How I successfully trolled myself out of Google and destroyed my entire affiliate business

April 23 2014

How I successfully trolled myself out of Google and destroyed my entire affiliate business

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April 9th, 2014, 9:30 PM: I’m laughing hysterically, I can’t believe how well my troll project has succeeded. People keep messaging me all day congratulating me on the sheer epicness of my trolling skills. And I’m beating my previous daily earnings record by quite a lot. Life’s fun.

April 10th, 2014, 3:00 PM: I knew the day would inevitable come, yet I can’t understand what I’m seeing. Everything is gone, and by everything I mean everything. All of my sites. Pretty much all of my income. Fuck this shit.

Hang on kids, this is going to be an educational one. Feeling lazy? Read how I fucked up and how you can avoid my mistakes.

Update: My reply to some criticism regarding this post.

So what exactly did I do?

But first, a bit of background.

After doing IT-consulting for a few years as well as a startup that we eventually sold, I got tired of not being able to call all the shots.

While the money doing IT-consulting was quite good, doing consulting didn’t really exactly qualify as having a business, I was merely self-employed and not a business owner.

After hearing of people who couldn’t code, couldn’t design or basically couldn’t do jack shit making a killing with affiliate marketing I decided to head down this path to generate some passive income that could eventually be re-invested in an actual startup, something that could actually create value some day.

I dabbled with affiliate projects for a while and didn’t really see a lot of success. I wasn’t really committing a lot of time or effort though.

Eventually I got extremely tired of consulting and of my life in Sweden and decided that it was time for a change. In 2011 I met a few entrepreneurs on an entrepreneurial meetup in Thailand that were living in Malta and they were saying good things about the place. After thinking for it for a while I decided it was due time to mix things up.

In October 2012 I packed my bags and moved to Malta. I pretty much had one site that didn’t really make any money at the time and I was very clueless about SEO (I guess I still am ;D). I was just determined to make it happen; to make a full time income online and to be the one calling all the shots.

And yes, I eventually did succeed, and quite well so. Things started picking up in June 2013 and from there my affiliate business grew quite fast. In the matter of less than a year I went from nothing to being one of the key affiliates in the Swedish “pay day loan”-niche.

And other people seemed to notice, especially one person that would eventually be one of the key reasons for all of my sites getting completely wiped from Google. Let’s just call this guy ‘my biggest competitor’ for now :).

How I did it, sort of.

To be honest, I mostly did what everyone else competing in this niche did – setting up private blog networks and exchanging links with other people having their own networks. Nothing weird basically.

The difference is that I did it extremely fast and in quite a large scale. Being a developer I approached affiliate marketing extremely systematically and always with an automation perspective in mind.

Where other affiliate marketers would do everything manually I would always find a way to systemize it. Needless to say, in less than a year I’ve built a ton of systems:

  • I’ve built an entire Chef stack that sets up Nginx/Varnish/PHP-FPM/Memcache/Mysql-servers extremely quick. I’ve open sourced some of the cookbooks included in this stack on my Github-profile.
  • I’ve built an entire custom system that manages all my sites, all loan companies + their loans. I’ve also created functionality to automatically set up sites, upgrade WordPress + plugins/themes and lots, and lots, of other stuff. This system interacts heavily with WordPress’ XML-RPC API. You can find my ruby client library for WordPress XML-RPC here.
  • I’ve built a custom system that pulls in expired domains from a ton of different sources online, checks if they’re available, checks the PageRank, Moz Metrics, Majestic SEO Metrics etc. As of today, it has imported more than 100 million domains. This system was primarily used to find expired domains to use for the private blog network. I’ve got a ruby client library for Majestic SEO over here if you need one.
  • I’ve built a custom article system that freelancers (from oDesk, Elance, Freelancer etc.) logs on to and posts their content on. This content is then pushed out (yet again via WordPress’ XML-RPC API) to the private blog network.

Basically, I created a ton of systems. Needless to say given my systemization approach, I focused on scaling a ton of sites rather than focusing all my efforts on one site. It was just more fun, being a developer and all. And unfortunately this systemization approach would eventually bite me in the ass.

Things start to heat up

As I previously mentioned, a special someone started to pay a lot of attention to what I was doing. This guy wrote countless blog posts about my sites and made YouTube-videos about what I was up to. He eventually also created a system that pulled in IP-addresses, WHOIS-data etc. to categorize affiliate sites in the pay day loan-niche and I’m guessing I was one of the primary reasons for creating this system.

In the countless blog posts I was called everything from a spammer, a greedy douchebag and countless other things. I didn’t respond to any of this, which in hindsight, might’ve been a mistake. I focused on working rather than getting caught up in drama and starting a flame war. By being quiet though, it was easy for this other guy to depict me as the evil spamming enemy and rally people to his side.

To set the record straight, I didn’t scale up my business for the pure sake of greed and making a ton of money. Sure, more money would mean that I’d be able to invest more money in a startup, but I primarily scaled the way I did because it initially was fun. I got to program systems and to scale them. I got to automatize stuff, and those who know me know that automation is something I’m truly passionate about.

There have been a lot of controversy in this niche, mainly given that this guy approached his site and project in a very transparent manner (which is a good idea to be honest) and have blogged rigorously about his project. He was attacked not only once, but twice with negative SEO attacks. I’m also fairly certain that this person suspects me for these attacks. I was not involved with these attacks in any shape or form though. If I’m going to beat someone — it’s by outranking them, not by attacking them.

