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Site I thought was legitimate got hit by Penguin



8:28 pm on Nov 12, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I haven't been hanging out here or at any other SEO sites much for quite a while now, so I'm a little behind with what is going on with Google updates.

But from what I can tell, since traffic on my main site dropped down to about a 3rd of what it was around the end of April, I guess I've been hit by Penguin.

In any case, my site is a legitimate site, not just set up for spam, blackhat stuff or something like that. And Google was very effective at shutting down most of the traffic to my site.

I posted a little about it a while back in another forum. Some years ago me and a few other bloggers had all applied to another site to be one of their bloggers and got rejected, so we decided to set up a little network of our own about the same, somewhat broad, topic. We had no intention of doing anything spammy, hadn't even thought of anything like that.

Shortly after we started I noticed one member the group had hidden text and stuff on his site, so I never linked to him, just to the others. The other people in the group didn't know html or SEO, mostly they had blogspot blogs and stuff like that, so they had no idea what he was doing.

I noticed recently that he was still linking to me (as well as the others) and that his site had gotten even worse - very spammy looking with possible malware, etc.

I also noticed in GWT that the largest number of links to my site were from him. 8254 at the time, then 8500 and last I checked, 8748.

Not aware that the disavow tool had just been released I went searching for something like that and found it. When I asked about it most people seemed to advise against using it - but I finally did. Saturday night I decided to do it anyway, even if it didn't have anything to do with my traffic loss in April, I don't really want to be associated with that site.

On my disavow.txt file, I left really long comments explaining the whole thing, like here, only in more detail with specifics. I'll wait and see if it helps any.

Of course it could have also been that the links from his site were helping me before, got discounted and so my rankings dropped, I don't know.

I should try and get some more links - more recent ones, to my site, but that is hard. I used to think I knew what I was doing, now I don't know where to start.

I worry a little about some pages that are kind of short, but then I've seen web sites of major magazines that have pages with little actual text that seem to be doing just fine - a couple paragraphs of text and the rest of the page is ads or links to other internal pages. They divide the article text up into lots of short pages, my site isn't any worse than that and I don't have a tons of ads or other links on those pages either.

I'll still try to make those pages better, I had been planning to reorganize/reformat the main content of the site anyway, so I guess I can try and do that sooner.

I'm curious to know if others with 'legitimate' sites have also been affected like me? Has anyone else left really long comments in their disavow file? I don't know if that will annoy them or they will really read it and see that my site a real site and wasn't trying to be involved in something bad.

Any thoughts?

Robert Charlton

4:13 am on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

...so we decided to set up a little network of our own...

Trisha - Apart from the links from the member with the hidden text etc on his site... it's possible that Google might see your "little network" as manipulative.

What percentage of your backlinks would you say came from within the network vs from outside the network?

Did you and the other bloggers also favor each other with anchor text in your links to each other?

Take a look at...

Google Webmaster Guidelines

...and particular at the section on linking...

Link schemes

Any links intended to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site, or outgoing links from your site. Manipulating these links may affect the quality of our search results, and as such is a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

You suggest in your post that you once upon a time hung out at various SEO forums, so you may not have been completely naive about the importance of backlinks to help you rank. I'm guessing that much of the information on the SEO sites you've seen, though, emphasized only the manipulative aspects of linking, and, if so, that may be unfortunate for you now.

In the disavow file, I'd keep comments and excuses as short as possible. You might also want to double-check whether you've included all the links you should be disavowing. I myself would assume that if you did have a small, closed group that interlinked, those links could well be counted against you, but they might not be. That's the very tricky area in using the tool.


5:50 am on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have no idea what % of links came from anywhere, never looked at that kind of stuff. I'm pretty sure we all linked out to other blogs quite a bit. None of the blogs were brand new - they were all created at different times by different people and each had there own history. We only found each because when the other site rejected us, they screwed up and put all our email addresses in the TO part of the email, so we could all see each other's email address.

We only linked to each other in a blog roll - I don't think we linked in posts. Certainly not in any planned way or anything. I believe we all used the name of the blog as anchor text. Hardly anyone else in the group would have even known anything about anchor text. I certainly didn't give them any tutorials on SEO or anything.

Honestly, we weren't thinking at all about getting links and ranking in Google. We just wanted to work together and create a great group of blogs about the topic.

I've already uploaded the disavow, so the long comments are there. I have nothing to hide, I did nothing bad. Except being naive about the one guy and not quitting the whole thing sooner once I realized what he was about.

I'm still linking to the other blogs, and said so in the comments. They are good, quality blogs and nice people - I'm not going to stop linking to them, there is no logical reason to stop.

I wouldn't say it was a 'closed' group.


8:10 am on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


Is the purpose of your site to make some money... and if so, how would you describe your niche?


4:03 pm on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I wouldn't know how to describe the niche without giving out too much information. It more targets a demographic, rather than being about a particular topic. The blog in question is hardly used now, just for an occasional post. And it has never had ads and wasn't about anything commercial.

