Background

We committed from the very start of Carvaka to producing as much well researched, genuinely interesting and useful content as we possibly could. We fought the good fight and trusted that Google would notice. It did. While it did take several years of hard work, day in, day out, we eventually hit page 1 for our head of tail keyword “sex toys” in Summer 2018.

Sex Toys Rank

We were extremely proud of this and so grateful to Google that they were as good as their word:“just focus on great content and ranks will take care of themself.” We had arrived and were on top of the world. This rank gave us great belief and confidence and we just focused on even upping our game both in terms of quality and quantity of content. We felt that there was no reason that some day we couldn’t hit position one if we just kept working hard. The new influx of low cost traffic allowed us to reduce prices, and we did, as our approach is to always pass savings back to the customer.

Noticing that Something Wasn’t Right

Buoyed from our position five rank in July 2018, we allocated more resources to content and as always published it at our Better Sex Centre. Ranks started to fall a little as the summer progressed but that never bothered us. We trusted Google, kept our heads down and just kept working hard. However, when we fell off page one entirely in October, we were confused. It seemed the harder we worked, the more content we produced, the worse our ranks got. It felt like the contract that Google has with webmasters ie great content wins out in the end, was broken. We didn’t know what was going on. We checked and rechecked on-page factors like page speed, mobile usability, scoured our Search Console to see if there was anything we had missed in there and a million other things but all looked good. Then one of the team said “maybe we’re being negative SEO’d?” We didn’t really even know what that meant but in desperation, we decided to review our link profile to see if there were any clues in there. There were. A lot.

In our naivety, we never really paid too much attention to our link profile. We just worked hard at content and let Google do the rest. However, while we had been doing that, someone had decided to try to destroy us and had unleashed a ferociously aggressive negative SEO attack on our website.

When we looked at our link velocity chart in Cognitive SEO (something we never did before), we knew something was seriously wrong. Our SEO has always been slow and steady, picking up editorial links where we can, always trusting in our content. To see that since summer of 2017, there were several months when we had acquired tens of thousands of links was shocking and upsetting. We had acquired over 15,500 links according to Cognitive in October alone. Either one of our pieces of content had gone viral or something was seriously wrong. It was the latter.

Carvaka Sex Toys Referring Domains

Sure enough, when we dug into our link profile, it felt like a doctor reviewing the chart of a cancer patient who needed treatment years ago. The links were in the thousands and as spammy, damaging and disgusting as you could imagine. We have listed a sample below. We couldn’t believe that this had been going on for months, maybe longer and we had been asleep at the wheel ie focusing on content.

Carvaka Sex Toys Unnatural Links

The types of spam links were varied. They included spam commenting on unmonitored comments sections of genuine blogs, social bookmarking websites as well as what looked like registering and setting up nonsense websites purely for the purposes of building spam links. In the screenshot below, see a “blog post” on myblogilicious.com linking to our website using the market leader’s brand as anchor text while wrapping the link in low quality, gibberish, presumably to convince Google that we are involved in spam link building. The mention of Bondara and Lovehoney (market leaders) in the post suggested to us that these sites were also being targeted.

Spam Blog Post

The Impact on Our Business

While up until January 2019 ranks had been decreasing a little, from that point onward, they went into freefall. We went from page 1 for our main keyword (and hundreds of others) to page 5 in a matter of months - we were being destroyed.

Sex Toys Rank Downfall

Organic traffic plummeted from almost 1000 organic sessions daily to just over 500 before stabilising for a few weeks at that level but more recently falling to sub 400, and still falling. See organic traffic graph below.

Carvaka Sex Toys Organic Traffic

So now our overheads are not right-sized for our revenue and it’s put us in a difficult position. However, no staff have been let go as we are utterly determined to come out the other side of this.

Our Response So Far

Contacting the Suspects

If someone is going to invest real money in trying to destroy you, very often you will have a good idea whom it may be. For example, if you have achieved position 5 for “sex toys” in organic ranks thereby pushing those you have outranked down the SERP, the attack is unlikely to be emanating from a competitor on page three of Google. Very often, businesses will know who their closest and fiercest competitors are and these are likely to the be the perpetrators as they are obviously the beneficiaries of your ranks collapsing. We are currently working on trying to find proof as to whom the perpetrator is but in the absence of proof, we decided to send the following letter to the top ten suspects, in our opinion. Note that we certainly are not alleging or inferring any wrongdoing whatsoever by any of those to whom we sent the letter. For all we know at this point, all ten have absolutely nothing to do with any of this and will be bemused and annoyed by the receipt of the letter.

Carvaka Sex Toys Letter

We received a response from one of the recipients advising that they too had issues with negative SEO and would help however they could. Of course, at least nine innocent companies and maybe ten have received the above and likely feel insulted that we would even consider them as potentially being the culprits. However, that was a small price to pay for the chance of letting the actual culprit know that we were onto them (albeit belatedly) and would pursue them to the ends of the earth. We hope that this letter will give the perpetrator pause for thought and stop the campaign for fear of ending up in prison as is our stated end goal here - this is about far more than money now; we want a head on a plate and make no apologies for that. We await to see if any spam links continue be built after the date of sending this letter. If not, it likely means we have created a shortlist that contains the perpetrator. If so, we have fresh links to work on with a view to unmasking the guilty party - either way, we get data. We apologise here again to the innocent recipients of this letter and state again categorically that we are not alleging or inferring in any way shape or form any wrongdoing by anyone at this point as we have no proof.

Disavowing

We have gone through our entire link profile, link by link, domain by domain, disavowing the crap as we find it. We are relying on Cognitive, Ahref and Google Search Console to find the links. To date, we have disavowed 470 domains which contained tens of thousands of spam links. The good news is that now that we know this is happening, we can simply disavow the links as they appear. It takes seconds to disavow a domain and longer than that to create the link so if this comes down to a battle of wills, we should win. However, we are relying on Google realising what has gone on here and over time restoring our ranks to where they belong. We understand that it’s not easy for Google to decipher who is actually building the links but if we are disavowing as quickly as they are being built, we hope Google will realise what is going on here.

Legal Advice

We are determined to bring charges against individuals here and hopefully set a precedent that legitimate webmasters can rely on if they are ever attacked. Accordingly we contacted an expert Internet law firm and the team in there has been a massive assistance to us and we hope, once we have gathered enough evidence, they will represent us in court in the UK or coordinate our efforts in whichever jurisdiction we need to go to to catch the culprits. We know that ultimately these links are likely being built offshore so we need to catch that person and pursue them legally in order to ultimately identify their paymaster and pursue them with everything we have. We believe what has been done is indeed criminal and we feel we would be doing Internet users everywhere a great service if we could achieve a prison sentence for the instigator of this attack. That would lay down a serious marker and hopefully deter would-be negative SEO’ers around the globe from even considering this as a course of action. The issue at present is that no one has, as yet, gone to prison for such an act and we feel if we can achieve that, then this practice will seriously reduce. For now, we are gathering as much data and evidence as we can.

The Recovery

At time of writing, 25th Feb 2019, there hasn’t been one. Our ranks and traffic remain down about 70% and we are overstaffed. However, we are working daily to monitor and disavow the links as we find them. We are continually working on building the best content we can and are confident that in the end, we will come through this and get back to where we were before all this started. We will be publishing updates here periodically until we recover, which we hope won’t be too far away.