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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 BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com), 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:
- NSP Update 1: Finding the Right Keyword to Target
- NSP Update 2: My Primary Keyword and Domain Revealed!
- NSP Update 3: Niche Site Content Strategy
- NSP Update 4: My Niche Site is Live…Now What?
- NSP Update 5: Ranking in Google and Making Money!
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 BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com 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 NichePursuits.com. 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 BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com 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.
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 PointOfSurvival.com and did a 301 redirect from BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com to PointofSurvival.com.
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, PointOfSurvival.com 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 BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com or PointOfSurvival.com.
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 BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com and PointOfSurvival.com 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 PointOfSurvival.com was completely removed from the Google index within 24 hours!
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 BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com 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!
As mentioned, I did almost no link building for this site. I contacted a few sites that had legitimately linked to BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com 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 SEroundtable.com 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!
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 NichePursuits.com.
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.
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.
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