Has This Happened to You?

Google updated the algorithm that powers search earlier this year. It’s called Penguin and has affect many websites across the internet, really putting a dent in where they show up in search. From page to 1 to beyond page 10 in many cases.

And it happened to me.

No, none of my sites. A site that I manage with help from a third party. It was a perfect storm that went like this.

  • Less than 1 year ago the site launched.
  • The 3rd party company went to work, getting the site linked in 100s of web directories.
  • We started a PPC Campaign for the site.
  • We bought advertising space on quality web directories for the niche the site represented.

Within 6 months, we were on the front page for almost all of our search terms, but for sure on the key terms we wanted/needed. Traffic from the quality web directories kept increasing as well. The site was generating quality leads that generated actual business. Life was good.

Then Penguin kicked in.

Because the site was so new, had too many inbound links from not quality sites (according to Google. But they look like spam) and the links were unnatural (keyword was linked, not the business name or the website name), we got hammered and hammered hard. No longer appearing anywhere in the first 5 pages of Google for any of our keywords. Not even in the locations. Search traffic dropped 80%! It was brutal.

I’m not an SEO wizard. I know what’s right, I know what you **should** do to get ranked the right way. I’m not familiar with any blackhat/grayhat tactics. I’m one that believes quality content and good inbound links from reputable sites are the way to go, and if you saw the webmaster tools reports for my sites, you would see that’s how they are setup.

I say that because it took me about 3 weeks of research and reading to figure all of that out. While, at the same time, trying to still recover as quickly as possible by concentrating on the content going into the site and making sure that the on-page SEO was dialed in and not breaking any of the new rules.

After more research, and realizing that the inbound links had to be stopped, I started email the sites to have the links removed. Pretty sure those emails feel on deaf ears, so I decided to block them, in hopes that the Google bot would see them, follow them and not count them because they did not access the site. This is where it starts to get tricky.

The site is running WordPress. I thought for sure that someone had to have created a plugin to block inbound links. I was wrong or wasn’t able to find one. That meant I was going to have to do this the hard way by modifying to .htaccess file directly. The 3rd party company did the bulk of the work, but they didn’t quite do it correctly. Once I fixed it, following a link from any of the offending directories no longer worked! Success, kinda.

This is how it’s done, in case you need to do this for your own site.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} badsite\.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} badsite2\.com
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} badsite3\.com
RewriteRule .* - [F]

What that bit does is tell your website to through a 403 error when someone (or something) tries to visit your site from a badsite. The key bits here are the placement (it needs to start IMMEDIATELY after RewriteEngine On), the [NC,OR] after the first line and the last line.

Hopefully this helps you block those bad inbound links that have killed your search results too! Comments are open if I can help further.

Next step is rebuilding our search results the old fashioned way. Quality content that is updated on a regular basis (a blog) that Google can crawl and reindex our site and get us back on the first page. We are completely starting over, every bit of work that we have done over the past year completely wiped out.

Don’t let it happen to you.

By Don

Lead bottle washer at donburnside.com, host at whiteroofradio.com and tech guru for the MotoringFile family of sites.

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