Niche Site Project Income Report for September 2013 and a Penguin 2.1 Penalty!

By Spencer Haws |

When I set out to start a public niche site project, I knew that it would have its ups and downs, but I could have never predicted what an exciting roller coaster ride it would be!

I started building this site around February this year, and shared several income reports in the past right here.  Today I am going to share with you my income report for September, and it was a record earning month!

However, it also looks like during the first few days of October, Google rolled out Penguin 2.1 which has negatively affected my site.  I’m going to dig into this, which is obviously a result of the negative SEO attacks that I have written about extensively, and discuss what I plan to do to get my rankings back.

So, just when we thought the excited part of this case study was over, we get to deal with another curve ball!

But first, let’s dive into the earnings report for last month.

September 2013 Earnings for


So, during the month of September, the site earned $797.16 from the Amazon Associates program!  This is a record month, which I am thrilled about.

And just to make it better, I have a few dollars in earnings from to put me over the $800 mark!


So, my total earnings from last month was:

I am extremely happy with the earnings from  I’ve already made my initial investment back many times over, so any earnings from here on out just adds to my overall net profit.  In fact, let take a look at the earnings since inception.

Earnings Since Inception


So, the past 3 months have been beyond my goal of $500 per month.  And if you take a look at the cumulative earnings, you can see that the site has done very well since inception.

Cumulative Earnings


Since inception this site has had revenues of just over $3,500!  My initial investment was about $700 and I now spend approximately $100 to $200 per month for new content.  So, my net profit is close to $2,500 for this project…very cool!

Items Shipped


I had a record month for the number of total items shipped this month.  There was a total of 324 items shipped from Amazon, which actually put me into the 7.50% earnings tier!  If I would have only shipped 320 items, my commission rate would have been 7%.  So, those last few items were huge for my earnings!

Amazon Conversion Rate


The conversion rate was finally back up near 3%.  I actually did not do anything different to increase this conversion rate, the layout of my site remained the same.  So, I attribute this more to just fluctuations in who buys when; and I’m glad they bought in September!

Traffic Details

Believe it or not, the overall number of unique visitors was down on the site by a little.  My site remained at #1 in Google for the entire month of September; however, I guess just a few less people were searching for survival knifes last month.


As always, I wanted to also show how much traffic was coming from Long Tail keywords.


As you can see, the traffic from long tail keywords (according to Google Analytics) dropped significantly!  However, if you have been paying attention to what’s been going on with Google lately, you’ll know exactly why this happened.

The traffic from my long tail keywords has NOT actually dropped.  Its simply that Google is not reporting on individual keywords as much as they were.  They are moving towards 100% secured search, which means more and more traffic is going to show up under “Not Provided” in Google Analytics.  I wrote a post about Google’s move to 100% not provided right here.

Want To Build Smart & Relevant Internal Links...Quickly?

NichePursuits Rating

Link Whisper is a revolutionary tool that makes internal linking much faster, easier, and more effective.  It makes it simple to boost your site’s authority in the eyes of Google. You can use Link Whisper to:

  • Bring out your orphaned content that isn’t ranking
  • Create smart, relevant, and fast internal links
  • Simple yet effective internal links reporting: what has lots of links and what pages need more links? 

Click here to revolutionize your site’s way of doing internal links

Build better internal links with Link Whisper

So, to confirm I saw that during August, my “not provided” keywords in Google Analytics was 63.53%.  During September, that same “not provided” category had gone up to 79.46%!  That’s a significant jump up of 15.93%.  I fully expect that number to continue inch closer to 100% not provided.

Obviously this doesn’t mean that I’m really getting less traffic from long tail keywords, it just means Google isn’t reporting it anymore.

Overall Stats


In case you want to take a look at the raw numbers for the site, I’ve included this overall matrix with all the stats from since it started.

A Penalty from Penguin 2.1 (Ouch!)

On October 4th, Google released Penguin version 2.1.  This clearly had a direct impact on my site,

My site went from ranking #1 in Google for the term “best survival knife” to around #16 for that term.  As of today, it looks like I’m sitting at #13 in Google.

This has obviously also affected the traffic coming to the site.  Here’s a look at my recent traffic overall so far:


To me, the reason my site was penalized is crystal clear.  Many of the links pointing to my site are spammy, and they finally no longer are passing the Google Penguin filters after this update.  If you need a quick reminder of what Penguin is, see this post from Matt Cutts.

And to be clear, I didn’t build any of these spammy links and didn’t want them.  I’ve written extensively about the fact that my site was targeted by Negative SEO, and apparently those negative efforts have finally done their damage.

I also wrote about the fact that I got an unnatural links warning in Google Webmaster Tools here.  So, the fact that my site dropped in rankings isn’t a surprise at all; I was concerned that it might happen due to these spammy links and I think have made that clear on my blog throughout the past few months.

How Can I Recover From Penguin 2.1?

Penguin is an automated penalty, not a manual penalty.  So, if I can change whatever triggered the Google algorithm, then I can recover my rankings automatically as well.  In other words, I don’t need to submit a reconsideration request to recover my rankings.  I just need to make the Google formula happy again.

