Survival Knife Project Update! Making a Comeback From Negative SEO?

By Spencer Haws |

In early 2013, I kicked off with a webinar, what has now become known as Niche Site Project 1.  This case study has been one of the most popular series of posts that I have ever done on my blog only rivaled in popularity by the second Niche Site Project here.

I went through the process of finding keywords, picking a domain name (originally, and building a niche from scratch.  And the best part was that I revealed everything!

However, if you look back at the case study page here, you will see that its been 9 months since I posted any updates.

Today, I want to explain why there has been a gap in the updates and to finally explain what happened to the site.  The original purpose of this case study was to make it a valuable learning experience for everyone, and so I plan to reveal everything once again to hopefully help others reading this post.

Even though the site has not worked out exactly as planned, I think its still important to share the trials just as well as the victories.  In fact, I’ve shared many of my “failures” in the past including: iPhone App Failure, Failed Attempt at Building a PBN, and Early Mistakes with Long Tail Pro.

As you will see below, the traffic to the site has been pretty low, BUT you will also see some VERY interesting movement over the past couple of days.  Enough movement, that I will simply say there is still a ray of hope for the project after everything that has happened.

A Review of the Best Survival Knife Guide Case Study

Back in January 2013, I shared my plans to conduct a public case study project.  The reception was amazing!  You wanted to see me build a niche site from scratch, and it really motivated me to get going.

I shared all the steps required to build a niche site including:

You can read every single post in the niche site project 1 series right here.

The case study progressed very well, and my site was ranking #1 in Google after just 62 days!

The earnings also started to pour in.  Here’s is the income chart for the first several months of the project:


You can see that by September 2013 (just 9 months after the project started), the site was earnings about $800 per month!  The traffic was also doing very well, as you can see from this Google Analytics screenshot:

However, I was also very transparent along the way, that I knew something was wrong.  I detected very early on, that it appeared I was a victim of a negative SEO attack.  I wrote this article, “Is My Niche Site a Victim of Negative SEO?” just 3 months after starting the project, and well before the site was earning very much.

Discovering and Dealing with Negative SEO

I could see that as early as March 2013, someone was building links to my site without my knowledge.  Even worse, they were using the anchor text of “best survival knife” (my chosen keyword).

I would never recommend and certainly wasn’t in this case building thousands of links to my own site with keyword heavy anchor text.  I continued to see more and more links pour in over the coming months, but there was nothing I could do about it since it was out of my control.

Here’s what Ahrefs looked like; showing the huge influx of links that I did not want:

I kept hoping that Google would not penalize my site, and they didn’t for the first 8 months.  However, the inevitable day arrived in October 2013, and Google finally hit my site with a penalty; which made perfect sense because of all the negative SEO it was receiving.

I wrote a post about the penalty here.

This dropped the earnings significantly for the month of October, as you can see from this income chart:

Here’s a chart showing when the penalty hit and the associated hit in traffic:

Ouch!  The traffic and earnings tanked; and it appeared to be a negative SEO attack that caused everything.

In fact, I also hired a link expert to take a look at the site and do a full deep analysis.  He did just that and his findings were exactly as I stated.  The site tanked due to poor quality links with keyword heavy anchor text.

You can see his entire deep link analysis report right here that I published as a guest post.

Disavow Links: Fail?

So, I took Guntram’s advice based on his in-depth link analysis, and disavowed all the spammy links that were pointing to my site.

In fact, I didn’t just disavow the links, but I actually went through and emailed many of the offending sites requesting that the links be removed.  But as you can suspect, most of the sites were not “real” sites anyway, so there was very little response from any of the “webmasters”.

I waited a few months after submitting the disavow file for to Webmaster tools to give Google a chance to recover my rankings.  However, after waiting a few months and seeing no change in rankings or traffic to speak of, I basically gave up on Google.

The disavow links did not work at all for me.

Here’s a look at the traffic after October 2013


As you can see, the traffic in early October dropped by more than half, and never recovered.  The site was still getting about 250 visitors or so a day, but I’m sure that MOST of that remaining traffic was from readers of  People that knew about my blog were simply checking out my site for the most part, rather than natural visitors.

If I were to guess, I was getting less than 50 natural visitors a day to after October 2013.  (Before that, most of the visitors were natural).

However, as you will see below…perhaps the disavow links did work after all.  I still have some big questions marks as to what is currently going on.

Changing Domains…Twice!

So, here I was with a dilemma.   I had built up a niche site that I knew could earn over $800 per month, but it had been dropped in Google due to spammy links.  I had spent considerable amount of time and money getting the site up and paying for content; so I didn’t want to just see it fizzle.

The disavow links was not working after a few months; so I made a decision to move the content to a new domain and then 301 redirect the old domain to the new domain.

I had been told by a few people that this very often would get rid of any penalties associated by the old domain.  So, on January 30, 2014 I moved the entire site over to and did a 301 redirect from to

The result?  Terrible.

Nothing happened when I moved to a new domain.  The traffic remained the same, and no penalty was lifted.  Now of course in hindsight that’s obvious.  If you redirected all links (which is what I did with the 301), then even the spammy links get redirected and so the penalty is not going to be removed.

So, was dead in the water before it even started.  It simply kept getting about the same amount of traffic as it was before the domain name change:


I came to the realization that nothing was going to happen unless I got away from the spammy links.

So, I took another drastic step.

This time I decided to get ANOTHER new domain name, but this time NOT redirect any of the links.  So, I moved all the content to a new domain (that I will likely reveal in a future post), but did not do a 301 redirect from any links related to or

However, I was also concerned about duplicate content and Google feeling like this new domain was just a copy of the previous domains.  So, in order to prevent any confusion, I did not publish anything until after I had de-indexed both and from Google.

That’s right, I removed the sites from Google completed.

Removing a site you own from Google is actually very easy.  You just log in to your Webmaster Tools, select “Remove URLs”, and then input the URL you want to remove/deindex:


If you input the root domain, the entire site will get deindexed.  However, if you just want to remove one or two specific pages; just input that URL.

I was shocked at how quickly my site was removed from the index.  I submitted the request, and was completely removed from the Google index within 24 hours!

