and I want to grow it into a large authority niche site that will be around for a long time. I have plans to get social traffic in the future too because I don’t want the site relying 100% on Google for its income.

      Reply
  2. Fran on

    Well done on getting your rankings back Dave. Perceverance is the key!
    I’ve had to let my project take a back sets this last month or so due to my I other business but have a few ideas at getting my own penalty lifted too. I too will be taking the aff links off my home page and trying to do done link analysis to weed out my mistakes.
    Merry Christmas!!

    Reply
  3. Adnan on

    Awesome news, Dave! I experienced a similar penalty but due to my inexperience, I was not able to overcome it and put the site aside and started with new sites. Reading your post makes me wonder if I can try to salvage THAT site. Hmmm.

    Reply
    • Dave on

      Thanks Adnan! Maybe you can salvage that site, it probably all depends on the quality of the site and what you’ve gotten penalized for. I think some times it’s better to save your site – but sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and start a new site, or at least move your content to a new domain.

      If you try to save it, let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  4. Mike on

    Great post. It’s so funny, because the same thing happened to my Amazon niche site, and it bounced back on the SAME day as yours.

    Sometimes I wonder if, well, things just happen in the world of Google, and as much as we like to think that because we did this this and this to remedy the problem, the truth is that it isn’t quite that simple and sometimes things just bounce back in your favor.

    But I created my niche site around August. In it’s first month to month and a half, it made like $240. Traffic was solid–about 120 visitors a day.

    On September 21 or so, the traffic dropped massively–and I would only get 17-25 visitors per day. And like you, I would Google my site and often always see a sub page instead of the root domain, and it kept bopping up and down in the search engine.

    At first, I removed 90% of my affiliate links–I kept one affiliate link for each article/review, and kept the original 9-10 I had on the home page. I removed everything else–for a couple months. Nothing happened. Two weeks ago, I just decided to add all the links back and really just sort of give up on the site and say, hey look, if it makes me $10 a month–fine. But I’m moving on to building another website and learning from this (well, whatever I can take away since I didn’t really know why my site was penalized).

    On December 17th, my website was alive again, and on the past two days, has brought in 120 visitors each day, which is what I had before.

    Outside of temporarily removing those links though, I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t disavow a single link. I didn’t contact any webmaster to remove links. I didn’t try and remove them from link directories–nothing.

    As far as how I started the linking process, for me, it was very similar to you. I did it manually and tried to do it slowly. A blog comment here. A web directory link there. A ping via Pino O Matic here. A web 2.0 post and link back to my article there. Very simple stuff.

    The only thing I thought that maybe I did that was a problem was post my Web 2.0 links or my published web directory links to a website called Linkalicious.me, which I think sort of….did “something” to alert Google that these properties were published, and that it should crawl them if it hadn’t already done so. And the reason I say that that *may* have been a problem is because even when I was searching “Linkalicous” in Google–I *never* could find it in the search results on the first page–or even subsequent stages. I had to type it into the address bar to locate it.

    I only knew about this site because it was recommended by a couple Internet marketers. So it’s not something I found on my own and decided “Hey, why not.”

    But again, who knows. Maybe, as you wrote in this blog, our websites just sort of fit a profile (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are both Amazon affiliate sites, you know?) and we were sandboxed or penalized because of it–regardless of our backlinking choices. I have no idea how Google works, so I can’t say either way. But just wanted to share my story, because I was so struck by how similar my situation was. Thanks Dave.

    Reply
    • Dave on

      Thanks Mike, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      And thanks for sharing your story here as well, I’m sure our stories will help others out in similar situations.

      Bounced back on the same day huh? I wonder if there was some sort of rollback or other Google update that day that got our sites out of trouble. Hmmm…

      Excellent points you’ve made in your comment. I agree with you 100% on things. Sometimes it might just be the way things go and not the things we do that affect our sites. Probably a combination of a lot of things.

      Awesome that you got your site back up the ranks .. let’s crush it!

      Reply
  5. Aaron on

    Dude…thats an amazing write up of how you recovered from the penalty. Its funny how i have a spreadsheet to track the rankings like you do. I have many sites got hit too, this post definitely got me thinking how i can overcome lifting the penalty. thanks for sharing your insights!

    Reply
  6. Dave on

    Hey Aaron … dang I just saw this comment. i try to respond to every comment but some slip through! Sorry about that. Thanks a lot – it was such a happy moment the day I saw my traffic return. I literally jumped for joy!

    My main way of avoiding penalties in the future will be focusing on super great content, social media, not going crazy with backlinks, and building email lists.
    Take care and I hope you get to read this … if you do please comment again and let me know!

    – Dave

    Reply
    • Dave on

      Hey صديق اكجي, thanks for stopping by! When it comes to anchor text diversification, I use my name, my [email protected] website name, or a fake name when leaving blog comments. Mostly just my regular “pen name” for the particular site. For other links, I rarely use exact anchor text if at all. I like to use variations of my main keywords or use them in a longer phrase. I haven’t gotten too heavy into backlinking yet, so I don’t really have a specific method or ratios I try to get.

      Reply

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