Case Studies

Penguin Recovery Case Study –How we stopped the bleeding and Increased Organic Search Traffic for an Ecommerce Client by 125.66%

I like tough assignments. Throughout my career, I have been involved in several business turnarounds. When Google first introduced the Penguin Penalty, it became clear, very quickly, this would have a major impactacross the web.  I made it a point to study & learn what it would take to get a penalized website back on track.

After performing hundreds of link audits and having many opportunities to go back and forth with Google, I gained a good sense of what they were penalizing. I applied this knowledge and shared my step by step penalty removalprocess here: Google Unnatural Links Manual Penalty: A Recovery Guide. These are the steps that we continue to use, resulting in a 100% success rate for getting manual penalties revoked.

Here’s the catch – once a penalty is removed, traffic and rankings don’t snap back. In the case of a manual penalty, many of the spammy links that need to be disavowed or removed, are the same ones that formerly boosted SERPs. Without those links, the advantage is gone. In the case of an algorithmic Penguin 4.0 hit, links that once provided lift, get neutralized and again, the advantage is lost.

This is precisely the problem that a sporting goods retailer was having when they approached us in the fall of 2015. They took an algorithmic hit during a period when Penguin stillrolled intermittently. At the time, the most recent refreshwas a year before the client reached out to us. The next refresh turned out to be the rollout of Penguin 4.0 one year later.

Year over year Organic Traffic Performance at the time the client contacted us

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The key to recovery was to acquire a series of good links to improve the ratio of Good:Spam links. This wasn’t just a theory – we had proof of concept. The wildcard, as always, was how long it would take. The intermittent nature of Penguin also suppressed the positive aspects of our works from being rewarded in real time.

And there’s really no way of knowing, as we aren’t operating inside a vacuum. The quality and quantity of the client site vs. competitors varies. The website architecture of the client website vs the competition varies. The link profile of the client site vs competitors varies. These variables each have a bearing on how fast things can turn around. There is no way of accurately predicting how long it will take. The only thing that I can say for certain is that the process has worked for me EVERY time.

In this case, it took about a year for things to pop:

4th Quarter 2015 vs 4th Quarter 2016 – One year after the campaign started:

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The rollout of Penguin 4.0, combined with the content and link strategy implemented over the previous 12 months resulted in hockey stick growth in organic search traffic in the final quarter of the year. The good news is that with Penguin now running in real time, we should also be rewarded for our efforts in real time.

How did we do it?

The Resource Center Strategy

Google has been preaching user experience forever. Sites that offer a good user experience are rewarded with good rankings. So, the question boils down to this – how can you provide a good user experience?

It all begins with having good content – but what does that mean? Although the actual content will vary from site to site, as a rule, good content = useful content. As Google continues to improve its algorithm by introducing new factors like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and Rankbrain, they are just reinforcing thatQuality is King.

That’s where the Resource Center comes into play. The days of spinning content or paying slave wages of a penny a word to write keyword stuffed nonsense are over. A resource center is filled with useful and in depth content filled with answers to the questions that your clientele is looking for.

How to Build a Resource Center

The days of spinning content or paying a penny a word to write keyword stuffed nonsense are over. A resource center is filled with useful and in depth content. It should be stocked with answers to questions that your clientele is looking for.

Someexamples of good resource centers follow:

  • Annuity FYI: has created a resource center focused on retirement planning and annuity-related topics.
  • Car Care: offers a wide variety of content types, including articles, how to guides, maintenance schedules & how-to videos.
  • Safewise: has filled a “resource library” with safety tips and guides
  • Square One Insurance: has built a “Home and personal safety resource centre” filled with information pertaining tohome and family protection.

Note – I have no affiliation with any of the abovewebsites.

Drilling down,let’s take a closer look at CarCare.org:

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Categories include:

  • Car Care Resources
  • Car Care Service Schedules
  • Car Care Videos
  • Go Green
  • Events
  • Industry Toolbox
  • Media

Each with a series of sub-categories

If you are stumped on where to begin, the car care example could be a good starting point for brainstorming. Follow their lead in developing an outline for your own business.  Developing an outline is a fluid process. You may need to modify it as you look for and discover ideas.

Drilling Down for Ideas

Look for content that has already been proven to attract links. How? By using a content discovery tool like ahrefs’ Content Explorer, as seen below:

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Look for content withmultiple linking domains and organic traffic. This indicates there is real interest and the content has potential for earninglinks. The next step is to improve that content by leveraging the concept, but adding to it and making it better. The added content doesn’t have to be text – it could be a video or infographic.

Outreach Approach

Email outreach is the best way to attract relevant and powerful links. Sharing content on social networks is fine and you might generate some shares and traffic, but it seldom leads to high value links. Begin developing an email list by mining backlinks pointing to the original source. I prefer Ahrefs for this task, but Moz Open Site Explorer or Majestic Site Explorer can be used, as well.

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Next, minethe top competitors’ links, using Moz’s Link Competition tool or ahref’s Link Intersect. These tools show you which domains are linking to the competition, but not your site:

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Finally, use Advanced Search Operators. This is the best way to discover resource pages on authority sites. Two of my favorites searches are:

  • “keyword” site:.org intitle:”links” -inurl:pdf -inurl:ppt -inurl:doc
  • “keyword” site:.org intitle:”resources” -inurl:pdf -inurl:ppt -inurl:doc
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Email Outreach

To be effective, this step cannot be automated. Every email should be personalized in a way that proves you are not a robot. Webmasters are jammed with so many link requests, you need to distinguish yourself from the spam and not add to it.

How?

  • Read the web page: Is there a genuine reason to link to you? If not, pass.
  • Don’t use a free email service like Gmail. Use a domain based mail to establish credibility.
  • Subject line: Personalize it with a name, unless specific instructions are provided to do otherwise.
  • Use the site owners name in the body of the email – “Hi Bob”

Be clear on what you are asking for. Don’t make the email recipient think.

  • Tell them why you are making contact
  • Which url you want a link from
  • Which url you want a link to
  • And why they should link to you
    • For example: The reason could be a fix for abad link and suggesting why your page is a suitable replacement

If you can prove to the site owner that you have invested your time on their site, it will improve your chances of that person linking to your website.

The Payoff

Building a resource center the right way and then performing manual email outreach isn’t easy. Trying to do it all at once is overwhelming – and unnecessary. This can be and should be an ongoing process. One need not look any further than CarCare.org to see the payoff:

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Resource Centers fit the Google mantra which encourages webmasters to “publish good content and links will follow naturally.” You will never have to worry about these links coming back to bite you. Plus, you get the added benefit of driving quality direct traffic to your site.