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I actually waited a month or 2 AFTER the old sites were de-indexed before I published the content on my new domain.  I wanted to make sure that the sites were fully out of the index, and that Google had “forgotten” the old content.

So, I published all the content on the new domain sometime around March 2014 and hoped for the best.

The Current State of My Survival Knife Site

So, what happened when I published all the old content on the new domain?  Well, it was just like having a brand new site.

As you know with a new site, it takes a little while for that content to get indexed and for people to start visiting.  And because the site had NO links pointing to it at all, it truly was a fresh domain.

In addition, I did not reveal the new domain to anyone; so any traffic that was coming in, I knew for sure that it was natural traffic.

So, after October 2013, I was suspecting that was only getting about 50 natural site visitors a day.  After a couple of months, I had surpassed that amount of unique visitors to my new domain.

Even with only a couple of links (I didn’t do any real link building at all); the new site seemed to be getting some Google love!


Link Building

As mentioned, I did almost no link building for this site.  I contacted a few sites that had legitimately linked to and asked them to change the links to my new domain.  That was the bulk of the link building I did.  I was so concerned about getting another link related penalty from Google at this point, that I decided to just lay low for a while.

The Penalty Flowed to New Domain?

However, despite the positive growth over the first few months, something happened in June of this year that looked like another penalty.  Here’s a quick look at the analytics:


I can only guess what happened in June to the new domain.  I was not building any links to the site (other than the few mentioned above).   My guess is that the penalty from the old site moved to the new domain, even though I hadn’t done any redirects.

And in fact, this exact scenario is confirmed by Google that it could occur.  Here’s an article from explaining that, “Google Penalties Might Follow You to a New Domain Name“.  Here’s a quote from that article:

So we know that if you have a penalty on your site and you move your site to a new domain and redirect the URLs to that new domain, the penalty will flow because of the redirects. That is known.

What I did not know is that if you took your site and moved it to a new domain but did not redirect the old domain to the new, that Google may also pass along the penalty without redirecting the URLs.

So, it appears that the penalty has followed me to the new domain, but are things changing?

Penalty Removal? A Ray of Hope!

To be honest, I started writing this blog update a couple of days ago simply as a way to inform everyone that even after 9 months, I still have been unable to recover the survival knife site.  However, as I began writing the article and checking the stats, I noticed some VERY interesting things going on the past couple of days.

In fact, there has been enough upward movement in terms of rankings and traffic, that I believe my penalty is being removed!

Take a look at the Google Analytics from the site; and notice the 300% growth over the past couple of days!


Yippee!  Now, I don’t know exactly what’s going on or even if the growth will be sustained…but SOMETHING is definitely going on.

Not only has the traffic tripled, but I can clearly see that I am ranking well in Google for keywords that I was previously no where to be found for.  The site is making a comeback!

Now, I’m always well aware that we are talking about tiny amounts of traffic here.  The site is still under 100 visitors a day, BUT its 3 times what it was 2 days ago, and growing. I also know from experience that a trend like this can often continue over a period of a couple of months.  So, if this site truly acts like a site that Google loves, the traffic could grow significantly higher over the next several weeks as it starts showing up for all the long tail keywords that it should be ranking for.

And the best part is that I can clearly see that the traffic is coming from Google.  This is natural search engine traffic because my site is once again showing up for keywords for which it was no where to be found for the past 9 months.

The reason for the comeback?

I have 2 theories about why the site may be gaining traction in Google again.  First, I submitted a disavow links file to Google about 9 months ago; and that is the most logical reason that my site is finally coming back.  I had given up on Google, but maybe all of my links were finally disavowed from my actions 9 months ago and the penalty has been lifted.

A second theory is that many of the spammy sites that were linking to me no longer are.  I could see that maybe some links were removed, or that many of the spammy domains just simply expired.  Domains expire all the time, and especially spammy ones that have no value.

So, at this point I don’t know all the reasons for the signs of a comeback, but I suspect that the disavow links finally worked and other spammy sites just stopped linking or expired.


As of October 2013, my survival knife site had earned a total of $3,821.34.  However, the trend was way down starting in October:

The trend has not changed as you might suspect based on all the traffic charts I’ve shown you above.  As a result, the site has only earned $579.25 from Nov. 2013 through Aug. 26th, 2014.

So, in total the site has earned approximately $4,400.59 since I began the project in January 2013.  The earnings over the past 10 months have been pretty dismal.  And in fact, the site has only averaged about $30 a month for the past 3 months.

The earnings this month likely won’t be stellar even with the increased traffic, but I do again see a glimmer of hope in the earnings report over the past couple of days.

For this month, the site has only shipped 6 total items on Amazon; clearly not very exciting.  However, what is interesting is that 4 of those 6 items were shipped in the past two days!  This correlates exactly with the increased traffic as shown on the Google analytics report.

In total, about half of the earnings for this month have come in the past 2 days.  As a result, I’m very curious to see what happens the last few days of the month.

Google traffic is very valuable. So now that people are finally once again finding me using various long tail queries, they are more likely to buy.  It appears that I’m finally getting back some of that “buying” traffic that Google often sends.

Plans Moving Forward

So, now that you are all caught up on my survival knife site; what are my plans for it moving forward?

To be honest, I’m not sure at this point.  I sat down to write this post and explain that the site was still dead…but surprisingly its showing some signs of life now for the first time in 9 months!  I’m going to be doing some monthly planning for all of my sites in the next week; so I’ll decide at that point what I want to do with the site.

If I continue to see more improvement and evidence that the Google penalty has been removed, then I will very likely put some more time and effort into the survival knife site.  The first step is for me to add the new domain into Google webmaster tools.

The previous domains clearly showed in webmaster tools that it had received a penalty against it. (Here’s a blog post detailing the original penalty against the site). So, if I add the new domain and no penalties are added in webmaster tools, then I may indeed have a clean project on my hands.

What that means for you (either way), is that there will indeed be more updates to this project!

Lessons Learned

If somehow the penalty is removed and the site makes a recovery, I’ll report on that.  I actually thought this was going to be the last post I make for the Niche Site Project 1, but as I’ve been pleasantly surprised the past couple of days, the project remains open.

