Case Study: Google Penalty And How We Recovered
I have waited for a little bit over three months to write this article. In one of the recent article published on this blog, I wrote about my experience with an expired domain, and how hopeful I was for the project. Because the site was picking up really fast, and we pumped numerous high-quality articles. If you miss the post, you can read about it here.
This post is more of an update to the progress of that site, how we got penalized by Google and how we recovered from the penalty (still recovering).
Before I progress, let me establish the basis for those that are not familiar with how Google search engine works.
How Google Search Works…
When you publish content on your site, Google would send a crawler to your page to come to check the content of the page. Crawling precedes indexing… Indexing means, after your content has been crawled, their algorithm would try to make sense of the content and then decide where to place it in their huge collection of contents about the topic.
From time to time, the algorithm will reorganize the content they have on that topic, and you stand a chance of moving up in the arrangement if the algorithm thinks you’re doing fine.
I have obviously oversimplified the entire process, because what “doing fine” means is that, you’re following a larger percentage of over 200 ranking factors that Google considers when analyzing a page.
Some of this factors are much more important than the other, and we don’t even know most of the factors, but every now and then, SEO around the world, will conduct various experiment to determine some of the important things that Google focus on when ranking pages about a particular topic.
Aside from having high-quality content (in most cases), backlinks is another important factor that Google considers in deciding who comes first in the search engine result page. Of the truth, the entire SEO industry revolves around backlinks, and agencies make millions of dollars every year from providing backlink service.
Most of these services are subpar… But that’s a story for another day.
Since we’re talking about backlink now, let me explain the concept of domain authority as well. Because backlink is important, Google has designed a way to keep track of the backlinks pointing to a particular URL, and then they take note of the number of backlinks pointing to a page, and how old the website is, to determine the “Authority” of a particular website.
Let’s pause a little bit.
What has authority got to do with all of these?
It’s a legitimate question.
And it is best explained using an example:
Let’s say a site A has been around for 10 years, and site B is just 5 months old. If site B should publish an article about “How to get away with murder” for example, and site A decides to publish an article on the same topic as well. If all other factors are properly considered, then there are huge tendencies that site A will rank higher than site B.
Simply because site A is older and has been around for a longer period of time, and it has more backlinks pointing to it than the 5months old site B. There is no simpler way to explain it, but I hope you get a brief understanding, so we can progress with the main issue.
Because SEO is a huge business, people discovered that site B shouldn’t suffer because it’s just 5 months old. After several experiments, SEO found a way around it. People discovered that you can inherit age and authority. In other words, you can buy your age, and authority, giving you a chance to compete with old established sites.
This is how expired Domain and Repurposed Domain became a trend in the SEO world. The idea behind the use of an expired domain is to find an aged expired domain, with authority, then revive the domain and use it either as a new site or redirect it to a new site. This method works most of the time, in the sense that, it basically fool Google into thinking, the old site has been restored, and it would give her the same respect it had before going offline.
If you know what you’re doing, this method can greatly speed up the process of making money from the internet. It takes a bit of knowledge, and investment because expired domains are not cheap. But if you get it right, you will be happy you tried.
So this is exactly what we did for the site in question.
We bought an expired domain with good authority, and the repurposed it for out new affiliate site, we let sit there for a while, then we pumped lots of contents on the domain, and then it began to rank, bit by bit, and in a matter of 60days, it was starting to gain traction.
Everything was fine!
Life is good! We were patiently anticipating the huge payday… But after some months, I discovered that I made a huge mistake.
Before I tell you what the mistake is, let me quickly point out, that the method I described above is totally against Google’s term of service. Google frown on it, so badly that if you’re caught, you might spend the rest of your days in oblivion (not you literally, but your site.)
Now, back to the mistake I made…
I realized few months in, that this site would be a very seasonal site, and when the season is not on, it would make very little, so I had a discussion with my partner, that we should consider, diversifying the niche into something less seasonal.
The diversification also comes with getting some backlinks to some of the newly published pages, so as to push them to the Number one spot.
It seems like a really good plan until it backfired.
How We Got Penalized
Up till date, I still can’t tell, what led to manual action penalty we got from Google. But I have my suspicions. I was initially worried, it’s because we repurposed an old domain for an affiliate site, but I have been able to strike that out of my suspicions because Google eventually removed the penalty, after several months.
The second explanation is the PBN vendor we used. This is very much likely, because few days after I got the manual action message from Google, I systematically traced the PBN sites of our vendor, and I realized that all the PBNs are offline. This is not just a conincidence… They must have been flagged by Google, I mean the entire PBN network took a hit.
Although the vendor did not confirm it, up till date, he stopped replying my emails too. In no time, I figured it’s time to move on. The over $600 spent on the backlink is gone. It’s a black market deal, so there is nobody to hold responsible.
