DejanSEO Google Penalty for Toxic Links
Dejan Marketing, formerly known as DejanSEO, a very reputable agency led by the one and only Dan Petrovic got a link penalty, a manual penalty in Google Search Console for unnatural links.
Google gave the agencies' domain dejanseo.com.au a harsh penalty that led to
- A drop in their organic rankings (Dan didn't reveal details)
- A total loss in rankings for their brand name "DejanSEO" for the www.dejanseo.com.au and all the subdomains, like their HREFLANG-checker tool.
It sounds like Google very harsh against an agency that hasn't made any mistakes and distanced themselves from any blackhat or even grey hat tactics for a long time.
- Is this a case of negative SEO?
- Is this the new switch of the Penalty System to a more automated approach as it was mentioned just a couple weeks ago that went berserk on Dan's website?
Legit website receives link penalty?
Spoiler: this case is not unusual and no surprise for us. At LRT we've been recommending ongoing Link Risk Management since 2013. However only six years later we have a new automated product that will help single webmasters take care of dozens of websites.
Interesting enough some high profile industry people really thought that link penalties were gone and the recent couple more public ones are a new spike.
Not at all.
I certainly cannot say that Manual actions went down since Penguin 4.0 from three years ago. In fact pretty stable until end 2018, where we saw a massive rise until now. Lots of Manual Actions seem to be even harder to get rid now also...
Google keeps on advising that we should maintain disavow files.
If you are in the group of people that believe "Google will take care of your disavows" let me tell you that they are not. At least not always. Who knows.
Want to bet your (business) life on it? I guess not.
This harsh domain-wide Google Penalty will get lifted with our experience, like 1000s of others were lifted since 2012.
I had the pleasure to be on a Zoom call with Dan Petrovic and learn more about their situation.
Dan Petrovic confirmed, that they decided to finally migrate their company to a new domain.
DejanMarketing.com is a kind of fresh domain.
The rebranding to "Dejan Marketing" happened years ago, and they always pushed the migration back.
Now that we're in the water, we need to swim. ~Dan Petrovic
Dan and his team
- Moved the content over from dejanseo.com.au to dejanmarketing.com
- Reached out to the best link donors (sources of their links) they could find
- Want to "start over" with the cleanest natural backlink profile they can come up with.
So all "good links" shall be moved over, with the old ones left behind.
Will they succeed in this undertaking?
Make sure you read the full blog about the "Link Move Experiment" and the historical changes with daily log entries.
When I heard about the plan, I immediately fired up my tools do do a due diligence of the new home for Dan's website.
After all you don't want to migrate your website to a domain that has problems by itself.
A couple things I found about DejanMarketing.com seemed concerning, but were discussed with Dan. I find it valuable to mention them here to give the experiment, as Dan calls it more context.
- DejanMarketing.com had a template website on it from 2016 to mid 2019.
During those 3. 5 years Google could figure out that they belong to the same company due to same Email-domain dejanseo.com.au, same phone number and same address. Typical pattern.
- The old hobby site Analogik.com linked to DejanMarketing.com from 2016 to ca. Jun 2019 since when the Analogik.com site threw server errors according to WebArchive.org
Interesting part here. Some links of the "template site" that was on DejanMarketing.com, were linking to the same URLs of the now active website on DejanMarketing.com
We can see that pretty well in the link trace for the linking home page Analogik.com
- when the links were published
- when we hit the 500 error (last WebArchive.org date about a month ago however)
- some links "work"
What was interesting is that John Müller of Google chimed in and pointed out, that Google would treat the two websites the same. So an explicit 301 redirect would not be required.
What he leaves open is, if that means the manual action would also pass over or not.
We keep a reminder for this important question here.
But now let's get started looking at the actual victim - the agency site of DejanSEO that brought in the dough - until this day.
WOW. almost 1700 DTOXRISK.
Everything above 1000 usually means a penalty. And that's what we see here confirmed.
Starting with the section on the right, the Issue we see
- There's a disavow file that was changed and not yet uploaded. Maybe because they added links to it since. But this is more important in the ongoing in the team.
- Links from Virus and Malware sites are the worst. You always want to disavow them, as too many of those can cause your website get flagged as Malware site it self. That would mean an immediate loss of all traffic for Google and other search engines.
The Globe Spam. A common spam footprint that became so common that we automated it here. The next step is that we automate the clicking of the "Fix" button for you. However if you're not used to it you can easily confuse it with a negative SEO attack as Dan did.
- Very high risk links with "Unavailable Status" are a Negative SEO pattern we know and warn from. having over 3000 of such links is a clear call to action. Luckily it will only take one click to do a first machete style disavow.
- More Links with very high risk call for review. Often there are some obvious toxic links among them, but sometimes you may find links to keep. Do not expect this to be a one-click action. The fact that we have over 11.500 seems scary, but we have a lot of extra feature to support the review, namely fast sort and filter operations (more on that later).
- And a lot of Money keywords on weak domains! What's a money keyword? Well "SEO" is, "Link Building" is - any generic phrase. When we look at the anchor text breakdown next we spot a lot of them - and some of them seem very scary.
- Links from Private Blog Networks (PBNs) - oh wow... didn't Dan say they didn't build links? Where are these coming from? Certainly requires more time to review, but this sounds like it could be part of a negative SEO attack - some competitor of Dejan Marketing building bad links to them.
