Bringing Niche Sites Back from the Dead, Part 1 [Case Study]
Given all of Google’s recent changes, I thought it would be interesting to take a few of my good sites that lost rankings, and see if I can recover them. I’m a big fan of case studies, so whenever possible, I like to document these types of experiments and make them public for all of you to read.
This experiment could ultimately fail, but I think it’ll be a good learning experience for both you and me. Keep reading, and I’ll dig into the details.
Why Your Niche Sites May Have Been Hurt by “Penguin”
There’s a fair amount of speculation on what the Google “Penguin” update changed and no one seems to know with certainty exactly how websites were affected and how to go about fixing a site. Based on my reading of various articles around the web, these seem to be the most significant causes of sites losing their rankings as a result of the update:
[Note: These ideas were taken specifically from this article, which I think is a great read.]
- Too many links to a single page (or pages), or similarly, too many links to just the root domain (and not to any deeper pages). Both situations likely appear unnatural to Google.
- Disproportionate anchor text usage – We have the tendency of linking to our sites with our primary keyword as the anchor text more often than other types of anchor text. Again, this is unnatural to Google, and thus is a likely target of Penguin.
- Links from unrelated sites/content AND/OR from spammy sites – I’m not sure how much the relevancy of the content matters…for example, I could quote Shakespeare in this post and link to a Shakespeare website, and obviously my site would be completely irrelevant to the site I’m linking to. I think links from poorly spun content on spammy websites (that exist solely for the purpose of backlinking) are much more likely the culprit for a loss in ranking.
- Heavy keyword density on the site - This is probably one of the only on-site factors that may have been targeted by the Penguin update. I think this has always been something Google has looked at negatively, but perhaps that view was strengthened with Penguin.
Again, this is all speculation. There may be other causes not listed here, and one or more of the causes listed above may be false. All we can do at this point is make an educated guess and test those guesses.
Let’s Experiment and Try to Fix the Problem
While it would be nice to try and bring all of my niche sites back to life, I’m going to focus on a select few. Specifically, I’m going to focus on the following:
- (1) One Amazon niche site
- (2) One “AdSense” niche site (even though none of my sites are monetized by AdSense anymore)
- (3) My site that was previously earning $35/month from private advertising
This is going to give me a good mix of sites, since they were all created at different times and I used a somewhat different backlinking strategy on each. If I can successfully regain my rankings on one more more of these sites, there’s hope that the process can be replicated on my other sites.
Here are my current rankings (as tracked by Long Tail Pro):
As you can see, the sites still rank OK on Yahoo and Bing, however I never really concern myself with those search engines. Generally, if you focus on ranking well for Google, you will rank fine for Yahoo and Bing. They focus on the same major ranking factors, but give each factor a different weight than Google does.
Here’s the Strategy
Obviously, there are going to be no guarantees with the strategy I’m going to propose here, and based on the results, they will be subject to change. I just want to map out the plan ahead of time, so that I have something concrete to follow (initially).
Adding Fresh Content
While I don’t think the Penguin update had anything to do with the “freshness” of content, I’m still going to incorporate it in my comeback strategy. Most of my niche sites had content added over the first month from the point that they were created, but since then, I haven’t really added much.
So, I’m going to add one piece of quality content to each of the sites. This will be outsourced via TextBroker.
Evaluate and Correct On-Page Factors
This step doesn’t have any specific tasks – I’m basically going to skim through my content on each site and make sure my keywords aren’t too dense (I think 1-2% keyword density is probably okay). I’ll also check on the site loading time, make sure there are no broken links, etc. I think keyword density is probably going to be the most important factor to look at however, as far as what might have been impacted by Penguin.
This probably isn’t a super critical step, but if I’m going to try and get my sites back on track, on-page factors shouldn’t be overlooked.
Adding Quality Backlinks with High Anchor Text Diversity
This step is going to be the bread and butter of my attempt to bring these niche sites “back from the dead.” I have no doubt that the evaluation of backlinks was the most significant part of Google’s Penguin update.
I believe my anchor text is too heavily focused on my primary keyword, which is a big no no to Google. Checking my sites on Open Site Explorer confirms this. So, to try and dilute this problem, none of the backlinks I create for this case study will use my primary keyword as the anchor text.
