Listen in as Dan and Razvan Gavrilas, discuss the types of Google penalties, how to detect them, and how to recover if you have been penalized.

Razvan is the Founder & Chief Architect of Cognitive SEO, an SEO tool set that focuses on increasing traffic, and cutting edge analysis, research & reporting. He also gives up his “one thing,” his tip that all digital marketers should be employing.

In the conversation, Razvan discusses a blog post titled, Unmasking The Hidden Digital Marketing Strategies of 9 Successful Startups and offers a free trial of his SEO Toolset. Razvan’s Twitter handle is @cognitiveSEO.

Like This Content?

We’ve got more great practical advice, tips, and examples of how to get more leads and sales from your website. Click here to read our blog.

[su_box title=”Video Transcript” class=”scroll-box”]

Intro:                Welcome to the How To Get More Leads & Sales From Your Website Podcast with host Dan Kaplan, co-founder of periscopeUP, fine purveyor of digital marketing services. In each episode, Dan asks the experts, “How do you get more leads and sales from a website?” Visit to subscribe. Keep learning how you can turn your website into a sales person that never sleeps. Now here’s your host, Dan Kaplan.

Dan Kaplan:      Hi, everybody. Dan Kaplan with periscopeUP and welcome back to the Getting more Leads and Sales from Your Website Podcast. Today we are really excited to have Razvan Gavrilas from cognitiveSEO. Today Razvan is going to talk to us about how to determine if you’re at risk for a Google penalty and if you have been penalized by Google, what to do about it, how to get reinstated, how to get  your rankings back. Hi, Razvan. How are you?

Razvan:             Hi, there Dan. Nice to be here.

Dan:                  Before we get started, why don’t we do a bit of background on you, you are based in Romania. I know you’ve been doing the online marketing since what 1998?

Razvan:             Yes, something like that–even before Google was so popular.

Dan:                  Long before Google, right. You started off in affiliate marketing and I know about four and a half years ago you decided to take all of your knowledge with online marketing and apply it to cognitiveSEO and you worked for a year and a half on your software. You’re going to tell us a little bit about it, but at a high level, cognitiveSEO is a tool that focuses on increasing organic traffic through cutting edge analysis, research and reporting. In our discussion today, you’re going to be showing our listeners and our viewers how to use some of your tools to determine if you’re suspect for an attack or penalty or excuse me, if you have been penalized. Getting back to the history, I know it took you a year and a half to build the software and then for three years, in December, you’ve been actively supporting users and clients of your software. Is that right?

Razvan:             Yes, exactly. The development of the platform took one year and a half. The plan initially was for six months but as any plan it took three times more. The project cognitiveSEO is a concept started from my real need as an online marketer. The tool was built from my real need as an online marketer. Everything that you have there is practically being used to increase your visibility online.

Dan:                  Do you want to tell us a little bit more about your background? I mean, what were the things you did and I’d love to…

Razvan:             Yes, basically I started in around ‘97 or ‘98 while building the software and I became passionate about the internet and search engines. That time it was out Alta Vista and Netscape and then Yahoo and Google. By doing this everyday practically as a passion I then went to computer school and became very active later on in affiliate marketing for a lot of worldwide companies and products. As you said, four years and a half ago I started CognitiveSEO because I felt the need of a tool that would give you the research capabilities that I didn’t find at that time in any other tool online and I had to manually do a lot of research and analysis to complete my promoting tasks practically. This is how cognitiveSEO started and a bit about my professional history on online marketing.

Dan:                  Today, we’re going to talk about first of all how to determine if you’re at risk for Google Penalty and then we’re also going to talk about how to recover from a penalty if you have been penalized. I know in addition to that you have some other resources like a blog post case study that you’re going to share with our readers about how to analyze an online marketing niche. You’re going to tell us about…

Razvan:             We are going to talk about link related penalties so I want this to be clear because Google has a lot of penalties. You can’t have Google Panda, Google Penguin, on page, off page, ranking factors that are penalized. In this discussion today we are going to tackle only the link based penalties either being manual or being algorithmic such as the Google Penguin.

Dan:                  I think that’s a good place to start. Why don’t you define a link based penalty and if you could also talk about the difference between manual and algorithmic.

