Some time ago, we published a blog where seven SEO experts shared their experience in dealing with Google penalties. To coincide with this, we have interviewed four leading brands on how they deal with such penalties themselves. This is part four of four, where we interviewed Simon Cohen of Reem Clothing.
How did you first find out that your brand had been hit by a Google penalty?
The first indication was a slight drop in average YOY non-branded organic traffic in March and April 2013. Being a brand that’s affected by seasonality and clothing trends, this can sometimes happen. However, after a couple more months I noticed that the Google organic traffic had dropped consistently and seemed to be in decline.
At this point I checked my webmaster tools and found my site had gained a partial manual penalty from Google. This was dated April 12th and the interesting point was my traffic had been in decline before that.
Did you find out on the day, or were you informed at a later time?
Definitely not on the day! As this was a gradual decline over a long period I can’t be sure if my site already had an algorithmic penalty at the time. I think the partial manual penalty confirmed what I suspected.
We had been manually link building for over 7 years, so a penalty was always a possibility and perhaps even just a matter of time.
What was your reaction when your Google penalty landed?
I can’t say I was shocked, as I knew the past methods of outreach were now under scrutiny. I think the main reaction was, ‘how we fix this quickly and efficiently with as minimal damage as possible for the rankings and the business?’
Also as an employer this did worry me, for years my business has grown on the back of Google search, and to have that removed in a day is a shock and a worry for any business.
Did any of your other competitors get hit by any Google penalties at the same time?
Absolutely! Over the years most of the larger independent men’s clothing websites have all used methods of out-reach and link building that at one point were passable to Google. I know of some companies that have gone out of business due to loss in traffic and sales.
One thing that helped me was a good trading history, people knew my company as a brand, so the loss of traffic was not going to be the end of reemclothing.com
When looking at the link profiles of your organic competition, do you think that Google’s decision was fair?
I think all were a fair representation of a sudden change in the market. We all had spammy links pointing to us, but I think the unfair part was big brands like John Lewis and Debenhams taking all the top spots. Since the last penguin update this has been the case across the majority of the vanity rankings.
There were some websites that seemed impervious to Google’s update and still rank to this day but you can’t know if they have disavowed their links and made the profile safe, the important thing is to not look at the competition and just make sure what you do is correct and by the book.
What channels did you explore to maintain your market presence?
As an internet only business, we mostly stick to digital marketing, so we did spend a little more on Google product search (Google Shopping), as this was affordable. PPC is no use for my products as the CPC is too high to make a profit.
As before, I’m lucky enough to have a brand following and this was a huge focus, we made our email marketing and brand loyalty sharper and more attractive to make sure our customers stayed loyal.
The main focus was getting the website out of the penalty and getting back to where we needed to be.
What (internal/external) resources did your brand use to rectify the issue?
As a website owner I am pretty savvy with SEO and its issues, on this occasion I did get outside help from an agency.
Having an external resource that’s expert at dealing with Google penalties helped speed up the process.
My agency used site explorers like Majestic SEO, Ahrefs and Open Site Explorer to find all the links that do and have historically pointed to my website. Coupled with data from webmaster tools, we collated a full list of all the links that needed to be removed. The agency then went to work manually contacting the owners of the sites, requesting the links to be removed.
In some cases website owners would respond asking for money, my agency kept that as proof for Google that they had attempted to remove the link but were being held to ransom. Once all the links that could be removed were, we then uploaded a disavow file and sent in a reconsideration request.
The reconsideration request took around seven days to come back rejected. At this point Google gave some examples of links that they felt did not meet their guidelines. The frustrating issue here was these links were not even in the webmaster tool file!
This process repeated itself several times until finally the message said penalty revoked.
Without using all the tools and processes that the agency had in place this process could have taken a lot longer.
Who or what had the most beneficial impact on your team in order to rectify the issue?
That would have to be the agency I used, the main issue with link removal is the process has to be correct or you won’t get the penalty revoked.
I think that site explorer software is essential for research, majesticseo.com and ahrefs.com really helped speed up the process.
Another important part of the process is the manual checking, if you remove the wrong links you could damage your websites ranking even further.
If your SEO company got you into a penalty – Did your SEO company get you OUT of the penalty?
I don’t think I could pinpoint which agency caused the penalty, over the years I have had a fair few companies and freelancers build links for me so it was probably attributed to all of them.
How long did it take you to get out of the penalty and at what cost?
In total it took around five months to get the penalty revoked and quite a few submissions. Perhaps it could have been done quicker if we took a bullish approach but the last thing I wanted was to lose what rankings I still had left.
The major cost was time, there was a five figure sum spent to get it fixed but ultimately the loss in revenue was the major cost.
Even though the penalty is now revoked I am still trying to rebuild the traffic to the levels it once was.
What would you learn from this experience?
Never build bad backlinks!
We won’t be doing old fashioned link building any more, we have better techniques to generate natural links.
How have you changed the way you think about getting ahead in Google?
Absolutely, I think it’s fair to say Google took this approach due to website owners and some SEO agencies going too far.
I would not say I don’t want to be at the top of Google for the big search terms in my industry, but I now take other sources a lot more seriously.
How does your brand intend to increase their search performance in 2014 and beyond?
Giving Google what it wants by building useful content for my customers. We have huge plans for our blog this year and have taken on board advice from our agency.
We also plan to build concepts, assets and web applications that engage with our target demographic. This will not only help our rankings and traffic but can help our social marketing at the same time.
Ideally I want Reemclothing.com to be a brand more than a website online. This way whatever happens in the future, it means we are secure.
For more on Google penalties (and their removal), see our own page on the subject right here.