A True Story: From A Triple Whammy Google Penalty To $60K/month Revenue

A bit of warning. This is not for you if you have been awesome doing all that is good and great in SEO for your clients.  This post is meant for all those who have been experiencing (even until now!) the wrath of Google’s Panda/Penguin algorithm. This article is written for those who are still clueless not seeing the “light” yet, in spite of all their efforts to resuscitate their websites.

One of the hardest challenges in being an SEO is to be approached by a client whose website is penalized by either algorithmic (Panda/Penguin) or manual reasons.  But I tell you, it is a rewarding job being a practitioner of the craft especially when you’re able to bring a business back on track. Your client will thank you for saving his/her company.

Here is a TRUE story. 

Below is the revenue of the client during penalty and after it was lifted.  From $14,750/mo to $60,000/mo and it’s still growing to this date. 


revenue

The story began when…

1. We Signed-up with a Penalized Client

We’ve already suspected from our initial audit that the client we were about to sign-up was penalized by Panda and Penguin due to its gradual decrease in traffic among other things. But still, we took the client even though it seemed to be doomed, thinking that we may still have time to revive it. However, two days after the contract signing, the dreaded Google Webmaster Tools message came.  See below.

 

GWT Penalty MessageWe have not lifted our fingers yet, so to speak, and we were already in a perfect storm situation.  We now have a manual penalty and the algorithmic Panda & Penguin at work.  A triple whammy!

See the sudden drop in traffic?!

Google drop

 

2.  Laser-like Backlinks Audit

So, we grabbed all the backlinks we can get from the client’s website using Google Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer. Paying attention to those anchor texts that were unusually high in backlinks causing over-optimization, we used John Doherty’s method in assessing Penguin Penaltyanchor text distribution

We’ve asked all past SEO reports from the client in order to speed up audit of its SEO activities. The good thing was that he kept a bunch of reports from his past agency but they were all link sellers.  Using Link Detox by LinkResearchTools helped us too in uncovering more potentially toxic links.

Take note, the client’s SEO activity for the past 5 years were technically considered by Google now as low quality, unnatural and deserving of a penalty.

3. The Road to Link Cleansing is Daunting

It took us more than 4 months to email site owners requesting removal of our client’s links. I guarantee you this activity is the nastiest of all in bringing back a penalized website but we are glad that Boomerang for Gmail came in handy.  We made sure all emails  and follow-ups we’ve made were all recorded via Google Docs. This included rejected  and approved requests.

link removal request

PRO Tip: You need to document all of your activities in reaching out to webmasters for your link removal requests whether they are successful or not because the Google Web Spam QA Team reviews your efforts based on your documentation and it is an important factor for your manual penalty to be lifted or not.

4. Be Not Afraid to use the Google Disavow Tool

There will certainly be webmasters out there who will strip you down to the bone asking for money in exchange of link removals. These are the most soulless snake oil salesmen on earth. We’ve documented and submitted their replies to Google too. You can also include all those rejected link removal requests and bounced emails due to misinformation on email addresses used by other webmasters via WHOIS.

We’ve included all those sites that we failed to remove links from to the Google Disavow Tool  text file. I’ve curated articles about the Google Disavow Tool and posted it for your reference.

See below a snake oil salesman haggling for bucks!

link removal request

(Click to enlarge image)

Pro Tip: Never give in to webmasters asking for money in order to remove your links. Your reply saying a simple “No” is already fair enough to tell the Google Webspam QA Team that you are serious with what you are doing in helping them “cleaning the web”.


5. The Google Reconsideration Request

We’ve submitted our first Google reconsideration request and guess what, we failed. See Google’s reply below.

google reconsideration replyHowever; we did not lose hope with their reply. Instead, we continued on what we have been doing in removing links and improving the client’s website in terms of user experience, page speed and applying all those best practices for on-page optimization.

Pro Tip: While you are doing your link removal activities, it is best that you are also working on creating linkable assets, improving web user experience, social outreach and content marketing in order to have your base quality link sources already being built to replenish the lost ones.

Here was the reply from Google on our second try. See below.

googleadvice

 

Google’s reply stated that there are still traces of inorganic links to our client’s site but we were not worried because we knew that we’ve already done a decent job on link cleansing (which we are still doing until now) and the Google Disavow Tool submission we’ve made will handle the negative algorithmic effect of those inorganic links.