However before I close out the post, I think its important to review some of the lessons learned from the project so far:

1. In my opinion, negative SEO is very real.  However, I think its very rare and shouldn’t be a concern for most people.  Out of hundreds of sites I’ve built, this is the only one its every happened to.  I believe it happened because I shared the URL publicly here on

2. Don’t share URLs publicly with the wrong people.  Unfortunately, sharing my site publicly was eventually its downfall.  One person appears to have ruined the case study for everyone.  As a result, I really don’t think I’ll be sharing any of my niche sites publicly in the future again.  However, to be true to my word when I first started this project, I WILL reveal the new survival knife domain at some point…just not now; but hopefully in the next couple of months.

3. Google’s disavow links tool may actually be working, but its very slow.  I had given up on cleaning up the links to my survival knife site.  However, approximately 9 months after submitting my disavow links file, it appears that I’m finally getting some traction in Google once again.  The jury is still out with my site, but the early signs are very promising.

Your Thoughts

As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.  This is a massive post with so many different angles that could be discussed, that I simply could not cover everything in one post.  For that reason, I’m sure there will be follow up posts with additional points made.

In addition, that also means that discussion that follows could also be very enlightening.  If you have a question about anything that happened, please ask!  I’m hear to answer any questions and truly look forward to the discussion.

Niche Business Ideas | 144 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?

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This is super interesting and surprising. Negative SEO is real in my opinion, too, and I’d be very stoked if the disavow tool was working.

I’ve always said disavowing should be much, MUCH easier — like, one-click easy.

Pretty excited to watch this one over the next couple of days!

Prince Molak

Hey Perrin, i wonder why the biggest search engine (Google) will create a tool to improve the quality of search result and yet the tool isn’t working despite the huge resources it had. Google should save bloggers the stress of looking for bad links when they know they wont disavow it, dont you think Perrin


Really great post, Spencer.
Negative SEO is unfortunately, real and effective.
I am terribly disappointed with the big G – developing those crazy, billions worth algorithms, and can’t deal with something that simple, yet harmful.
You’re very lucky to meet this for the first time. I’m in the process of cleaning that mess (hired a company), really frustrating , the time and efforts needed to invest in this, instead of investing in growth.
Your ‘after 9 months’ result, gives me hope though.
Thanks for sharing this, it means a lot.

Spencer Haws

Thanks. I’ll definitely be sharing more details in the future; and yes, it does offer at least a glimmer of hope for other sites out there.


Thank You for Sharing!

A great lesson!!

Lyman Perrine

Hi Spencer,

While your site was in “Google Time Out” what did you do to make up for the lost organic traffic?

Did you still actively seek out more backlinks?

Do you plan on diversifying your website traffic to help combat future Google penalties?


Spencer Haws

I did not actively seek backlinks. For the most part, I simply asked those who had legitimately linked to the old domain to change the links to the new domain.


Did you rewrite the content for the new site? I’m only asking as maybe someone scraped it from the old domain and you’re seeing a dupe content issue?

Spencer Haws

No, I did not rewrite the content.

Alistair Cochrane

If it holds it will be sweet to come back even if it’s only $300 or $400 per month.

Sites that you know can do better/have an emotional attachment to can take up more mindspace than they probably should.

And for me, it was learning from your knife site case study that led to my first dollar so I’ll be happy to see it back earning )

Thanks Spencer )

Spencer Haws

Absolutely, I agree. Thanks!

Flying Camera

Your bit about “mindspace” is so true. There are sites I work on that have little chance of making money due to a lack of time to work on them and ones that do make much more that I don’t attend to nearly enough as a result. I’ve got to work on that.


Hey Spencer!

I was thinking about negative seo today right before i opened your blog 🙂

Couple months ago after reading your blog I was interested to check you survival knife website niche.
I started checking google for long tail keywords and guess what? I found many new website related to this niche except your.

What is my guess here:
I don’t know current traffic to your niche pursuits blog, but i assume many people reading it. Many of this people want to create niche site, but they couldn’t come out with new ideas and just decided to copy your work.
And how they will compete with you?
Just spam you with bad backlinks.
Unfortunately I don’t know how to protect against it. I think google should come out with some algorithm to protect against it.
Too bad people do this and i am afraid my niche sites will get spammed the same way if i will have competition.

About webmaster tool and disavow tool.
1. First i think webmaster tool will link both of your websites (old spammy one and new one) and will penalize new website even if you are using different account.
Also my website got penalized couple hours after i added webmaster tool to my website! After a month when google revoked penalization I still don’t see any improvement in traffic :/
2. Disavow tool works, but it takes long time. I tested it too.

Another thought why you got hit by google in june:
I think your website still in sandbox and your ranking will jump in first 6 months. Now you are on the top, tomorrow website might disappear from search at all and after couple days will come back.

I am enjoying to read all your posts and case studies! They are awesome and have great value even if you won’t reveal the website name.
Good luck with niche site and other projects.

btw. we are almost neighbors.

Spencer Haws

Glad you enjoy the case studies, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.


I was just curious Spencer why you didn’t disavow those links when they were coming in and were recognized? I know it’s a lot of work to do that on something like a weekly basis, or if it would even help. Or perhaps I’m mistaken on the timing and you did do that. Otherwise I’m not sure of how to guard against something like this affecting your site in the first place. Good to see a ray of hope though!

Spencer Haws

I initially did not do anything because I had read articles and watched videos from Matt Cutts stating that Google knew when unnatural links and were not my fault: In hindsight, I absolutely should have disavowed links as I saw them come in, and I recommend everyone do the same.


Thanks for the update. It would be real interesting if ya were able to confirm whether or not the links become disavowed. To be able gauge a timeframe.


Just curious, when you registered your new domain did you also change hosts/name servers to avoid any kind of ‘footprint’ that may follow you?

I’ve always wondered if it’s better to keep all your niche sites on different host.


Spencer Haws

I did change hosts/nameserver.


I think this post and the level of detail behind it is exactly the reason niche site projects are the most popular posts on your site, this is truly outstanding value.

It has been interesting to see your attempts to remove penalties. The idea that the penalty followed you to the new domain even though you did not do any redirects is intriguing indeed.