So, if my theory that my site was hit by the Penguin 2.1 penalty due to all the negative SEO links is true, then I should be able to recover by getting rid of those spammy links.  Lets take a look again at all the links that I didn’t want or ask for that have been built to my site over the past few months. Here’s a screenshot from


You can clearly see where someone (not me!) starting building a ton of links to my site around the beginning of April, then you can see another spike in links (again not from me!) near the beginning of September.  Clearly whoever has been targeting my site wanted to give it a second shot…and apparently the Penguin 2.1 filters saw all the spam and penalized my site.  Makes perfect sense to me.

In addition, I always caution against using your keyword anchor text in links, so if I had built these links to my site, I wouldn’t have been using “best survival knife” over 90% of the time.  Its a sure way to get penalized:


Even though Ahrefs shows that I have some crazy amount of links (18k), they are all coming from 297 referring domains.  So, the best way for me to recover is to try and get the links removed from the spammy domains.  So, here’s my plan of action:

  1. Download all the links that are showing in my Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Try to reach out by email and contact the webmasters of these sites and ask to have my links removed.  If I do enough digging, maybe I can find the person or service that created these links and have them all removed at once.
  3. If step 2 doesn’t work, then I will use the disavow links tool in Google Webmaster Tools.
  4. Watch my site climb back up the ranks (hopefully!)

Overall and Your Thoughts

I’m very happy with the way my site performed during the month of September!  A record month and over $800 in earnings is nothing to pass over lightly.

However, I’m also bummed, but not necessarily surprised that my site was hit by the Google Penguin 2.1.  Clearly this was caused by someone else building links to my site with heavy keyword anchor text.  I’m going to be doing all that I can to get the site recovered, so be ready for another update in a few weeks.

The silver lining is that perhaps this case study just got a bit more exciting than it was before!

I would love to hear you thoughts or comments in regards to my monthly earnings and the penalty.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.  Thanks!

Niche Business Ideas | 148 comments

By Spencer Haws

Spencer Haws is the founder of After getting a degree in Business Finance from BYU (2002) and an MBA from ASU (2007) he worked for 8 years in Business Banking and Finance at both Merril Lynch and Wells Fargo Bank.

While consulting with other small business owners as a business banker, Spencer finally had the desire to start his own business. He successfully built a portfolio of niche sites using SEO and online marketing that allowed him to quit his job in 2011. Since then he's been involved in dozens of online business ventures including: creating and exiting Long Tail Pro, running an Amazon FBA business for over 3 years and selling that business, founding, and co-founding You can learn more about Spencer here.

Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?

Yes! I Love to Learn

You may also like

View all



Bashoo Zmmarraii

Great to see you niche project is going well

I guess i need to copy tang and copy your method of niche site well i am just born in marketing 🙂

Wish me good luck 🙂

Lalit Burma

His website hit by penguin 2.1 because of some negative SEO.

oloyede jamiu

Hey Spenser,

I congratulate you on the increase in your niche site income for September.

When i heard that your site was affected by penguin 2.1 some days, i wasn’t happy bcos your intention was/is to help we who are your readers.

Its so unfortunate that those copycats were able to build those spammy links using your anchor text.

Well, I pray that the method you have devised to tackle this problem works for you and i hope its not going to be strenuous.

Oloyede Jamiu


Hey Spencer!

Congratulations for the record month 🙂 As for the negative links, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was somebody competing for the same keyword as you. I mean he knows a site gets penalized for having too much anchor text links, so he just has to create them to try and put you down the top ten results. Hope you get it solved soon! All the best.


Spencer Haws

Very possible…thanks Dan!

Vladimir Bestic

Too bad to see your site getting penalized 🙁

My niche website has been hit too. It “survived” Penguin in May, but this one hit him.

My main keyword has not been hit hard. It just moved 2-3 spots down. However, I lost 50% of my long tail Google traffic.

I analyzed my profile and everything was fine. I have built links via manual outreach + Web2,0s + infographics.

I wish I could know the reason for penality 🙂

Spencer Haws

I hope you can get your site back as well!


I think if they told us the reason for the penalty it would be too easy to rank and then Google wouldn’t get as much money for its ads.

Just a thought though.


800 bucks is awesome number! Looking forward to first thousand! 🙂

Contacting webmasters will be pain but I can feel you’re site wil be back in no time, gl!

Spencer Haws

Thanks Jenda!

Boris C.

Why not use disavow tool in first place to save time without contacting site owners?

Lalit Burma

Yes, I would love to know the answer of Boris’s question as well.

Spencer Haws

Because I want to try and do it the “right” way. Google recommends contacting others to remove links first, so I’m trying that.

Goran @ Niche Cove

Nice income Spencer!

Too bad about the Penguin 2.1 messing things up a bit.

As you might know, Ahrefs did a major update right about the time of your second link count jump. They greatly improved their indexing capabilities and that a part of the reason why the count jump so much so fast. Most of my sites have a similar jump around that period.