These things happen a lot in the niche site business, you just have to tread with caution, lest you lose your whole investment in buying shady links.
As at the time of writing this, I am sure that the manual action was a result of those PBN links.
But one thing I am still not clear about is, whether it was because the entire network took a hit, and we were caught on the network, or because we sent the first batch of links to money pages, instead of trying to warm things up a little bit.
Anyway, I would most probably never get an answer to this, so I have decided to just move on.
After getting the email, I began to think of how to life the manual action penalty. What happens when you get a penalty from Google is that, you traffic nosedives. They basically push your traffic to the search result page. So if you’re ranking on let’s say #1 spot before, after the penalty, you might end up on #40+ sometimes, you might just go off totally, we’re talking of 300+ position.
What that implies is that it’s a very sad situation to be, especially if you invest as much time as we do on our websites.
Recovery After Google Penalty
I have commissioned our writers to write some massive content for the site, and the plan was that I would publish this content one after the other, at least one per week, just to keep the content fresh, but getting the penalty changed the plan.
My focus shifted from keeping the site content fresh, to get it out of the manual action. The number one mistake I made, which I would advise that you avoid at all cost is this:
The moment I got the penalty email, I knew it was the PBN link, so I waited for like five (5) hours, submitted a disavow file including the PBN links we bought, and I submitted a reconsideration request that same day.
From all indication, that’s a very wrong move!
If anything, it shows that we’re guilty as charged. What I should have done was to submit a disavow file for the shady links, and then wait for a week before sending the reconsideration request.
As expected, the reconsideration request did not receive any response. So I waited for another three weeks before sending another request.
Now, I did something along the line.
I would not be sharing this tip publicly because it’s a method that is still very well kept within the SEO community. But if your site ever gets the manual action, and you need to submit a reconsideration request, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me privately and I will share the details with you.
This method that I applied made the review process easier and faster.
After three unsuccessful attempts, I reached out to some veteran in the business, and they taught me the method to get it done faster and easier. I applied the method, and in two weeks, the reconsideration request was approved, and the manual action was lifted.
Current Site Status: Expenses, Earnings, and Profit/Loss
I won’t rule this project out as failure (yet) because it’s a very seasonal niche. So if we’re able to keep this level of traffic up till November and December, I believe we will make the investment back and maybe a profit. We really wouldn’t know until the time comes. But as far as spending is concerned, we’re not spending anything on it again, for now.
We would just let it sit and see what happens to it over time.
But let me give you an idea of how much we’ve spent, and how much we’ve made from it so far.
Cost of domain: $750
Cost of content: $1,000
Cost of the PBN links: $600
There is no way I can account for the time I have invested but give or take, If I am hiring a VA to get the work done, I would have paid close to $1000 for the time as well. But that wouldn’t be considered as part of the investment.
So in total, we’ve spent close to $2,350.
Amazon US: $350
Amazon UK: $35
Amazon Canada: $30
In total, the site has made: $450.
Which means we’re currently at a loss of $900.
If you’re familiar with the business, you would know that we’re not really at loss, if we don’t experience any penalty again. And if the festive season favors the site.
Even without all of that, if we find an expert that is interested in buying the site, we would evaluate it more than $900 so, in the real sense of it, we stand a real chance of making back out investment.
Also, as far as investment and affiliate marketing is concerned, we did not invest much. I mean our $2350 investment is really nothing in the real sense of it.
So you’d get the point, Spencer Haws of Niche pursuit is running a public case study of his latest project, and up till date, he has spent a little over $14,000 on the site, and it’s just about to cross the $1000/month earning.
But that’s not the point of all of these.
The point is that readers would understand the ups and down of the business. That you would not just see a case study and think the person is lucky, or think it is easy, it’s not. Just like any other business, it’s not easy to grow a site to a very profitable stage, simply because there are lots of variables involved.
This particular project would have done very well if I had not made the mistake of selecting a seasonal niche with a low priced item. I take the blame for that. Because a site that is getting at least 10,000 page views per month, should be making nothing less than $300 per month consistently. In a sane niche. But this niche of ours is not sane.
I have a friend in the niche as well, and his site can go from doing $1500-$2000 per month to doing $20,000 in November and December. So basically, the anticipation is always towards the festive season. I have hopes for this project to make some nice income during that season as well. If we don’t get hit by Google again.
But before the festive season, my plan is to replace Google Ads with a better option, people say lots of good things about Ezoic and a host of others. If the site can get a 10,000 visit this month, I will change from Google ads to something better by the beginning of next month.
I know you would have lots of questions, If you read to this point, please don’t hesitate to drop your question and I will gladly respond to it as time permits.
I will write one more post about this project, let’s hope it will be a positive one. But I won’t publish it until December or January next year, that way we would be sure if it’s a total failure or not.