To be honest I didn’t really do things that differently from the other competitors, I just did it faster and in a bigger scale. My sites looked great, provided great price comparison functionality and generally converted quite well. I did provide some value (but nothing compared to a genuine business or startup – something I will discuss in another blog post), only to some limited extent.

But at the same time I can understand why some people saw it as spam, given that I didn’t get around to make unique themes for all of my sites. I was merely thinking that I was scaling up the value I provided; some other people saw it as just spamming Google. It was just a matter of scaling too fast and not focusing on the right things. I didn’t get around to create unique themes for all of the sites even though I had a plan for it.

Another thing that has been somewhat of a topic was the content on my private blog network. I used a ton of freelancers to write short link articles that linked to the affiliate sites, and needless to say, some of that content wasn’t of the highest quality. Yet again, I scaled too fast.

But on the other hand, having freelancers writing articles for you on a private blog network is as much ‘gaming the system’ as it is asking your friends to write blog posts about your project. Well, anyways, that’s another story for another day.

Enter the Zoo — The insanely stupid (yet funny) troll project that forced Google to kick me out of their index

Using the tactic above I could’ve probably still have had my sites ranking in Google as of today. They were merely ranking using grey-hat methods (if we need to categorize the usage of private blog networks) and I’m guessing the strategy in itself isn’t that super spammy or super offensive to Matt Cutts and his other friends at Google’s anti-spam team (I guess they’ve seen worse). And besides, most of the other competitors used this strategy as well.

What eventually got me kicked out of Google was something far more elaborate and advanced than a private blog network. It was a tactic involving pure spam.

The Zoo

The Zoo – Don’t be evil. Be an animal. (image ironically courtesy of the guy that killed the zoo, haha)

But let’s take it slow for now. In late 2013 a lot of spam started to appear in the Swedish index for the pay day loan-niche. Two key players, a Danish guy, and a Croatian guy, started to dominate the index quite hard. They spammed the fuck out of it basically, and banked hard.

Of course I was intrigued, I always get intrigued when someone finds a way to beat the system. And as soon as I saw that they managed to beat Google’s algorithm time and time again (and still do to this date) I had to figure out what they were doing. And I did.

Unfortunately I’m not going to explain the method as it’s still working very efficiently to this day and would make the SERP even worse if more people knew about it. In due time I’ll probably explain in detail what I did.

At the same time as the Danish/Croatian-duo was having a field day in Google I started to toy with the idea of replicating what they did, just in a very trolling, tongue-in-cheek humorous kind of way. So me and a fellow SEO:er came up with the idea to buy a ton of animal-related domains tied to the pay day loan-niche and spam these to top positions. Just for shits and giggles basically.

Just to make it obviously clear: We worked entirely separately and didn’t co-operate at all. I created the animal sites myself and entirely ranked them myself using my own technique.

Enter February 2014, and a sleepless night on Boracay in the Philippines. In February the Danish/Croatian spam sites were still dominating Google’s Swedish index and since I couldn’t sleep this specific night I just decided to act and try to replicate what these guys did. If they could do it, I sure as hell could do it as well.

I also wanted to test another hypothesis: whether or not people interested in comparing loans cared about the actual brand or design of the site. If they would be ‘put off’ by an ‘animal’ comparing pay day loans for them. Newsflash: They didn’t give a single fuck. These sites converted the same (or even better) compared to my more legitimate ones.

Smslångrisen

Apparently pigs can fly, all the way to the #1 position

For a while my troll project didn’t yield any results and I didn’t focus a lot of attention on it. Then in March I gave it another try and a lot of these animal oriented sites started ranking good – like extremely, fucking good. At one point they had #1-3 for “pay day loan”, #2 for “borrow money”, #1 for “quick loan”, #1 for “loan” etc. Of course it was just a matter of time before people got fed up with the bullshit.

One extremely funny thing that happened was that a major loan company in this niche publicly wrote a blog post bashing the cute little animals and the sad state of Swedish Google. Then at the same time they privately asked me via my affiliate manager if their loans could be promoted more on the animal sites, the specific sites they publicly bitched and ranted about. How’s that for hypocrisy?

But this niche works in a weird way like that. People publicly try to act like knights in shining armors and then in the shadows they run around trying to cut deals. Money talks, bullshit walks.

In a matter of a day I experienced a quite masochistic turn of events: The 9th of April I crushed my previous daily record by a huge margin and the day after (the 10th) Google completely wiped all of my sites from its index, even the ones that didn’t even engage in the retarded spamming. And even sites that didn’t even have links to them.

They removed everything from the index, and I mean fucking everything. I got bitch slapped, extremely hard — player got played.

Suffice to say I didn’t count on the animal/spam-sites to stick around for long. What I didn’t count on though, was that Google would remove everything, all of my sites. Well, well, shit happens.

So how did Google ban all of my sites? Algorithmically? Nope, ‘my biggest competitor’ wrote a nice little blog post and people got involved to get Matt Cutts to act; and thus I was manually penalized:

A bitch slap of a lifetime

So how hard was I penalized?

I had roughly 350 sites penalized, whereas about 80 of these were developed affiliate sites.

The rest were pretty much empty sites without content and using a standard Twenty-Ten theme that I put up just so they could get some domain age until I got the time to finish them.

Gserp - penalties

Just a subset of the sites that got bitch slapped into oblivion.

The interesting thing is that Google didn’t just penalize the affiliate sites with the same theme or sites in the same niche for that matter. They entirely fucking destroyed everything I had, sites in other niches, sites without links – you name it, they destroyed it.