There is currently a Google Update Going on and i think that might be a factor for your website resurgence. Some say it’s penguin 3, and although it has not been confirmed by Google, a lot of independent tool analysis confirm that there are massive changes in the serps.

Some sites that got penalized in the past started to make a comeback for me too exactly in the last days. Although i did not add any new links / content and i did not redirect them. I think Google has done a refresh and some of the old penalties are getting lifted. It would have been interesting to see whether your old domain would have had its penalty lifted, but now that doesn’t exist any more, let’s see how the new domain performs.

Excited for the future posts and i hope this is not the end of niche site project 1.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Ferzy. I’ve also heard some whispers of a possible penguin update, and perhaps that is what this is…in fact that might make perfect sense.

Michael Hall

Awesome update. Glad to see its finally coming back. I followed this affiliate site at first then really enjoyed your second site with Perrin. The two of you interacting and teaching was an epic series. Would be awesome if you can do something together again maybe with a little twist or a drop shipping website.

Also any updates on A Penny Shaved? Would like to know how thats doing.

I recently started my own affiliate site ( non amazon ). I followed a lot of the same steps as Penny Shaved. Im getting about 1,000 visitors a day, but Im just not converting really at all. My site looks great, content is great, time on site is great, but my bounce rate is really high and not converting much.

Any tips?

Spencer and Perrin



Great post! I messaged you on your niche site yo connect with you it’s get in touch and help each other out!



Hi Spencer

I’m curious about Google webmaster tools… due you suspect there may be any potential downsides to using it ?

Are there any alternatives that can give the same info and tools ?



Spencer Haws

I don’t see any downsides. I gave up on trying to “hide” from Google a long time ago. I use analytics, adsense, webmaster tools, etc.


Thanks for the info Spencer

Referenceur Tunisia


Yah ! negative SEO is a real nightmare for any SEO.
I had the same problem like you with an old website (in 2007). Back to that time the only solution was to move to anothe url, and that’s it. But now it’s very dificult to “comeback” a penilzed site


Hey Spencer –

I know of a couple sites (one of which is mine) that bounced back after a penalty around the same time as your survival knife site.

I’m starting to think there was a refresh that either “loosened” the algo or perhaps it just refreshed and all these sites finally had something G liked (all in this case made changes somewhere down the line, maybe they all were recognized as good changes with a refresh).

Anyway just FYI for some more data. Hopefully it stays around and you can add this back to your nice earners.


Spencer Haws

Its very possible that penguin 3.0 came out, which would make perfect sense. According to Google (as reported on SE news sites), sites hit with penguin 2.0 would not recover rankings until a algorithmic update (v. 3.0). So, even though you disavow links, you would see an improvement until they “refreshed” the formula. I believe that is what happened here (but there is still not official confirmation from google about any penguin update).


That one statement you made about one person ruined the case study for everyone rings true. I was hoping as I was reading the post you would have given a grand finale to say its bounced back and doing better than before but the case study in itself was insightful as I have to move a blog that was penalised.

I had a blog suspended (for adsense – a half finished post as a draft was left up and it appears someone lodged a complaint else how would it have been picked up) and i checked on the stats what “checking” the google staff were doing on my objections. Nothing. They make bullshit claims that my site is scraped when50 pages were all written by me personally and google never checked the site even referring back to the old link which had since been removed to no avail. What hits worse is theres sites online that completely lack content posting adsense and offer no reader value at all yet manage to stay up.

Its really disapointing dealing with google on these matters.
Im going to consider doing a similar move as to what you did to restablish my adsense site in the same niche.

I wouldnt reveal the URL

It doesnt matter what the URL is

I am about the process and the outcomes so what about getting rid of the site on flippa or something and doing an example of selling a site on flippa ?

Spencer Haws

Thanks Reg. I guess I’ll have to debate with Perrin and I to see if I eventually reveal the URL.


Hi Spencer,
I would agree with reg. Don’t reveal your URL.
It’s not that necessary especially after whole your posts about this project. It’s already more than enough information was shared publicly.



I had some bounces on the sites around the same time and they seemed to have eased back a bit. It was reported online others also had bounces.

Along with my post before this one, I didnt say a BIG thanks Spencer (and Perrin) for sharing these articles.


I agree with Reg. I’m happy for you to keep the url to yourself.

Thanks for all these posts.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Monty!

Jeffrey Dibble

Hi Spencer,

Whatever you do, don’t reveal the site again for all of us.

I follow the niche project from the start and learn everything there is to learn.

Hopefully, your site traffic keep snowballing and it will be great if you report back to us what you have done to the site?

BTW, good to see the site making a comeback after all the hardwork you put in to the site and show to us. I really appreciate that have since follow your every blog posts.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Jeffrey, I assumed everyone wanted me to reveal domain again…so good to hear some opinions.


Exciting article actually, I was trying to access your old site just a few days ago, see how you would have make it evolved over the past few months and was indeed surprised not to find it. Great come back then.

I’m looking forward to seeing more updates about it as now that you have shared it, many copy cats have appeared, so it’s very likely that once on Page 1 your site will be very similar to many others. How do you plan to make it again better than your “new” competitors now?


Spencer Haws

Good point Kevin. There really are alot of copy cats. I do still think my site is better than most of them (content wise). I certainly have more content on my site with more in depth articles than any of the other niche sites I’ve seen. I’m going to see how it fairs for a while, then revisit and make any changes only if necessary.


I’m curious as to how the penalty followed you? Especially, after starting from scratch without redirecting? It doesn’t make any sense.

Spencer Haws

Be sure to read this article I linked to, and watch the Google employee explain how its possible: .


Hi Spencer,

another great read. However it would seem you don’t give us seo/IM guys any credit at all.

“I WILL reveal the new survival knife domain at some point…just not now; but hopefully in the next couple of months”

I found it in less that 30 seconds 🙂

Spencer Haws

Oh I know plenty of people will find it (I give you guys credit); I just don’t want 100% of people finding it 🙂

Josh MTC

Thanks for sharing.
It sucks to see what one person can do to your site and income…..
Enjoyed reading the old case studies and will be looking forward to some more soon 🙂


I wonder if your new site just dropped into the Google Sandbox for a time whilst it was properly crawled and entered into the index.