6. Out from the Saddle and a Sudden Slap (again!)

One week or so after Google replied, the traffic started to increase. However, our “feeling good” moment was interrupted by a sudden drop on the traffic again! See figure below.

saddle

 

What went wrong? The culprit was a single 301 redirect we’ve made from an old page (with too many inbound spammy links we’ve removed during our cleansing activity). For whatever stupid reason, we redirected it to another page and boom! the drop happened. True enough, the negative effect from spammy links can really cause damage to a website. We have been reading and hearing it from others but our first hand experience, validated it. So, we removed the 301 redirect and the awesomeness resumed! 

googlerecovery

My Personal Take:

Recovering a business like what I’ve cited creates a lasting impact not only to the client but also to the team involved in the entire process. For the client, he vowed not to do anything about spading the spade anymore. It taught the client the importance of investing on real world marketing (RCS as Wil Reynolds may call it). This is what I call, “providing REAL value to customers”. 

We just saved another business. Aren’t we heroes in our own little way?  =P

This is one of the reasons why I love SEO.

Update: 

For clarity’s sake, the “webmasters” I am referring to as “snake oil salesmen” are those webmasters that manage made-for-seo sites, cheap link directories, blog networks selling links and etc. They already collected money from the client by selling links but still ask for more when asked to remove the links.

139 thoughts on “A True Story: From A Triple Whammy Google Penalty To $60K/month Revenue

  1. Gen Reonico

    Hi! This one is intense :) A true find! Learned a lot from what you’ve written here. Will use this with my and my clients websites and SEO initiatives. As cliche as it may sound, but hey it’s a “Great Post”. Thanks & God bless

  2. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    What a description – “intense”! haha. But yes, thank you Matt! I think it has been due for posting since we’ve totally recovered the client’s website from penalty. =)

  3. James

    Great write up!

    Were the inorganic links pointed towards the home page or category/product level? Just wondering if any folks have had experience with a burnt home page.

  4. Jordan

    Wow! Great write-up. That is quite the come-back. Very surprised how fixing just one of those redirects could have such a big impact. Aside removing the old spammy links, did you focus on new content generation or community building?

  5. Ramel Acedo

    Your Awesome dude! I will check my clients for this, this may explain why our traffic are suffering for sometime… congratulations dude, you’re the man

  6. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi James, The page points to a category page. The specific website I cited on the page got a burnt home page. I mitigated it using Google Disavow Tool.

  7. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Jordan,

    I mentioned on my post that we worked on creating linkable assets and social outreach. Read the snippet below. =)

    Pro Tip: While you are doing your link removal activities, it is best that you are also working on creating linkable assets, improving web user experience, social outreach and content marketing in order to have your base quality link sources already being built to replenish the lost ones.

  8. hyderali

    Hey Gary,

    This is truly an exceptional post with detailed explanation. Bookmarked!!

    I think it is high time Google should take some action or provide guidance against those webmasters who are reluctant to remove the link & instead demanding money.

    Thanks.

  9. Gilbert

    It’s truly inspiring! Hats off! Mr. Viray, job well done. Now I’ve seen a true story of success and the aim of Google is to give a great user experience. From now on, I’ll get familiarize in Google Disavow Tool. Thanks for the information.

  10. Jamie Knop

    Great read, and a great success! It does make you feel great helping out a company like this.

    Maybe a follow up post on how you qualified bad links? Although I see you don’t post too often :/ I think you should start!

  11. Michael

    Hi Francis,

    Fantastic post. I’ve been wondering you managed to recover a site before the disavow tool was available? It seems pivotal these days for dealing with webmasters who refuse to remove links, making cleaning the link profile limited by cooperation.

    Michael

  12. Jun

    Great job! more than 4 months of sending removal emails + disavow stuff. 6 months more or less? But it paid off, so why not? :)

  13. dimaks | The Urban Walker

    It is always a great experience to stumble upon posts like this.. This is one total come back from the penalty. But of course thanks to the tools you mentioned. I will definitely take a look at them.

  14. herman dailybits

    I had the same adventure last month to get out of a manual penalty and used the same approuch to get it lifted.

