by Allison Banko
Electric Fireplaces Canada (EFC) was burning along just fine in the SEO stratosphere with five of its keywords averaging top 10 positions in Google search results. But in the fall of 2012, a certain panda and penguin extinguished the site's success.
Google's Penguin and Panda algorithm updates served EFC with a manual penalty for links the search engine powerhouse deemed unnatural. The punishment sunk the site to an average position of 48, traumatizing its once pristine SEO status. EFC was formerly popping up on page one of search results, it was now lingering closer to page five. EFC
is the Canadian branch of Electric Fireplaces Direct, an online hub of high quality electric fireplaces, electric grills, infrared heaters and freestanding electric stoves. The two are under the umbrella of e-commerce distributor Net Direct Merchants.
"We designed the Electric Fireplaces Canada site to cater specifically to that Canadian markets and give them an experience that was their own — not just the US site selling in Canada," said Randy Morse, Director of Advertising, Net Direct Merchants.
Morse said the team had never put much time or effort into EFC's SEO internally, relying on the site's content and natural link building to do the trick. However, when they saw the significant fall in the site's rankings due to the penalty, the team knew it was time to get their hands dirty.
While the EFC team was ready to roll up their own sleeves to reverse the penalty, they recruited an SEO agency to assist them in their efforts, too.
The two parties collaborated to craft a campaign centered on best practices with the consumer in mind, involving:
- Sending requests to outside parties for the removal of spam links
- Implementing a guest posting effort with industry influencers to counteract lower page ranks
- Documenting the entire campaign in Google Docs
- Submitting a penalty reconsideration to Google
"You have to have somebody with the ability to look at your site that understands SEO and understands your business," Morse explained. "Then, create a plan and execute it and revise it as needed. The game is continually changing — Google is putting out more updates to their algorithms than they ever have before."
Step #1. Perform a comprehensive sweep to assess the EFC website
To spark the effort, EFC's vendor inspected site's technical makeup from top to bottom. This involved identifying issues ranging from broken links to incorrect code.
The vendor soon discovered that the website's main issue was its link profile — or lack thereof. Because EFC was one of Net Direct Merchants' newer and smaller websites, it only contained a couple hundred links.
In the past, Morse explained, EFC's link profile was built utilizing whatever "white hat" tactics existed at the time; however the team's focus on SEO wasn't consistent. When they saw the site experiencing impressive rankings, the team didn't see a need to focus on the link profile. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it. But as time ticked on, the site began to break.
"Even though what we did in 2009 was considered fine and helped our rankings, a few years later, it wasn't," Morse said. "Google is now considering those things as 'spam-y tactics.'"
This, of course, resulted in EFC's penalty.
EFC’s vendor manually looked at every single link deemed by Google as "spam." These involved inspecting:
- Page authority
- Domain authority
- Link directories
- Forum profiles
- Blog comments
- Blog posts
- Link networks
- Link exchanges
- Press releases
After going through and identifying which links were of low quality, the next step was reaching out to those sources, requesting them to remove these links.
Step #2. Request removal of links through outreach
Over a span of four weeks, the team conducted an outreach campaign to webmasters, requesting the removal of EFC's problematic links. In order to get a Google penalty revoked, a certain percentage of these links must be removed. (The percentage is decided on a case-by-case basis.)
Detailed documentation of the process was achieved through the utilization of Google Docs, where the team recorded its campaign via a master spreadsheet. This document housed the names and contact information for the webmasters along with copies and dates of the request emails.
These were delivered a week apart, if the webmaster wasn't responsive to the first send. The content of the request modified week by week, upping the urgency with each version and peaking in the fourth week of contact.
Step #3. Implement guest posting campaign to build link profile
Because EFC was having links removed, it needed to work on replacing them, too. To accomplish this, the team dually implemented a guest posting campaign to build its small, young link profile with more trusted links.
EFC sought to do this through industry influencers of websites encompassing:
- Home improvement
- Real estate
- DIY interior design
The focus was to build valuable content by establishing partnerships within the marketplace to evangelize the EFC brand. The team made a list and reached out to collect a few hundred domains that seemed like a good fit for EFC.
The list was then whittled down based on sites’ domain authority, cloud score and social influence. That outreach involved having conversations with influencers about openings in their editorial calendars and what types of content they liked and disliked.
"You really have to tailor and personalize these messages to show that you're reading their content and give them a very clear example of how you can fit yourself in there," explained Lauren Monitz, Director of Content and Social, EFC.
Step #4. Send penalty reconsideration request to Google
With the effort documented, the EFC team submitted a reconsideration request letter along with the master spreadsheet outlining their efforts to Google.
These requests are queued by Google, putting responses at around three to four weeks. Often, when sites receive their first responses, they have to repeat the process due to the remaining presence of problematic links.
But EFC was the exception, not the norm as Google revoked
EFC's penalty just short of three weeks after the team submitted the reconsideration request.
Through the penalty removal, guest posting campaign and building its link profile with trusted links, EFC experienced rankings higher than before, averaging a fourth position on page one of search engine results. Morse credits EFC's ability to bounce back better than ever to putting the user first rather than just focusing on SEO exclusively.
"You do what is right for your customer or people visiting your site," Morse explained. "And if you can do that in such a way that is promoted across the Web, then Google is going to reward you for that. If you try to game the system or cheat, eventually, Google's going to catch you — and they catch you a lot quicker now than they did few years ago."
Because EFC is a niche e-commerce company, Morse honed in on the importance of building a solid link profile due to Google's domain rankings favoring bigger brands. In EFC's industry, this includes companies such as Home Depot or Lowes.
"It's our job to make sure we do whatever we can to make our link profile as good as possible," he said. "And then, hopefully tip the scales back in our favor so that our content really wins out."
EFC has experienced such success from taking action on its link profile to reverse the penalty that parent company, Net Direct Merchant, plans to roll the program out to its other domains that weren't penalized in an effort to improve its rankings, as well.
- Penalty chart
SourcesElectric Fireplaces Canada Spirecast
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