Volusion’s Penguin Penalty

You might not have heard about Volusion’s run in with Google Penguin 2.1, this is primarily because the mega e-commerce site has a powerful PR team and knows how to work Google search results. However, a study from Link Research Tools provides a very nuanced look into what happened to cause Volusion to essentially disappear from SERPs due to Penguin.

While Volusion is a powerhouse brand that was able to bounce back, the lessons learned from this are valuable and reinforce the importance of paying attention to linkbuilding practices. Failure to do so can cause irreparable damage.

What Happened?

Volusion fell into its own link network trap. The analysis points out that Volusion’s site wide link ratios are nearly twice that of its main competitor, Shopify. The analysis goes on to find that the majority of its site wide links are brand links When anchor texts were sorted by count, it was found that “Volusion,” “shopping cart software,” and “Volusion ecommerce” were the most common found.

The report then goes into a deeper excavation of where, exactly, these links are found. It turns out that the vast majority of these text links are found in the footer of their clients’ sites, and most of the sites are completely non-related to Volusion: the study lists a chess site, a genealogy site, and a religious site. Why do all of these unrelated sites carry Volusion brand links?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Volusion charges $25 a month for the privilege of removing brand links from the footer of the site. Therefore, Volusion created a link network of its clients’ sites, and the issue was compounded by the fact that Volusion also hosts many of these sites.

google-penaltyWhat makes this even more disconcerting is that in some of these cases, the brand link wasn’t visible to the client. It’s not uncommon for brands to advertise themselves in footer links, but in some of the examples, Volusion went for the old-school trick of inserting links in its clients’ sites that were the same color as the background.

This practice brought Volusion a host of off-topic and spam-filled backlinks, which caused the Penguin penalty. (Volusion isn’t the only company that has experienced these woes: a similar thing happened to GoDaddy back in 2011.)

The Takeaway

The study from Link Research Tools is extremely detailed and certainly worth a read. However, the main lesson to be learned from Volusion’s run-in is to make sure your backlinks are genuine, and not due to an enforced policy which results in a lot of low-quality, off-topic links. Keep your company name and linking clean!