I felt it necessary to respond to the report that was published today by Link Research Tools on my high profile penalty removal case for cashlady.co.uk. I say that this case is "high profile" because we were able to get a rare response from Matt Cutts on Twitter when we asked him for help with this case. Matt's comments that the webspam team were concerned about other sites that were owned by my client created a bit of a stir amongst SEO's that felt that Google would look at all of your sites when considering whether to remove a penalty. Barry Schwartz wrote about this here on SERoundtable.
A blocked number phone call
I received a phone call today to my private cell phone number from a blocked caller ID.
"Hi Marie! It's Ryan! How are you?"
Ryan (whom I have never spoken to before) was very excited to tell me about how he had voluntarily done a report on my client so that he could help us out. When I read the report though, I was not impressed. Who knows...perhaps I am writing this because the report may be putting me and the team at HIS Web Marketing in a bad light by saying that we missed some unnatural links...(or did we?). Maybe writing this article is just a way for me to blow off some steam before heading to bed tonight. But, I think that there are some very important points that need to be made.
Here's the article: http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/cashlady-payday-loan-google-penalty/
It ends with the following advice:
I think I’ve managed to shed some light on this case and actually help Marie (and CashLady.co.uk) a lot.
We highly recommend Marie to use all the extra links to get that penalty lifted.
The problem is that the list of extra links that they found are not links that Google would need to see removed in order to get the penalty lifted. Cash Lady fully admits to hiring an offshore link building company to build low quality comment spam and forum links. This was a tactic that, although unsophisticated, used to actually work quite well. I believe that we have addressed the vast majority of these links (if not all of them.) The links that Matt Cutts gave us as example links were all in our disavow file. I'll discuss later in this post what the main reasons are for this site not being able to pass reconsideration and what we plan to do about it.
Links found by Link Research Tools
Here is the link that the article gives us as an example of one that they were able to find that was not in our disavow file:
So let's look at this link:
Can you see why it was not in our disavow file? It's nofollowed.
Now, there are some SEO's who do believe that nofollowed links should be added to your disavow file. However, when Google employee John Mueller was asked about whether nofollowed links need to be added to a disavow file, this is what he said,
You don’t need to include any nofollow links…because essentially what happens with links that you submit as a disavow...when we recrawl them we treat them similarly to other nofollowed links. Including a nofollow link there wouldn’t be necessary.
The article also gives us a list of links that the tool found for us to disavow that we had apparently missed. Here are some of the links:
I know it's hard to believe, but these are actually natural links to my client's site. Yes...it is possible for a payday loan broker to get natural links! This is why, if you use tools to find your unnatural links, it is extremely important to still manually review the links.
The rest of the article
I won't go in to great detail with my thoughts on the rest of the article as it is late and I feel that I have written enough to get this post out of my head so that I can sleep tonight. There is a lot of discussion on redirects and also a large amount on how to find the links built by the Indian link building company...but that's ok because we've managed to get a list from the company. And then there is more on the number of sites that are owned by the company. And this is likely the main issue that we need to face...
Our plan for our next reconsideration
Matt Cutts was quite clear in his tweets to me and gave us a couple of really good reasons as to why we have not been able to pass this reconsideration. And Matt...if you happen to read this, I can't tell you how grateful I am that you took the time to reply!
He started off by pointing out examples of comment spam. At first I thought that these were comments we had missed, but all of them were actually in our most recent disavow. We actually spent a good many hours doing what I call "Creative Google Searches" using our brains and a bit of Scrapebox help as well to see if we could find additional comments to disavow but could not find any more. I believe that we have covered close to 100% of the bad links.
But then he said this:
@Marie_Haynes and make sure to press your client about exactly how many "quick case" sites they own, because it appears to be several.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 7, 2014
(I believe he meant to say "quick cash" by the way...not "quick case".)