That’s what you get for dancing with the devil and pulling down his pants in front of everyone to see.

I ridiculed them hard and I paid the price for it. But to be fair, I made it extremely, extremely easy for them to penalize me.

And yeah, I guess my competitor’s spy/categorization tool helped out too (even though it just found a subset of the sites).

I fucked up — and how you can avoid my mistakes

Without order of importance:

Speak up son

If you’re going to participate in a niche where someone or a group of people will openly attack you and your methods, who’ll blog about your stuff, rant and generally try to rally people against you – speak up and take the fight.

I decided to not deal with all the troll posts this specific person put out and focus on working instead which I believe is a mistake in hindsight.

Truth is I’d rather code, design and build things instead of bitching about certain SEO tactics. But given I was penalized due to a lot of bitching, whining and ranting this is something I believe one should pay attention to (and something I will pay attention to) going forward.

An easy solution would just be to avoid a niche where someone’s very openly bitching and whining about things. But that’s your call.

Don’t mix your shitty spam projects with your more legitimate sites

If there’s something I genuinely fucked up with it was this.

I had the same theme for the spam sites as well as my more normal sites. Pretty much the same layout, same color scheme, same everything.

And yes, don’t use the same theme for more than one site. Next time around (if that will happen) I’ll prioritize this task higher than other activities.

Thinking about it in hindsight I can’t really fathom how retarded this was.

If you’re going to spam and ridicule Google, use unique themes, host your sites on separate hosts and generally make sure that there’s no connection to your normal sites.

Hide your ass – use WhoisGuard

Given that I competed in the Swedish niche I tended to use a lot of .se and .nu-domains.

For these domains there generally aren’t WhoisGuard-protection available and you’ll get assigned a unique contact id for you as a person or your business.

According to the rules you can’t hide your details if you register the domains with your business (which I did) but there seems to somewhat of a loophole in terms of registering the domain in your own physical name. And of course I didn’t look into this.

In total I had a few of these contact ids, and especially one of the ids got penalized hard which definitely leads me to believe that Google simply used this contact id somehow to penalize a ton of sites.

I’d say approximately 90% of the sites that got penalized used this same contact id.

So: use .com/.net/.org-domains with WhoisGuard or if you desperately need to use .se/.nu-domains – register them on you privately instead of your business and mix up your contact details for every registration (which should lead to a unique contact id).

Rather than spamming, just build a better god damn service

Here’s something I’ve recently started to think about more and more.

If you’ve got the skills, why not just focus your efforts on building the best possible service that you can build?

Focus on one site and make it epic. Make it so fucking good that the competition’s sites look like heaps of crap.

It’s no secret that I love automation and systemizing things.

And I guess this eventually turned into somewhat of a drug for me, a drug that led me to focus more on scaling and spreading myself too thin rather than just focusing on one site or project and just making it extremely good.

My previous affiliate sites were quite awesome as well, but they were merely a fraction of what I actually can do.

So: Spam if you want, but there’s a lot to gain from building the best service for your niche.

Am I angry?

A lot of people have asked how I felt about losing everything I spent a year or so building and ranking.

If I was angry with the specific person that inevitably got Google involved and that lead to the destruction of my entire affiliate business.

Short answer: I’m not angry at this person.

Here’s the thing: SEO is a game, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes it pays off to cheat, sometimes it pays off to abide by the rules.

Rules which aren’t set in stone and can change in the blink of an eye.

Google is a company, they decide the rules and can change them whenever they like. It’s their game and we’re the ones playing it.

And as the old adage goes: Don’t hate the player — hate the game.

Yes, I can admit that it was a bit frustrating seeing everything I’ve built succumbing to bitching and whining and that Google blindly listened to a competitor quite subjectively. But this is frustation aimed at Google and not this specific person.

To be honest I can’t 100% say that I wouldn’t have done what he did in his place. This is something I’ll first know if I’ll ever be in the same situation as he was.

The thing that strikes me as extremely odd though is that there are people (who clearly weren’t affected by the penalization of my sites) creating fake troll accounts on Twitter and attacking this guy or leaving bitchy comments on this guy’s blog in relation to my sites getting penalized. To be honest, what’s the fucking point? If I’m not fueled with anger and hating this guy, why the fuck should you?

Feels like a walk down memory lane

This scenario in it’s entirety reminds me a lot of a game I used to play quite a lot 10-12 years or so ago, a game called Diablo 2.

In this game there was a hardcore mode that meant that if you died, you died. You lost your gear, your precious items you’ve spent hours acquiring. You pretty much had to start from zero, from nothing again.

I played this game countless hours, I reached the highest levels, and I died with my characters, again, again, and again. I lost characters I played for hundreds of hours to my computer crashing, my Internet connection disconnecting or just sheer stupidity.

Diablo 2

Ah, sweet memories!

Yet I wasn’t mad and yet I started over, time after time. I could’ve been mad and furious at my computer, the company providing the shitty Internet connection or some other random reason.

But I wasn’t, I was glad to be given the chance to start over again. To try something new.

For a long time I’ve been quite bored with what I’ve worked with in some aspects. Yes, I had a ton of fun and laughed like a retard when the animals were trolling Google.

But in general I was quite bored with affiliate marketing. In it’s entirety it doesn’t really create a lot of value. It doesn’t solve genuine problems, nor does it make the world a better place.

And I also didn’t utilize my strengths to the fullest. I’m a pretty good Ruby on Rails-developer and I believe I can create amazing things — and yet I spent most of my time building stupid sites with WordPress and PHP (which hardly is a programming language).