But you definitely were hit by Negative SEO. Looking at the Ahrefs’ “Anchor Cloud” the primary keyword has been used 57% of the time. I find the anchor cloud more relevant than the Referring Pages for Anchor Phrases graphs. MajesticSEO actually only shows that percentage to be around 35% (39% in historic). Anyway, getting rid of some of the spammy links with your primary keyword is a very good idea and I’m really looking forward to seeing how well you manage to recover.

Best of luck to you!

Vladimir Bestic

I got same link count jump in that period 🙂

Spencer Haws

Good points Goran, thanks for sharing.

Vladimir Bestic

Ah I almost forgot to mention an important tip 🙂

I want to suggest you another step in your recovery. If you don’t manage to get rankings back with manual outreach + disavow you should check out this tool:

Check out Tweet from Matt Cutts actually asking owners to submit to help algorithm become better

Nick LeRoy

Penguin 2.1 is definitely smacking a lot of sites that have over optimized anchor text (i’ve seen anything over 10% being effected). If getting them removed and or dissavow doesn’t do much you much good you could consider using a tool like TheHoth or even your layered links again to further diversify the anchor text in your backlink profile.

Just my two cents. Congrats on the monster month Spencer!

Spencer Haws

Good point Nick. I may try that if my initial steps don’t work out for recovery.


I’d be very wary of this approach. I tested both services but wasn’t impressed with links from either the Hoth or layered links. It could easily have totally the opposite effect.


Hi Spencer
I have bought Long Tail Pro and like it..I have also been watching with great interest your progress on Niche Pursuits project these last 9 months…I am very impressed with the way you have show how to generate affiliate income ..thank you . I am learning a lot…I have not started any projects myself and really like the way you have shown the whole process from inception…just a few ideas right through to income ..I am hoping you can beat the penguin..I had no idea that you could get negative seo ..was it deliberate?…I hope not…anyway I am keenly following your emails and posts…so that I will be gearing up myself before long..I hope any event its great to see a business idea become real through ingenuity and know-how on the web…good on you mate
Roger , New Zealand

Adam Roseland

ouch. You aren’t the only person hit though. I spoke with Layered Links and they said some of their clients saw positive movement with 2.1 (but what else would he say 🙂 )

The good news is, with the penalty, you are only on page 2… which means you can still climb back up relatively easily.

Good luck!


Sucks about the penalty. What’s interesting is the guy who now has the #1 spot for “best survival knife” is clearly someone who just copied your site. Lame.

Spencer Haws

Yep, several others that clearly discovered the niche thanks to me.


Several and the rest!

Jye @ Full Volt

Congrats on another record month Spencer.

It’s a shame the site was hit by Penguin 2.1. The algorithm update has actually been a benefit for me.
Early in September 2 of my main mini sites lost rankings, completely dropping from position #1 and #2 for their main keywords to outside of the top 100, and all long tail keywords. I assumed this had something to do with the way that Hummingbird returned results. I decided not to do anything with those 2 sites for a few weeks to see what was happening and both ended up returning to their old positions (well close to) with the release of Penguin 2.1.

lindsay collins

Good luck Spencer. By the way, once you build a site, how long does it usually take you to see it ranking in the top 500 of Google once it gets indexed?

Garrick Dee

It really varies, assuming you have good content plus good on site SEO, and some quality links pointing to your site, maybe a few days to a few weeks after your site gets indexed.

Garrick Dee

I’d try to create hard to replicate authoritative links that your competitors will have a tough time getting, this will build the trust factor in googles eyes and make your site more immune to negative SEO. That’s would be a better long term solution IMO.

Spencer Haws

I agree as well. I suppose I should have said that in addition to getting rid of the “bad” links, I’ll also continue to try and get more authoritative links. Good point.

Kevin Smith

Spencer, what is your recommendation right now for anchor text linking…

10% main keyword?
10% “click here”?
10% “www.”
5% main keyword and target country?

Etc, etc.

If you could clarify what you think is the best link building anchor text breakdown that would help a lot of us out.


Spencer Haws

I linked in the above blog post to an article the specifies my anchor text recommendations. Here it is again:

Kevin Smith

Thank you Spencer!

Tung Tran

HI Spencer,

It was a shame that my site was hit 🙁 too after you publish my success story.

However, traffic is climbing back.

I think it’s too soon to make any conclusion and we’d be better off doing nothing for 2-3 weeks to let the dust settle.

I’ll try to recover my site too 😀


I agree Tung. Now is the time for focusing on content I think.


I think with this Penguin it was the type of links rather than the anchor text.

There’s been a collection of cases studies out (people set them up knowing that Penguin 2.1 would happen, to see how the links performed). See the following for the links to the best of them:


Congrats on the record!

My site was hit by 2.1 too. I was being risky with anchor text. I had it at 20%

I went from 1st to 35th, luckily I had just bought a link package from layered links less than a week before. They stopped my order to do some testing and are now diluting my anchor text percentages for me!

They are great to work with. Thanks for suggesting them Spencer. I’m sure I’ll be number one for that and my other targets soon.


Hey Spencer,

I just checked and it seems your site is still at #1? I checked in a fresh browser without being logged in.

Spencer Haws

Nope, that’s someone else.


