Marketing Blog


Website Hero to Website Zero – Black Hat Series, Part 2

Darmini’s blog Tuesday mentions how black hat SEO can ruin an insurance agency website through low quality links and poor content. I’m going to show how these black hat SEO methods harmed my customer’s domain and what steps I took to fix it. 

An agency hired an SEO firm to build thousands of backlinks for their insurance agency. In a couple of months, their phone started ringing off the hook, and they received online leads from prospects on a daily basis. Happy days were here again? Well, temporarily. As months went by, the phone rang less often and not many visitors contacted them through their website anymore.

A couple more months passed, but they did not see an improvement. The agent even picked up the phone to see if it was still working and tested the online forms on the website to see if that was the issue. Nope; both were working as they should. Not too long after this, they left their SEO firm and became my client at ITC. As Darmini mentioned yesterday, these backlinks didn’t work because they were too many low quality links with anchor text that were keyword stuffed. What happened next?

My first step in fixing their domain was to find all of the website’s backlinks using tools like Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, AHREFs, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics and Blekko. Next, I sorted the backlinks by PageRank and how many links were on the same website and identified links with over-optimized anchor text. (Too many backlinks with the same anchor text.)

I thought about using link removal research tools and link removal outreach tools, but this method was, and still is, debated in the SEO community. Google recommends not using these tools, while SEO experts like provides a list of recommended removal tools to use. For this agency I decided to not use removal tools, because Google advised against it.

My next step was to submit these questionable backlinks through Google Webmaster Tools, because there were many bad backlinks originating from the same domain. By submitting these backlinks, I showed Google I recognize that low quality backlinks were created and I want to remedy the situation.

Google’s link index for all domains isn’t up to date, so I ran the list of links through a tool called Screaming Frog to identify links that are no longer working in the disavow file. I included the note “removed” with these links, otherwise Google may not know about them.

Even though my customer did not receive a warning from Google, I requested Google review the website for any issues. My customer wanted to keep the damaged domain active, so I decided to perform a temporary redirect from the damaged domain to a new one. I also changed all the good backlinks we built for the agency to point to the new domain. Their domain’s visibility and ranking have since improved. If it starts to fade again, we will analyze the situation and find another solution.

My main point is this… SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics used to focus on search engines and not a human audience are not only against Google's guidelines, but will most likely cause your website to be penalized or banned from search engine results.

Check out the last part of the Black Hat SEO series next week, in which Phillip Long will discuss how ITC follows Google's guidelines and how SEO is more about feeding content, not just links.


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