Matt's right. There are a good number of sites online that are owned by my client. In our current reconsideration request we are giving good proof that Money Gap Group does own several legitimate businesses. We are also taking steps to noindex and remove (using the url removal tool) sites that were created for other marketing purposes.
This tweet though is really the crux of the issue:
@Marie_Haynes so I worry that you haven't truly gotten through to your client, who shows signs of long-standing, mass, deliberate spam 🙁
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 7, 2014
Money Gap Group is well aware that they have broken the rules. They had a large number of unnatural links built for them over the years. Prior to this year, I would venture a guess that the majority of loan broker sites online did the same thing. Does that make it right? No.
Google is understandably much harder on sites who have a long standing history of cheating the system. Our only way of succeeding at reconsideration here is to convince the webspam team that the company really has reformed and will not be building unnatural links ever again. For most sites, this can be accomplished by doing a thorough cleanup. But, in our case we will need to do more. We are currently putting together an account for our next reconsideration request of the company's new plan for marketing along with additional evidence that will hopefully show that spam is no longer a part of the plan and will never be done again.
One more word about our clients
I know that the payday loan industry is not looked upon favorably. I would like to say though that the loan companies that I have worked with, including Money Gap Group, owners of Cash Lady have been fantastic people to work with. They have given me full permission to write this article and also to mention their url in the Webmaster Forums and in my attempts to get feedback from Matt Cutts, John Mueller and others on Twitter and Google Plus.
However, Link Research Tools did not ask our permission to publish any of this information. I feel that our situation has been used as a marketing tactic to get people to use their product.
But hey...who am I to judge. I suppose that me writing this blog post (at what is now close to 1 am) could be looked at as a marketing tactic as well. If you're looking for someone who is good at removing unnatural links penalties, let us know. 🙂
John Mueller has said in the past that any site that is penalized by Google has the ability to recover. We are proud of our 100% success rate at removing penalties over the last two years and don't plan to give up on this job until the penalty is gone!
I am not looking forward to opening this post up to comments because I'm sure there will likely be some negative comments. Yes, we fully understand that Cash Lady deserved to be penalized and that the company on a whole has taken part in a good amount of unnatural tactics in order to rank well on Google. When the penalty does get removed, there will not be a whole lot propping the site's rankings up. We know that. Still...if you would like to weigh in on the situation either with Cash Lady or with the Link Research Tools report then leave a comment below.
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I have tired numerous link analysis tools and I have not found a single one that works 100%. And when it comes to penalty work you need to be close to 100% as possible. It’s hard enough to get a penalty revoked with correct data let alone flawed data.
It would be helpful of Google did give us more specific information.
1) not enough links removed
2) incomplete spam link list
3) disavow file incomplete
4) you spammed for too long and we won’t lift the penalty for “X” of months
5) other: ___________________
I have on one occasion seen a link that was 100% natural show up as an example. Super fustrating but was also easy to remove. Just shouldn’t had to remove it.
I still believe some manual penalties are so sever that Google will not let you recover for a specific time frame.
Stuart, at best, I’ve found no one link source can provide more than 20-30% of client’s overall backlink profile. I personally use a minimum of 4 link exports (Majestic, OSE, Google, and LRT) when dumping a master list for link review and removal before filtering out duplicates. Ahrefs is great and that’s fine if you want to switch that in for something but I’ve been fine never using it.
I agree that Google should provide “more” transparency and both Marie and myself can attest that we’ve also received sample links in the past that where either:
1) Not in the export of Google provided links at all.
2) or an actual, natural, editorially-given link
Though I’ll admit, that since last December, the sample links we’ve been given have improved DRAMATICALLY. It’s certainly made my work that much easier.
Next, I’m not a believer that you need to get to 100% removal nor has that ever been achieved in any of the 100+ projects I’ve done over the last several years. The largest percentage I’ve even seen removed (and remember, this is assuming we found all the links to begin with) was 87% and that was on a recent project here in 2014. And per John Mueller in a Google Hangout chat early last year, it was clear that the “implied” standard was to get to somewhere between 70-80% – so that’s always a good window to shoot for.