Hmm..that’s odd. I am pretty sure it’s your site, I mean it has your name in the About page!‎ shows up #1 for “best survival knife guide” and “survival knife guide”..
Wonder what I am doing wrong (right?)


the keyword is “best survival knife” you should search for “best survival knife” not best survival knife guide

Spencer Haws

Exactly, “best survival knife guide” is not my keyword (no one searches for that).


Ohhh of course! I knew something was amiss. Too bad that’s not a keyword. Hope the site regains it’s stately #1 spot. And soon!


Man, that sure looks like your site. Right down to the review articles.


I’m talking about best survival knife

Glenys @ Website Tips 4U

I think that one of the reasons people keep coming back to your blog, Spencer, is that your posts cover it all, the ups and the downs. And I’m sure this temporary setback will be just that, temporary. But in the meantime, congratulations on your stellar September earnings.

And I agree with Tung; there is usually a settling period after these updates.

By the way, love the graphs!

Spencer Haws

Thanks Glenys!


I was hit as well. I am reevaluating my links and already having some removed.

I also realized my main keyword is used WAY to often like 40-50% of the time. I have had a 90% drop in traffic since 2.1.

Right when I thought I was doing alright I get slapped big time. Glad I am learning this now before I start creating more sites..


If Best Survival Knife gets 3,000 searches per month

Survival knives 1-56, each get 100 searches per month – you’re still getting an aggregate search volume of 5,600.

Do you need to worry about spammers trying to kill your 1 keyword that sits on your home page?

Or if you lose rank for “best survival knife” does that hurt all the REST of your long tail keywords?

Arguably the longer the keyword, the greater chance is that you are targeting a person further along in the buying process.

Best Basketball Shoes is good. But Blue Lebron James VI Shoes in Size 12 is much much better.

Spencer Haws

A google penalty isn’t usually applied to one page or one keyword – its applied to your site. So, I’ve lost much more traffic than just from my primary keyword (as shown in the graph in this post).


You did a great job in September, too bad about the 2.1 update which has you do a lot more work now… but at least as you said it was not a manual penalty and you can fix things eventually. Good job and keep it up!


Great job Spencer. Too bad about the penalty but am sure you’ll recover the traffic via some more long tail keywords through additional content


Great earning Spencer! It is hurt for me as well… My site was tanked from top 3 down to 76…. bumping here and there. My main keyword anchor is around 8% of total keyword anchor variations. So, it must be something wrong with the latest google so called Humingbird upgrade. I would let the site calm and keep adding low competitions keyword contents.


Affiliate marketing is definitely more rewarding than Adsense. I hope you agree now, because you wouldn’t have made half of $806 if you had gone with Adsense for this site.

The penguin penalty is an unwelcome occurrence but inevitable. To recover, buy a new domain and 301 the current domain to the new one. You’ll rank at the top again. This is what I did when I got hit and many other people have attested to it’s efficacy.

Spencer Haws

Charley, how do you know I wouldn’t be making $800+ if I had gone with adsense? Adsense can be very profitable. Interesting idea about the redirect.


You may not even need another site to recover. I could be wrong, but I’ve heard that by changing the homepage URL from http://yoursite to http://www.yoursite , Google looks upon it as a new site. Not sure about how to redirect safely, but that would at least save the hassle of switching to a totally different domain. If it works…..


Hi Spencer,

how do you handle specific knives which aren’t available on amazon?

Does this problem exist in your niche?

For my nicheproduct, i can’t find any publisher who offer most models of my product.

Hope you recover your site soon! 🙂

Spencer Haws

Hasn’t been an issue yet. Hundreds of knives on amazon.

Jay Dorsey

My apologies if this is a double post—I initially posted on my iPhone and hit submit by accident and I’m not sure if I canceled in time.

I only looked at three of the top links in ahrefs, but it looks like you could have been targeted by any clown with access to UD or a similar app. Unfortunately the blog links I checked looked to be a legit site with trackbacks enabled and showing.

Unmoderated comments and trackbacks can be abused to create a lot of work for users who create quality sites—it’s too bad google isn’t set up to recognize and flag auto approved comments and trackbacks. Anyone can spend $10 or less on WSO or fivrr to run a campaign from someone trying to justify their monthly expense of using UD.

The amount of trackback spam on those posts is amazing—again I’m not sure how google algorithms can’t detect that either.

Anyways, good luck! It will take some work but I’m sure you’ll get it all sorted out. If you want help contacting the site owners please feel free to email me. What happened to you could happen to anyone and I would like to think creating awareness of how trackbacks and unmoderated comments are being abused would make any site owner want to fix their settings to help out.


$800 a month is still pretty sweet! I’m sorry that the site was hit, my sites were hit pretty bad as well. I have not built spammy links on them yet they are still hit. My guess those with lower quality content get hit. It will be interesting to see how you recover from the Penalty though. One thing i notice is that those that copied your site has link profile built by using strong DA expired domains. Maybe its something to consider for recovering?

Spencer Haws

For sure that could help.


Spencer’s site was hit few days ago, so $800 next month could by just a dream 🙁

Phuong Le

It is time for diversity, donot rely fully on google, i am now turning into video and other social network to drive more leads.


