Google Penguin Penalty Backlink Audit


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This is a case study of, a site who acquired a Google Penguin Penalty.

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Google Penguin Penalty Backlink Audit

  1. 1. Penguin
  2. 2. was one of the sites impacted by Penguin 2.0, losing close to60% of their traffic, according to SEOlytics.What caused this massive decrease in rankings and traffic?In this case study, I will analyze several link-related factors
  3. 3. IntroductionI will compare metrics against Elearners competitors, and within the sitesbacklinks, to look for red flags.As red flags are identified, I will investigate further until I arrive at possibleconclusions that explain this massive loss in traffic and rankings.Looking for insights into Penguin 2.0, we will search for commonalities andways these factors can affect a websites overall health.It is my belief that if a certain number of "red flags" are tripped, the site suffers aPenguin penalty. Whether the penalty is automatic or triggers a manual reviewis a question to which I have no answer.If we choose to believe Matt Cutts and Penguin 2.0 is an algorithmic penalty,we will assume that the penalty occurs after a certain amount of red flags aretriggered, and a threshold is crossed in a variety of metrics. Lets begin.
  4. 4. Step 1Identify your Competitors
  5. 5. Competitive Overview (SEMrush)Start by identifying the main competitors in the space
  6. 6. Step 2Quick Comparison
  7. 7. Backlinks Overview (BLP)How many total backlinks, and how many from unique Cclasses?Elearner has 44,271 links found, out of which 7538 are from unique C classes. This means they have a total of 17% oftheir links from unique C classes.
  8. 8. Quick Domain Compare (QDC)How does your site compare to your competitors?When the total backlinks, including links to subdomains, are analyzed there are over 2 million backlinks, much higherthan the other domains in the space. This is an instant red flag.
  9. 9. Quick Competitive Overview (CLA)How does your site compare to your competitors?Elearners has the highest Cemper Power Trust, but not the highest number of root domains, indicating there are toomany links from domains with high power or high trust..
  10. 10. Link Stats Comparison (Juice Tool)How do various link factors compare?Elearners is #4 in terms of the number of unique C class links. Power and Trust is similar for all, minus,which wasnt analyzed further.
  11. 11. Link Stats Comparison (Juice Tool)How do various link factors compare?Elearners has a normal distribution of Power and Trust.
  12. 12. Link Stats Comparison (Juice Tool)How do various link factors compare?Elearner has over 14k keywords ranking in the top 20 according to SEM rush. It is number 3 in this list, which shouldbe an indicator of trust, yet you can see the steep decline in traffic.Notice also the very high ratio of sitewide links, which is definitely a red flag.
  13. 13. Link Stats Comparison (Juice Tool)How do various link factors compare?In terms of Age, ACrank, PR, and Indexed pages, Elearners has a strong profile, similar to other competitors. By thelow TitleRank you can see a penalty. If you type their title into Google, you will see they come out as #10: OnlineSchools - Accredited Online Degrees - Online College Classes.
  14. 14. Link Stats Comparison (Juice Tool)How do various link factors compare?In all of these stats, Elearners is comparable, in fact stronger than most of the other sites.
  15. 15. Link Stats Comparison (Juice Tool)How do various link factors compare?Are social signals a factor in Elearners penalty? Even though Elearners has fewer than average Facebook likes,shares and comments, this isnt enough to prove significant. They are the 2nd most popular site on Stumbleupen.Social signals didnt prevent the site from contracting a penalty.
  16. 16. SummarySummary of Findings from Quick ComparisonsAfter looking at various factors, without looking in depth, no significant findings were made.Elearners was a little off on a couple of metrics, but nothing that immediately gave us an indication ofwhy it suffered a Penguin 2.0 penalty.
  17. 17. Step 3Detailed CompetitiveAnalysis
  18. 18. Link Status (CLA)Are most links followed, nofollowed, or redirected?Elearners has the highest percentage of follow links, showing evidence of contrived links.
  19. 19. Link Type (CLA)How are the links coded?Elearners has a high percentage of links from iframes. Why are so many links in frames? Why is this number so highcompared to their competitors? This needs to be investigated as part of this link audit.