Razvan:             A link based penalty is a penalty that your site gets because you either link to other sites using paid links on your site and it’s very important to notice this difference because when you get a message from Google it says that you have been penalized because your site is linking to other sites with unnatural links or you have been penalized because your site is being linked at from other sites with unnatural links. These are two different scenarios. The first one is rather easy to talk about because you simply delete the links that you sold on your website usually. And you should get away with the penalty but penalties that everybody is talking about usually are the penalties that are about…

Dan:                  Inbound links.

Razvan:             About the inbound links that are pointing to your site from other sites.

Dan:                  Let’s dive into that a little bit because I know there’s a lot of misconception. I’ve even had clients say to me why would anyone be linking to my site? But I think that’s borne out of more misperception than anything else. So what kind of link will get a penalty versus a link that might actually help you raise in your rankings?

Razvan:             I think that if you can show that link to any Google representative that would work in the web spam cam without the fear of having that link scrutinized and ultimately be penalized then you are safe. If you are having links that you are, for example, putting footer link to your site on a client site say designed by my agency then that would be kind of a shady link  if you use the dofollow attribute on it. If you want to be safe you can have all the links in the world wherever you want them placed usually if you place them or if you have them with nofollow.

Dan:                  Then, nofollow tag in the link. An href that’s the technical thing for people who don’t necessarily understand what that means you can just do search on nofollow href, h-r-e-f, and you’ll get the technical documentation on that.

Razvan:             Yes, exactly.

Dan:                  You know it’s interesting because we’ve done that in the past. We’ve built many websites for clients and I put designed by periscopeUP in the footer and it’s actually brought me business. People have said, “I found all about you from the other website”.

Razvan:             That is a great thing. If you still want to do that you can do it but use the nofollow attribute because this is a technique that a lot of agencies use and got them penalized because when they link to their sites, they link using commercial keywords. This is very important. When they link to your site with your brand like a normal person would link to your site then you’re really playing safe. But if you are linking to your site with “designed by web agency Florida” and then on then on another client you just link with web programming Miami then you have a problem because you’re optimizing for those specific keywords to rank in Google. Google can see that and they penalize that because it raises a red flag to them. If you have a lot of their links from your entire link profile using commercial anchor text then that is a red flag to Google and to the penalties that you will see.

Dan:                  The way that I think about good links versus bad links I think there’s two things. One is the link itself and which was sort of just discussed. Is the link over-optimized, in other words are your keywords in the anchor text which is a clear sign to Google that you’re trying to manipulate the ranking. That’s one way to look to determine if a link is quality or not. Is looking at the link itself. Is it naturally written? Does it look normal to a level headed person? I think then the other part of it is how the link was obtained. Was it paid? Did it come from a network of blogs that exist not for people but specifically to manipulate pagerank and to increase ranking. That for me those are the two things that I look at when I think about the quality of a link. What do you say to that? Do you any different definitions?

Razvan:             Practically, the trigger for Google to understand the quality of the link is a natural or have they have their own page factors on that page that they are analyzing and they have the off page factors for their specific links that are related to your entire link profile. For example if you have one link which comes from a client, let’s say from the footer of the site the web design Florida and the rest of the 99 links from all your 100 links are brand links which are naturally generated coming from people that talk about you in blog posts, in forums or whatever but they’re okay Google will not penalize you for that particular link.But if you have 60 links like that and 40 natural links then Google will see that you have a lot of shady links and then it will be able to surely say that all these links are creating the pattern and that it looks unnatural. So, this is the way that I think Google work.

Dan:                  You know, it’s interesting because some of the very early Penguin and Panda penalties I think got it wrong. I remember examples of people being penalized for and then skewering their link profiles and finding like one or two bad links but still getting a warning message from Google. But I think that Google’s figured it out and they’ve really done a very good job over the last year and a half.

Razvan:             Google Penguin free was practically launched a month or so ago and how it works now it’s a continuous update. It’s not like a Google Penguin one or two. They updated their index one and that’s it. Google Penguin free works by continuously updating the site by penalizing and recovering sites. This is the point and kind of in terms of technology where Google arrived with penalties now.

Dan:                  I don’t think that Google always prides the best search results but I do think that they’ve figured out the spam penalty. I kind of have to wonder if that’s why Matt Cutts is still on leave.

Razvan:             I don’t know.

