Last night Alex Graves from Bronco posted an article discussing the Payday Loans niche and how he thinks that the Google algorithm has been gamed, even after the Penguin and EMD update.

I tweeted to him, the payday loans case study that I did back in June (this was the first case study of its kind, that ignited a series of articles talking about how the payday loans niche is abused in Google). He is saying that this new site ranking on the “payday loans” keyword in the UK was not a hacked site like I described in my June article. He said that it is a “normal” site that somehow managed to abuse the new low quality links & unnatural link detection mechanisms of Google.(post Penguin and EMD)

I took the site ranking no.1 for an analysis spin in cognitiveSEO and … my oh my … what I did find out?

All the red flags are here for Google to see:

Extremely Over Optimized Anchor Text Profile

  • payday loans(57%)
  • payday loan(43%)
  • payday loans online – payday sam(0.04%)

Super High Link Velocity

  • 633 Referring Domains
  • 8256 Links
  • all of these links appeared in the last 4 days

100% Dofollow Links

100% Deeplink Ratio

94% Not In Content Links

87% Short Paragraph of Text Links


But the BIG Surprise was this


100% Hidden Links

So How did the Google Visual Crawler get fooled here?

Well I have 2 hypotheses:

– high crawl delay compared to the normal bot.(can this also be slowed by Hurricane Sandy? I personally do not think so)

– identifies the visual link position incorrectly due to a CSS trick used. The visual crawler might be tricked in thinking this is a Header Link because of how a the browser rendering engine works. This might be due to DOM inheritance parameters that might be incorectly passed as positions relative to the 0,0 axis position of the screen.

Practically what it does, is it puts a CSS Style with an absolute position and a top of -9999px and it hides it from the screen. This is not a new method, but combined with the rest of the pieces in the “magic formula” and Googles’ inability to crawl visually as fast as it does with the normal Google Bot, it might led  to this sites’ ranking no.1 for a few days.

The same hidden css trick is used for other sites that are now ranking top 10 in the SERPS … so this is clearly a demonstrated black hat technique that works.


All of these seemed to be masked by natural looking metric profiles such as MajesticSEO Trust Flow, Google PR, Ahrefs rating, SEOmoz Ranks … all of them looking natural.

And to finalize … all of the links are posted on hacked sites.

You can download the in-depth analysis data here:


What do you think?

Have you seen this strategy used anywhere else or do you know any other black hat technique that is worth mentioning here?

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