Note from Rae: Welcome to the first ever guest appearance by someone in my Rants in Bitchland category. And let me assure you, that takes a special pair of skills combined with a big pair of balls. And Paul Macnamara has both.
If you've been around any length of time, you've likely seen people make comments about how some of the best SEOs are SEOs you've never heard of before. Paul (pmac) is one of those SEOs. He's spent the last 15 years taking ranks in some of the toughest industries on the web.
Paul pushed every limit the search engines had ever laid down – not only crossing the line, but at times, even defining the line that Google would draw. I know this because he's been in my circle of trust for well over a decade now. I've long been witnessing his work first hand.
Paul has since repented and decided to use his knowledge of and insight into what the algorithms can and won't tolerate to help penalized folks on the web recover their rankings.
In short, when I tell you Paul knows his shit, Paul knows his shit.
He also stole my hat. But that's a different story.
With that, it's over to him.
Finally, there is an answer on how to recover from the most punitive algorithmic feature that a search engine has ever unleashed on the SEO community. No more need to wait upwards of a year to escape from the Hell of the mighty Penguin. No Hocus Pocus, no sneaky redirects, deleting pages or even disavowing links.
This answer is the holy grail, and we know it must be true as it is being touted as a legitimate get out of jail free card by renowned SEO expert Josh Bachynski.
Josh must be an expert because he has been featured a couple of times now on Moz's “Whiteboard Friday” which some would argue to be the flagship feature on the Moz blog. Moz carefully vets the posts, and one would assume the experts that it allows to pontificate on matters of SEO on their influential platform. Moz is about credibility, trust, legitimacy and professionalism after all.
An SEO Breakthrough
The fact that Josh can spring sites from Penguin in just 2-3 days is one of the most remarkable discoveries I have heard of in all my years of working in SEO. As you can see in the video below, Josh says to ignore what John Mueller says in regards to disavowing links.
Instead, Josh says to contact him to negotiate a price to learn of this top-secret recovery technique for this very difficult algorithmic penalty.
You can view a transcript here.
That's right folks, step right up and sign up for your instant Penguin recovery that he will not disclose until you have negotiated the fee. This doesn't sound like snake oil to me. This has to be legitimate because he is a high-level MOZ contributor, right?
Scientific Proof The Disavow Tool is Totally Useless
Josh stirred up a bit of controversy last week when he hosted a Whiteboard Friday post on Moz where he said that it was impossible for a site to recover from Penguin using the disavow tool alone and that there had to be a link removal component for a site to recover. He based this “factoid” as a result of a “scientific experiment” where he took twelve sites that had shown traffic increases during Penguin 3.0. All twelve of these sites had link loss as reported by third party link tools such as ahrefs.
As a result of that massive data set and lack of a control group, Josh has come to the conclusion that the disavow tool does not work and that there has to be link removals in order for a site to recover.
This despite the fact that some of the most respected names in penalty recovery have made clear that they have in fact recovered Penguin sites while doing no link removals whatsoever. These are people whose reputations are above reproach such as Marie Haynes, Glenn Gabe and our esteemed host Rae Hoffman. I can also say unequivocally that I have recovered Penguin sites using the disavow tool without doing any link removal whatsoever.
What A Laughable Argument
Sites that have been impacted by Penguin, are far more likely to be susceptible to link attrition as a result of link churn that naturally occurs with sites that have weak or even toxic profiles. To suggest that the loss of links must mean that removals must occur for a site to recover from Penguin is such a flawed argument that I am shocked that MOZ would allow this to be posted as a “scientific experiment.”
If the disavow file does not work how is it possible to explain all of the recoveries that occurred as a result of using it if no removals took place along side it?
Based on Josh's conclusion, it must mean that there was enough link attrition that just happened to naturally remove only the problematic links that a recovery happened all on it's own. Or perhaps Josh is saying that that all of us working in the penalty space that have recovered sites without doing removals are lying.
This of course, was not a scientific experiment in any way, shape or form. Using a tiny data set to draw a conclusion without taking into account or even speaking to all of the other variables that could be in play is at the very least, playing loose with the facts and at the worst it is reckless misinformation.
In the comments after the post, Chuck Price articulated it far better than I ever could when he said:
In order to be a scientific study, you need a control group. “A control group study uses a control group to compare to an experimental group in a test of a causal hypothesis. The control and experimental groups must be identical in all relevant ways except for the introduction of a suspected causal agent into the experimental group. If the suspected causal agent is actually a causal factor of some event, then logic dictates that that event should manifest itself more significantly in the experimental than in the control group.