Congratz on your record earning month Spencer, awesome to see the success you’ve been having with your site! Bummer that you ran into the Penguin though, it’s a real shame that people can actually successfully perform negative SEO. Hope you can recover the site quickly, good luck!


I see there are two “copy” sites similar than yours holding rankings. How come they manage to be in the top 10 while yours is out??

Spencer Haws

They didn’t have the negative SEO that my site had.

Josh Escusa

I presumed that it was the negative SEO attack that knocked you off the first page. That’s a real shame that negative SEO may have actually gotten a bigger boost in power.

I’ve never tried removing spammy links before so this should be interesting.

Do you think that if you can push past the spammy links by getting more quality links to the site?

Robert Wright

Great job with the earnings! The potential to keep growing is there once you clean up those negative links.

Richard Johnson

An alternative to trying to repair the link profile to this site is to take the content down and launch a second site with the same content. Building quality links to the new site might be easier than trying to repair someone else’s attack on the old.

The only problem you run into is that this is a public project, and someone can always hit the new site with a bunch of bad links.

It might be interesting to start a new site with the old content off the radar, and report back on how well it is doing once it is ranking again. It would be of great value to me and others to hear how long it took for you to rank with old content on the new site.

Just some thoughts.


Spencer Haws

I agree Richard, it would be very interesting. I think I’ll attempt to remove the old links first, then perhaps take additional action (perhaps including what you’ve suggested) depending on the results. Either way it will be interesting to see if I can regain my rankings.

Lalit Burma

So now this is so easy to penalize your competitor sites by adding tonnes of links coming through same anchor texts.

Now we need to do two things, creating good links and protecting our websites from attack of negative SEO.

This business is now getting more and more nasty.


Hi Lalit! Glad to see you here ) I;ve been using your services and was always happy with the quality!

Agree on that, thanks to google it becomes more and more tricky to keep the business from dropping.


You are a huge inspiration for so many of us who want to create great website for topics we love and want to create niche topics about- and also earn some extra money with.

I think telling others what your niche is about and giving your link out to others who are desperate to earn some money is a bad choice. We can still learn by being shown how to make niche websites without being shown the domain name and topics

This website is a big help. Google just makes is too difficult with all of their horrible updates.

Spencer Haws

I built this site for a case study – so its not my primary income or anything. So, any money I made is just a bonus…its built purely to show others how to do it.


You are a very good teacher Spencer. This is a great website.
Glad this is not a primary source of income, because of Google update and copy cats :/


Hi Spencer,

man, your niche site is really taking off. I am sure you will recover from the new panda update.




in the next post, you could compare some SEO Services, like layered links, the hoth, group of fiver gigs, paid networking blogs like unique article wizard, submit my article, and let us know why you will buy it, with his budget:

i need your opinion thanks

Don Shelton


The negative SEO links can’t help, but my experience is that any sites I had Layered Links work on were killed by 2.1, sites they didn’t link to were unaffected. I’m afraid that 2.1 may be something where Google can still (mostly?) not only tell what negative SEO links are, but that they’ve also figured out something to recognize tactics used by Layered Links and probably similar SEO outfits. It could be anchor text related – that mixing up a few different anchor texts isn’t enough any more that they have to have more variety – but that’s just a guess.


Sorry to see you’ve been hit by this Spencer and that some jealous competitor is targeting you with negative seo again. I have had two site hit badly in the last few days. One was my niche site I’ve been working on and had got to page two for two main keywords which is gutting. I had tried links form layered links and a couple of similar services in the past and I suspect those had an impact. That’s the risk we take when performing any link building I suppose.

The other site has had paid links in the past but nothing for a long time so I don’t think they’re just looking at the new links with this latest algo.

Like Tung said I think a couple of weeks to let the dust settle might be a good idea.

Unfortunately if the guy (or girl) targeting your site with these links is reading your blog and can see that this may have done the damage, there’s a good chance that they may continue to build more. Fingers crossed I’m wrong!



I haven’t been on here in quite a while.. and am honestly surprised that you’re still messing around with these niche sites. How many hours a week do you spend on this as its barely making you $800 per month?



Spencer Haws

I spend almost exactly 0 hours each week on these sites. I go on long enough to hit publish on articles my authors have written for me. These are passive projects once they are built.


That was something i wanted to ask Spencer. Do you get your authors to input the articles they write directly on your blog? I have been getting them sent to me in word docs and copying them over but end up reformatting them quite a bit (just because I’m fussy about it looking how I think looks best). But that’s taking up quite a bit more time than I expected.

Spencer Haws

Yes, I allow my authors to input articles directly on my blog. So they are formatted, with outbound links and internal links in place. I just go in, proof read, add affiliate links as needed and publish (and many times my VA handles all of this…other than hitting publish).


Thanks for the reply. Can I just dig a bit deeper? Do you only do that when you have a trusted writer of do you give author access to any new writers you buy from too?

Spencer Haws

Yes, typically when its a trusted author.


Thanks. I’ll have to look at implementing that in the future as it would definitely save some time on my part.


Wow! I like the way you dismantle every step of your work. It makes it easy for others (read me) to follow and implement.
Thanks bro

Kyle @ Whales and Business

I used layered links for one of my niche sites and I went from #3 to #15 over the last week or so. My sites that didn’t use layered links actually improved in rankings.