Finally, you state above that it would be great for Google to provide an “X number of months” ect before a penalty may be lifted. Honestly, compared to what Google used to offer just two years ago, their transparency now with Webmasters is ASTOUNDING.
At least now you receive a note that says, “you still have links to remove and we suggest you not submit another reconsideration request for 3-5 weeks because link pruning takes time.” That’s honestly about all I expect from Google regarding “timing advice” to be handed down in 2014. 🙂
Good luck with your link pruning projects and connect with me on Twitter, one penalty guy to another.
Thanks Stuart. I agree that in many cases it would be really helpful to get a better explanation as to why a site can’t recover.
I’ve definitely seen natural links given as examples as well. Sometimes I’ve removed them. But, for some of them I have challenged Google and they lifted the penalty without me removing the link.
Yep I definitely challenge them – at the end of the day humans are involved on both sides of this process we all make mistakes… Google are no different
the link tools I’ve seen in action all fall way short, miss mass volumes of links that a human eye can spot within seconds as being train-wreck bad, and sweep up countless valid links. Several site owners and agencies have hired me in recent months to get involved when their money went out the window after paying for clean-up from automated systems, only to have lost months of time with disappointing results.
The other side of the coin however, is that manual reviewers aren’t always willing to use critical thinking regarding links that are legitimate, but “give the appearance” of being bad. So that doesn’t help at all…
Interesting points Alan. Thanks for commenting! Yes, I’ve seen a lot of people who on manual review have chucked out links that were actually good ones. For example, one client removed his Better Business Bureau listing because it was a directory that was producing a large number of links!
Great, great stuff Marie, and here I was concerned I wouldn’t find anything “interesting” to read at 11pm PST while I’m up late. First, I like how you made it a point to specifically NOT activate that link to the LRT report itself, and instead make us paste that into a browser. Don’t even legitimize them with an active link. Nice.
I’ve used LRT for awhile, and like you, I’ve found several of their case studies laughable in many aspects. Even this one is littered with poor grammar, some clear “side swipes” at other parties and a quick tendency to “pat themselves on the back” for what amounts to just being able to RUN LRT REPORTS.
I also could not agree more with the practice of making sure to “manually review flagged links.” I just received a GWT notice this evening from a client who had submitted a disavow file that contained over 1350 domains, all of which they just exported straight from LRT….and yet he only had 1397 at my last count. He did it without consulting me or asking me to review the work at all [face palm].
Anyway, I applaud your client’s transparency in allowing you to publish this information and personally I look on it as a SINCERE attempt by them to come out of the shadows of a history of “poor choices.” I wish more clients would be comfortable airing this stuff in a public forum. If there is one thing we do not have enough of in this industry, it’s transparency.
Next, it’s hard to take Bartosz Góralewicz and his team seriously when they referenced NOFOLLOW LINKS REPEATEDLY in their analysis. [double face palm]
Finally, don’t think for a moment I haven’t realized you’ve used this post to drop not one but TWO dofollow Branded links back to both cashlady.co.uk and their ownership group, Money Gap Group. Clearly a good way to replace some of this lost and pruned link equity. 🙂
Best wishes from SoCal Marie.
Hi Casey! You’re on to me now with my evil plan to link to my clients. 🙂
I know that you use LRT in your link cleanup work and I do think that there can be a valid place for tools like this. But people have to know that you can’t just run a report, disavow the results and succeed!
Highlighting a link from the Metro – an editorially given link from a reputable UK newspaper – I know people who would pay a lot of money for an organic link like that!
I totally agree that these automated tools lead a lot to be desired but you can easily tell if a link is natural if you have a decent data set to work from plus a well trained pair of eyes for crappy links.
And to be honest I can’t think of one time a Deep Dive into some businesses link profile has helped me with my link removal work – although I find myself referencing your articles regularly with clients and internally at Hit Reach!?!
