1. A site autopsy – Introducing the web site

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Why do web sites (affiliate, Adsense or other) get penalized or dropped in rankings on Google?  Is it really just because Google wants to penalize the little guy for trying to make a living from home?  A lot of people would have you believe that.  I don’t believe this, and I guess I am one of the few people that think Google are trying to make their search results better.  Whenever I say this, I get a lot of emails telling me that I am wrong, from people who have had “high quality” sites that “have done nothing wrong”, get penalized. I even wrote a report (Affiliate Site Autopsy) that analyzed 5 such sites in detail, and all of them had VERY good reasons for being penalized. 

Incidentally, I don’t recommend you buy that book now, as I will be updating it with more information and releasing it as a cheaper Kindle book later this year.  For those that cannot wait for that release, I have decided to do an affiliate site autopsy in my newsletter.  This will be serialized over the next few weeks, starting today.

In a previous post, I wrote about the problems with backlinking in 2014.  In response to that post, I had a comment from a long time subscriber who said:


In response to this first part of his comment, I’d like to say that I didn’t say “just quality content” was all that was necessary.  What I actually said was:

“Isn’t it time we all go back to basics and concentrated on the one thing you know Google wants?  Quality content and providing your visitors with stuff they want to read, interact with, bookmark and share with their friends!  Either that, or find another source for your traffic”.

The bit in bold is equally important as the quality content, and the two don’t always go hand in hand.

However, don’t think I am having a go at the commenter.  I am not.  Glenn is a long-time subscriber to my newsletter, and has bought some of my products.  I know that he is extremely frustrated, as are so many.  

In the last year or two, Google didn’t so much move the goalposts for SEOs, they removed the altogether for certain activities.  The things that Google tolerated 2 years ago are no longer tolerated.  Whereas Google previously ignored certain activities (like backlinking for ranking) and just took away any benefits that behaviour gave a webmaster, now they penalize it.  And it’s not just a penalty for that activity going forward, it’s a retrospective penalty.  If at any point in the history of your site you engaged in “web spam”, your site could be penalized for it.   Google are saying clean up your site, or don’t expect free traffic.

OK, back to Glenn.  In his comment, he said:


So Glenn researched and wrote his own content, and got compliments and even an offer to buy his site.  I haven’t looked at the content in details yet (I will look at it during the process of my affiliate site autopsy and show you the results), but the problem may not be the content itself.  In his comments, we are getting a few clues to off site work he did, namely backlinks on Ezine Articles.    He goes on to say:


Again, Glenn is talking about some off site activities that would not have helped his site ranking in the long term.   The sad thing from this story is that he only started the really spammy backlinking 6 months before Penguin, the algorithm that was released to catch the spammy backlinkers.

In included that second paragraph to make a simple point.  Contrary to common sense, taking the advice from someone on the Adsense team is not always a good idea.  They will also tell you to put more ads on your site, yet these things can actually cause you problems with Google search.  Google Adsense and Google Search are two separate entities in my mind, and over the years I‘ve seen enough conflicting advice given by these two sources to believe that you should never take advice from the Google Adsense team if that advice is about how to make more money with them.

From everything Glenn told me in his comments, I have a feeling that the problem with his site is not the site or its content.  It’s much more likely to be toxic links pointing at his site.  Something that confirms this to me is another point that Glenn made about his site.  He said:

“I was not hit at all with Panda”

To me, Panda is related to onsite content quality, and Penguin is related to backlinks and over-optimization.  If the site was not hit by Panda, the content was at least good enough not to have been penalized when it was first released.

In the next few posts in this series, I will go through the site carefully, investigating on-site and off-site factors.  I’ll post everything I find, good or bad (and after a quick look at the site, there is a lot to like about it).  If you want to take a quick look at the site now, you can find it at:


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5 thoughts on “1. A site autopsy – Introducing the web site”

  1. I am not sure what Glenn is surprised about.

    1. Even without a paid account, if you look at the linking profile for the site you see a steady loss of links over time and a spike in loss of unique c-class IPs / referring domains in Dec 2013.


    2. Glenn says he used BuildMyRank to DOMINATE (his emphasis) rankings and long tail phrases. Google walked back the cat on BMR a while back and all those links to Glenn’s CayennePepper.info site vanished effectively.

    So without even looking at the onpage factors or anchor text, etc. it is pretty clear Glenn’s site lost a relatively large number of links steadily and he lost links with decent strength. We can debate whether his anchor text profile to the homepage is too heavily weighted on “cayenne pepper” but it certainly looks like the loss of links alone pretty much accounts for the drop off in rankings.

  2. Hello Dr. Andy,
    I’m one of the Google umm, non-fans. My problems with them go well past their nefarious SEO demolition activities. Frankly, Google is a scary enterprise.

    Beyond that, I wouldn’t want you to do an autopsy on one of my sites because I know it’s a tree house built on a quaking Aspen. You can bet, however, that I’ll follow your trek through Glenn’s work to see what you find because at a casual glance his work looks first order on a first rate (albeit now out-of-date) platform.

    Your pupil,

  3. It’s interesting that you mention about the adsense team. We all know that Google doesn’t want a site full of ads however, I am surprised by the advice they give in my adsense account – recommending I increase the number of ads!
    I agree – you can’t rely on what they say.

  4. Robin Austin

    I feel Glenn’s hot pepper pain. One of my older site was hit hard by the creatures. I never did any link building but it grew nicely with solid content only. The only thing I did wrong was use a cloaking tool for a short time. My bad but to wipe 70% of 4 years of traffic building out that is just now coming back is pathetic. I cloaked for 2-3 months to clickbank – off with my hands! I gave up on big G & use social media. Looking forward to your analyze and renewed hope.

  5. Dave:
    I think you misunderstand something that is important to point out; in your #2 section, you misunderstand the BMR dynamic. I dominated Google, often occupying multiple rankings at the same time, e.g., #1, #2, #4, #7 on a typical day, WELL BEFORE I started using BMR. I’d say when the site hit its six-month birthday around late April 2008), it hit #1 or so and stayed there. Again, all WELL BEFORE I used BMR. I’m serious when I say I didn’t do any backlinking of any kind other than to write a few EzineArticles and maybe a few social bookmarking sessions using Howie Schwartz’s tool (don’t use it anymore). I also created a couple of YouTube videos, all of which still exist. The site grew via word-of-mouth pretty much. I didn’t do anything spammy that I can remember.

    You say in your last paragraph that the “loss of links alone pretty much accounts for the drop off in rankings.” I hope you’re right. However, I have factual data from my awstats that clearly shows the drop off in traffic literally the days after Penguin was released (I think Penguin 1.0 released April 24, 2012 to be exact, but don’t quote me) and in the months that followed.

    Thanks for taking the time to post and to read through Andy’s post.

    Glenn Reschke

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