At 3:00 PM the phone rang.
It was a local business owner. He had noticed his website had disappeared from Google and wasn’t coming back. He wasn’t sure why, but he needed help fast.
While he described the situation to me, I was checking to make sure the site hadn’t been de-indexed by Google – a measure usually reserved for the spammiest of spammers, or those who blatantly go against Google’s “best practices.” The way to check if a site has been de-indexed is to simply open Google, and search for the site using the “site:” modifier. If your site comes up, you’re still indexed. Your search will look something like this:
I could see that the site was still indexed on Google. Why, then, had its rankings plummeted from #1 to #nothing?
The client mentioned that a few months ago the site had been hacked, and Google had penalized them at that time. However they had repaired the hack and the rankings had returned to normal.
I was aware that Google had been doing an update around the 25th of this month. I suspected that the new update decided to be more harsh with the spammy backlinks that had come in as a result of the hack.
The client gave me access to their search console (formerly webmaster tools) and I went to work.
First, I looked at backlinks. The section of search console that describes incoming links said there were only 59 links to the site. However, I also checked in Ahrefs – a great tool for checking out a domain’s backlinks. Ahrefs found over 12,000 backlinks from about 40 domains. Most of them were from Japan, and all of those were directed at the pdf files that had been created during the hack attack.
I exported all the backlinks from Ahrefs and Search Console and combined them into a sheet. I then selected only those that were pointed at pdf files. This would narrow it down to only those sites that were connected to the hack.
Next I pulled out all the root domains of those bad links. I was left with a list of 30 domains, all from Japan, that had been connected to the hack.
I created a disavow file and uploaded it to Google’s servers. The time was 3:45.
Remarkably, before I could even finish writing my report to the client, the rankings had been restored.
In total, it was less than an hour of work and it delivered instantaneous results. I wish every challenge were so easy!