When I am building new sites, it is common for there to be an initial traffic surge, followed by a drop off after a few weeks. Only by maintaining a regular content strategy have I been able to get the site start ranking again, which can be up to 6-9 months later.

Spencer Haws

I’m familiar with what you are talking about, but that is not what happened here. Its definitely some sort of update (in my opinion). I added 100% of the content (well over 50 pages) all at once, and haven’t touched it in many months.


Wow … I hate what happened to you but I love to read your post. It seems you spent a great deal of time here. I wouldn’t give up either- but what you did is amazing and is giving me some room for thought. I love google web master tools and I am using it for all kinds of work for my sites.


Thanks for the update Spencer..I’ve been following you only recently, but I managed to read most of the posts on the site – particularly the NSP1 & 2…they’re really good for a novice like me…

You truly are an inspiration! I wish you luck for the survival knife project to make a comeback…

Spencer Haws

Thanks CM!


Great post Spencer!

I would like to add that I think that there might have been a minor tweak to Google’s algorithm, because in that period of time I had 4 sites change dramatically in rankings. (one jumped from #10 – #1 for two key terms and have held strong since. The others showed up at #17 – #40 after not being in the top 100 at all.)

Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but overnight on the same day the same thing happened to my sites which hadn’t had any penalties.

Either way, it’s good news!

Thanks for all that you do!

Spencer Haws

Definitely great news! I agree that there was likely an update, I’ve heard many others say the same thing.

Dave Nicosia

Great update Spencer. I’m glad to see this case study still lives for now!

– Dave


Hey Spencer,

Happy to know you are still doing the best survival knife website. I too am in the process of finishing up on my website using your and Perrin’s case study.. I plan to launch in a month. I had a question I hope you might answer,

If I was writing a couple of articles what affect on SEO would result if I used the following examples of imaginary articles (using the same targeted keyword) I would write with the goal to rank in the top 10 in Google;
1. “Car Driver: Reviewing the Impala 260 ” and
2. “Car Driver: The Five Top Dirt Cars”

I am trying to compete for the keyword “Car Driver” My imaginary keyword has low competition and 5000K search volume on Google.

Spencer Haws

I think the impact for SEO is the same. Whatever title you think is more enticing for humans to click on…go with that one.

Aaron G

This is fascinating stuff, thanks Spencer. One thing I just can’t wrap my head around: how could a penalty follow you to a new domain if there aren’t any redirects and you de-indexed the old content two months ago? Shouldn’t the new site be a completely different entity in google’s eyes? Seriously, this freaking me out and making me think that Big G has gained some scary level of omniscience. Do you think they remembered the content in their index and that content was associated with a penalty so anytime it showed up, anywhere, it would automatically attract a penalty to the domain it was on? That’s the most plausible scenario I can think of, but it’s still not very plausible.

Spencer Haws

Yes, I think they somehow “remember” the content…and can see the site is exactly the same. I don’t know all the details, other than this post and video:


Thanks for the update Spencer, great to hear that it is finally coming back. It still amazes me that people would take the time to do negative SEO on someone else’s site… we should all have such free time!

Hung Pham

Hi Spencer Haws,

It is a useful article, you are enough patience to recover traffic back. You have given us valued experience.


Some people are just sick, sick, sick.

So, for some people its actually more satisfying to ruin a case study(the willingness to teach of a person) and the hard work of a person that also helps yourself building a profitable niche site/business than to just not do that and learn based on it?

I will look forward to your next updates to this kind of problems, in order to be prepared for such things in the future.


Thanks for the update Spencer. I had actually looked for your original site and couldn’t find it. I just thought that you had decided to take it down. The information on everything you tried is very helpful.

I have a site that was doing very well. It was modeled on everything you taught here. Then something strange happened. My homepage which was ranking for my top keyword on page one disappeared and in its place is a subpage, but the subpage is on page 6 of google for my main keyword. Needless to say my rankings are gone. I can’t figure out why my homepage no longer shows up for my keyword.

Possibly negative SEO?

Spencer Haws

Yep, I “secretly” moved the site to a new domain long ago. You could be over optimized on your homepage; check how often you are using your exact match keywords on page and in anchor text…reduce the usage to reverse the over optimization (if that appears to be case).


Thanks Spencer. I’ll try that and see if it works.

Ngan Son

Hi Spencer,
I saw SEO nagative, now it repeat again. Your tips are useful. I will bookmark for necessary.


To de-index a site, do you have to de-index each individual page or post or just the main site?

Spencer Haws

Just the root domain, and everything gets deindexed. So it took me about 10 seconds of work to deindex my entire site.


Thank you for the quick response


Nice to see that things can still be done to repair the damage done by others, but there’s so much work involved and it still doesn’t guarantee you can bounce back. This proves that Google itself, with all its measures against those who don’t play a fair game manages to encourage non fair play techniques. You have the power, the knowledge and resources to do this and get back on track, but probably for a beginner or somebody that’s not too advanced, such a blow would’ve been final.

Spencer Haws

I honestly didn’t do much. Submitted a list of spammy looking links to Google in a disavow file, and then waited 9 months. That’s about it (I don’t think changing domains is what did the trick).


I am not sure what is all these debate about whether negative seo is real or not. It has to be real right? I mean google penalizes your site for bad links. How would they know who built those links?

Spencer Haws



I apologize that my question was vague. My question was what if I wrote both articles rather than on or the other. Thanks Spencer

I originally wrote;

If I was writing a couple of articles what affect on SEO would result if I used the following examples of imaginary articles I would write with the goal to rank in the top 10 in Google;

1. “Car Driver: Reviewing the Impala 260 ” and

2. “Car Driver: The Five Top Dirt Cars”

I am trying to compete for the keyword “Car Driver” My imaginary keyword has low competition and 5000K search volume on Google.

Spencer Haws

I wouldn’t write 2 articles that target the same keyword. Why compete with yourself? Just make one article that is exceptional and try to rank that article.



So how did you move your site to a new domain? Start a new site at the new host and have your new host move everything to it?

