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Google - Automated site ban algo working against itself
Google automatic site ban for cross-linking not intuitive

 10:01 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Sorry for the long message but I have a story to tell and I'm mad at Google!

2 years ago, an estate agent acquaintance of my boss was searching on the web for office space in Birmingham on Google. Not surprisingly, he got loads for Birmingham, Alabama but being a UK agent, he needed space in England's second city. Finding almost nothing he realised that perhaps there was an opening for a commercial property website in the UK at which point my boss liking the idea stumped up the cash for a new website.

It focused on properties in Birmingham and surround and the business model was for estate agents to pay for their listing. Over time, the site has expanded and due to the amount of properties on there, we added niche sites for given towns. Each site would have a slimmed down database plus news relevant to this sector and the town.

All was good. If you wanted an office in Derby, we'd be on the first page of Google. Warehouse in Nottingham, same.

This is what Google wants....relevant one-click search. Independent results (all agents can get a free listing of their site if they wish, better rankings they pay for but hey we're not a charity) and above all living in the Uk and looking for Birmingham does not return Alabama.

Story over...the downside.

As we built new geographically focused sites, they were added to the main site under the headline, visit our other sites here....www.xyz.com - for commerciAl property in birmingham....next line www.abc.co.uk for offices in birmingham etc.

They were built With no malice and no wish to manipulate results. Yes it improved our rankings over all but the result of clicking any of those sites was that the browser got what they wanted - it did exactly what it said on the tin and was exactly in keeping with why we built the original site.

Having read webmaster world's forums to death, I now know that come the dark, dark day 3 months ago that we got kicked out of Google, this is why. We cross-linked our own sites - this is a bad thing........

But darker still.

Nearly every site that we link to (We provide our feed of relevant sites to them using the 'niche' sites we have built) has also been banned. They are part of a bad neighbourhood. This includes some development agencies, chambers of commerce etc.

We have now changed the structure of our site to get rid of the long list of domains - it looked messy.

Why, however should I change the look of all of our sites to please Google?

Simple answer they have me by the nuts.

If I don't build a site(s) they like I don't get in....if I lose all of my other sites we lose the ability to feed third party agencies. Similarly we want to list all of our sites somewhere on all of our sites to show the scale we're at so other agencies will see a relevant site/feed they wish to take.

In short, Google's automated system of banning spammers is not intuitive. It takes the good out with the bad and I refer you to the opening paragraph of this message - we built it because no-one could find what they need on Google. Looking now for commerical property anywhere in the UK takes you back to where we were 2 years ago. A few little sites then loads in the US.

Luckily for us as a business, we don't need Google but those looking for the stuff we offer do.

Google is not the internet police. I grant you that people don't need to use Google but given that they have manipulated themselves into a dominant position like Microsoft have, they almost own searching on the internet.

To an extent they are ruining the web and that is sad.

[edited by: the_bfb at 11:44 am (utc) on May 16, 2003]



 10:08 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I don't think a website owner should be able to mass cross-link their own sites in-order to dominate certain keywords/industries.

However, I do agree with the over-all theme of your post.


 10:13 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

we built it because no-one could find what they need on Google.

NO, you built it so you could make money!

Luckily for us as a business, we don't need Google but those looking for the stuff we offer do.

ever heard of adwords if you are so concerened about offering users what they want.



 10:15 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Firstly, Google is not ruining the Web. People can search wherever they want. At the moment, overall google has a fair bit of cache, but as more cases come up where queries are not turning up good results (like yours maybe) then people will start using other Search engines. The free market at work. Yippee.

Now if i was getting only US results for a UK city, i would immediately, and i dont think you have to be rocket scientist to do it, add "UK" or "England" to the query. I think that would be pretty obvious and suggest that you would get a much better quality of visits from people who type in this term.

Secondly, I think is a very good vehicle for talking about your experience. I think GG may even check it out. Anything that really does reduce the user experience is something that Im sure Google wants to know about.


 10:19 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I don't think a website owner should be able to mass cross-link their own sites in-order to dominate certain keywords/industries.

Maybe not to dominate certain keywords - but I think penalties for cross-linking are a bit overkill. If you have 3 sites of related products then why shouldn't you be allowed to cross promote them? There's spam and there's legitimate business practise - and I know that Google realises this. I know plenty of heavily cross-linked sites (some of mine included) doing very well - that are very clean and legit. I just wish I knew where the line was between spam and legitimate cross-linking - I guess I won't know until I overstep it...