  20. 20. Deep Links Ratio (CLA)How many of the links point to home vs internal pages?Elearners has a higher deep links ratio. Even though 5% is hardly significant, it simply calls to question why this site isabove average as compared to others in the niche.
  21. 21. Sitewide Links Ratio (CLA)What is the sitewide links ratio of the inbound links?Elearners has a similar profile as other competitors, with the exception of a slighthly elevated number of linking siteswith 1-10 inbound links. This doesnt give us any conclusive information.
  22. 22. Referring Class C (CLA)What is the distribution of the link popularity of the inboundlinks?Elearners has an unnatural ratio of links with more than 100K inbound links. While the average is 4%, they have anaverage of 8% of their links on sites with over 100K links.
  23. 23. Moz Domain Authority (CLA)What is the distribution of the Domain Authority of thebacklinks?Elearners has a similar profile as other sites in the niche for Domain Authority.
  24. 24. Google Author ID (CLA)How many of the links have Authorship?No significant data found here.
  25. 25. Google Page Rank (CLA)What is the PageRank distribution of the backlinks?Elearners has an average PR distribution. They have 520 N/A links, one of the lowest of the group, as well as only 70PR0 backlinks. On the high PR spectrum, they have 2 PR8 links, and 1 PR7 link, which is on the higher end of theaverage.
  26. 26. By AC Rank (CLA)What is the backlink distribution by Majestic AC rank?Elearner has fever domains with a 0 AC rank, and more domains in the high AC rank range. This is an unnaturalindication of acquiring links with too much power.
  27. 27. Link Velocity Trends (CLA)How quickly are the sites building backlinks?Elearners backlinks have a similar LVT as other competitors in the space.
  28. 28. By Retweets (CLA)How active are the sites on Twitter?Elearner seems to have a similar social profile to other competitors. No unnatural activity is apparent.
  29. 29. By Google +1s (CLA)How active are the sites on Google Plus?Elearner seems to have a similar social profile to other competitors. No unnatural activity is apparent.
  30. 30. TitleRank Home Page (CLA)How are backlink sites are ranking for their home pagetitle?Elearners has the lowest number of backlinks ranking #1 with only 669, which is 52% as opposed to the total averagewhich is 63%. They also have the highest number of sites that are not ranking in the top 30 results (31% where theaverage is 19%). This is a red flag.
  31. 31. Keywords Driving Traffic (CLA)How many keywords do competitors rank for?Elearners has a higher percentage of sites that have no rankings in Google. When it comes to sites in the "middle"Elearners has fewer, so they have significantly less than other competitors, who have a greater number of sites withbacklinks that have between 11 and 10,000 backlinks.
  32. 32. LP By PR & AC Rank (BLP)What is the PR and AC rank of the inbound links?Elearner has too many inbound links from sites that are not indexed in Google or have a PR or AC rank of 0. This isdisproportionate to other backlinks, as well as to other competitors.
  33. 33. SummaryDid Detailed Comparisons yield Red Flags?We found significant findings in the following areas:● Too many links in iframes● Deep links ratio is higher than competitors● Many of their inbound links have more than 100K inbound links● High number of high PR links. Both of these indicate high Power in their backlink profile ascompared to other domains.● They have the lowest number of sites ranking #1 for their home page title● Social Signals doesnt give us any conclusive information● They have a very high number of pages that are not indexed in Google, but the number isntsignificant when compared to competitors
  34. 34. Step 4Anchor Text Analysis
  35. 35. Keyword (CLA)What is the breakdown between Money terms vs others?To begin, we have to categorize the keywords into Brand, Compound, Money, and Other. This step can be timeconsuming but is essential.
  36. 36. Keyword (CLA)What is the percentage of Money Terms in the Anchor TextProfile? has the highest % for money, and lowest for Brand. This is a red flag.
  37. 37. Anchor Text: Elearners (BLP)What is the Anchor Text Distribution?Elearner has too many money keywords in anchortext.The top 4, 5, and 6 keywords are money terms. Thisis an instant red flag that this is a contrived link profilewith active anchor text manipulation. None of thedensities are too high, but the overall density for"Money" terms is too high.