Hopefully I’ll be able to stop doing affiliate marketing eventually, but I still have one final challenge before I do.

I’ve ranked in the highest positions with grey hat methods, and so have I with black hat methods.

Yet I haven’t done so with a pure white hat method. So I’m guessing that will be the next challenge.


Update: A reply to the criticism.

My competitor wrote a niche and lengthy blog post in response to the post above. You’ll find it here.

He had a few valid concerns that I feel I need to address:

In the following sections, I’ll direct my writing primarily to this specific person. So ‘you’ in most cases are intended for ‘my biggest competitor’.

Not linking to the blog post (and also involving other people)

The reason for linking to the actual tweet rather than your post was only due to the fact that Matt Cutts actually responded to that specific tweet and displayed Google’s intentions of looking into the whole situation.

I genuinely tried to embed the tweet together with his replies, but somehow that didn’t work. As a direct result of that you don’t see Matt’s replies directly in my blog, which might’ve been a bit clumsy and portrayed the story in a different perspective. And because of that, yeah, I can see your point about not directly linking to your blog post (but you’ve got a link to your response now though).

This is also the only reason why Jonathan showed up in the blog post, his tweet got the reply and therefore I felt that this specific tweet showed the seriousness of this situation and the oncoming penalization, that Matt + his buddies got involved.

Just to make things obviously clear: Jonathan is in no way, shape, or form involved in this situation other than just retweeting a tweet basically.

The outing

Yes, it’s true that I wasn’t personally outed by name, but there were a lot of references back and forth in a lot of your blog posts that could be somewhat considered as insults, even to me personally.

Like in this post, where (loosely translated) I’m depicted as someone “putting money before everything else – and only working when I really desperately have to”. As well as: “Position: outside of Sweden. If the ‘denier’ stays too long in Sweden he might get afflicted by the curse of (figuratively) going totally broke’.

Yes, my name wasn’t named. But given that you complained that I somewhat outed you due to the tweet I embedded, now you’ve very openly admitted to and outed that those remarks were about me.

Here’s the thing. I’m not only doing stuff for the sake of money (which you falsely try to lead people to believe). Given this description of me (as well as other references here and there in blog posts, tweets, Google Plus-posts etc.) I felt depicted as, what I’ve previously described, a greedy douche bag.

Yes, you didn’t specifically out me by name in all the posts/tweets etc., but I do hope you can see the connections now and the reason for me using this term the way I did.

And also, I work fucking hard. I started my first business when I was 18 years old and I’ve been self-employed ever since – something that I’m extremely proud of. I ran a business in Sweden for almost 8 years (relatively successfully in my mind) before moving abroad. I also took part in a startup that we eventually sold to a bigger competitor.

I moved abroad for the sake of experiencing new things and taking my life in a new direction, not because of the fact of ‘trying to avoid running out of money’, that’s a ridiculously retarded claim.

Countless blog posts

Ok, you didn’t write countless blog posts, but definitely more than four directly or indirectly about (sometimes bashing, sometimes just mentioning) my sites.

I’m guessing this also is a smart move on your part since I now have to compile a list of all the stuff and link to the respective posts (kudos to you – smart move).

And oh, these posts are in Swedish so unfortunately if you as a reader don’t speak Swedish it would be kind of hard to understand what is being said.

The blog posts (I count to 11, not 4):

There are also 3 different YouTube-videos either mentioning or analyzing my sites (for several minutes) embedded within these posts. So, not 1 video as you depicted it to be.

And, by the way, yes, the “Hitler freaking out to missing to buy animal related domains”-video was hilarious, I laughed hard.

The moral of the story is that you spent shitloads of time writing thousands of words and creating videos complaining about my stuff rather than actually directly working on improving your own site. Hence, this will serve as an intro for the next section:

Bitching and whining

Just to be straight, I’m not targeting you as a person with this, I’m targeting the method you use. There’s a difference.

The same way you said you didn’t target me by writing a ton of stuff about the SEO methods I used I’m not targeting you by writing about the method you (very successfully) used – that is, running to Google and complaining.

Just like I had my method, you had yours.

Yes, ‘bitching’ and ‘whining’ might be somewhat harsh words.

Let’s say that you very openly complained, did so often, and had success with this method.

What I’ve seen is that you yourself also have been hash-tagging your own tweets with #whineseo quite a few times. So it’s not like it’s uncharted territory that I bring this up.

Attacking you personally wasn’t the intention, if that’s what you believe.

You’re not the reason why I’m contemplating going totally ‘white hat’ or generally just thinking of building awesome stuff

Here’s the thing. Even long, long before I was penalized I had plans to eventually start working on something far better, far more impressive than the affiliate bullshit I was up to.

Truth to be told I think affiliate marketing / SEO is kind of bullshit compared to e.g. building a tech startup or something similar (a view I had long, long before the penalization, so it’s not something I’m saying out of frustration). With affiliate marketing, you don’t really provide value or solve a genuine problem. This is something that I’ve had in the back of my mind since day 1 when I started with affiliate marketing and SEO.

I started with affiliate marketing because there was an opportunity given my skills and the stuff I could do. And yes, I was somewhat right.

Affiliate marketing has never, ever been my end goal. It’s just a quick detour on the way on actually working on a genuine product or service, something of real value.

So no, sorry to burst your bubble, but you are not and never will be the absolute reason for me for ‘rethinking my ways’. Yes, I can admit that I could’ve been stuck in the deep rabbit hole that is Black Hat SEO for a while longer if it wasn’t for you, but the main plan has always been there, irregardless of the stupid SEO shit I’ve been up to. And irregardless of what actually happened.