Spencer, your site was ranking #4 just now for the keyword [best survival knife].


Spencer, I REALLY appreciate this post.

My site was hit on the 17th of August. I have been trying to troubleshoot it ever since.

My traffic is down 95%. I checked everything I could think of. I never did any backlinking tricks or paid anyone to do such things for me, so that was out.

When I looked at Webmaster Tools, however, it’s showing over 9,000 links to my site from one domain. When I click on the domain, it only shows one page on that site. There’s only 1 link to my site from there, but Webmaster Tools is reporting over 9,000.

I don’t know what to do with that piece of information! 🙂

Ahrefs only shows about 1300 links.

Don’t know if I should disavow those links from that one domain or if it’s a reporting error in Webmaster Tools or what.

Any advice would be appreciated. It has been driving me crazy since mid August.


You’re number one for me for the keyword Best Survival Knife right now.


There’s no such thing as “being #1” for a keyword anyway.

I can type in the search phrase in an incognito window and Spencer’s site isn’t coming up.

Different browsers and different locations yield different results. The best you can hope to say is that Analytics shows on average you come up at a certain position. And even those numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt.


I’ve been following this site since the beginning…a great thing to learn from…congrats on the monthly income increase…I was wondering..would you build more of these example sites (just not publicly) or would you pursue a different use of time…a different model…I have bought your keyword tool and monthly feature and wonder if doing multiple sites like your example is a great start?



While sad that the site was hit by Penguin, it’s good that the income earner here is icing on the cake for you so to speak so it doesn’t hurt as much. On the bright side, it serves as a real good niche site case study example since we see the ups and downs and now have a chance to see first hand how to get back from an algorithmic penalty that’s based on ‘bad’ linking practices (which in your case, being a victim of someone’s malicious intent).

The issue I wanted to ask you here is we’ve been harping on content quality and why you’re spending a bit for top notch writing. I understand your site, despite its content’s quality blowing all the others out of the water by a mile, ranking lower because of penalty (at least for now), what I don’t get are why the other niche sites (at least 2 of the 3, the one at #1 has pretty good content), which don’t have really great content (though I believe are unique), are ranking well on a niche that’s become somewhat highly competitive.

Their content seems so-so and something you’d find in comparable survival knife sites, yet they’re up there. Does this mean that highly extensive link building easily makes up for so-so content?

The 2 ‘weaker content’ niche sites have 530+ and 1000+ links respectively.

It would be nice to get your thoughts on this.

Spencer Haws

In an ideal world, content quality would trump all…but Google is far from that just yet. So, links are still very important, especially as a niche get more competitive.

Casey Dennison

Well…at least you made your money back on the site, Spencer, and congrats on another record earning month! It surely is a shame what the SEO landscape has come to (negative SEO), but I think you can recover the site. You did hit your target goal, so and it was fun to follow along with your journey, so thanks a lot man.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Casey! And even in its penalized state, its still earning money…so even if it never comes back, its still very profitable. (But I’m not happy with that…I of course want my top spot back!)


Hi Spencer,

somewhat side track question. With G showing less & less keyword, does that affect LTP when doing kw research?

I apologize if I’m posting this in the wrong place.


Spencer Haws

The Google keyword planner still shows up to 800 related keywords for each seed keyword, so nothing has changed there. So, there is no change with Long Tail Pro either.

Javier Renzi

I’m thinking in moving away from google analytics. If they’re not reporting the majority of the incoming keywords, then you are loosing valuable data.

Do you know if tools like getclicky are showing the incoming keywords or is that restricted by google too?

Spencer Haws

They are restricted by Google. No analytics program will be able to get the keyword data from Google. Read my post about it here:


I am unhappy to get know that your site is damaged by negative seo.I have a question here, If every one trying to put bad links for top ten sites then all sites will be affected.I see the penguin 2.1 doesn’t affect other top sites.I mean squidoo,cnet etc.

By the way you are now not in top 10

Donald Ash

Despite the Peguin setback, this is truly inspirational stuff. Making a site go from nothing to earning $800 is like alchemy to me. I just hope that I can work the same magic someday soon. Congrats on your results, Spencer!

Spencer Haws

Thanks Donald!


It’s almost like your betting off building zero links now. Just one link from a bad area could set off any trigger.

Sorry to hear your penalty Spencer, it’s wrong your site was penalised as the content is fantastic.

The recent Google updates make it extremely difficult to know what links are ok and besides even trusted links today could become bad links in the next update.

It wasn’t long ago that press releases were seen as the perfect way to get your site started in the rankings and now they are the poison.

My recent tactic that has so far worked is building a site with over 40 pages of original content on an old domain with zero link building. (Targeting low competition).

Content seems to be the kicker at the moment for niche sites, the more the better.


It is well known/accepted that getting out of a Penguin penalty is also automatic?

Do they continue looking at sites that have had a penalty and then notice when the bad links have been removed/disavowed and re-evaluate the site?

Or is it one strike and you are out?

Would you have to wait for the next update to get your rankings back or is Penguin an ongoing thing?