  38. 38. Anchor Text: Devry (QDC)What is the Anchor Text Distribution?Notice the word map, how varied it is, focusing mostlyon brand terms. None of the money terms show up inthe top of the list for anchor density. This appears tobe a very natural profile
  39. 39. Anchor Text: Kaplan (QDC)What is the Anchor Text Distribution?Kaplan also has money terms at the top of their anchortext profile, except possibly worse as the actualdensities are higher. If this was a major issue forElearners, then Kaplan wouldve gone down too.However, Kaplan is stronger than ever after Penguin2.0.Why didnt Kaplan get hit by Penguin 2.0?
  40. 40. Anchor Text: Kaplan (BLP)Why is Kaplan not penalized by Penguin?I started by categorizing Kaplans backlinks and performing a detailed link analysis.Although Kaplan has money terms in the anchor distribution, and the anchor density is high, unlike,the distribution between brand and money terms is greatly normalized. 64% of their backlinks are Brand links, asopposed to 34% for Elearners. By having a greater variety and variations of Brand terms in their backlink profile,they are protected from algorithmic penalties. A quick analysis into their backlinks also shows a great number ofnatural, unpaid links.
  41. 41. Anchor Text: Phoenix (QDC)What is the Anchor Text Distribution?Phoenix has the most natural looking profile, with lotsof brand, click here, and organic terms. Its obviousthat theres been little done to contrive this backlinkprofile.
  42. 42. Anchor Text: Capella (QDC)What is the Anchor Text Distribution?As with Phoenix, Capella has a natural and diversebacklink profile.
  43. 43. SummaryWhat did Anchor Text Data Reveal?● Too many Money terms in the Anchor Text profile● Competitors that have high anchor text density were not penalized,possibly because of high Brand term density● Anchor text word map looks very contrived for Elearners, with the smallestpercentage of Brand Terms
  44. 44. Step 5Link Detox & Detailed LinkAnalysis
  45. 45. Link Detox Overview (LD)What is the Average Link Detox Risk?According to the system, Elearners has a very low risk of penalty or bad links. The system indicates Low Risk,therefore the bad links are very well hidden, to avoid duplication. We already know the site is penalized. What are thelinks hiding that could give us insights into this penalty?
  46. 46. Link Detox Overview (LD)Do any of the links stand out?Even though only 1% of the links are perceived to be toxic, we still have 36% of the links that are suspicious. Thesesuspicious links may be where the problem is hidden. Now well take a look at some of these links individually forfurther information.
  47. 47. Scan Combined Backlinks (CLA)Does anything jump out when you sort and scan through tebacklinks of the group?Download the CLA spreadsheet toExcel, and start scanning thebacklinks.I found a PR 8 to Elearners fromStudyAbroad, and noticed that its a"Partners link" at the footer. This is afooter link thats sitewide and availableon every page of those 4 sites.This is an indication of a potentialnetwork, leading to negativeinterlinkage.Looking at other competitor backlinks,many look natural. Elearners hasmany educational sites with keywordsin the URL, which look unnatural.
  48. 48. Link Detox Overview (LD)Network alert! Network alert!All of these domains are owned by the same person, creating a link network. This is a HUGE red flag.
  49. 49. Link Detox Overview (LD)Identical sites on different domainsHere you can see that the sites are almost exactly the same, with almost identical templates and content, but withdifferent domains and color schemes. There are other sites that are not quite as obvious but are part of the samenetwork.
  50. 50. Backlinks (BLP)If you spot test the links, do they seem clean/natural, or arethey acquired/contrived?First I sorted by PR, deleted all of the N/As (of which there are a lot!!), and started spot-testing the high quality links.Here are a few examples of my findings: appears to be a paid contextual link. of the links end up at Elearners, which is obviouslyanother site that is part of this link network.So far, all of the high PR backlinks that Ive spot testedare either purchased or part of their own network!
