Nick Cavarretta

Internet Marketing Blog Posts

Here are my rantings on internet marketing. I've given some good advice in some articles, and others, well. Take a look for yourself.

Penguin 3.0 Data Analysis & Next Steps


On October 18th (Australian EST), I faced my first Google slap as Penguin 3.0 was released. This update was a refresh from version 2.0, not a complete overhaul from what I understand; although no official release was published as yet. I have assessed a handful of websites and I noticed a few patterns already. I will go though two examples that I've come across from domains I've analysed, and explain how to take the first steps to recovery.

UPDATE: Google has performed a roll back and tweaked the algorithm. All websites I've performed link clean ups and submitted disavow files for have either completely recovered or partially recovered. I don't know the exact reason for a partial recovery, but I assume this is a sandbox where the sites are being monitored for spam.


Examples & Reasons

Firstly, I will outline a couple of reasons why a domain/website would be affected by the Penguin update. I'll be as open as possible and try not to hide anything, in order to gain the most accurate data analysis for you.

One reason I've come across, Google will issue an update when stocks go down. This forces businesses to open Adwords accounts when they drop in ranking. As you can see in the image, the date Penguin 3.0 was released – 17th October (USA time) – stocks started going up! This seems to be a trend the blackhat communities have pointed out.

Some people are frustrated with this, although I don't particularity think that is the only reason an update is released, although it may have influence on the time it's released.

What I did to gather data

I started reading a lot; I spent the whole week reading Penguin 2.0 case studies, internet marketing forums, blackhat forums and twitter posts. I pulled together all data I needed, and found some patterns. It really looked as though websites under two years old with 301 redirects, web 2.0 links or links from websites that looked as though they were part of a link network were the main reasons.

I haven't stopped reading. This came out today (time of this article being written and published).


Negative SEO

It exists. Apparently it doesn't work all the time with Google's algorithm being able to “detect” when a Negative SEO attack has taken place. Ok, we (SEOs) mainly know this, however, that algorithm is for detecting blasts; meaning thousands of spam links pointed root domain at once. Having said that, there is no detection in place for sneaky Negative SEO tactics such as phased attacks; the magical number looks as though it is three.

One domain was hit with a three phase attack, Ahrefs shows three spikes in link numbers over a period of six months. There is nothing I can do about it, besides use the disavow tool and hope for the best.

I hear people are using detox tools to monitor their links and updating their disavow file accordingly. To be honest, there is apparently a time period on when a disavow file will be accepted, so constantly doing so is a waste of time and money. I would like to know of any success stories though; preferably not on the products blog roll or from a affiliate.

Now, because this three phase attack succeeded, I fear for small business owners that have small budgets in a competitive niche. This is not fair for new comers to an industry! Any competitor can hire an offshore “SEO” a.k.a “spammer” and hand over any URL without a routine check or verification; just go to your spam folder, I bet you can find one right now. These people are not expensive either. I looked at the links pointed to the attacked domain, and I see they can be achieved with cheap link building software, content spinning software and proxies.

Looks like Google – Matt Cutts Spam Team – have a few things to answer for! To be honest, it's a dick move if you're using this technique to de-rank your new competitors.

Spam link building techniques

This is where things become a bit more interesting. I have one website I rank completely for testing purposes as part of my A/B testing regarding heat maps. I rank the website completely with blackhat SEO, by posting a lot of web 2.0 links to the domain and bought links from forum marketplaces. After Penguin 3.0 hit, the site dropped off the face of the earth, however, it was not de-indexed.

I though this would be the perfect situation to test if a recovery bounce back is possible. I don't want to loose all my heat map and design efforts. Geez. Quick note: Often people drop their burnt domains and start again. If you have spent a lot of time building something with love, it's not an option and you should follow the next section to attempt recovery.

How to start your recovery process?

This is where I can help the little guys with very little SEO recovery knowledge. Generally a link detox campaign will cost your thousands over months of hard work. If you follow my technique, you won't spend a single dollar! Please keep in mind, it will take some time and knowledge, so be patient and throw on some of your favourite music.

You can use the free versions of Ahrefs and Majestic if you link your website up and verify you own that site. Your website should be connected via a Webmaster Tools account. You should also have some knowledge on how to use Microsoft Excel, or something similar.

Now you have a list of all your backlinks!

This is the time consuming part. You can use a filtering method I used here and spot the spam domains with links from lots of URLs. This is where you can just disavow at a domain level. Put them into another sheet to keep things separate.

You can see this quick guide for building a good disavow file –

Once you have a list you can manage, then you will need to visit every single link manually to see what is it. You should open up two notepad text areas here, one for your disavow file – which should be saved in UTF-8 format – and the other so you have a list of good links.

In your disavow file, create some common comments so you can drop the links under the comment. I've listed some common comments I've made in disavow files last week:

  • # A directory we did not submit to
  • # Account suspended
  • # Web 2 with Spun Content
  • # Coming soon message
  • # Domain for sale page
  • # Domain parked page
  • # Domain does not exist
  • # Error establishing a database connection
  • # Forbidden message
  • # Getting a 404 page so No links found
  • # Hacked website with no idea on what it was
  • # Malware blocks me from seeing this site
  • # Nothing loads or times out

You may have more comments, but these comments had the most domains under them and it's a good start for you to start copy pasting your URLs from excel. The disavow file is automatic, so nobody will actually read your comments, but add them for your reference. This might take you days to complete this task, depending on how many links you actually have.

Feel free to add comments in your “good links” file also. You can even skip this process completely of you like.

Once your disavow file is finished, go to the submit disavow file and upload it. You will see a bounce back next refresh which is going to be more often now. If you can pull it all together when the update is still being rolled out, you will bounce back within days, which I did.

I submitted my file last week and the result shows in the image below. It's not quite a complete bounce back, but when you're cutting off hundreds of links, you will loose some domain authority.


What to do whilst you're waiting

Don't give up outreaching to bloggers, business partners and writing content. Keep the SEO going! It's not going to be a waste and will help you in your road to recovery. When the penalty is lifted, all good links you've built in that time will be taken into account, and you may gain your ranking/traffic again.

Keep building quality business citations also. Ask your fellow associates where they submitted their sites to business directories. Do a search, dig around. You will find some gems lying around.

You may want to open a Google Adwords account – although you may feel you're giving in – in the mean time. Adwords is still good and it's a great way to start digging into your competitors and testing what keywords will work for you.

Start advertising and gaining referral traffic. This is a great way to bring in the leads. SEO is a small part and shouldn't impact your income too much. Look into the local paper. Start having some fun on Youtube. Ask niche related sites if they have a price list and stats for advertising on their site. Start exploring outside the SEO world for a change.

Cant be bothered or don't have time?

You can always make an inquiry on my site. I'm not just an SEO consultant, I'm an online marketing consultant. If you're located in Sydney, Australia. I can come to your place for a consultation or build a training package for your team. Contact me today if you want to take that further.


I hope this helps! If you have an questions, feel free to ask me on twitter.



UPDATE: 16th November 2014

Lately I've completed a few more recoveries with success. Although I can never completely recover to the exact positions previous to Penguin roll out, I have discovered why that may be.

Each website that I have taken a look at, and semi-recovered, have very bad anchor percentages. As the links are devalued by penguin, it's possible that your true anchor text percentage is throw out. So relying on such tools such as Ahrefs and Majestic for this measurement, and diluting you anchor text percentages that way is no longer an option. You need to calculate your own percentages in Excel and add links you build to the spreadsheet.

This way you can monitor your progress and measure what affect your road to success is having.


Leave a Comment