What I can say though is that you’ve done a great job with your project and that it has given me a few insights and ideas.

I’m not a copycat bro

You have some very absurd theories about a previous post I made (about one of my sites) and that I’m simply trying to flat out copy everything you’ve done.

Here’s a newsflash for you: I didn’t push this specific post into the domains of your beloved #svSEO:

As you can probably see, I didn’t hash-tag this one with anything: nada, null, zilch.

It was another person that shared this post:

And yes, I had every reason for personally writing that blog post.

And no, I didn’t try “to involve people into trying to help you with ‘analysis of why something happened to your site’ when you know 100% what happened.”

I changed a ton of stuff behind the scenes for that site, both off-page and on-page. So I had pretty damn valid claims of addressing it the way I did. And it was not an obvious case, especially given the fact that I had to make some changes that time around that significantly differed from the stuff I previously had to do to get the site back up again.

And the blog post I wrote was mostly for my own benefit, to write down what happened and use that as a future reference if the shit hit the fan again.

And by the way, this whole thing of blogging about your projects ‘transparently’ or ‘in the open’ isn’t new.

For instance:

So to be fair, this whole thing you claim to be an invention of yours, of “transparently blogging about your projects” isn’t something you created – and something I did years before you did.

And just so that I’m perfectly sure about this fact, I searched for the phrase “transparently blog about internet projects” in the Swedish Patent Database but I couldn’t find any results:

PRV

Maybe they lost your patent application somewhere?

The attacks

Truth to be told, you have accused me, not very publicly or very direct though.

Given that the guy who did the first redirect ‘attack’ also lives on Malta and all SEO:ers here tend to hang out quite regularly, I know for a fact that you asked this guy if this attack was something he did for pay, alas an attack I might have ordered from him (given that you and I competed for the top positions at that specific time).

There were also quite a few humorous claims at the time by yourself and some other people that the person behind the attack “was a little porn-spamming teenage boy probably impressed by some other, older, person ‘X’ that instructed him to do it”:

Comment

A comment in relation to the first attack (the part about the guy being a porn-spamming teenager was mentioned in a separate comment).

(Blurred out the picture and names involved, guess it’s better that way.)

And person ‘X’, I’m pretty accurately guessing, is me. And yet again, sorry to burst your bubble, I was neither involved with the first attack or the second one.

Again, I don’t see the point at all in destroying or attacking your stuff when I could rather spend time coding, designing and building stuff. It makes no sense.

And no, the SEO:ers here on Malta didn’t learn about your blog first after the attack, we knew about your blog quite a long time before that attack.

The blog came to everyone’s attention after you very intelligently and graphically described how sorry you felt when another SEO:er here had his rankings drop quite significantly for his site:

Cat

When everyone first started to notice your trolling skills :)

That was the 20th of February 2013, the blog post about the attack is dated the 19th of August 2013.

So no, me and other SEO:ers on Malta did know about your blog, way, way, before the first actual attacked happened. Like 6 months or so.

I don’t really get the reference about “And now you start to blog instead…”. I’ve had a blog online since 2008. Yes, maybe I don’t write very often, but it’s not like this is the first time I write about Internet related projects I’m up to (which I clearly demonstrated in the list of posts I’ve previously written earlier). If you feel like elaborating, please do, because I don’t get what you’re aiming at.

Closing Thoughts

The original blog post I wrote wasn’t supposed to stir up controversy and set the stage for a major ‘beef’.

But apparently you got quite upset with the words I used, and I can understand that.

But just as much as you can take the entire ‘discussion’ into a new direction, so can I, and I definitely felt the need to address your concerns, given that you introduced even more accusations and other stuff into the picture.

It was a smart move on your part to end with “neither of us want to end up like this blogger” (and including a picture of some genuinely shitty blogger) as that would incline that I would be retarded to respond to your allegations and suggestions (maybe I am? :P) but nonetheless, I have the right to.

And besides, you’re right, if we take this further it’ll turn into this:

Yup.

Yup. (I was probably slightly retarded spending so much time writing this reply)

So c’est la vie and good luck with everything (I mean it)!

Update #2: Smartlend

I’m currently working on a new affiliate project called Smartlend. It’s another project targeting the Swedish financial niches (namely låna pengar/smslån) and I’m trying to build it into a big and authorative project.

I’ll be posting updates about this project here on the blog, so stay tuned :).

36 Comments

Leave a Comment

  • Simon Nyström

    27 weeks ago

    Sebastian.

    It is turning into a flaming war, so better answer your post shortly and not argu too much.

    I say like this: You are correct. I miss some posts. However, these posts are more or less “worthless” and didn’t even take off. Some of them contains sites that isn’t even on my mind. I guess that tells a little bit how many sites you had though? For example, I check http://simonnystrom.com/det-gar-utfor-for-smslanonline-se-i-call-bullshit/ and can’t quickly see where exactly you are mentioned, and a regular visitor wouldn’t understand s*it. Again: if I need to keep track of all your sites, somethings is just plain wrong. As I see it you are gripping everythin now. Those Lånesnoken.se videos… man, nobody even noticed them. It was too early and too ugly. People fell asleep when checking those videos. I miss some videos, yes, that shows I was not targeting person but sites. And because of that I forget some posts. Short version: I didn’t “hunt you”, personally.