About publishing all your content at one time so all your articles have the same date, is that good?

Can you move them unpublished?

Spencer Haws

I used and export/import plugin for wordpress to do lots of the heavy lifting (don’t remember the name). Then used a find/replace plugin to change all URLs from old domain name to new for my internal links/affiliate links.

Yes, you can move them without publishing.


Hey Spencer,

Thanks for sharing your trials and tribulations!

If the penalty follows you even after you move all the content to a new domain, it means google realizes the content is copied from an old site.

Next time maybe you could hire a VA to manually “spin” the old articles (paraphrase them). Perhaps this way you can fly under the radar of a duplicated content penalty.



It is good to see you that made your way up again. I hope you can maintain this site without negative seo in the future.

Can the traffic spikes be caused by some algorythm changes lately?

Keep up the good work!

Spencer Haws

Yes, the traffic spikes could be caused by an algorithmic change; possibly penguin 3.0. Its said that Penguin 3.0 is finally when all the disavow links will go into effect. Based on “chatter”, penguin 3.0 could be rolling out:


Hey Spencer:

I’m glad to hear of the improvements in traffic to your survival knife site. I’d been following your progress and suddenly everything had gone dark.
good to know that your efforts are again being rewarded.
Thanksfor sharing with us.


9 months for the link disavowal to work!? I’m trying to get a penalty lifted on a site at the moment but after reading this it looks like it could take a while before it’s ranking again.


hi Spencer,
im amazed by the amount of traffic you have to earn $800 monthly… was it 700 to 900 daily visitors ?

last july 2013 my website was attacked too, 1 year later that disavow did not work too…
good thing you transferred your content to 2 domains and learned a new thing.

Spencer Haws

Yes, it was close to 900 or so uniques at it peak.


wow 900 daily visitors how can i have that too.. my highest was 424 including spambots ..

im asking you this cause last july i’m only earning $486 .. now august $549 (74 units shipped out of 85 orders yet).. but my traffic is hovering above 250 visitors daily …..

now i believe to get to $1,000 monthly i need at least 700 daily visitors too..

Jon Haver

Spencer, thanks for sharing the details. Knowing what you know now would you have put the time and effort into trying to recover the site or would you have let it die? It is definitely showing some promising signs which is fantastic.

Look forward to future updates good or bad.

Spencer Haws

I think trying to recover the site was still a valuable experience. In terms of dollars and cents it still isn’t adding up, but if the trend continues it will.

Aurelius Tjin

Great news, Spencer! Glad it recovered (eventually).

I can related to the negative SEO part. I was once on the first page and because of how competitive my niche was and their level of skill in internet marketing, one of them started sending very explicit links to my sites. Eventually, i ended up having my site penalized the same time as you (during the Hummingbird update).

I did the 301 redirect as well but I wonder why I did it now because that would pass on those negative links. I’ve yet to try moving it onto another domain after that. It still gets some traffic, but mainly for longtail keywords.

I haven’t tried disavowing as I saw that there were hundreds of thousands of links. However, I can see that most of those links have disappeared when I look through ahrefs. But rankings are still somewhat the same.

Thanks for sharing and do wish you much luck in bringing your baby back!

Spencer Haws

Best of luck…I would still disavow any spammy links you see in webmaster tools.


Am I missing something here? is no where to be found on the internet.


oo ic so you’ve moved your site into a new domain, if so than its all make sense now, but your backlink profile will start again from 0, it’s like opening a new store with a different name but selling the same product. But I wonder if this technique will last, if you said that it’s been 9 months then I guess it’s ok.

If you’re using a new domain, I think it’s not necessary to do anything but start backlinking from the start.

So to sum it up, the answer to comeback from a negative SEO and google updates is to change your site domain’s name with a new one, very simple indeed.

Thanks for sharing the solution .

Spencer Haws

No, that’s not the correct conclusion. The answer is not as simple as moving to a new domain. You also need to disavow links and try to remove as many spammy links as possible (remember the penalty followed me to new domain).


Hi Spencer
Thanks for this post. It is very timely. I have had a problem with one of my sites that was becoming a bit of a cash cow suddenly dying over night – almost. I found a lot of links pointing at it. I think it might have come through fiverr. Be careful who you ask to do stuff for you on fiverr. It never even use anyone on fiverr for link building. Within a month there was and EXACT replica of my site online, with badly spun content (I always write my own articles). It was quite a restrictive site in terms of the keywords so I could try de indexing and relaunching the content in a different way. I was wondering how to do this so google didn’t see it as a copy. Now I know thanks to your generous sharing of information. Thanks Spencer I appreciate what you do and what you share!

Spencer Haws

Glad I could help! Best of luck.


I hope to see your site come back, i really hate that people would negative seo your site when all you did was provide great info of how to build a niche site from start to making money.

I really never believed the disavow tool, i dont know why people still use it.

Spencer Haws

I’ve become a believer myself.


That’s great that the site appears to be making a recovery. I actually just recently noticed somebody had sent a bunch of spam links to one of my websites — 7,000 to be exact! Lol. I disavowed all of the bad links, so we will see if they have any effect. While I would never want someone to do that to any of my sites, it will make for an interesting case study on the disavow tool.

About the penalty on your survival site — based on how ‘short’ the supposed penalty lasted, I think it was really just a ‘sandbox’ sort of thing going on. Many of my sites have done exactly that. They appear as if they got hit with a penalty for about two weeks — in some cases a month or longer, and then they pop back up to same or better traffic levels. I would be interesting to see the webmaster tools stats as well. Do you track that?

Good luck with this project, Spencer!


Spencer Haws

I only recently added the site to webmaster tools. I don’t think it was the sandbox as I’m very familiar with it (have lots of sites).


Hey, Spencer

Nice post and glad to see your site on the way to revocer. While I have two cents here:

1. One of my site droped the same day and I also see some other sites increased ranking same time. I don’t think there is anything wrong with my site content and link anchors. The reason is probably tiny aglos changes. But for me maybe also a good drop before it bounce to page 1. As I have a site with similar experince. Need time to prove it. I will keep link building and see what will happen next month.

