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This will be an interesting blog post to write to end out 2015. I’ve always stated that I share both my successes (with internet income) and my failures on the blog. But truthfully – I haven’t exactly been eager to share my failures. Why not? Well. To be totally honest – I might have gotten a little greedy. You see, affiliate income from a blog like this can be quite lucrative. When I share tools or services that lead to success and income and show my exact results – people buy those tools or services through my affiliate links and I make money. Sharing my failures (like a thin content penalty) won’t lead to affiliate income – so I simply didn’t write those posts for quite awhile.
I feel like I need to apologize to my loyal/regular readers and subscribers. I’ve totally not been fair to you regarding this matter. And that’s about to change right now. I’ve learned some of my best lessons, when it comes to internet marketing, by failing. Somewhat recently – I experienced one of my biggest failures yet! I might have learned my lesson – and it’s time for me to share it with you so that you don’t make the same mistakes.I've learned some of my best lessons, when it comes to internet marketing, by failing!Click To Tweet
The Thin Content Penalty
If you don’t know what the “thin content penalty” is – it can best be explained by looking at the exact wording in the email that Google sends you when you get this penalty. Here it is…
Google has detected thin content on your site that provides little or no added value. This critical issue results in irrelevant or low-value search results for Google Search users and can negatively impact your sites ranking. Therefore, Google has applied a manual spam action to http://yourdomain.com….
Here is what the entire email looks like (screenshot from my email)…
If you look closely, you’ll notice that this particular email is for my miter saw niche site that I previously shared publicly in this review post for The Ultimate Azon WordPress theme. But here’e the thing. I didn’t get only one penalty that day. No. I got the exact same email 4 separate times – for 4 of my different niche sites. All on the same day. Obviously – Google associated all of them because they are in the same Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) account.
I’ll let you see the miter saw site as an example – but I had to blur out the other 3 because of what I am doing with those sites (more on that below).
And to be clear – I got these thin content penalties on October 21st of 2015 -NOT in 2014. September 2014 was the time of the big PBN Update from Google when they were handing out these same penalties to lots and lots of niche site builders who were using public PBN services to build links. I seemingly made it through that PBN Update in 2014 unscathed – but almost exactly a year later I got hit hard.
2 Reasons I Suspect I Got This Penalty
Since Google doesn’t bother to explain any specifics whatsoever – those of us who get penalized are left trying to guess why our sites got penalized. The big PBN Update of 2014 was mostly obvious. Google went after any niche sites they could find that were in any way associated with RankHero or any other PBN’s they could detect. This, of course, has no correlation at all with the actual content on the site (thin content). But regardless – it is the penalty that Google handed out. But I never used RankHero and my sites didn’t get penalized way back then. So, why do I think they got penalized now?
Shared PBN Links
One of my theories revolves around my own PBN and how I used it to network with others who had private PBN’s. My own PRIVATE blog network was rock solid and undetectable by itself. But – I allowed myself to join this small group of 5 or 6 other guys who also had their own private PBN’s. We all gave each other access to 4 or 5 of our PBN sites – in essence creating a pool of 25 or 30 PBN sites that we could use to link to our own money sites.
At the time – we were all actively building links and posting content and we completely trusted each other. But as time went on – most of us stopped doing anything with those sites. A few dropped out of the group and we pretty much lost contact with each other. I have no idea what ended up happening with those other guys sites that had links to my money sites on them. Maybe they got detected by Google somehow. Maybe they sold them. Maybe some of the sites expired and ended up getting picked up by somebody else. I don’t know and I don’t really care. But my best guess is that part of that network became exposed which may have led to my sites getting penalized.
Actual Thin Content on Website
My other theory has to do with some of the content on my sites. By no means do I publish any thin content whatsoever! I pay a highly skilled writer a good amount of money to research and write ALL of the content for all of my niche sites. She does a great job and produces top-notch content each and every week for me per my instructions. A very high percentage of the articles on my sites are purely informational in nature. Only a small percentage of posts on my sites are specific ‘product review’ type posts.
And those ‘product review’ posts are where I may have made a thin content mistake. The first half of each of these posts is completely legit original content. But, per my very specific instructions, my writer copy & pasted several Amazon reviews (word for word) and used them in the reviews. The second half of all of my review posts contain exact copy & paste reviews from Amazon. And I (of course) linked to the Amazon page as a resource. Albeit – that link was an affiliate link.
Also, for several of my review posts – I had my VA (virtual assistant) go out and find even more curated content to add to the bottom of the post. I would have him create another sub-heading called, What Others Are Saying, and then post more copy & paste content with a link to the original source.
Here is an example of one of these review posts on my miter saw site – http://realmitersawreviews.com/miter-saws/dewalt-dw715…
My thinking was that this was a totally legit way of using ‘curated content’ to help better inform visitors to my site. My writer picked out some of the best and most helpful reviews from Amazon so that my visitors wouldn’t have to sift through those Amazon reviews themselves. My VA found more relevant and helpful content from people who actually used the products. And as far as I understood it – using curated content was and still is totally acceptable – as long as you credit the source.
