Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones – How a glitch in Google ruined my morning coffee

The first thing to do after I wake up is to make myself a good cup of coffee. Not to be barging, but since I got the Barista Express, I’ve built some crazy coffee skills, making the “almost” perfect Cappuccino, Freddo Cappuccino and Late to jump start my day. Yesterday, just like any other day, I made my self a good cup of coffee before I was even awake and set down in front of my laptop for the morning routine.

The first thing I check is the ranking report overview for all of my keywords to see what was gained and what was loss in terms of positions. SerpBook have a nice one page summary report where you can see you overall performance with a bit of scrolling.

This is when my blood froze, one of my sites which ranked first and second for most of the keywords, was gone from the results. My first instinct was to check Google just to see if maybe SerpBook got it wrong. Searched for my keywords and for my surprise the site was still there siting on the top, I clicked the link just to see if everything is OK and it was. The thing I did not notice at first was that this WAS NOT MY SITE AT ALL, it was completely identical to mine, except for the different extension on the domain. What the hell, this b*st*rd cloned my site, replaced the affiliate links with his and now he is showing up on my positions in the SERPs.

Original vs. Cloned website

Now, a little background for the whole case. The original website was a small microsite targeting a very competitive niche in 4 languages, English, German, French and Spanish making me around $300 per day. The site was up since December 2012 and has a domain authority (DA) 54, page authority (PA) 56,  MozRank 6.18, MozTrust 5.54 and around 2,400 followed backlinks from 1,800+ root domains spread across the 4 pages. All in all a solid link portfolio for a site in the particular niche.

The situation with the clone was quite different. The domain was registered just 20 days ago, was using CloudFlare just like mine, had no backlinks (as far as I can tell via Moz and ahrefs), no social signals except for 300 Google+ votes (less then 3% of my Google+ votes for the worst performing page).

Cloned website outranking the original

Over the years, the particular site was clone countless times. Some would rip-off the design and the whole landing page logic, others will just change the logo, but none of them came even close to this guy. The first thing I should note is the domain name and URL structure copied 1:1 from my site, if mine was his was, what he did was change the domain extension on my pages coping the design, JS, texts and everything else. He did not event change the logo, just the affiliate links.

The situation on the battlefield was desperate:

  • My site was deindexed in Google
  • Cloned site was indexed
  • Clone had my SERPs, obviously outranking me since mine was not even indexed
  • I was already loosing $12.50 per hour

I was angry, no I was mad. Only if this guy was standing in front of me… Scenes from Texas Chain Saw Massacre were playing in my head. I needed to calm down and think rationally.

The action plan

This was not the first time my site was cloned, but it was the first time a clone had any impact on my site. Most of the times this cloned sites would not even make the top 300 positions in Google, but this one outranked me, well it was showing where I was the day before. My usual plan of action was send DMCA complaints to the ISP requesting removal of my copyrighted content, but since I had some previous experience with this particular hosting company, I could not count on that.

I was going through forums, asking fellow friends and even some established names in the SEO industry and everyone was as surprised as I was. The situation was absurd. Most common and suggested action points were:

  1. Change the content of the site (Although I have personally spent days writing this content and translating it into 3 additional languages) so that the possible duplicate content problem be removed and let the perp get away with my content.
  2. Start fresh or maybe transfer some of the link juice via 301 redirects
  3. Submit the site for reconsideration thus triggering a manual review (which I was not very keen on, affiliate site + some BH methods used)
  4. Legal (DMCA, cease and desist orders, etc…)

What could I do? As it turned out, nothing. Hosted in a offshore company, in a god forsaken land, there was no legal action that I could take. On the other hand there was nothing I could do with Google either, since I was not seeing anything in Webmaster Tools nor any red flags were popping in my mind for things I could have done wrong and allowed this clone to do such damage.

Restoring the natural order of things

Around midnight things started to change, one by one the pages from my site started showing in Google for site:moneysite…. But still the clone was up in the SERPs and I was nowhere to be found.  This is when things started to look promising. The only strange thing was the cached version of the pages Google had were from August 3rd and I just checked them the day before (due to some site updates I needed to be indexed) and they were cached on August 6th. Why is G. showing an older version of the page when he had newer ones a day ago. A glitch maybe?

36 hours passed since the whole problem started and finally there was light in the tunnel. I started regaining my previous positions for my main keywords in Google Germany, Austria, France, Canada and the US. The long tail versions took a little longer and are still lingering 10-14 positions from where they were before but my main, most valuable keywords were OK.

The other good thing I was seeing was that the cloned pages were being deindexed one by one, only the homepage was still present at the moment of speaking.

The natural order was restored. Now, I can go and get some sleep.


Category : Blog, SEO