    The blog calculation difference is much because I didn’t count the time before the attack. These post are not targeting you. I did however mention that I outed sites earlier but decided to quit because it was actually too much whining. Did I hit you with that? Where you even there? But I mention that in my blog too. That single sites is not a reason to out. (and back then I am 100% sure I was not the reson for them dropping. And if I was the reaosn, well, then everything is about me, which you say isn’t the case.

    And I can say, just like you, that you are not on my mind all day long and that is why I missed posts. They are more or less worthless. I counted the bigger ones, the ones I immediately realized where connected to you. And I mean this: wtf, those small silly posts, “affiliate the gathering” is ironically and I can tell that by using that page as a source for “talking trash” well, then I flame myself pretty bad too as it is a complete joke.

    The speculation quote above is btw not my quote, but somebody else.

    Apart from that. I stick to my version and you stick to yours.

  • Simon Nyström

    27 weeks ago

    I can actually spell if I try…

    It feels like this story has come to an end so I Just want to add: good luck!

  • Sebastian

    27 weeks ago

    Yo!

    Truth to be told, the initial post I wrote wasn’t intended to ‘flame’ you as a person directly, or start some meaningless bullshit. Yes, reading it now again I definitely could’ve written in a more clear manner that wouldn’t lead to questions whether or not I was attacking your method or you as a person.

    The intention was to summarize how I fucked up and how other people might benefit from my mistakes.

    Given your response I just felt that you gradually started turning it into some kind of situation and I slightly felt attacked by the (somewhat inaccurate) stuff you wrote.

    It’s not about the exact number of blog posts or the exact number of videos, it just felt that you totally downplayed how much time you’ve actually spent ‘complaining’ about stuff rather than doing far more constructive things.

    Yes, I can see the irony in that “The Gathering”-post, but in relation to a lot of other stuff it was quite obvious that there were some slight degree of slander going on.

    Anyways, I know that you’re probably busy with a ton of stuff (as am I) and I’m pretty certain that we both can agree that this bullshit is useless and is just a waste of time.

    We’ll both have different versions of this and I’m guessing we’ll never see eye to eye on it.

    Case closed?

  • Simon Nyström

    27 weeks ago

    Hi Sebastian!

    I totally understand. Forgived. Forgotten. Really.

    I was actually about to erase those two first videos because the quality is so bad that’s why I didn’t count them, but I think this is “minor things” in the full story.

    The biggest reason why the posts are written in the way they are is because the target sites are anonymous and as I explained in my post anonymity is (generally speaking) weak and (when used in comment to attack) cowardly. You didn’t write anonymous comments so I do NOT call you a coward. Just my view on anonymity.

    It is so easy to joke about anonymous stuff (spam) and I think they more or less deserve it though. Because it is a little bit funny joking about people hidden in the dark, earning a lot of money but are too afraid to show their names. I am not talking about you now but in general: most sites in the business had REALLY shitty recommendations. They were totally NOT interested in giving good advice, they were really focusing on putting the loan that gave THEM most money in the top. That’s why they derserved to be flamed. And that’s why the cat picture above was used. Mostly. A people in need of a payday loan definitely NOT need a bad advice. I’m not talking about you neither, but sites in general. It was even worse when I started so you have to back time 1,5 years to get the full story.

    However, it it not funny to joke about real people so when you start an open project, show much more potential than the other people did, well, of course you deserve to be respected for that and that is why I ended my overall harsch post trying to “protect” you from my real oppinion about spam in general. Even if your sites deserved to drop it was not my intention to destroy your name or anything like that. The Zoo had to die though :)

    With that said. Case closed and good luck!

    P.S. Du you have any payday loan you don’t use I can buy? D.S
    Just kidding :)

  • mw

    27 weeks ago

    Sebastian,

    I hope you will approve and keep this comment. I am very happy to have found your blog.

    I had my eye on the payday niche and of course I noticed the ugly #1 website by Simon. I had the chance to visit his personal website, read his blog posts in which he keeps whining and whining about spam and private networks outranking his site.

    I finally decided to submit a comment on his “Dear Mr. Cutts..” blog post. My comment was short and clear and it is still there. Simon’s reply came in after one day in which he called me a “Wanker”. In my second reply, I asked him to keep his comment the way it is, and that I will not go down to his pathetic level of unprofessionalism by calling me a wanker, but he modified his comment and removed that word.

    Simon: besides being a whining person, you certainly do not deserve #1 for Smslån. You keep asking Google to fix their mess, well guess what, if they do then your website should be the first to be taken off first page. A quick backlinks analysis determines that most powerful backlinks to Smslånonline.se are from SEO related websites, which means you have irrelevant backlinks.

    You are a greedy person. You don’t care about searchers’ experience, all you care about is them ending up on your website and clicking your links so you can earn money.

  • Simon Nyström

    27 weeks ago

    Cheers Mr Anonymous.
    You have already the answer on that in my first response.

    Please keep the comment. Just go back and check what’s already written.

  • Sebastian

    27 weeks ago

    All right, I’m activating moderation mode for all comments henceforth.

    This situation has already been resolved and more attacks either towards Simon or me doesn’t benefit anyone.

    As I’ve previously stated the post wasn’t written to slander Simon, it was to summarize the stupid mistakes I made and how other people could learn from it.

    We’ve buried the hatchet and we’re moving on to far better activities than ranting about this stuff.

    While I to some extent can understand why someone wants to be anonymous online, I will from here on after not accept any comments from someone being anonymous in which a specific person or a group of people are criticized.