  51. 51. Scan Elearners Backlinks (BLP)Paid Links on USAToday?!Even a link on USAtoday, which mightve been editorial, is purchased! You can see at the top of the page, the link
  52. 52. SummaryWhy did the Link Profile look healthy?Elearners hid their toxic links very well, behind high profile / high quality paid links and link networks.How can Link Detox identify very healthy, high quality sites as toxic links?The reason Google is gunning for paid links is because:A. They WorkB. They are Difficult to IdentifyAs you can see from this analysis, these paid and network links can easily avoid detection.This is the reason they are applying HEAVY penalties for link buyers and sellers.So what gave Elearners away, and caused the Penguin 2.0 penalty?
  53. 53. ConclusionsHeres a summary of my findings:The Xs are the number of strikes. Could it be that after a certain amount of strikes a site automatically incurs apenalty? Or could it trigger a manual evaluation, resulting in a slap?
  54. 54. ConclusionsSo why did get a Penguin 2.0 penalty?Too Many Unnatural RatiosAfter analyzing about 20 factors, we found red flags in about 10 of the different items.Too Many Paid LinksGiven that many of their high PR links are paid links, these may have been identified by the algorithm or a manualreview, resulting in the penalty. By penalizing Text Link Ads and their network, Google is making it clear that they haveno tolerance for people buying or selling links. Spot testing their backlinks shows many paid links, with just a fewexamples below: (one of theirs)
  55. 55. ConclusionsSo why did get a Penguin 2.0 penalty?Elearners is part of a Link NetworkMany of their inbound links are part of the same network, many registered by the same person, others hidden behinddifferent registrars, even more hidden behind private registrars. Upon inspection its fairly obvious that theyre ownedby the same company.Its likely the network started years ago with them buying high PR links, which earned them visibility. This visibility ledto some natural links, including links from some .gov and .edu sites. From this authority and pagerank, they continuedto create more sites to create a large link network of sites, all interlinked or randomly linked.This network includes hundreds of niche sites, each focusing on specific degrees. By linking within the network usingfooter links or iframes, all of those sites gained high pagerank. By looking at the BLP backlinks and investigating eachof these network links, many of them retain pagerank, titlerank, and SEMrush keywords, therefore the entire networkhasnt yet been popped. Many of the sites continue to thrive and feed the main site, elearners.comToo many links with Money Terms in their Anchor TextTheir anchor text profile shows a large number of money terms, higher than other competitors in the space.Simultaneously, the number of Brand terms is lower than other competitors in the niche. Looking at their anchordensity word map also shows that there are few "noise" keywords, thus showing a contrived backlink profile..
  56. 56. Protect your site Against Penguin!So what does this Penalty tell us about Penguin 2.0?Watch your Ratios!Keep an eye on all of your ratios, as evidenced by various fields in this case study. If too many of your ratios lookunnatural as compared to others in your niche, these red flags may result in a manual review or penalty.Watch the number of Money Terms in your Anchor TextIts not enough to just watch your anchor density - you also have to watch the percentage of money terms in youranchor text. Study other competitors that have healthy, natural link profiles and emulate them. Or, better yet, followtheir same tactics to acquire natural links.Use Brand and Noise Terms in your Anchor TextTry working on link building without contriving your anchor text. Allow people to link to you however they want, to resultin natural looking links.
  57. 57. Protect your site Against Penguin!]So what does this Penalty tell us about Penguin 2.0?Dont Buy Links!Buying links worked for years, but Google knows this is a weakness in their algorithm and by using Penguin, with acombination of manual reviews, they are now able to penalize sites that are buying links. You may buy links and getaway with it for a time, but eventually its possible that your link buying may trigger a penalty, causing your site to tankin the rankings. And, as many people know by now, once you have a Penguin penalty its very difficult, almostimpossible, to recover.Avoid Link NetworksIts very tempting to buy into a link network, or to create your own network of niche sites. Many people do it by buyingexpired domains, or by finding established networks and joining. This may work for a time, but eventually some ofthese ratios will be triggered, and the network will be found. Once you catch the tail of a network, exposing the rest isfairly easy.Network builders try hard, but there are always footprints left to find, and with the sophistication of Googles algorithms,you better believe the network will be identified and penalized.