Thanks for the kind words Chris.
I have to laugh now at the emotions I went through yesterday when reading their report. Here’s me…
“Oh crap. I missed links. This doesn’t make me look good…but I’ll keep an open mind and maybe this will help my client. Wait….that link is nofollowed. And WHAT? They want me to remove a link from The Metro?”
And then I realized that the article was not a slight against us but rather a marketing pitch for their tools.
Those Deep Dive analysis posts are terrible and offer zero value. I question why people go to the efforts of producing them to only get a certificate. Just a poor sales pitch for a bunch of over priced tools.
Mary, I was posting in the comments of that article on LRT that criticized your work and along with many others chimed in against LRT to defend some of the innuendo and negative comments they were making against you. BUT THEN LRT STARTED DELETING MY COMMENTS & NO DOUBT OTHERS TOO. That makes me really mad!
Below is my post they deleted POSTED FIRST ON THEIR ARTICLE (hatchet job) on LRT. Pls remember this is a post in response to them not to you but I do think it raises fair questions for all involved, but really it should be considered in context with that prior debate, where I had already pulled them up on many other issues such as calling Mary ‘some random woman who’s just given up building link wheels’. Disgusting. Then I pulled them up on the NO-FOLLOW NONSENSE they were spouting from the DIRECTOR DOWN. Some quotes from me ” there is an obvious lot of nonsense being spouted in that article about nofollows and convincing people to be paranoid about these links” “more importantly it highlights ignorance and mistaken beliefs about nofollows from your director downwards. It also shows how much noise and extra work is created when running your tools which clearly highlight false negatives and false positives leaving much noise and manual work with hardly any gains over doing the whole lot manually.”
THE DELETED POST:
John watson March 14, 2014
When companies start to threaten to remove fair comments and debate when they are on shaky ground, you know the game is up.
“Various comments from weird country free-hosters in AR,PT,etc. with fake names above will be automatically deleted in a couple hours”
FWIW being in Argentina and knowing how to speak English does not constitute a crime, stick to the debate and argue your case if you believe you have one. The points that I and others made were valid criticism based on things that were said by LRT and negative comments that were made against Mary.
The fact remains that the links found were of no significant value to this project being recovered. Nor are they the main cause of the penalty. MOST IMPORTANTLY: This site will be impossible to recover! The company has shown contempt and blatant disregard for Google T&C and there is no way (in this sector) with this site and the companies previous nature shown across their whole network (now penalized) that they have a hope in hell of getting the penalties lifted. Have you ever genuinely told such clients when they have NO hope of recovery given the history and discoveries which were already public?
The really disingenuous act here is that LRT are proclaiming that such sites could have their penalties lifted – IF ONLY THEY WOULD PAY LRT instead of using these random SEO’s who have just stopped playing with linkwheels. The TRUTH IS THIS: LRT wouldn’t be able to get this penalty lifted and you know it! It’s disingenuous to lead people on, clearly only so you can leach a few more bucks out of them with no hope in hells chance of any success.
If you really want to demonstrate your prowess as a company, you need to publish real case stories about sites which were banned and recovered using your services, with as much detail when they are your own clients as you do when they are random companies who you pick off the net who you have no connection with, where you undermine the people working on the projects, lead others to believe LRT would have had the penalties lifted where there’s not a chance in hell, all the while creating more public mess for those companies who never asked you for your advice in the first place.
Thanks John. I saw your comment on that article and thought it was quite good. I can still see it there now though. I had one comment that went up and then was taken down…I think because it went into spam. But when I questioned them they put it back up again.
I was commenting on the fact that they were recommending disavowing a number of links that were really good natural links. Sadly, I think you’re right that the main purpose of that article was to promote their tools.
I agree. I used a link removal service but found that it recommended removing links I already knew about and was removing already or links I wouldn’t remove because they were natural links. Or no follow links. It wasn’t useful at all.