• SEO

Black hat attacks-how to pre-empt (or recover from) them

By clariondevelop

If you want to maintain your traffic and rankings, you need to inspect your backlinks regularly.

Gambling is a very competitive and saturated market, with hundreds of companies and websites all bidding for the same keywords, traffic and players.Although I myself relish the rivalry and competition, it’s unfortunate that the old motto of “there are no friends in business” is in the minds of so many in this industry.

There are a handful of jealous affiliates, operators and SEOs out there who can’t compete on a level playing field and so resort to underhand tactics to leverage their existing position in SERPs. These underhand tactics, in their most basic form, are black hat links.Links are still one of the top factors at the core of Google’s algorithm and there’s nothing Google hates more than webmasters trying to manipulate their position in search results.

To prevent manipulation it created the dreaded Penguin algorithm, which devalues and fights spammy link practices. The most recent update, Penguin 4.0, runs in real time, which means you can now be penalised immediately. If Google thinks your link profile looks suspicious, it can result in certain pages or even your whole domain being removed from SERPs. What does this mean for your bottom line?

Loss in ranking + loss in traffic 
= a drop in conversions 

If you had not been monitoring your backlink profile for black hat attacks on a regular basis you would not notice this sudden drop in traffic until it’s too late. By the time you do notice, the damage is already done. And if you do not proactively remove bad backlinks from your profile and update your disavow file on a monthly basis then you will stay where you are and never regain your ranking.

Identifying bad backlinks

The first thing you must do is a full link audit, because the backlinks pointing to your site have the power to propel you to the top of the search results or drop you to the bottom.

You need to look at your full link profile and not just a section of it or some of the links pointing to a page or pages.I use various tools to provide the full list. I tend to use Link Research Tools and its brilliant DTOXRISK.

However, I also pull the data from Majestic, SEMrush and Google Search Console into the report using their APIs. From here the software creates an in-depth report of all your links and gives them and your site an overall toxicity score.

In my experience any score over 1,000 triggers a Penguin penalty, so you now have the task of going through every one of your backlinks and identifying the bad links and black hat attack links.

If you have a normal-looking link profile that consists mostly of branded terms and the odd money keyword you may think this doesn’t apply to you. Well, think again, because our jealous competitors can use these terms to make it look as if you have acquired the links.Typically underhand tactics include: purchasing thousands of backlinks for your brand term using automated tools such as XRumer.

These links can be bought for as little as $5 on Fiverr and consist mostly of blog comments on expired WordPress sites. Another popular tactic is to use this but also use anchor text associated with bad neighbourhood sites. Mostly these will be references to porn, Viagra and terrorism. Figure 1 is an example of links posted on expired or hacked WordPress themes that point to one of my operator sites,

The hacker is continually updating these pages with more backlinks on a monthly basis.The malicious backlinks inserted into this content have been carefully crafted,to cause the most damage. The anchor text consists of terms such as Viagra, Cialis, money laundering, illegal drugs and porn.

These links are nearly impossible to get removed completely because nine times out of 10 the webmaster isn’t aware their site has been hacked or has given up on the site and the hackers take it over to use for their own gain.These and similar examples were noticed every month when our casino site was ranking top for “mobile slots” and “mobile casino”.

These trophy keywords have the potential to drive nearly 10,000 visits per month to a site. The average CPC if you’re bidding in Google AdWords would be $83.16 and $73.87, so you can see the advantage of your site being first for these keywords. Because of continued attacks our site has now dropped to page two for these  keywords, which has a detrimental effect on our bottom line.

Recovery tactics

Now we’ve identified the bad backlinks within the profile we need to add them to a disavow file and submit them to Google. You can also try to get these links removed manually but, as stated before, it’s a very tedious and timeconsuming task, which is why I would suggest disavowing these links at a root domain level and submitting your list to Google and other search engines. To Google, your site is just a number — they don’t care if you have just lost revenue or 10,000 searches per month. You’re just one of billions of websites and unless you tell them what links to discredit how would they know

Even once the disavow file is submitted, it can take a while for Google to recrawl your site and the sites in the disavow file. So, because these jealous competitors continually send malicious links every month, unless you constantly check your profile and update your disavow file you will never regain your ranking.

Once you have updated your disavow file you should look to continue to build Penguin-friendly links from trusted sites.

The holy grail of backlinks is a niche related contextual backlink, so look at articles on gambling-related sites that could provide a link or links pointing back to your site.Check out your competitors’ links, look for their strongest low-risk backlinks and contact the webmasters of these sites to have your site included. You need strong, healthy links to replace the low-quality black hat links that were pointing to your site.

Backlink audits are no longer a one-time action. It’s a monthly process, which you need to dedicate time to if you want to recover and stay protected from these attacks. It does get quicker because  you’re just adding new bad backlinks to the disavow file each month.You can recover from these attacks and eventually make yourself impervious to their effects. But it does take time, and effort, to recover. Good luck!

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