Just because there is a correlation between the 12 recoveries & link loss doesn't mean that disavow only recoveries are a myth. Websites that have triggered the Penguin algorithm have generally gone pretty hard at spammy link building, and have acquired MANY links from the kinds of sites that drop all the time, There is arguably a higher chance of link attrition associated with websites impacted by the Penguin algorithm.
Selling Snake Oil
If Josh's flawed argument wasn't enough, he then went on to smear penalty recovery professionals that would dare sell link cleanup via disavow as a service, implying that they are selling snake oil and taking advantage of clients for the purpose of padding their wallets by simply adding domains to a text file.
This coming from someone that tells people to ignore Google's own advice when it comes to Penguin and that instead of using the disavow tool to instruct Google to ignore links that it contains, they should simply email him so that he can negotiate a price and then he will recover them from Penguin in 2-3 days. Who is the snake oil salesman? This coming from a guy that claims he does 300 site audits and recoveries a YEAR? How can anyone that says they do 300 audits a year have any credibility whatsoever?
Even my most basic audit takes upwards of a day for me to write and that doesn't include that actual time spent conducting the audit. Josh must be drinking coffee like it's his job because he clearly isn't sleeping if he is pumping out that kind of productivity.
Not only is Josh the most productive penalty recovery expert in the business, he has recovered plenty of Penguin sites from doing JUST removals as he NEVER uses the disavow tool.
Josh must have some pretty damn good outreach skills when it comes to removals because as someone that has removed a very significant number of manual penalties, I can tell you that a 20% removal rate would be considered extremely high and removal rates of 5-15% would be far more typical. These numbers are not nearly enough to spring a typically afflicted site from Penguin.
Either Josh is the Penguin whisperer or his pants are on fire.
MOZ Goes Low Bar
When the methodology of Josh's “scientific experiment” were questioned in the comments of his MOZ post, Josh's responses were thick with arrogance and vitriol and completely unbecoming of what I would expect from someone conducting a Whiteboard Friday on Moz. In fact MOZ moderators edited at least a dozen of Josh's comments for “personal attacks.”
Curiously enough, the moderator comments have vanished and the edit notes say that Josh in fact made the edit and there is no mention of the reason why the edit was made. MOZ seems to have really been stepping in it lately on issues related to their blog and having contributors such as Josh on the main blog, especially on Whiteboard Friday seriously damages their credibility and reputation among serious SEO's. The chatter has been noticeable.
Going Against The Grain
This isn't the first time that Josh has gone against the grain when it comes to Penguin. At the 13:40 mark in this video Josh says unequivocally that Penguin has NOTHING to do with links. At the 17:00 mark he says there is no need to remove links to recover.
I am pretty sure that links have something to do with Penguin. Pure speculation on my part of course.
There is so much pure garbage that is written in the SEO space that I don't even give it a second thought when I read something that is misleading. I typically just ignore it and carry on with my day, however I felt that in this instance that this post needed to be called out, not only for the flawed methodology that led to such a horribly flawed conclusion, but also as a result of this post being featured on whiteboard Friday.
By featuring this post on Whiteboard Friday, some will believe that this is Moz vetted information and will come away taking this ridiculous conclusion as fact. While Moz does state that contributors opinions are their own, I am pretty sure that if I wrote a post about why it is a good idea to “submit” your site to search engines, it would not be promoted to the main blog, let alone to the flagship spot.
Lastly, I couldn't sit idly by while being accused alongside other penalty removal professionals of selling snake oil by someone that has no credibility. The words pot, kettle, and black come to mind.
Have a site that has been impacted by Penguin? Recovery is very, very difficult and in fact many times it might just be better to trash the domain and start over. If that is not possible and there is a solid base of good links that are in the profile then my advice would echo Marie Haynes which would include the following steps:
- You need to conduct a comprehensive audit of your link profile to identify as many problematic links as possible
- If you have control over the link (directories or web 2.0 sites where you have logins for example) then you should remove the link.
- Use the disavow tool to disavow problematic links at the domain level.
- Create a resource that will attract the types of high-quality authoritative links that Google is likely to reward going forward.
Lastly, I would like to thank Rae for allowing me to go off on a rant on her blog. There was a time where Rae seemed to constantly throw grenades behind her as she surfed the web and would rarely pass down the opportunity to call out crap when she saw it. Although I have to say I miss seeing Rae get riled up on occasion I appreciate the fact that she has better things to do now.
Closing from Rae: Oh don't get it twisted pmac, I'll still hop in the ring. However, someone once told me I don't need to have a dog in every fight. ;-)
(Penguin photo credit to JPC.Raleigh)
John Mueller confirms that disavow only is enough to remove an algorithmic Penguin penalty. He advises you do both to cover your bases, but that from a technical / algorithmic position, a disavow alone will suffice.