This step is going to be the most time consuming, so stick with me while I map it out. Here’s the plan for each niche site in this case study:
1) Add one quality article to each the following article directories:
- Ezine Articles - Based on some reading I’ve done lately, backlinks from this article directory are still surprisingly effective. I’ve neglected this one for awhile, so it’s time to get back to it.
- Article Blast
What I will probably do here, is outsource one article relevant to my niche, and have it added to Ezine Articles. Once it’s approved and live, I will then manually spin it (i.e. I will be the one spinning it) with The Best Spinner, to ensure that the spun copies are unique and read as if they were not spun. After spinning the article, I will submit it to the remaining 4 directories.
I think the misconception with spun content is that it’s always low quality. If you manually spin something and actually proofread the output of each spin, you can very easily have high quality, unique content, perfectly suitable to use for backlinks on article directories.
On each article, I will have one link pointing to the root domain of my niche site, and one link pointing to a deeper page. Assuming each article allows 2 links, I will end up with 5 links to my root domain, and 5 links to deeper pages.
2) Use Unique Article Wizard in a smart way.
The people who run UAW have been staying on top of Google’s updates and are doing everything they can to make sure they aren’t rendered useless. Recently, they sent out a newsletter to reassure their members of the steps they are taking to make sure that, if UAW is used properly, it will continue to be a viable tool.
I tend to believe them, as most of my micro-niche sites (which are sadly not well-monetized at the moment) were backlinked exclusively with UAW and didn’t really see a dip in traffic in the wake of Penguin. Also, they’ve been around forever, while other backlink services (such as BMR) have come and gone. The key for them is that they don’t have a “private” network – they have a constantly changing database of websites that are independent, and publish content submitted through UAW. Basically, it’s not much different than a bunch of random, unrelated blogs, that like to publish guest posts.
So, here’s how I’m going to use it:
- Once the above articles are published, I’m going to backlink them with UAW with a relatively slow submission rate (20 submissions per day). Remember, of the 20 that are submitted, only a portion will be accepted. From there, they may not be published immediately. Then, it may take a while for Google to index each article. At the end of the day, you have a relatively natural link velocity.
- With new, manually spun articles, I will set up a backlink submission schedule directly to my niche sites with extremely slow submission rates (5 submissions/day). I believe this will be slow enough where it may only add 0-1 backlinks per day, which will not set off any red flags in Google’s eyes.
3) Pin an image on Pinterest.
With the fresh content I create, I’m going to try and utilize some kind of attractive image that would work well on Pinterest. If you’ve never used Pinterest, I kind of view it as Twitter for images. Instead of retweeting someone’s tweet, you re-pin people’s images. It’s a very addictive social network that I believe is now the 3rd most popular social network behind Facebook and Twitter.
When you pin an image from your site, the pinned image becomes a backlink to your site from Pinterest. The cool part is, each time someone re-pins your image, the new pin becomes a new backlink. I’m not sure if these links are dofollow, but frankly, I don’t care. It’s a good way to add to your link diversity and send some “social signals,” which seems to be one of the newer buzz words in SEO.
If you want, you can follow me on Pinterest.
4) Back to basics: Blog Commenting
Remember when blog commenting was constantly talked about as a great way to build backlinks and traffic? I feel like it’s not a hot topic anymore, but I still think it’s a great way to diversify your backlink profile and make it look natural.
The key here is to manually write thoughtful comments on blogs/websites that are relevant to your site’s niche. I’m not going to be hung up on the anchor text of your comment…if anything, it’s probably best to use your name (or any normal-sounding name) so that the comment is more likely to be approved. This will also help to further diversify your backlink anchor text.
For each niche site, I will find 5 relevant blogs and leave a comment on each.
So, that’s my plan to start. Again, I may tweak this as I go, but this is what I’m going to follow for now. If you have a site that has recently tanked in the rankings, feel free to follow along and try these steps with your site. I think this strategy will help me dilute any bad links my sites might currently have, and add some good quality backlink “juice”.
What I may do is write a short weekly update in addition to my normal weekly content, so that you can see how my sites’ rankings have improved (if they’ve improved).
What do you think of this plan? Do you have any suggestions? I’m still willing to add to or change this strategy!