Good luck with it all!

Spencer Haws

Yes, its well known that its automated. Yes, google continues to crawl sites – if it looks good, it ranks again. Penguin is ongoing (constant).


Unfortunately, your wrong Spencer. I’ve been hit by a negative SEO attack which impacted on 4th October too. Having looked into this with great detail, you have to wait until the next Penguin update. My guess is that it won’t be until May or October 2014. Absolutely sucks.

Ryan Cote

That’s super frustrating Spencer. You pour time and money into your niche site…share the project with the world…build it up to an authority site…and easy, crappy links takes it down. Well, at least it will make for an interesting case study on recovering from negative SEO and if it’s even possible.


Congratulations, Spencer! Inspiring as always!

My site got penalized and disappear from first page of google.

I built link from submityourarticle directly to my money site. Only 12% of the exact keywords.

I hope this is only the dance


Hey Spencer,

I really feel with you! Damn I really hate these copy-cats and people how would do anything just to hurt your serps.. I wish you all the best of luck for improving again – let uns know how this will work out for you! 🙂

Alfred Zerta

Unfortunately this has become a nice test case about the effectiveness of NSEO. I would not be surprised if one of the top 3 for your keyword is the culprit.

It is just astonishing that some of the top level members in the “Google Webmaster Forums” says that NSEO doesn’t work.

This is a big problem for those that want to start a new website.


I feel a little sorry for Spencer as I credit him for getting involved with niche sites myself after first seeing this case study. I have made thousands since that day so I’m forever in his debt.

That said…Spencer is NOT a pure white hat guy. He has opted to accept the risk of breaking many of Google’s policies with grey methods that some might even consider as black hat. He buys PR links, he uses expired domains for his own PBN and he pays for all types of other services that Google frown upon.

In this case study he openly told us that he purchased a link package from Layered Links. Services like this will tell us that they only employ “white hat” methods to generate you the highest quality links. That’s just BS! These services spam your links using automated software and hire $2/hr overseas contractors to do the dirty work. It’s basically a cheap Fiverr gig dressed up in fancy clothes and costing 20x more. Sure this method worked for a while but Google is now onto it and in their eyes it’s just a paid link like all the others. SEO link services will demise over the coming years as Google tightens up.

I’m not saying the negative SEO didn’t make things worse but Spencer had it coming anyway with tactics like these.

Pretty much the whole link building/tool service industry has been shifted from what is “grey hat and works” to what is “grey hat and only works for a short period of time”.

I’ve yet to see any services that can pretty much guarantee safety in today’s climate. The only way to do that is to individually hunt out high authority links, on good relevant sites, then do whatever you can to get those. Algorithmically that’s the only way you are safe.

I predict over the next year, the link buying, link tools and link services will all start to suffer. The algorithm is shifting towards brand, authority sites, and thus making content much more valuable. High volume, large content sites and brands are what kill it today.

Sure you can rank sites with purchased links from services and what not, but will they work long term? Personally i think the writing is on the wall (has been for a while) and sadly, its a scary proposition.

Vladimir Bestic

Well if you look from that angle EVERY do follow link YOU build is “grey hat”, because it’s purpose is to rank your website higher in Google 🙂


Yes, all link building is gray/black hat. Google says not to build any links to your sites, rather links should come naturally from people who really like your site.

Spencer Haws

That’s correct, every link you build is indeed grey hat most likely (there may be some exceptions here).

Spencer Haws

Sure, I agree 100%. I’ve been pretty open about my tactics and the risks involved. I’ve also been telling people to move to authority sites for a long time as well. Here’s my latest post about it:

Small niche sites = high risk, high reward…for a short time
Authority sites = lower risk, with slower rewards…but will likely last longer.


Spencer, how did P2.1 affected your other sites?

Spencer Haws

No, I haven’t seen other sites impacted.


Thanks for being so transparent. Best of luck!


Most probably it is because competition has heaten up that’s why you lost some ranking?

Spencer Haws

No, it was Penguin 2.1.


Hey Spencer,

I’m sorry to see the hit to you site,
I’m just wondering about the cause.
You mentioned the penguin 2.1 update however from what I understand the newly released in hummingbird update is a complete replacement to Google algorithm.

Another site I was watching was emulating what you have done and was ranking very well then had the same thing happen.

So I guess I’d just like your insights to the Hummingbird update.

Jawbone Up Sleep

Way to go Spencer! Another record mth! But sad to hear someone is sabotaging your site.

Do keep us in the loop about the progress. Really love your content!


Earnings are quite impressive but it looks that Google Penguin has effected many blogs. Even my site also got hit. Can you give some tips to recover from it?


I stumbled upon an affiliate marketing forum where they were discussing whether or not your niche sites are actually making the amount of money that you claim?

They also say that there is no way the dumbbell site owned by that other kid you are linking to is making the amount of money he claims either.

What do you have to say about this?


Can you point me to this forum? Honestly, I’ve had that doubt too..

Now before everyone starts piling on, let me say that I truly believe Spencer is a great guy and he’s taught a lot of people via this niche site project.