- Good links disavowed? It happens to everyone, including myself. The LRT system gives you a clear signal about it.
Be aware - and you'll see it in the video - there's a lot more issues, but this is good for a taster.
Looking at the next screenshot we see how we sort the anchor text (the linking word) by estimated risk (DTOXRISK).
- 47795.dejanseo.com.au is part of the Globe Spam footprint and shall be disavowed, ASAP. We've seen penalties been caused, and revoked from just such scraper spam. And while Google is getting better at ignoring obvious footprints also, what guarantee do we have that they will do? And KEEP doing it?
- SEO - most competitive keyword for Dejan's industry. Why so many risky links? Worth looking deeper.
- "." - a simple dot as linking keyword. That is an old "trick" to remove the anchor text from strong links to avoid anchor text penalties. Large brands and many SEOS used them for years to de-optimize their link filters. And I mean since 2005ish or so - when the anchor text penalties were simply called "+30 penalty" or something like that.
- Scholarship links! We will look into those by just typing in "Scholarship" in the anchor text box.
- HD Wallpaper links - we see them everywhere. Scraper spam with deep links to your images. Disavow - just to be safe than sorry.
While we're in the keyword breakdown I'm curious to see how the internal linking structure is optimized, as we can still assume that "everything goes" for internal links.
And wow, I like it - very simple, straight forward internal linking with the main money keywords.
I've talked about internal linking in the past and will continue to do so, as we've finally connected the dots from external to internal links, and loops and redirects in and out of the site, and back.
So that topic is exciting for me, but not for this penalty. At least I assume so for now.
By typing in "Scholarship" in the anchor text box we get to see only those links with Scholarship in the anchor.
And immediately, judging from the grey color for one anchor text and the deep red for others we see that we've missed to disavow some scholarship links.
Dan Petrovic told me that they simply didn't find all those links in other tools.
And that's true. In fact a lot of those links were not disavowed at all. Other only only with page-level disavows. That's not what I call "Machete style".
While taking a screenshot showing that some pages actually had two links to DejanSEO.com.au I noticed that their team has removed the landing page and return a "410 gone" error that instructs Google to ignore the page.
I don't believe this will help in lifting the penalty.
Just like with NOFOLLOW links, it's the spamming intention that is penalized.
Google has said a couple times that you don't need to worry about NO FOLLOW links, but they also said the opposite.
And in this No Follow Risk study we found out in 2014 that a lot of spam examples given by Google were actually NoFollow links, and that disavowing them helps.
That's why we support both opinions in the software LinkResearchTools (LRT) since 2014. The user decides if he wants to evaluate the risk of NoFollows, or ignore them completely.
My personal advise - make sure you audit and disavow NoFollows as well.
Enjoy & Learn - we'll continue below.
But first finally a
The software shown, Link Detox Smart, is the most recent innovation that we worked on for over two years.
All our experience about links, SEO and penalties from over a decade with LinkResearchTools (LRT) are in there.
BUT - a 25 minute link audit just doesn't cut it. By no means should you assume that this is the typical process of a link audit.
To use the software for yourself you need to properly
- Prepare the data before the full link recrawl
- Iterate on post-crawling learnings and trainings
- Finalize the data after the crawl and calculations
- And finally spend sufficient time in the maybe undoing past disavows done by you or someone for you.
So to be clear, I need more time with the data myself, and will update this or another post for sure.
See also this thread.
The video gives you an idea of how fast you can spot those links that you can safely disavow in bulk. Matt Cutts coined this the "Machete Disavow style" saying
Many SEOs don't know this, but you can always Undisavow your links. After successful recrawl (we recommend using Link Detox Boost (BOOST) for that) of those undisavowed links, they work in really fast (that changed with Real Time Penguin in September 2016)
The second part of my link audit shows some very dangerous links found that need to be disavowed.
In this video I show exactly how I got there, in case you wanted to more details.
There were some links disavowed in the past, but DejanSEO's team didn't use LRT for that.
So we spotted pretty strong ones (as measured my LRT Power*Trust) that were not disavowed yet.
These links could certainly cause the penalty, as very experienced Rick Lomas, LRT Certified Professional and LRT and Link Detox user since 2013 confirmed.
There were more spooky looking links as "leftovers" from SEO tests I believe... 50 or so not disavowed yet) just get rid of if. Better safe than sorry with the Matt Cutts Machete link audit style.
While the twitter convo has been going on I came across quite a lot of interesting questions that I just want to link from here for you to read up on, maybe expand on the topic later.
And we're also not done yet with the link audit, as explained in the disclaimer.
Downloading the disavow file now would probably get you disavow some pretty cool links that were false positive.
We haven't spend a single minute on
- Looking for accidental disavows
- Training the machine learning Link Detox Genesis
- Reprocessing all the learnings and data
And as you probably saw in the video, there's
- almost 4000 super toxic links left to review and potentially disavow.
- a lot of link issues not discussed yet
- no deep dive happened yet, but we already suggest to grow the disavow file from ~800 domains to 4.500 domains
Link Detox Smart is still not available to everyone. We slowly migrate everyone over to the new platform.
With this entry-level package for a year and 1 million Link Crawl Budget you can start immediately by yourself.
Please note that depending on your domain you may need additional Link Crawl Budget.
If in doubt, just ask us.
((https://twitter.com/cemper/status/1166528428981522432 Your comments right here on twitter please.))
Created by • Last edit by on Jan 10, 2020