In the world of digital marketing, one of the meanest way of destroying and harming your competitors is by doing negative SEO.
Negative SEO is a method of black hat backlinking and using other non-recommended SEO techniques in order to decrease rankings of a competitors website.
The process of penalty recovery
Before we get to the case study, I’d like to introduce you to our penalty recovery and backlink audit process. We have few main steps that we follow each time:
Step #1 – Gathering the links
When the potential client reaches out to us the first information we need is his domain. With that, we can do initial analysis by gathering all links. After that, we are determining the number of unique links and unique domains. If a client accepts our offer, we are moving to the next step.
Step #2 – Finding out about the history of a client’s site
We always ask our client few questions to be as prepared for the project as possible. Some of the questions are:
- Why are you interested in our service (penalty recovery or backlink audit)?
- When did you got hit by manual action penalty?
- Did you experience ranking drop? If yes, when?
- What SEO techniques you’ve used so far?
- Have you done any backlink audit, penalty recovery or disavowing before?
Step #3 – Checking the backlinking domain
Our rule is: when the domain is bad, the link will be bad too. If the site is publishing explicit or illegal content, has signs of malicious behavior, is part of the link farm or PBN it goes straight to the disavow list. Link on that kind of site can’t be helpful. For each site, we are checking if it is live and indexed. If it passes this test, it’s time to find the link.
Step #4 – Finding & analyzing the link
Although this sounds like an easy task, sometimes it can be pretty hard since link can be hidden or removed in the meantime. Link can be either good or bad, there’s no other option. If the link is widely distributed in the footers, is from article directories or foreign language site, is solicited or uses over optimized anchor text, then it’s probably bad. A good link is niche related, inside the content, flows naturally with the content or is PPC.
Step #5 – Removing the link
Removing the link is always harder than placing a one. When you want to remove the link, you need to go through whole outreach process. You need to write an email, find contact info, send email, send follow-up…
Step #6 – Creating report
After we determine wheater link is good or bad, we create reports including some other data about each link. In this report, we also include a list of links that were successfully removed and are no longer live.
Step #7 – Creating disavow file
When you disavow a domain it actually means you are telling Google to ignore that domain when backlinking to your site. This part should be done with caution. You should disavow backlinks only if you are completely sure they are bad and they are harming your site. If you don’t want to disavow domain, but you still believe specific link could be problematic, there’s the option of disavowing just a page. For example, if there’s suspicious profile on Instagram linking to your site, you don’t have to disavow instragram.com. If you want to disavow the domain you should include ‘domain: example.com’ in a disavow file. For disavowing link on a page level, just leave the URL of the page where you found backlink.
Step #8 – Creating reconsideration letter
This is the part where we explain to Google what happened. It’s best to be honest and natural, just imagine you are explaining to your friend what happened.
For example: I was hit by manual action penalty on *insert date*. I found *total number of backlinks* links, I was able to remove a *number of links removed* links and *number of live links* links are still live. I believe I was hit by negative SEO because *explanation*. I’m attaching detailed report and disavow file.
Step #9 – Submitting
At this point we finished all of our work, everything is reviewed one more time and after that, we are submitting it to Google.
Step #10 – Celebrating or repeating everything
Usually, it takes few weeks to get a reply. Sometimes the manual action is removed on a first try. When reconsideration is rejected we repeat the whole process until we succeed.
Negative SEO case study
We never had a case of negative SEO before so we didn’t know that this client was a victim of it when we began to work on his project. Maybe that’s the reason why it was so successful – we treated it like any other penalty removal project.
Gathering the links and creating the offer
We are prospecting backlinks from different sources like Google, Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic, and LinkDetox. A variety of tools is promising us that we’ll get all links. After we collect links, we sort them out to get only unique ones. For this project, we found 370 backlinks.
Finding out about the history of a client’s site
Everything that client told us about the history of the site and previously used SEO techniques sounded like he used only, so-called, white hat SEO. At first, we were thinking he’s not telling the truth for some reason. If he did everything right, why is there a penalty?
Checking the backlinking domain
After the first glance at the domains, they seemed fine. We found few low-quality search sites and PBNs, but nothing alarming. After we removed non-indexed, unverified and expired domains we moved to the next step in which each site goes through additional check-ups.
The part when we needed to find link told us everything.
Finding & analyzing the link
This was the key step of this project. I was looking for links and noticed a huge number of low quality, spammy comments. There was 112 of them or 30% of all backlinks, to be exact.
Four different anchor texts were used for those comments.
Most of the authoritative, high-quality blogs are warning visitors in their privacy policies that they do not use ‘payday loan’ keyword on their site. Also, in 2014., Google released Payday Loan Algorithm 3.0 and the goal was to target some of the most spammy keywords and one of them was, you are guessing, ‘payday loan’.
No one wants that keyword to link to their site (unless they are actually offering loans :)). It was quite obvious this was done by someone who knew about all of that and wanted to hurt their competitor.
Even if the anchor text was different, those comments could cause penalty. All of the comments were heavily spammed.
Not only those kind of links/comments are bad but sites that allow that kind of spamming can’t be good either. Disavowing them is the only logical option.
Removing the link
On most of the sites, a link can be removed only if a site owner removes it. If you want that, you need to ask him. Nicely. Outreach process is not that hard if you are using LinkDetox and Pitchbox.
You want to remove only disavowed links, so you need to filter links disavowed on page and domain level. Next step is to click on the outreach button.
Next step is to click on the outreach button. After you fill in outreach form, you are ready to move on to Pitchbox.
Include as much info possible like why are you contacting them, where you found your links and why you want to remove them.
When you get a reply from site owner saying he removed the link, check it one more time, just to be sure.
Once you are completely sure link is removed don’t forget to uncheck LinkDetox disavow option.
Creating & submitting report, disavow file and reconsideration letter
You should include as much info as possible. Create different lists: bad links, good links, expired domains, removed links… Add screen shots of everything you did, it’s the only way you can prove you really did it.
And remember, be honest, they’ll appreciate it.
[kleo_gap size=”12px” class=”” id=””]Celebrating or repeating everything
Just 6 days later (faster than usual) we got a postive answer.
This time we celebrated after our first try. And not only we, our client was thrilled too. I could say that’s the best part of this job – right after getting positive reply from Google.
If you run out of the ideas on how to differentiate your business from others, ask a professional. Not the one that would harm the others, but the one who could help you.
On the other hand, if you believe you are the one who is being attacked with negative SEO, act immediately. It pays to keep an eye on the health of your backlink profile.