But coming to the income part, I somehow am doubtful about both Spencer’s and Tung’s reports. I have similar Amazon sites with similar traffic levels and it all seems a little good to be true

Spencer Haws

Hey Travis, I’m sure some people will always have doubts. But I am most definitely earning the exact amount from this site ( that I have shown in my detailed income reports. Honesty is a huge part of my business, and I wouldn’t stake the future of my business on claiming that I make more than I do. I’m sure most people know that (and probably you too), but there will always be doubters. All I can say is that I didn’t go to all the trouble to fake all the screenshots, including a screenshot shown here or all the knives I sold in the month:

All I can say is that the screenshots are real and the income is 100% accurate. Also, everyone could clearly see where I’m ranking in Google. Who do you trust, some random person on a forum posting doubts, or me who has been blogging for years and sharing everything I’ve done step by step in the open? Its the real deal.

For Tung’s site, I haven’t verified any income, but I take him at his word.


Thanks Spencer.

I appreciate your honesty.

Being truthful in this day and age goes a long way for someones character and integrity…


Can I use google analytics for all of my websites with one google account?Will the webiste get penalized if I do this?
What do you think how google will use the data about my website?


Hi Mary,
Personally I use a couple of different accounts but its more for a reason of grouping sites and businesses to be honest. I have asked other people in the past (including Spencer I think) if they thought google would use this info against us. ie devalue links between sites that are in the same analytics account. Nobody has given any reason for me to be suspicious about this at this stage other than the fact that they could if they wanted to. I think Spencer uses the same account for all or many of his sites (please correct me if I’m wrong Spencer) and he has tons more sites than me I’m sure.

However whilst I might keep all my main sites in grouped accounts I probably would not set up my sites I am using for a private blog network up in the same account. In fact I might not even use google analytics on them or all of them.

What do the other PBN owners do about analytics?


Here’s a weird thing about paid links etc, I have a couple of aged authority sites at PR3 and PR4 and now and again I’ll get an email out of the blue asking about rates for paid links.

This week I’ve had two separate enquiries looking to purchase paid links to their sites, but I have also had an email from someone who seems to be in Spencer’s position, because he is asking me to REMOVE a link that I was paid to add to my site.

So while some sites are still trying to benefit from link juice, other sites are actively pulling them down, like Spencer.


Hey Spencer.
Some of my that got hit hard are EMDs, special .ORGs.
Would be a good idea to buy a different/brand domain and Use the same content or use 401 redirect?

Karl steinmeyer

Hey Spencer, nice description of and breakdown of the problem and how to fix it.

Have you seen any other drops in search rankings for any other reason besides penguin 2.1?

Thanks much!



Google says not to build links and you will obtain links naturally, but surely this is chicken/egg scenario.

If you dont have links you wont rank, if you dont rank nobody see’s your content, if nobody see’s your content they wont link to you???

Spencer Haws

There’s other ways to be seen besides Google.


The sheer number of survival knife site clones is amazing. Isn’t it theoretically possible that you’ve been penalized because the velocity of similar site creation is raising a flag and the original is suffering?

Spencer Haws

It is amazing to see the number of copiers (unoriginal people), but they are not copying my content (for the most part), so its not having an impact on my site, other than crowding.

John Devlin

Hi Spencer,

I subscribed to your list today, find everything about this hugely interesting, I have started my research for building my blog, and I had a question.

The two I have found both have tons of uk traffic for there broadmatch domain name couldnt get exact, going for a certian market that can also link to my money site in time.

What you go for a perfect that is a new domain and cost around 300 dollors from go daddy

or a expired domain that is wrong way round

ie keyword womens shoes I found

this has PR, DA and PA but the other is EDM for 50k search a month

Thanks John


Hey Spencer,

I had my 1st $100 month with Amazon in October so thanks for all the help 🙂

I’m keeping my finger crossed for my target of $300 this month!


Hi Spencer

You have done a great job both with this blog and with the Knife site!

How long have you been doing IM? I’ve been at it for a long time and although I made money initially, I’ve been in a desert for some time!

How do you go about picking a niche whoich can work with Amazon? There is so much on Amazon which has a ridiculous amount of competition!

After all the work you put, do you not get depressed and dispirited with the bastards who try and do you down on Google? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to try and get your traffic some other way? Using video for one?



Spencer – has your site got a warning message in web masters? It’ll be a case of manual penalty then. And if that’s the case, I would like to help you get rid of it. Manual penalty recovery is something I specialize in and I have perfected my processes and system to perfection over last year. If you want I can do a recovery case study with your site. Let me know if that’s something you or your readers might find interesting.


Why is listed by the alexa toolbar as having Pagerank 0? Shouldn’t it have a higher Pagerank by now?

Spencer Haws

Google hasn’t updated PageRank since Feb of 2013. So ANY site created after Feb 2013 has a toolbar PageRank of 0.

Filma Aksion

Really a great work and glad that u sucsed ! i dont now wats wrong with me i try 4 times with 4 diferent niches and i cant win money 🙁


it really a good post. thank you.

Richard Yoshimura

Great analysis. One of the most thorough write-ups on Penguin 2.1 I have come across thus far.

Recent Posts

View all