    If you want to constructively criticize someone go ahead, but be sure to use your real name and link to a blog or something so all involved parties know who everyone is.

    For now MW’s comment will not be deleted given:
    1. Simon responded to the allegations previously here: http://simonnystrom.com/dear-mr-cutts-is-this-the-way-to-get-your-attention/#comment-5796
    2. And that Simon responded here to refer to the original answer on his blog and to keep the specific comment that was made on this blog.

    But this will be the only exception to the rule.

    If you have valid input in terms of the strategies and tactics used and the mistakes that were made, please do comment.
    If you just want to flame, please refrain from doing so here.

  • Financial Samurai

    26 weeks ago

    Impressive honesty man. So the question is: What’s next?

    Also, care to share how much you were making during this one year of glory? If it’s a boatload, then it seems totally rational for you and others to continue to do what you do until Google punishes no?

  • Sebastian

    26 weeks ago

    Hey – and thanks for the comment!

    I’m still contemplating what the next move or project will be, but it’ll probably be a project that will focus more on the actual site/project in itself (better design, more functionality and tons of high quality content) rather than SEO and acquiring links.

    Unfortunately I won’t share (for now at least) how much I made or how much one can potentially make in this niche. But yes, there are incentives for people to spam the fuck out of this niche, which a lot of people are trying to do.

    The quite ridiculous thing is that Google only took action on my sites and not other sites using the exact same methods as I did. There are plenty of sites in the top 20 right now using these exact methods and they’ve ranked there for quite a while without getting penalized or removed.

    Kinda unfair, but I guess I just gotta roll with the punches :P.

  • Jody Raines

    26 weeks ago

    I read your post all the way through, Sebastian, and its a fascinating case study. My impression is that you are brilliant, and I am sure that if you use your powers for good you will make a huge impact in whatever you set your mind to accomplish. Your journey through the murky waters of black hat and building the automated empire is a tremendous example and cautionary tale for those of us who sometimes struggle with the slow and steady white hat path… Thanks for your candor and sharing this tale.

  • Marcus

    26 weeks ago

    Hello from Singapore. Thank you for sharing this. Probably one of the most refreshing posts I’ve read in a while. I don’t want to go all self-righteous on the whole white/black hat SEO thing, but I just wanna show my support for you going white-hat. I try my best to be “white hat” and to always provide quality and value, but I admit there is a certain allure in the black hat SEO world. Hoping to hear more from you!

  • hans

    26 weeks ago

    I am curious are the dane/croat duo still rapeing the serps

  • Sebastian

    26 weeks ago

    Jody: Thanks for your comment and especially thanks for reading all of the post, it definitely is a very, very long read :P.

    Yes, I have no hesitation that I can create better things than affiliate sites or stupid black hat projects. I just went too far into the rabbit hole and gradually got more and more sucked in. Black Hat kind of short wires your feedback loop, as soon as you see that you can get fast results, normal/white hat SEO feels too boring and cumbersome – even though it’s definitely a better long term strategy.

    Marcus: Thanks for your comment. I actually stopped by Singapore in March, definitely liked the vibe of the place. There will be a blog post about it soon :). And yes, White Hat is definitely the best strategy for the future and I’m hoping to get started with a strict White Hat project shortly.

    Hans: They’re not crushing it like they used to. Back in January/February or so they had the top positions for all the best keywords in this niche. The danish guy is still ranking on page 1 for one of the most competitive keywords and I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time before the Croatian guy (I think he’s Croatian) will be back again :P.

  • Colin Kinsella

    26 weeks ago

    Great that you are so open on how you screwed up, you even managed to refrain from using profanity when referring to Matt Cutts.

    Best of luck for the next project.

    Colin

  • Matt Vaden

    26 weeks ago

    Man! I really appreciate your honesty. I’ve read your post all the way through and you certainly seem like quite a smart fellow.

    I commend you for going white-hat, and I also commend you for making the move to truly build something of value.

    Quite honestly, I have a very in-depth project that definitely demands your level of programming skill(s), but sadly I would never be able to afford you. However, I would be open to letting you “own” the software, as long as I could get some kind of royalty. :-) :-)

    I can promise you one thing, I’ve already designed and redesigned this software over and over in my mind, and I even have big white-boards on the wall with sketches of how different ‘screens’ should look / function. Trust me on this, I’ve thought this software over and over in my mind, heck, I’ve even dreamed about it and how it should function!

    Btw, this is not some kind of fairy tale, pipe-dream kind of deal. I’ve worked in the kitchen and bath industry my whole life (see my ‘ http://www.mattvaden.com/about-me/ ‘ page) and this software would be used to solve a specific problem / need in my industry. The competition, which we are currently using, is so poorly designed, I can’t hardly stand it sometimes! I can’t help it… Every time I look at it / use it I see all its problems and shortcomings.

    Anyway, thanks again for your honesty, and thanks for reading my really long and boring comment. If your interested, just email me, otherwise, thanks for your time and I hope you find a project that will interest you and one that will showcase your skills.

    Regards,
    Matt Vaden

  • Mike

    26 weeks ago

    Well done, Sebastian. It must’ve taken a lot of courage to put this together, without being pissed off!

    That’s definitely a huge blow you’ve taken. All of your sites wiped out in one swoop!

    My hats off to you for taken it as a lesson to push on and to move on to better projects!

    Any chance you wanna sell that script for expired domain harvesting? Haha just kidding ; D

    Best..