Dan:                  He hasn’t come back. He was the voice of this brand team for years and took a leave of absence and said he would be back and hasn’t. I wondered how much need does Google have now for a spokesman on his brand team if they cut it down, they’ve got to figure it out.

Razvan:             Do you  know from the moment that Matt Cutts left, I saw several other team members from the web’s brand team from different parts of the world come out and save various things out for example I saw someone from Poland that said today we updated, we penalized the Polish network for example on their Twitter account. Then someone from Ireland said that Google Penguin free does this and that. Official statements are still coming out from Google, not from various representatives, not from only one particular person.

Dan:                  It sounds like they may also be customizing their approach on a regional basis rather than have one.

Razvan:             Yes.

Dan:                  Fascinating. Let’s get into this. Actually, before we talk about how to determine if you’re at risk, I just want to answer one question that our listeners might have which is, you and I both mentioned getting a warning from Google. How does that warning come? Where does it appear? How do you know?

Razvan:             It’s very important to have the Google webmaster tools account activated for the site that we are talking about. If you have that webmasters tool account activated for the site you will automatically receive notifications inside the tool. By default you will also receive mails to your registered email address. They are in the Google Webmaster Tools Account. Those emails are very important to be sent to your address that you’re currently reading because you can’t receive a letter such as ‘Google cannot access your site’, not only penalties, but ‘Google cannot access your site’, for example if Google found a lot of broken pages on your site or any other stuff and there are the warnings coming also for unnatural links. It’s important to differentiate the manual penalty versus the algorithmic penalty because the manual penalty will send you a Google webmaster tools warning while the algorithmic penalty will be invisible to you from a Google notification perspective. You will only have to understand why and analyze the situation in order to understand your drop in rankings.

Dan:                  Now the algorithmic penalty might have, you might recognize that you’ve been penalized…

Razvan:             Only by analyzing your link profile. There is no other way to.

Dan:                  But a sign that you have been penalized might be that your rankings dropped.

Razvan:             Yes.

Dan:                  It is significantly and abruptly, significantly and abrupt drop. We’re not talking about one or two [00:16:48].

Razvan:             If you’re moving from position one to position three, that’s usually not about it. Its current ranking can do ranking but if you’re moving from position one to position 20 on ten keywords all of a sudden, it can be a Google update, so you need to research this. Maybe Google made an update on their algorithm and a lot of other sites have dropped or increased or it may be situational for your site.

Dan:                  Another way to tell is in Google Analytics if your organic traffic dropped precipitously, not overall traffic but just the organic traffic from Google that could be a sign you’ve been penalized as well. You’re not ranking for so many terms and you, as a result, are losing traffic.

Razvan:             If you’re losing traffic you will surely see it if you’re monitoring it. You usually do because that’s the main profit generator.

Dan:                  Alright. Let’s take a look at your advice on how to determine if we’re risk free for a Google penalty. I know you’re going to share your screen at this point and show some of your tools to help us understand this complex issue.

Razvan:             Let me share my screen now. Can you see my screen?

Dan:                  Yes, we can. Great.

Razvan:             This is the cognitiveSEO tool. This is the main site and this is the tool here. I’m locked into an account. We are on the dashboard here for a site that has been allied, it’s called It’s a random site that I picked and have in this account. On this dashboard we see a variety of widgets which show the number of unnatural links for example. Here is the evolution of the natural link for filing type. Every week, we are currently for this site we are apparently going and analyzing the traffic. This is a special visibility since two years ago so you see that this site had a very big visibility that their spike in visibility was on the 12th of May 2014 and then suddenly it started to went down until practically they are barely visible now. At this point, they started a bit to increase their visibility in Google and this is for their visibility is only for the USA. Now let’s look exactly on how an analysis like this should be done.

Dan:                  Can you go back real quick because I really like the way that you put that little summary, that in red, orange, and green. So 186 unnatural links, that’s a problem, right, five suspect links and 77 good links.

Razvan:             You see a lot of the links are unnatural for this site. We are talking here only about live links because this site has much more links but they aren’t there anymore. They existed in the past so they have like links coming from 1,000 referring domains and we analyze 2,161 links. Out of those only these are the links that are still live now. The other links don’t exist anymore. They are broken links, lost links.

Dan:                  Good. Good summary. I like that your tool does the work of analyzing the quality of those link for us. Oh, wow. You got a map.