    Curious to see that in my case(and multiple other case studies) you always see the 2 needed reconsideration requests.

  15. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Michael,

    We did. However, the Google Disavow Tool came in handy too in solidifying our effort to “disavow” inorganic links especially those sites coming from uncooperative webmasters.

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  17. edwin

    This is inspiring for an SEO beginner like me, thank you. I will follow all the technique here in recovering my penalized blog.

  18. Christian Melanie Lee

    Great post, Gary! Yet still pondering over using Google Disavow Tool. Planning to try it out this month so I could analyze what might be the problem of our blog. Sudden plunge of traffic for the last few weeks. Already check the backlinks and inorganic links, still dropping off the traffic everyday.

    Question: I’ve been changing the templates thrice already. Did will affect the performance of our blog? Someone told us to revert the previous template that we’d earned a lot thru Adsense.

  19. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Christian,

    Templates can affect the performance of the blog in many ways such as speed (due to many chunks of codes and graphics included), layout (code order of the template), usability and many more. The decision to revert to the previous template depends on your goals. What are your objectives in the first place? Always start answering that question.

  20. Mike Sasuman

    Now this is a template on Google Penalty Recovery! Thank you very much for sharing your experience with the world. I could just imagine how your client “interaction” went through the whole ordeal. haha!

  21. Christian Melanie Lee

    Thank you for answering my question, Gary!

    The problem is: For the past few months, our blog traffic everyday unexpected dropping. I consulted a friend of mine that he noticed that one of our blog template is Adsense-earner than our present template.

    My objective is that I want to regain that blog traffic everyday. Done fetching it thru Google Webmaster Tool and check errors. Press releases posted in our blog might be the culprit. Any solution for this?

  22. Kris

    Great info. I have a site that was penalized, I tried just using the disavow tool (for almost all my links listed in WMT) but that didn’t work.

    Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to research all my links and request removals, I just do this PT. So I’m just moving on to a new site. :( ((

  23. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Kris,

    It does really take time to request removals. As always, it is a matter of resources vs benefits. If you think, moving to another website is better based on your informed decision and perceived goal, go for it. It is always a case to case basis.

  24. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Christian,

    Have you checked duplicates? How about site speed? What link acquisition methods have you done so far? You said, “Press releases posted in our blog might be the culprit.”, What kind of press releases are these?

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  26. Mash Bonigala

    Hi Gary,

    I had the exact same experience all up to point #5 above. We got the exact same email from Google. But actually the rankings got worse after that and traffic went steadily down.

  27. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Mash,

    Moving forward, What other SEO works have you done after the link removal works?

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  29. Claudio

    Really useful article; thank you also for the link to linkDetox. By the way, in point 3 is there a link from hotfrog? Is this webdirectory spammy?
    Thanks, Claudio.

  30. ChrisCD

    Great story and post. First and foremost, it is a long process and I suspect quite expensive. I don’t want my below view to take away from your awesome victory and the client’s increased revenues.

    But, I’m surprised there are no Devil’s advocates. First, I have received link removal requests and did make the changes or removals as quickly as I could. But, remember someone requested the link in the first place. So my time was used twice, once to add the link and again to remove it. I did not charge either time.

    So on to the contrarian point of view. I may be wrong, but as I supposed in the beginning, I doubt you did this for free. I received a quote from another company which was just an analysis, not actually doing the work of about $2,500. I don’t believe that figure is extraordinary (tell me if it is). After all, trying to review 1000s of links, site speed, site structure, etc is quite time consuming. So since you are getting paid for your time, why is it evil of webmasters to want to be paid for a link removal which takes their time?

    Again, loved reading the victory story. Gives us hope. :O)

  31. Lara

    I’m so glad it worked! I’d heard about the tools but wondered if it would really help the average company. Great case study!

  32. Sara Thornton

    Great article Gary, and very interesting to see the month by month recovery!

    I wonder if someone’s working on a “name and shame” directory for those who were requesting money for link removal. I’m sure Google karma will catch up with them sooner or later.

    Glad to see that the “white knights of SEO” are fighting the good (quality) fight, and bringing clients websites (and often their companies) back from the brink. Let’s hope clients stumble across this post, and start asking the right questions of their SEO companies regarding their link building practices.

