Friday, August 22, 2014

Google Webmaster Tools Just Got a Lot More Important for Link Discovery and Cleanup

August 20th, 2014 - Posted by Robert Fisher to Advanced SEO

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz.

What if you owned a paid directory site and every day you received emails upon emails stating that someone wants links removed. As they stacked up in your inbox, whether they were pleasant or they were sternly demanding you cease and desist, would you just want to give up? What would you do to stop the barrage of emails if you thought the requests were just too overwhelming? How could you make it all go away, or at least the majority of it?

First, a bit of background

We had a new, important client come aboard on April 1, 2013 with a lot of work needed going forward. They had been losing rankings for some time and wanted help. With new clients, we want as much baseline data as possible so that we can measure progress going forward, so we do a lot of monitoring. On April 17th, one of our team members noticed something quite interesting. Using Ahrefs for link tracking, we saw there was a big spike in the number of external links coming to our new client's site. 

When the client came on board on two weeks prior, the site had about 5,500 links coming in and many of those were less than quality. Likely half or more were comment links from sites with no relevance to the client and they used the domain as the anchor text. Now, overnight they were at 6,100 links and the next day even more. Each day the links kept increasing. We saw they were coming from a paid directory called Within a month to six weeks, they were at over 30,000 new links from that site.

We sent a couple of emails asking that they please stop the linking, and we watched Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) every day like hawks waiting for the first link from Netwerker to show. The emails got no response, but in late May we saw the first links from there show up in GWT and we submitted a domain disavow immediately.

We launched their new site in late June and watched as they climbed in the rankings; that is a great feeling. Because the site was rising in the rankings rather well, we assumed the disavow tool had worked on Netwerker. Unfortunately, there was a cloud on the horizon concerning all of the link building that had been done for the client prior to our engagement. October arrived with a Penguin attack (Penguin 2.1, Oct. 4, 2013) and they fell considerably in the SERPs. I mean, they disappeared for many of the best terms they had again began to rank for. They had fallen to page five or deeper for key terms. (NOTE: This was all algorithmic and they had no manual penalty.)

While telling the client that their new drop was a Penguin issue related to the October Penguin update (and the large ratio of really bad links), we also looked for anything else that would cause the issue or might be affecting the results. We are constantly monitoring and changing things with our clients. As a result, there are times we do not make a good change and we have to move things back. (We always tell the client if we have caused a negative impact on their rankings, etc. This is one of the most important things we ever do in building trust over time and we have never lost a client because we made a mistake.) We went through everything thoroughly and eliminated any other potential causative factors. At every turn there was a Penguin staring back at us!

When we had launched the new site in late June 2013, we had seen them rise back to page one for key terms in a competitive vertical. Now, they were missing for the majority of their most important terms. In mid-March of 2014, nearly a year after engagement, they agreed to do a severe link clean up and we began immediately. There would be roughly 45,000

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