Razvan:             Practically, the tool has everything that you need in terms of analyzing the link or file. I will only focus now on the natural link detection section. Here we are looking, actually the tool says, it gives me a hint on so this site has a high natural link [00:21:16] it’s likely to be already penalized by Google. You should use the link navigator in order to mark down the natural links for disavow removal because this is the next step. So after you analyzed it you see these percentages it tells me that 69% of the links are unnatural then we have two suspects, then the rest are okay. Our algorithmic way of spotting these links usually works with over 90% success ratio but as any algorithm can have false positives. That’s why we’ve created the link navigator and the link navigator is a very cool tool. Sort of saying that we’d allow you to very quickly go through all of these links and practically double check that everything is okay. Let me show you this. This is the actual page. A link and we automatically highlight where the link is on the page. Let me show you you can do this from your keyboard directly. You see, you already see that this site, this link is a natural and that it pinpoints it here. It uses commercial anchor text. You can easily disavow or disavow it by hitting above on your keyboard. After you went through this process and you go through all of these links, practically you are 100% sure that your classification has been done correctly. If something was not classified correctly you can easily reclassify from there. In this situation for example the software tells you exactly why the links are considered to be unnatural. The most common unnatural links issues are about in content links with suspicious pattern with a suspicious pattern link and here I’m talking about a lot of links coming from a same footprint like from article directory as we saw before. Then we have other web directory links and suspect anchor text such as business loans, bad credit business loans, commercial terms, low authority links, block comment links, think comments and so off.

Dan:                  Let me ask you an analysis question, which goes back to what you said before. If you have one bad link that’s not the problem, it’s the context. If you have a [00:24:05] of large waiting of one bad kind of link or one bad kind of anchor text that’s the trigger right now to Google’s algorithm. Looking at this site I see you have a lot of– you say you have a lot of suspicious patterns. You have a lot of anchor texting and…

Razvan:             Yes, web directories.

Dan:                  Business loans, and you have a lot of links coming from— well, is the site itself, right.

Razvan:             Yes.

Dan:                  Just looking at this what’s the analysis here. What do they need to do?

Razvan:             Practically they would need to disavow the links and I think they started already of processing this in this area because if you are looking here on the visibility side of things, we see that their traffic is starting to grow. This is around of Google penguin free update. I think that they already started to do some visible. Also, there are some other charts here but I want to highlight this one. We choose related to the social media shares. These are the shares for all the pages onto your site. Since November they started promoting on social media sites on Facebook, mostly, they started to increase their visibility there. This is also correlated it seems to the up in rankings here. It can be either be they started something doing something on Facebook that might have impacted their organic rankings in one way or another and they started doing some disavows and their link removals because their unnatural links started to drop easily. This is a site that can recover from the penalty. This is about the commercial anchor text. This is the anchor text cloud and here you can see that they have a lot of commercial terms and usually and less brand. Usually it’s exactly the vice versa.

Dan:                  Just to reiterate for listeners these terms are used in the link itself, in the anchor text, not around it or nearby it. It’s part of the link.

Razvan:             I just want to mention that this is the run on site that they picked. Practically you can do this on any site without having the Google webmaster tools and any date you can do this practically to either your site or your competitors and understand their penalty risk and manage it in terms of if you know that your competitor is doing something shady and your site is clean in terms of links,  and even if they are ranking higher now, you surely will see that they will get hit some time in the future. You can use that at your advantage.

Dan:                  Interesting. Okay, great.

Razvan:             This is about a site that was randomly picked and the other thing that I told you is about case study from an actual customer of ours that sent was very happy once he recovered his site back in 2014. He sent us, he wanted to express his joy by sharing with the world what he did and how he recovered. Practically he gave, he sent us the Google analytics data and this is practically a blog post that was written by him in terms of— He sent us. This is a full conversation of the mail that I had with him. Here he says about one of the sites that he manages that suffered considerably at Google ranking traffic impact. As it can be seen here and explained on the chart they had some penalty applied. What they did was to practically submit this about to Google. They submitted a disavow on 526 domains. They did the disavow to the mail level. Here is practically the resurrection as he presented it. They submitted the disavow file somewhere in July or at the end of June and they recovered at the beginning of August. It’s important to know that submitting a disavow file is not something that you know exactly when you’re going to recover if you’re going to recover. But this is the only weapon that you have against the penalty that was applied to your site. I advise you, anyone who uses it, to use it smartly and be sure to know exactly what they are uploading there and only upload unnatural links and all the unnatural links. But because what can happen is you do a disavow upload and Google will get that in two months and say that we still have found unnatural links pointing to your site. You didn’t upload the complete disavow file. Then you need to go for the same process again and then wait another, I don’t know, one month. It can take from one week to three months. You can never know for sure. It’s important to do it right. Manuel explained here exactly how he did it actually. He went for the same process but I didn’t find the unnatural links and validating those links and then he just went and imported a Google disavow file. He started to see ranking improvement here on the site. It’s important to do it correctly from the start so you’re not wasting any time.