2. For redirection to remove penalty. It is possible. I don’t have experience before. But I am monitoring some sites and see penalties now and then. I found a site finally remove penalty by redirecting the site two times, with other addtional strong link building like PBN links, niche expired domain redirection, plus find a deep aged domain as new domain.

I know it is not easy process. But it works and finally the site sits on 1st spot for several months now.

Hope this helpful for you guys.


Spencer Haws

Its definitely not an easy process to remove a penalty. Glad things are looking good for you!

Josh Shogren

This will be interesting to see if this site can make comeback, I will be rooting for it!


It just bothers me so much that somone can’t let you have your succes and decides to attack you.

Maybe you should only share links to a project through your paid courses like the niche site course you did last year. I took the course and was happy to see a live example. Having people pay before seeing a project could filter out the bad ones.

Anyway good luck with the site!

Spencer Haws

Good point. That may be the only way I reveal future domains.

Gregory Smith


I’ve read your article. I’ve experienced the same attacks in the past and can relate to you.

Just a heads up!
Anyone can {edited} easily locate the domain of your new domain/site.

Wisen up. Stop releasing this information, if you plan to succeed.. Spammers are by nature very jealous people and they hate seeing someone like you or I succeed.

Gregory Smith

Spencer Haws

Hey Gregory:
Your comment makes me chuckle a bit. I’m WELL aware that people can find my site; I’m not that naive. I know my audience is internet savvy and knew long before I posted that many would find my site based on what I’ve mentioned. Its not a big deal!

You forgot that this was a public case study from the beginning and that I will reveal the domain soon in the future again anyway. There’s more value in this domain for the case study value, not the monetary value I receive.

So, I appreciate the warning, but I already knew many would find it. I made the conscious decision.
(I did edit your comment slightly just so people have to think on their own).


I believe your theories may be wrong and this can just be something google is currently working on. I too have sites that came back on 26th and Charles from god of seo reporting thin content making a comeback same date. Looks like google is preparing to do something.

Kinda sucks because here I thought it was something that I did. Don’t be surprise if traffic disappears again.

Spencer Haws

Actually doesn’t that fit my exact theory? If its a google update of Penguin 3.0, that would be about right. Penguin 3 is said to be the first time in 10 months that Google is implementing links that have been disavowed. So sites hit by penguin 2.0 (my site was hit with this…due to the negative seo)…can now make a comeback.


You seem to be drawing conclusions from the recovery from anything you you have done. That’s all I’m saying.

Example.. I haven’t touched or disavowed anything and my rankings came back. Also.. Other report gains as softening of panda where some assumptions are link based.

Appreciate the willingness to discuss openly just thought I add my opinion.

Kevin @ Website Hike

yess!! I have been hungry for another update, and it makes sense that you haven’t given us an update because some dip shits had to ruin your website by doing negative SEO…

Anyways, good for you and setting up a new blog and getting it back on track.

I had a question though… there has got to be some easier way to get rid of negative links, right? I mean come on, with Google being so huge and advanced you would think it would be easier, what are your thoughts on this?

And do you think there are any competent services on removing bad links?

Spencer Haws

Thanks for the support Kevin! Unfortunately, I don’t think there is an easier way to get rid of negative links…but perhaps Google will speed things up in the future. I haven’t used any services, but I’m sure there are some good ones out there.

Kevin @ Website Hike

Yeah Spencer! Anytime, you give great information out!

And yeah, I hope Google does speed things up and make it more user friendly. I mean come on, we are the webmasters. haha.

But thanks for the reply! 🙂

Shane Labs

Could it have been that the change in rankings (either positive or negative) could have been the result of a google algorithm change? I wonder what the mozcast was on the days of the changes.

I really hope that negative SEO is not real, you’ve proved it’s scary if it is!!


Brilliant update spencer, amazing that you were able to rank so quickly with the new domain, any chance of a new linking article?

Spencer Haws

Sure, there is a chance 🙂


I am glad your site is doing better. I have read all of the NSP1 posts and I read all of the posts of NSP2 as well. Thanks to you I made my first dollar online with niche sites and I am still learning from you and others. I will add to what a few people have already said, which is not to share the url.
Thank you and keep the posts coming!



Hey Perrin, knowing all this stuff that happened to his site,.. are you worried that the same thing could happen to your shaving website?… since its public and all?


Disgusting that somebody is destroying property of other people, great to see things are improving now again
How is the traffic from other search engines, is that also affected and/or on the rise?

If that is also back, the dissavow it prob not the reason.

Spencer Haws

No changes in traffic from other search engines that I can see.

Prashanth K

Glad to hear that the site is back from the dark side, Spencer.

Please don’t give up on teaching others on what works/doesn’t work. Both your case studies have been invaluable in furthering knowledge to a lot of people including me!


Oh !!! I just used penalized domain and redirect (301 redirect) to my new site !!!


Was wondering what had happened to your survival site. As always, thanks for sharing how you’ve gone about tackling this problem. Its nice to see someone willing to make sacrifices for the good of the community.

Obviously your new site isn’t hard to find but I’m sure you know that.

Spencer Haws

Yep, I’m aware :). Thanks!


Hi Spencer,
Here’s a video i found that may share some light on rather moving to a new domain and cutting off the old site links like you tried.
start at 23.08 he is asking exactly what you want!

Spencer Haws

That’s correct, I linked to this video in the blog post. (Video posted on


I hope the best for the site!

Gordon McNevin

Hi Spencer,

Congrats on making progress and making a come back with the site.

As soon as I saw your graph on traffic and rankings coming back, I instantly saw a trend with 3 of my sites that returned to ranking.

Just like yours I saw a great increase on the same day you saw yours. I’ve also heard lots of this on other forums for that date.

I too was trying to get my sites back to ranking. I’m 95% sure it was another algorithm update.

Funny thing is that it was exactly 3 months from the latest update that made them loose rankings in the first place.

Keep up the quality content!

Spencer Haws

Yep, I agree…some sort of algorithmn updated; suspected to be penguin 3. Glad to hear your sites bounced back too…thanks!

best electric fireplace

Very good info. I have been so lucky until now that my sites haven’t lost any rankings yet.