  33. Eric Wexler

    Bravo! Very diligent and very determined. I always say that slow and steady wins the race and unfortunately for client budgets, oftentimes slow and steady means a greater budget. Nevertheless, what I liked was your process. Not too fast to cram a reconsideration request down Google’s throat and not too fast to change gears as a knee-jerk reaction to negative movement and wrenches thrown into your process. To me, this always begs the question of a rogue competitor going out and hammering the web with bad links to intentionally bring down competitors. Some say “nah, that would be way too easy so there’s no way Google would just slap a site with bad inbound links”. But I have to say I often wonder because in this case, it was a good SEO campaign gone bad due to Penguin and Panda. However, just consider the fact that had a competitor dumped some fast cash into an nigthmarish link building campaign against his/her competitor, then wouldn’t the results have been the same?

  34. Anthony Garcia

    Mr. Viray
    I agree with most everyone else leaving a comment. It is by far the best explanation using examples, successes, and failures that I have read. Concise, insightful article regarding bad link removal strategy, the realistic road to recovery, and the future of S.E.O. Which seems to be telling us to “look” at providing ‘Great Content’ again, only this time with a fresh pair of +Glasses.

  35. Ryan Bradley

    Great testimonial Francis. I’ve been in a limbo penalty situation with another client, but have been hesitant to use the disavow tool until I was completely sure that’s what it was.

  36. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Thanks Ryan. Yes, use the Disavow tool. I hope you can revive your client’s website.

  37. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Mabuzi, 20K links may not mean unnatural. There are sites that have links way beyond that figure.

  38. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Andy,

    It is just my way of giving back to the SEO community who are always helpful too in many ways.

  39. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    First, when you ask for a link removal from webmasters, you should have a good proposition why they need to remove those links and in doing so, you are helping them to take out extra links out from their websites. Thus, making their websites more focused and themed. Tell them, they don’t want to link out to a penalized website. If I ask you, would you want to link out to a penalized website? I am sure, you don’t want it, right?

    Second, for those webmasters identified as accepting paid posts and paid links, they don’t deserve a single cent. If you give in to their requests, it will become an opportunity for more snake oil salesmen to just link you using their spammy sites and ask you dollars when you request for link removal. Then, it becomes a business for them needed to be cracked again by us. A hostage drama…

    I hope that helps, ChrisCD.

  40. John Mc

    Hi Francis. This is the first time I read you and I really enjoyed it. I hope to see more articles coming up. I already bookmarked your site. In regard to this case, I just have one question about the last paragraph which I didn’t understand very well, where you say:

    “The culprit was a single 301 redirect we’ve made from an old page (with too many inbound spammy links we’ve removed during our cleansing activity). For whatever stupid reason, we redirected it to another page and boom! the drop happened”.

    Honestly I don’t understand what you really did with this redirect. You had another TLD pointing to the site you are talking in this article, and that TLD had many spammy inbound links, so you removed the 301 of this TLD to the site of this site? @-@ sorry, I’d love if you can explain in some other what was the problem with this redirect and what you did to solve it. I really appreciate it.

  41. Divig Sethi

    Good Post, Learned alot from this, in the past i have also done the same thing, able to recover a site from penalty.

  42. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi John Mc,

    Thank you for your encouragement! =)

    The “old page” I am referring to was the client’s old page which we removed due to too many spammy inbound links but with some really good links too. When we were already okay since the traffic is picking up, we thought of redirecting that specific page to another page relevant to it but we knew made a mistake doing that given the sudden drop on traffic. So, we simply removed the 301 and we got back.

  43. Ron C. | SEO Copywriting

    As a matter of fact, bad publicity can sometimes help in bringing more traffic to your site. What do you say about that? Having said that, I always believed that slow and steady wins the race and always will. – Ron

  44. John Mc.

    Thanks Francis, I see it now more clearly, I appreciate you had answered. :thumbsup: I’m trying to solve an issue with 301′s too, I’ll pay more attention them, see you.

  45. John

    “we thought of redirecting that specific page to another page relevant to it but we knew made a mistake doing that given the sudden drop on traffic. So, we simply removed the 301 and we got back.”

    ok, so what did you do with the “old page” when you removed the 301 redirect? Did you put the old page contents back? or some kind of message? or just delete it and cause broken incoming links?