Dan:                  Good. This is great. How can our listeners find this blog post which explains how to submit the disavow file to Google to recover for a penalty?

Razvan:             Sure you can. This is the actual link. You can find it on our blog. You go to and you can search here for penguin recovery and you will find.

Dan:                  Good. I will also post a link to it on my website when I put up this blog post.

                        I’ve got a question for you Razvan: What if I haven’t been penalized and I have some bad suspect links, should I go ahead and do the disavow file anyway even though it’s just proactively?

Razvan:             The disavow file should only be done if you have been penalized because that tool is only for recovery purposes. What I recommend is to manage the risk of being penalized. That is another very important topic. That is about understanding first of all, even if your site is not penalized but understanding if you’re at risk of being penalized, can give you more hints on what you should do next in terms of your marketing strategy. Should you follow those shady links or should you follow more organic ways of developing traffic to your site? By simply running  a campaign  for example in cognitiveSEO you can easily track, first of all you see these proportions and then on a weekly basis you get this timeline that you will practically understand and you can also do it for your competitors as I said before. Normally, for a good site, the site that is in danger of being penalized is a site that has more than 15% unnatural and suspect links and the site with over 25% unnatural links is a site that already can be penalized by Google. If you are under those percentages and keep those rates lower for unnatural links then you should be safe.

Dan:                  This is really helpful Razvan not only in terms of understanding how we can identify if we have been penalized and what to do about it but also how to be sort of be proactive and monitor this situation. I know you also wanted to talk about how to analyze an online marketing niche. Is that something you still have time for?

Razvan:             Yes, it’s something that a lot of people have asked in the past. I think it’s very important to understand how you can analyze a niche or any site and analyze the marketing strategy that they have used. This is another successful post on our site which is called ‘unmasking the hidden digital and marketing strategies and nine successful start-ups’. They randomly chose nine start ups that I analyzed and practically you can easily see how they practically achieved their success. The things that you should look at are the inbound links are not only a metric that is important from a search engine perspective because if search engines stop using links tomorrow, links are the only way of the present time that you can navigate from one side to another. So, any link has more value than search engine value. This is the actual value that Google is trying to understand and give credit for. So links can be used to understand the strategies of sites. For example, if you’re analyze link profile for a site you can see that they have a lot of links coming from blogs and that those blogs are in the food industry, that links there are positioned in blog articles and blog comments. This can tell us that this site has a strategy that surround is about commenting on the blogs and their niche is about posting important articles on important sites. They have a proactive strategy about writing on other sites for example. You should also monitor and let me give you an example here. Let’s see one second so I get this. Let me just load. It’s important to analyze the number of shares that are coming to each and every page on their site so you can practically understand the content marketing strategies of any site on the internet today by using specific tools.  In this example for example on this site when we analyzed the pages on their site, here we see all of the pages there and the distribution of shares on each and every page. Here accumulated a total number. First of all that they are focusing on Twitter. We know something very important. In this niche, this site is focusing on Twitter as a marketing strategy. The other channels like Facebook and Google+ are not looking forward into them. It means that something is working on Twitter probably.

                        Then we can see exactly what is working for them on Twitter. We’ll see that they are doing a lot of content on their blog. We can even understand the type of content that is working and the type of content that is not working. For example here they have 50 awesome marketing blogs, which they have highly shared on Twitter. Then we have something about transaction email, email marketing calls to action and so on. But this one, the one that got the most shares. Also when analyzing, this is the same dashboard that I showed you before that you can customize and create any widgets that you may wind about links, rankings, social, whatever. You can understand if what they are doing is working or not. As you have visibility for the marketing on this site here, on this particular site, shows that they are on a growing trend. The USA1 is still growing but not at the same trend.