I have bookmarked this post so that I have it handy if that ever happens 🙂


Hi Spencer,

You said that apart from requesting URL change in some genuine built links, you didn’t do any link building. But when I ran your new URL (No need to be surprised, it takes a second to find it if I have your old URL. You can remove it while approving my comment) in Open Site Explorer, I am seeing some Press Release type of links. So, was it you or someone else doing the same thing with your new site? Just thought you should know……

Mohammad Qaiser

Spencer Haws

Hey Mohammad, you are not surprising me. I knew before I wrote the post that people would find it…and besides you are also about the 5th person to mention it in the post.

I will have to go back and look at what links we did build; its been several months, so maybe we did some things I just forgot about. I’ll do an update post.


I just wanted to say thank you for posting this.

A friend’s site was underperforming in a super easy niche, even with some PBN juice pointed at it. Used to rank first page and was pushed to page 2 and 3 for main keywords.

When visiting her over the weekend, I realized the content for the niche site used to be on her main site and we redirected each page from a user experience and seo point of view. Since this was a long time ago, I removed the redirects and after a few days traffic is already zooming up without having changed anything else.

I have no idea why Google doesn’t like her main site. Maybe it’s too thin as she tends to post short messages. Or beause of the spiritual market she’s in, which Google has no love for in our experience when trying to use Adwords. But I know that things are looking up for the niche site now that old ties have been cut.


When you are speculating on the reasons why your traffic and rankings are improving for the second new domain, you said it might be because the link disavowal might have finally taken effect or because some spammy sites were no longer linking to you. But you are talking about a completely different domain that has been completely deindexed. Why would links pointing to a deindexed domain be a relevant factor?

Spencer Haws

Because the links and penalty can follow to a new domain. I discussed this in the blog post (under headline of “The Penalty Flowed to New Domain”) and linked to this article that discusses that this can happen:


Hey Spencer,
I read through the post and I really hoped there would be a way to recover from negative seo. It turns out this is a real threat and google doesn’t really care solving it, otherwise the disavow tool would have worked.

Anyway I just wanted to say that it’s no coincidence that your site got went up on August 26. There is a speculation that there was an update on that day and many people reported a big improvement and sites coming back to life.
There’s a post about it on NoHatDigital.

Me on the other hand, I got hit the same day. I had one site that was ranking stably #2 for months and then overnight it got kicked to page 7.

I don’t know what this update targeted but I did everything by the book so I really don’t understand why I was penalized.
If you want’ I’ll reveal the site to you in private.


I thought I read a Google comment that there was nothing a competing site could do to influence the ranking of another site – if that was the case, SERPS would be out of control.

Your new site is already on Page 2 of Google but there’s that stubborn bunch on page 1 that jumped all over your keyword.

Good luck, you deserve to be back on top for being so open with your case study so I hope you get back to the top rankings and the big incomes again.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Alistair!

Jeff Mason

Very discouraging. All that work hindered by negative SEO (I don’t really understand what that is because I’m new to this sort of thing).

Shane Patrick

Thanks for the interesting article. Currently under attack from negative SEO and disavowing links daily. I’ve read up a lot about this issue and from what i understand building up your Domain Authority provides a certain level of protection , perhaps not against a sustained attack that you’ve had though.


Awesome work to get back into the Google’s good graces.
I used disavow links before and it helped immediately.
How many did you disavow?

As a general statement, you have to be very careful because you can easily disavow a good links too. Sometimes it’s better to just ignore and focus on good link building.

Spencer Haws

I only disavowed the spammy domains; but would have been many hundreds. But remember the penalty came before I disavowed.


Some valuable lessons in the posts and comments: 1) Disavow links (I do it preemptively, where possible, with a blacklist), 2) Be prepared to wait for an algo refresh afterward to see any effect, 3) Don’t listen to Google’s “do nothing / be 100% natural” advice — that’s what THEY want, but it’s not in YOUR best interest, 4) Protect yourself with Domain Authority (scale), 5) Don’t do anything sketchy to bring a penalty upon yourself, b/c it takes 6-12 months to recover (with the next refresh), 6) If you do get penalized, consider rebuilding the site with a mix of spun/rewritten articles and brand new content, rather than moving the old site wholesale,
7) Diversify your traffic sources (an oldie but goodie).

It’s idiotic that you can be penalized for other people’s actions. Who has the time to keep moving and rebuilding a site over and over because somebody out there decides to target you?

Your post is the reason I give Google side-eye whenever they start dishing out “advice” about site quality. If quality was as important to them as they’d like us to believe, then negative SEO would never work.

Thanks for being our guinea pig. It was quite informative.


I have spent most of my day reading about this project and there will be a second reading in another few days.I have to absorb the massive content you have provided.

The good news about the negative SEO is that you persisted to win just as in the car race of many years ago…

Your compensating for the damage is a good lesson for the readers albeit an expensive and time consuming one for you.

My next step is to visit your actual site to see how you employed the long tail keywords in your secondary articles.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Dave, and best of luck.


Hello Spencer, I think you are aware of many people copying all your articles like these sites- and many more.
I think it will cause some duplicate content issue for your new site. Hope you will take some actions.

Spencer Haws

Yes, I’m aware unfortunately.


I am so grateful for this site, the series on the Survival Knife site, and especially for your step by step guide on how to lay out a niche site!

I’m a content writer, and I’ve thought about starting some niche sites to give myself some passive income that doesn’t always involve trading my writing time for money, but I keep stalling out on creating the site (not the content piece…LOL…but just getting from point A of actually buying a domain to having a finished and monetized site). The step by step list is so helpful!

And I’ll admit – I’d love you to reveal the domain for selfish reasons. I’d actually come over here to find contact information and tell you it wasn’t working when I couldn’t get the site to come up on the original domain while reading about your passive income process on Chris Guthrie’s site.

However – I’m with those who recommend not actually revealing it. Yes, it’s probably possible to find it, but don’t make it easy for the people who are too lazy to do honest work and just want to boost their income by hurting others rather than putting in their own legwork.

My .02 anyway.

Thanks again for making this easy to understand and put into action. I’m a sleep deprived mom of 4 small people. Easy to digest is a seriously good thing. 🙂

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