• Robert Brandl

What happened to this review site? An SEO analysis.



Back in 2018 I noticed a website getting stronger and stronger. The site in question is a review website, somewhat similar to ours, but with a much broader focus. They review all kinds of things from accounting software to business loans to real estate CRM's.


In the screenshot above you can see what site I am talking about. Out of respect to the company I am not writing out their name so this post won't show up on search engines for their name.


I saw them as an interesting example of what can be done in the review website space. Things went very well for them until around the summer of 2019, when their traffic took a major hit as the SEO tool Ahrefs shows:

Such a massive loss usually only happens when either site or domain migrations go wrong or when a SEO penalty has been applied.


I suspected a penalty but wasn't sure. So, I dug around a little.


On LinkedIn, I found the profile of an ex-SEO manager:


He is taking about a "massive unnatural links manual action" and how he filed a successful reconsideration request. Well, if you look at the graph at the top, I am not sure it was that successful.


What about the Backlinks?


Next I took a look at their backlink profile in Ahrefs. The first interesting thing is that there are lots and lots of 'removed' links (see the red labels).


It does seem as if somebody tried a cleanup here by removing external backlinks:

When you then dig deeper into these removed links, it becomes clear that a lot of them were from relatively strong domains. Usually, they came from their 'home' pages. But many of the linking sites look very spammy and might be part of a so-called PBN (private blog network) where people can buy unnatural links.


Like this example:


Of course, I can't say for sure, but ... well. This site does not look like anything I would trust. I would say, if that was one of their main link building strategies, it's likely that they got penalized. But I am just speculating here.


What about the Content?


The next thing that really surprised me was this:

There are tons of invalid URLs. Many of which still have links pointing at them. In fact, it's a pretty shocking number: more than 50,000!


Just to recap, the rankings started to decline in October 2019. To counter that, it looks like they started to remove tons of content from their website in December 2019 (e.g. reviews, pricing pages for SaaS tools), which seems to have accelerated the decline in traffic.


The worst part is that they didn't even set 301 redirects for the missing content. Maybe they were afraid of redirecting toxic links? Hard to say.


But I suppose they did that on purpose because not setting 301's would be a complete beginners mistake.


To Conclude


It is a really interesting case and I can't say that I fully understand what's going on here.


The shocking thing is that this review site is not a random side-gig type of website. It's a sizeable operation with 69 employees on LinkedIn!


Many people depend on this company for their jobs. And according to some Glassdoor reviews, they even went through major rounds of layoffs following the traffic decline.


And all of that because they seemed to have followed bad SEO advice.


Let me know what you think! Any further ideas of what happened to them?

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