And yes, while I would like to make money with it, the plan is more for it to be a full, high quality information and community site that would attract good advertisers. Not that I'm making good progress with reaching that goal.


6:08 pm on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

Sidebar links on blogs have definitely been viewed as link schemes by Google in some cases. This is one of those unfortunate cases where Google sometimes assumes manipulation where it may or may not have been intended. I don't know whether this alone would have gotten you in trouble, however the hidden text dude's actions combined with the sidebar links may have pushed Google to assume you were all up to no good.

And to answer your basic question: it depends what you mean by "legitimate", but getting hit by Penguin doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your site, per se. It means Google thinks you're using dodgy SEO methods to manipulate rankings. Unfortunately, this can sometimes happen without the webmaster having any intentions of manipulating ranking. Competitors can set up tons of links to you that it looks like you set up yourself, for example (it's called negative SEO). Or something like your hidden text guy combined with the sidebar links can push Google's assessment over the edge.

I hope disavow works for you! Sounds like exactly the situation it was made for. But Robert Charlton is right - save the explanations for a reinclusion request, not your disavow file. They'll want to know what you did to remove those links, and there you can explain that you had no control over them in the first place.


7:47 pm on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Don't they understand blog rolls on blogs? They should know a large percent of bloggers don't know and couldn't care less about SEO. Or at least at one time it was that way.

I used the word "legitimate" partly to be funny, the original title for the thread (it got changed on me) was something like - 'apparently even with legitimate sites Google has a way to shut the whole thing down'. But anyone not following US politics in recent weeks wouldn't get it I guess.

But also meaning that its a real site, without anything intentionally grey or black hat and not just set up for spamming.


9:55 pm on Nov 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

Don't they understand blog rolls on blogs? They should know a large percent of bloggers don't know and couldn't care less about SEO. Or at least at one time it was that way.

I'm sure they do know this, and that's why I suspect it's a combination of this plus the hidden text guy in your group.

LOL@your "legitimate" joke!


3:56 am on Nov 15, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

GWT is now only showing 8703 links from the site now. I don't know if that means anything or not. I don't see anything about having any links disavowed though, I can't remember now if other people said they saw something about that on GWT or not. I'll have to look that up again.


4:44 pm on Nov 17, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Nevermind, showing 8831 links from site now - the most so far.

Robert Charlton

8:35 pm on Nov 17, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Sidebar links on blogs have definitely been viewed as link schemes by Google in some cases. This is one of those unfortunate cases where Google sometimes assumes manipulation where it may or may not have been intended.

If the blogs are relevant to each other, and not obviously related (say by common hosting setup and templates), and not excessively cross-linked, Google in the past has considered blogrolls to be OK as long as the links were to the blog names and weren't obviously manipulative (say by including targeted anchor text). As I noted earlier, Google is looking at whether the blogs deserve to rank independently of each other.

Links are a primary signal... do the blogs have freely given editorial links from high quality, trusted, independent sources on the web, apart from a small link circle? Even without the anchor text, if too many of the links were blogroll links, rather than editorial links, that in itself might be viewed as manipulative.

Originality is another... too many copied sentences or paraphrased articles can hurt quite a bit. Though originality is a Panda rather than a Penguin factor, linking and uniqueness have been related in Google for many years, and I'd think that together they determine certain thresholds.

Google looks at all these factors together when it evaluates a site. I can see where a completely sincere effort, put up by a bunch of friends who patted each other on the back, may nevertheless not have risen to the level of credibility and originality that Google requires to keep a site high up in competitive rankings.

The motives might have been "legitimate", but the execution might not have lived up to being better than the competition, which is what Google is considering.


3:09 am on Jan 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The links are now gone! I think it just happened today. So it took just about 2 months.

I don't see any increase in traffic, at least not yet. But I don't really care. I didn't want to be associated with that site, and I've been getting such little traffic from Google anyway that I couldn't possibly be hurt from losing those links.


5:24 am on Jan 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member sgt_kickaxe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member

It will be interesting to see how much memory Google has come their next Panda/Penguin update, keep us posted.

I'm facing a mega competitor who very openly interlinks their (200+) web properties in the footer area. The problem for me is that this competitor is extremely deeply funded by ads, showing over 1 Billion pageviews a month, and all of the sites are considered authority in their niche. The company puts out a great effort to either create the best content or to buy out a competitor when they face a stubborn one.

When they started interlinking their properties with about 25 links per page, all internal page to homepage links, their traffic exploded and it hasn't let up in 18 months. They don't repeat the same links sitewide because they have enough very similar sites to change up the links on a per page level.

The site also actively advertises in adwords for their entire network. A second network of roughly the same size is also making inroads into the niche right now so networks aren't automatically evil, apparently.

My conclusion: if your site is deemed an authority site you can get away with things that would destroy a lesser site's trust by Google. Since networks do work within Google I don't expect they will stop being used and if the quality is there the benefit is substantial.

Have rankings become more trivial to obtain for the rich? It sure feels like it.

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