On the 1st November 2017 The Shutter Store received a manual penalty through its Webmaster Tools account. This flagged unnatural inbound links to the domain which had violated Googles guidelines. The below message outlined why the penalty was applied and what was needed to be done to remove.

Google has detected a pattern of links from other sites to your site that is either unnatural or irrelevant. This pattern attempts to artificially boost your site’s ranking in search results. Such unnatural ranking would cause search results to show preference for results not relevant to the user’s actual query. It also violates Google Webmaster Guidelines. Therefore, when determining your site’s ranking, we will demote links to your site as a factor in our calculations. This manual spam action has been applied to theshutterstore.com/. To fix this, remove most of the unnatural links and file a reconsideration request. After we determine that you have complied with our guidelines, we will remove this manual action.

The penalty meant that high volume terms, that also converting traffic to the site, lost visibility and in turn caused a decline in sessions. The following top performing terms, with data taken from SEMrush saw the highest impact:

To remove the toxic links addmustard had to first assess the entire backlink profile to identify unnatural backlinks. When carrying out a backlink audit ADDMUSTARD take the following steps to identify and flag links that have been placed to manipulate Google rankings.

Once all of the backlink data was collected, from multiple tools, technical checks were run to identify which links are live, the authority of the domain and what anchor text is used, amongst other checks. Each check amounts to an overall removal score which helps prioritise the most volatile backlinks, this is categorised into high, medium and low priority removals. Editorial checks then enabled us to manually check the left over links to ensure any possible manipulative links were covered. But also, to check that we were not removing anything of value in the flagged links. Through these checks we identified the following proportion of unnatural backlinks pointing to theshutterstore.com.

After looking more closely at the flagged links, it was clear that mass sponsored articles had been produced throughout 2016 & 2017. These were across a variety of sites, some of which were relevant to shutters, real estate and interior design blogs as well as others on video gaming blogs and parenting sites. It was clear which were sponsored because they all followed the same structure with 1 exact match external link to either the homepage or a top level category. There were also some old directory posts, but it was evident the sponsored posts were the root of the manual penalty and should be the main priority for removal.

Outreach was a key part of the removal process as Google wanted to see that the domain owner had taken the time to contact web hosts and asked for the links to be removed. addmustard contacted the owners of the referring domains which contained the toxic links, explained why we were contacting the site and provided detailed, direct instructions for link removal. The response rate was high and the process achieved the desired level of link removal.

The outreach period lasted for approximately 3 weeks, with multiple contact attempts to ensure Google would be happy with efforts taken to remove the flagged links. Overall, 96 links were removed out of the 324 flagged. This meant that a rapid reconsideration request could be submitted to Google to explain the removal results. Google removed the penalty within 2 working days of the submission.

Following the manual penalty removal, there have been significant increase in both organic both visibility and engagement metrics. As seen below in data taken from Search Metrics, the impact of both the penalty application and removal can be clearly seen.

Looking more closely at the impacted keywords, we are able to compare ranking positions from before the penalty, during the penalty and after removal. The number of keywords has recovered and projected traffic from these keywords saw a significant increase. For example, ‘plantation shutters’ (search volume: 40,500) previously ranked in 2nd position but since the removal it has now begun to rank in 1st position. Also, ‘shutters’ (33,100) has gone from 5th position, down to 7th then back up into 1st position. These are both large traffic driving and converting terms which will drive a major increase in overall and relevant traffic to the site moving forward.

The results are now beginning to drive improvements in traffic, as seen in the chart below, where the analytics data is showing a shift in the YoY deficit of sessions to the domain. Looking back at the penalty period, there was an average of around -35% decrease, with most of this coming from the homepage where the big volume terms ranked. Moving forward into January, a month since the penalty was listed, we are now looking at a 24% increase YoY.

Overall the link removal campaign has been a success, moving forward we want to continue to monitor the backlink profile and remove any sponsored posts that remain live.
However, with the posts that have been removed and the manual penalty lift, visibility has already recovered with some high volume improvements on previous rankings. This has attributed towards the YoY traffic reduction which has now moved into the new year with overall traffic increases for The Shutter Store.

“After we were hit with a manual penalty for poor quality links our rankings took a real hit, negatively impacting organic traffic & revenue.
addmustard quickly came onboard and put together a clear & concise plan of action to clean up these links, remove the penalty and restore rankings. In short – they did just that, and fast. From start to finish I had full confidence that the task was in hand and Lucy & the team did a great job at homing in on precisely which links were doing us harm and ensuring those were removed first.  What couldn’t be removed was put into a reconsideration request and it’s testament to addmustard’s work that the request was approved and penalty lifted at the first time of asking, only a few weeks after work was started. Since then rankings, traffic and revenue from organic have drastically improved and we’ve been provided with a platform for long term stability.

– Oli Robertson, Digital Marketing Manager