Maybe I’m understanding it wrong?! I thought there were entire massive websites whose entire model is to curate content. And they do just fine with Google. But Google hates affiliate sites. So people like me who create affiliate sites get the brunt (as the saying goes…).
Why I Don’t Care About These Penalties
Here is where a bit of irony sets in. Just a few days before I got the 4 thin content penalty emails – I published this post on my blog explaining how I was dropping everything else to FOCUS on just one site. My newest niche website. Seriously! I just explained to my entire audience how I planned to ignore all of my other websites and FOCUS on only one. And then Google penalizes most of my other sites!
Luckily – not all of my sites that are in that same Google Search Console account got penalized. One of my other (seasonal) niche sites made it through with no penalty. I never did any link building with it and I don’t think I have any curated content on it. Also – this blog (Dumb Passive Income) did not get penalized. Again, no link building for this blog and maybe just a little bit of curated content here and there.
But most importantly – my ONE Thing (FOCUS) niche site also did NOT get penalized. And I DO have curated Amazon reviews on 16 or 17 of the specific product review posts on that site.
How to Avoid Thin Content Penalties
So here is what I am doing going forward – and what I had planned on doing anyway, even before I got hit with these penalties…
No more grey or black hat link building AT ALL! White hat only – meaning the ONLY way I am getting links for my latest site is through outreach. Simply stated – I find relevant sites that are real and live and up to date – then I email the owners or editors of those sites and try to get them to link to my site. There are lots of different ways to do this and it would require an entirely separate blog post for me to explain. Maybe I’ll write that post one of these days.
I still believe that PBN’s (if you keep yours truly PRIVATE) are one of the best, most powerful, and fastest ways to get links and improve rankings. But they are also a huge pain in the ass to manage!! Not to mention – they are expensive! I can get just as good, and even better links through outreach. I choose to focus solely on outreach for link building going forward.
No more curated Amazon reviews! I’m still not convinced that these were the reason that I got penalized, but just to be on the safe side – I’m not doing that anymore. Instead, I’m having my writer read through many of the Amazon reviews and then create her own synopsis (in her own words) based on those reviews. The good and the bad about specific products. The pros and cons. What people like and don’t like. She has already completed several review posts using this new method and they are turning out fantastic!
I still think there is a place for ‘curated content’ on websites – and I will continue to use it in moderation. Maybe instead of copy & pasting entire paragraphs – I’ll do just one or two sentences and then link to the original source.
What Am I Doing with the Penalized Websites?
I am keeping the miter saw site. It doesn’t get hardly any traffic and makes almost no money from Amazon. But – I use that site as an example in my review post for the Ultimate Azon WordPress theme. So, I kind of have to leave it there. I usually make a couple of affiliate sales per month from that review post – and leaving the site in there as an example is kind of instrumental for that.
I am selling 2 of the sites. What? Why would anybody buy a penalized website? So, here’s the deal on that…
I de-indexed both of the sites (so Google and other search engines no longer recognized them) – then I sent them off to my internet buddy Dom Wells. If you don’t know who Dom is – he runs a site called Human Proof Designs – and on his site he sells ‘Ready Made Niche Sites.’ Go HERE to see some of his available (or already sold) sites. Since Dom has experience and an audience of buyers for these types of sites – he agreed to help me sell 2 of my sites. So – all of the content from both of those sites are now on brand new domains and both are now freshly indexed by Google. No more penalties. But also – no links pointing to either of these ‘brand new’ sites, which means no rankings.
Potential buyers for these sites have the opportunity to pick up great sites with LOTS of income potential. All of the content and images are in place. The buyer(s) will only need to build links and wait for rankings to return to where I once had them (or better). Both of these sites are going to be great earners again – with a good link building strategy. Both sites are up for sale right here…
Why Don’t I Do This Myself Instead?
Let me refer you again to my ONE Thing FOCUS blog post. I no longer have the desire to own and manage lots of niche websites. I just want to stay focused on ONE site and I want that site to be great.
Did I Learn My Lesson?
I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. Over the years – I’ve learned that this entire internet marketing venture is a constantly changing and evolving beast. So much stuff changes and it seems to happen so quickly – and more often than not, the changes are for the better. So all I (and anybody else) can do is just keep on keeping on. Do what works. Pay attention to the game and what others are doing. If something is working for somebody else, give it a try.This entire internet marketing venture is a constantly changing and evolving beast.Click To Tweet
What’s the worst that can happen? Google penalizes a site that you spent a years worth of time and thousands of dollars on. So what! Start another site. It’s not the end of the world.
So, did I learn my lesson? No! Not really. But maybe a little. I wouldn’t have changed a thing if I could go back in time. But my own strategies and techniques are constantly changing and evolving along with the status quo for the rest of the IM world. If that makes sense. Learn from mistakes and move on.
I hope at the very least – you are able to avoid some potential mistakes by reading about what I’ve done and the ‘reward’ that I received as a result.
Photo Credit: “Thin Ice” by Paul Downey via Flickr
Matthew Allen is a full-time trucker, part-time blogger, and imaginary entrepreneur. He is the only known trucker who is blogging about creating passive income online. He is also the co-founder and co-creator of the most popular WordPress plugin for Amazon affiliates – AmaLinks Pro.