  • King

    26 weeks ago

    Wow you are just like me but doing it on a much large scale :D I noticed I am doing the same mistakes like you i.e. using same theme etc. This post have a lot of pointers for me to pick up and scale up my Black Hat skills :D

  • Sebastian

    26 weeks ago

    Colin: thanks for commenting and thanks for your encouragement. I really appreciate it!

    Matt: thanks for reading all of the blog post, it definitely is a very, very long one :P. Please drop me an email regarding your project to me [at] sebastianjohnsson.com and I’ll took a further look at it.

    Mike: thanks :). Given the situation I guessed at least someone could get some value out of the mistakes I made. Because of that I felt that I needed to write about what happened and how the mistakes I made could have (potentially) been avoided. I’ve actually received a lot of interest for the expired domain tool I’ve created and I’ve actually somewhat considered turning it into a product. I’ll send you an email if I’ll go ahead and create a product out of it so that you can give it a spin if you’d like to :).

    King: thanks for stopping by, nice to see that you got some value out of the post :)

  • Alan

    25 weeks ago

    Sebastian, This was a great read. It is refreshing to see posts about what can go wrong and what people have done wrong.

    The only thing I would say is the only thing you did wrong was pick a heavily monitored (by Google) niche. Quite frankly even if you didn’t get outed by someone, Google would have found you. Matt himself has taken a personal interest in the niche, so fighting in that niche is a bad idea.

    The techniques you used could have been spread across 5 to 10 much less competitive niches and given you the same success and for much longer.

    Having said all that it does end up being easier just to go purely white hat, although you do know plenty of white hate sites have been dumped by Google also. It really is just a game of Russian roulette out there on the internet. Look at eHow.. Only 2 years ago you would have been laughed off the Search Engine Land if you had of said Google would clamp down on the traffic they send to that notorious content farm. Yet here we are eHow is losing traffic daily and no amount of theme revisions is going to help them.

  • Nick Samuel

    24 weeks ago

    Holy F**K that’s a post right there… I feel you on the lack of WhoisGuard for domestic level domains such as .se, .nu and .co.uk, although I don’t think I do, or will do anything that needs to be hidden from Google :) Good luck with whatever you decide to do next.

  • Sebastian

    24 weeks ago

    Hey Alan, and sorry for not replying sooner!

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Google would’ve penalized the animal/troll sites sooner or later anyways. I didn’t count on my more ‘regular’ sites to be penalized as well at the same time though.

    Looking back at it now, yeah, I left a lot of very obvious footprints and connections between my ‘troll’ sites and my normal ones. Knowing what I know now, it must’ve been so ridiculously easy for them to penalize my sites given all the footprints (domain contact-ids, the themes etc.).

    Yeah, I don’t think that a more legit, white hat project would be 100% safe or bulletproof from Google’s wrath either. Google has changed their rules and guidelines quite a bit over the years and what might be considered “White hat” right now will probably be considered as Grey hat not very long from now.

    I do believe that you definitely would be a lot safer focusing on White hat and building a great service compared to pure spam and elaborate link schemes though.

    Thanks for your comment, it’s much appreciated!

  • Sebastian

    24 weeks ago

    Hey Nick!

    You can somewhat protect your contact details with .se/.nu domains, but that requires that you to set up a lot of different accounts with different registrars and using different registration info. You also need to do this for you as a person and not your business since businesses can’t have anonymous contact details for these domains.

    For .co.uk I’m fairly certain that you can get WhoisGuard-protection via Namecheap.

    But yeah, you’re definitely right. For the long term it’s just better to do stuff that Google approves of, rather than just trying to trick them back and forth :P.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Adam Beaumont

    24 weeks ago

    Great article by the way, people are quick to write about their successes but not about websites being successful and then failing overnight.

  • Sebastian

    24 weeks ago

    Hey Adam, and thanks for commenting!

    Yep, I haven’t really seen a lot of similar case studies around to be honest.

    I guess it’s somewhat easier to write about something that’s successful than admitting that you seriously fucked up :P.

    Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your blog!

  • Paul Harvey

    23 weeks ago

    Hi Sebastian

    What an amazing story as said above it is good to hear about the failures as well as the success. Reading your post I realize how little I understand about SEO. The one thing I am certain about is that you will bounce back. All the best for the next adventure.

  • Sebastian

    23 weeks ago

    Hello Paul!

    Thanks for commenting and thanks for the encouragement!

    Yeah, it’ll probably take a while until I’ve fully recovered from this mess (about 600 or so sites in total completely wiped off the face of the earth by Google so far) but I’m very certain that I’ll get back.

    I’m focusing all of my efforts on a more serious and ‘Google-friendly’ project this time around. Will be interesting to see the results :-).

    Take care!

  • Matt S

    23 weeks ago

    Just testing this comment system of yours. Interesting article as well!

  • Anders

    17 weeks ago

    Hey Sebastian.
    I’ve read your entire blog with great joy – you have a lot of great inspirational posts here!
    Doing a bit of SEO myself I found this post especially interesting – I like your whole systematic approach.
    I’m looking for expired domains myself – manually at the moment through sites like expireddomains.net. These domains tend to have attracted a lot of buyers already so I’ve been looking into writing a tool, sort of like you explained to fetch and analyze domains automatically.
    The only thing I can’t seem to obtain though is sources to fetch the domains from. You speak of “a ton of different sources online” what sources are you using to be precise?
    I perfectly understand if you do not want to share them though and that’s fine too – I just thought I’d give it a shot and ask.
    Anyways, you’ve got a great blog here and I hope you’ll continue writing stuff for us to enjoy :)

    -Anders

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