Dan:                  It’s fascinating. In addition to understanding this company’s strategy it also is a window into the fact that Google is paying attention to social media likes and shares as a signal to their algorithm. This company has some decent links but as you pointed out they’re clearly focusing their strategy on Twitter. That has resulted in gains in Google. Fascinating.

Razvan:             Yes. Practically, understanding, it’s very important anyone would know, wants to know  before entering their niche or when they are inside their niche how to do it, how to promote their site better, what works there and what are the best techniques that work in that particular space. You can easily understand what your competitors are doing in that particular niche. From them you can easily understand what works and what doesn’t work and focus on what is most important. But don’t forget to be creative not only— it’s not the competitor analysis is very important but it’s not the only way that you can practically create value for your strategy. It’s a way to understand how things work in a particular niche and from there you should creatively and strategically build the way to increase your traffic.

Dan:                  Great. It’s not just about creating quality content, it’s also about distributing.

Razvan:             Yes. It’s not about copying. It’s not about copying your competitor’s at all. It’s about understanding what they are doing. Learning from their mistake and doing what you do best in terms of obviously optimizing your site for more visitors. It’s important to track your site also not only your competitors because you can learn a lot of things that you haven’t been aware of just by looking at stuff like what are the social signals that are pointing to your site and how they might affect the way you conduct business. If you see that, for example, the content that you write, some of the content that you write doesn’t have the expected shareability or expected traffic traits then you focus on something else that works better. It’s important to continuously monitor all these matrix because they can change over time.

Dan:                  Good. This is great. Why don’t we turn off the screen sharing and let’s go back to the picture and picture and we’ll wrap up our conversation. Razvan, this is really helpful. Very, good information, very useful. The way that I’d like to end this podcast is by asking my guests, the internet marketers like yourself, what’s the one thing, what’s that one piece of advice you can give us where starting today we can start to make an impact on our digital marketing?

Razvan:             My advice for all the digital marketers today is to think outside of the box and to understand their competition, first of all under a niche. If you know what’s happening there you know where the niche is having. In terms of strategies, don’t use shady strategies that— for example we’re using in the past and a lot of people were penalized for that.

                        It’s not all about tools. It’s also about how you use them and how you put your creativity at task. It’s important to be prepared for tomorrow. For example here on the exact scenario would be for example when Google starts reading images, contents. For example, when Google will start to segment date inside images and extract texts from the images they do have the technology. I’ve also written an in depth article about it. They are doing it in various parts of their product on the Google but not on Google search. But imagine what would mean if Google starts reading everything on every image in the world and segment the data and then understand the data, the data is a car and that the car is blue and that the title written there is something that. You should be prepared for the things that you don’t think are possible today because they will be possible tomorrow.

Dan:                  Interesting. That’s great. Great advice. Thanks Razvan. Before you leave us with how we can learn more about you and cognitiveSEO. I just want to say to our readers, if you like this content, please go to and subscribe to the podcast where each and every week I interview internet marketing experts like Razvan and ask them how they use their skills and marketing chaps to improve leads in sales from the websites. Thanks again Razvan. Why don’t you leave us with how we can learn more about you, about CognitiveSEO and how people can get in touch with you if they want?

Razvan:             Sure. If you want to get in touch with me or use the tools that I presented here in this video, you can go to There you’ll have a free trial that you can start for the tool. I would also suggest that you on the blog on our site on and read the content there and follow us on Twitter, on cognitiveSEO because we usually write only top notch content that you won’t find anywhere else.

Dan:                  Great. Razvan Gavrilas founder, chief architect of CognitiveSEO thanks again for your time and thanks everybody for listening.

Razvan:             Thank you. Bye.

Outro:               Thank you for listening to the how to get more leads in sales from your website podcast. periscopeUP is a trusted provider of digital marketing services including search engine optimization, pay-per-click and adwords, content development, social media, Google Analytics, HubSpot, PowerDot and WordPress.

                        Our contracts our month to month and we only take on clients we believe we can help. Visit to learn more.[/su_box]

Get the latest marketing tips & hacks from periscopeUP in your inbox.