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How Google Authorship AND PENGUIN have killed our traffic

Jun 6 2013

About a week ago I wrote a blog post on how Google Authorship has decreased our traffic. The post went viral on Hackernews,, Reddit etc. Even Matt Cutts has commented on HackerNews confirming that my website was affected by Penguin.

I wanted to explain the reasons why we've been hit by Google Penguin (so you won't be) and what we are doing about that. But first I wanted to address a number of conclusions people have jumped into:

  • "So it's not Authorship, it's Penguin" - It's both. Like I said, our rankings haven't changed, at least for the majority of keywords I monitor. The click-through rate did.
  • "But how do you know rankings haven't changed?" - we use several rank-tracking tools. Both free and paid ones. We use SerpScan, WhooshTraffic, RankCheckerAce, and the Digitalpoint's tracker.
  • "OK, so it's not Penguin, it's Authorship?" - It's both. Who am I to argue with Matt Cutts. I even suspect we were hit by Penguin 1.0, the very first update launched a year ago. And here's why:

Reasons we were hit by Penguin

1: Our forum software. We sell a forum software app. That comes with a "powered by" link and is free to download and try. Check this out (see the very top of the page). We have hundreds of thousands links like this. Some of them even come from adult sites like this (caution, NSFW, and again - see the very top of the page).

2: Download-sites paid ADs. The SEO agency we hired through oDesk was buying PPC-campaigns on a number of software download sites, like "" etc. Some of these sites enjoyed working with us and offered "featured listings" for a good price. The deal was: for $XXX dollars a year we get a site-wide text banner with a link to our site. Fixed price, no click tracking... Our SEO-guys agreed. This resulted in tens of thousands links with exact same anchor texts. Commercial anchors like "web based help desk", "helpdesk software" and other really competitive stuff. Gee... I have already contacted these sites and they're removing the links.

3: Poor quality sites. Looks like our SEO guys were doing a number of "grey-hat" things. For instance, cheap link-building gigs on Fiverr. Anyways, I found a small number of links from poor-quality sites. May be it is a result of Negative SEO from our competitors, but I doubt that.

How to find "toxic" links to your site

1: Detect anchor text spamming. Overused anchor text is the number one red signal for Google. Use Ahrefs to look at your backlinks, and use the "anchors" tool. If some anchor text dominates your link profile - and it's not a "branded" text or some "neutral" phrase (for instance, "click here" or simply a URL) - deal with it.

2: Find links from poor quality sites.

  • Export your links from Google Webmaster Tools to Google Docs.
  • Trim the source URLs to domains-only.
  • Write a simple js-function that will go through the domains one by one and check the domain's PR and whether it is indexed by Google.
If the site is deindexed and has PR 0 - it is probably penalized. You don't want a link like that.

A google-script that calculates PageRank can be found in the gallery (in Google Spreadsheet select "Tools - Script gallery - Search - 'PageRank'")

A google-script that will tell you if the page is cached by Google is as follows:

function isIndexed(url) {
  try {
    var fetchURL = '' + encodeURIComponent(url);
    var response= UrlFetchApp.fetch(fetchURL);
    var isIndexed = response.getContentText().indexOf('<title>Error 404')>-1 ? 0 : 1;
    return isIndexed;
  } catch (ex) {
    return 0;

You can use it in a spreadsheet as follows: "=isIndexed(A2)". But be careful. Google doesn't like automated searches. So make sure you add a 3-5 second delay between calls to this function.

3: Find links from non-English pages - this one is obvious

4: If you're hiring an SEO agency - hire a reputable one. Even if you're on a tight budget, like we were... And make sure they are completely transparent about everything they do.

How to deal with bad links

Try to remove them. Contact the webmaster. Use their "contact us" form on the website. Write them an email. If they're not responding, use the address they have in their domain "whois". Only after that - use the disavow tool. Google wants to see you actually tried something to clear your backlink profile before turning to the disavow tool.

Some webmasters will ask for money. That's what happened to me... Tell this: "I won't pay you, and if you won't remove the links, I will simply use the disavow tool. But I'm sure Google uses this tool as a signal to detect private networks and poor quality spam sites just like yours". Most of them will agree to remove the link.

Hope this helps.

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