  46. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi John,

    “we thought of redirecting that specific page to another page relevant to it but we knew made a mistake doing that given the sudden drop on traffic. So, we simply removed the 301 and we got back.”

    ok, so what did you do with the “old page” when you removed the 301 redirect? Did you put the old page contents back? or some kind of message? or just delete it and cause broken incoming links?

    - We made it return 404.

  47. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Ron C,

    Having said that, I always believed that slow and steady wins the race and always will. – Correct!

    As a matter of fact, bad publicity can sometimes help in bringing more traffic to your site. What do you say about that? – Depends on your intention.

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  50. Teamgeist

    Crazy story. I don’t know if this would really work out in any case, but it is a nice success story. I like the part with the user experience.

  51. Liam

    Thanks for posting this ‘real life’ example of how you dealt with the GP, it certainly highlights the consequences of unnatural link-building and the effort it takes to remove the penalty!

    Must look into the 301 a bit more as my site has one for the Home Page – hxxp://mysite.com/ to hxxp://www.mysite.com?

  52. HarshAgrawal

    I had similar issue with one of article which is linked by spammer and getting 100′s of link everyday…. I started using Google disavow link tool to devalue all such links, but it didn’t helped….So finally I deleted that article and all links started pointing to 404 pages, which was a big relief….I could see traffic increasing..but not sure if it actually helped….

  53. Tobi2

    That are “good” news: Negative SEO works well and all people who won’t use the disavow tool will be ass kicked by Google. I love this extraordinary search engine.

  54. Larry Harman

    That’s a great story – intense read! What I love is the bottom line – just do your job well, provide users with good content and ignore tricks!

  55. Arne

    Never realised that there was such a thing as “reversed linkbuilding” :) Hopefully I will never have to face the same problems for a client, sounds like a nasty job :)

    Grtz from Holland.

  56. Wesley Warren

    Great article, and I am sure glad I read it. Following your instructions and John Doherty’s method, I discovered a ton of spam links to my site. I would have never even known they existed if I hadn’t read this article and then downloaded my link list from webmaster tools and gone through it line by line (laserlike backlink audit anyone?).

    I discovered a huge spam network with thousands of links to my site! I uploaded a disavow list and reported the site to Google.

    My traffic has dropped by over 50% since Penguin 1.1, so hopefully getting these links disavowed will help save my business too.

    Thanks for the great article.

  57. Peter

    How did your client get so many “bad” inbound links in the first place? If they were buying links from link sellers then you can’t be shocked that shady operators are continuing to be shady. In fact, your client encouraged the existence of such snake oil salesmen by hiring them in the first place!

  58. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Peter,

    If you will read again the last portion of the post, you will know the real value of what we we’ve provided our client.

  59. Denis

    This post is a must have for all the professionals that are doing this job. These kind of “case study” are the best way to improve our knowledge!!!! Thank you soooo much!

  60. Tom Forrest

    Hello Francis,

    Yes this is a fantastic write up, outstanding work.

    However what really baffles me is why people are not angry at Google to the point where they want to boycott Google and just use and promote Bing.

    What Google is doing is evil, wrong, and warrants a huge protest by webmasters all over the world.
    Google has created a big new industry called SEO Sabotage, and your article proves in detail how easy it is to sabotage another web site. Now we have many new web sites popping up with names like negitveSEO, etc. in there domain names.
    I am going to put up a link to your article today from my Blog: http://gototom2.blogspot.com/

    I hope I might be able to meet you someday as you are an outstanding SEO expert.

  61. Francis Gary Viray Post author

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you for your kind words. I hope to see you too someday.

  62. Aaron

    Love the case study. Thanks for the inspiration to continue efforts on a few of my sites that have been hit.

  63. John Cox

    I have to say although my line of work is with swimming pools I do all my website design content and SEO and i enjoy it like a hobby so I’m always on the lookout for some good writeups and articles.
    Thank you for this. This is excellent and scary at the same time.
    Well done from a novice :)

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  65. Kim Irwin

    Thanks for the great article. We have learnt a few hard lessons over the past few months, so we are reading up on as much new advice as we can.

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