 10:24 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree. Maybe Google, who are the dominant force, should add a little responsability to the power they have. I mean they do a brilliant job and I am sure 99% of the web would agree with that. But if you are banned for cross-linking your own sites then maybe that should not be part of the ranking process or Algo.
I fail to see why an industry leader would not be able to see the difference between giving people an option to go view your other sites and complete artificiality that is associated with spammers.
But in short Google cannot be seen as a big evil monster as I am sure that they have quite a few employees dedicated everyday to making improvements and concocting theories for the Algo in an attempt to remain the industry leaders and keep things fair for competing sites

But that is just my 2 cents:-)

[edited by: Skylo at 10:27 am (utc) on May 16, 2003]


 10:25 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

It is a tough one. Personally, i think if you are promoting a widget shop in towna, a widget shop in town b,etc thru z then separate optimised crosslinked sites are fine.

The only problem could be that someone searches for widgets and they get 26 results in the top 26 - your 26 sites.


 10:36 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

well i disagree about the cross linking site algo, although i sympathise with your predicament, however ...

i know of at least one network of 1000 sites that i've been observing for a couple of years, that is heavily interlinked/crosslinked, and they always have and they continue to do very nicely on google.

much to my annoyance, i do actually think they should dominate google in their sector which they do, because their sites are good and informative - one thing i would add is that they are an open network, so as well as their own heavy cross linking (within theme) they link out to other sites on theme too.


 11:07 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Netrd your point - The only problem could be that someone searches for widgets and they get 26 results in the top 26 - your 26 sites.

Unfortunately this WAS the case so I'll hold my hands up. Surely though this wasn't my problem! I wanted position 1 and 5 in Google if truth be told. 1 for visibility and 5 for those who don't trust 1 ( if you get my logic) In an ideal world I want browsers to try our competitors then come back to Google and try me.

They've had a legitimate choice and the strong will survive.
Every one of our sites stands up in its own right. The problem is Google doesn't like the fact I am 1-26 in their league so bans the lot.

Why can't they be more intelligent?


 11:29 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why, however should I change the look of all of our sites to please Google?

You shouldn't have too.

Over time, the site has expanded and due to the amount of properties on there,

that's good so the enduser looking for offices in Birmingham can come back to your site and find offices in derby, nottingham or warehouseing, what I see here is a site which covers all the ins and outs of finding commerical properties in the uk.

we added niche sites for given towns


no wish to manipulate results

I think you have to look at your orginal reason to create lots of little sites.



 11:41 am on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

DaveN - to be blunt this isn't about 'our' site per se...I'm moaning on principle...but my defence.

The national search was launched just today - hence why I got annoyed with Google. I'd forgotten the ban...then today pleased that we finally did Newcastle etc and checking the opposition it got me thinking.

The separate regional sites were built mainly so we could use Overture PPC/Google PPC and ESpotting PPC. The term - find commercial property in.... could then be utilised and the browser taken to a distinct web page built entirely around their needs. Our main site isn't quite clever enough for us to service directly geographically.

The fact that I don't need to re-engineer my site is incorrect. We're proud of the fact that we have invested in loads of sites to improve the chances of finding what you want and want to list them all somewhere on every site.

Unfortunately because all-powerful Google sees this as cross-linking I am forbidden to do this.


 12:00 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>Why can't they be more intelligent?<<

Actually I think that's a fair question. Can I ask you are you sure all 26 sites are actually "banned" or maybe having had the "articifical" link pop and PR removed from them, they simply just dont compete?

Im no expert on white or grey bars, but I think they either mean you are not in the index at all OR that page cannot pass on page rank, but that there is no clear way of telling.

I agree that if there IS a way, Google should just reduce the PR edge due to cross-linking rather than "banning" the sites. If that is at all possible. Im no computer scientist or mathematician so i dont know the answer.

Of course sitting here we dont have all the facts. Is there anything else that may have caused the banning? Like duplicate content? If all sites differed only with the target keyword city and a few snippets here and there, that should be considered as well. That seems a much better ground for Google to "ban" sites.

Internet.com for example cross links a lot with no visible bad effects, but their content is sifficiently different on each "family" site.


 12:39 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

As we built new geographically focused sites, they were added to the main site under the headline, visit our other sites here.

Did you heavily cross link on the smaller sites as well? I maybe would have only done towns within a 25 mile radius.

someone searches for widgets and they get 26 results in the top 26 - your 26 sites.

This leads me to believe that you weren't banned from an algo but rather from a spam report.

I am sure that the exact same type of cross linking goes on for other "geographic centric" type site like "citymane hotels". The difference is that they do not hold the top spots for "hotels".

IMHO there is no algo ban for crosslinking. It just doesn't make sense. In the area of hobby sites there are only a few sites that deal with "model trains". It's not uncommon for these sites to be heavily cross linked with very little inbound/outbound links. Should they be banned? How about all the cancer sites that are linked together?


 1:24 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think you're all missing the original point of his post... Which was not why he was banned, but because it was up to google to ban him, and not the users. I'm guessing the users got the results they were looking for and dare say they didnt complain.

The point he is making is that the choice to ban him was not by the users but by google. If it was a whole site of spam then yes; ban him, but it had content and apparently a hit with users, the only reason to ban a site would be when one uses these teqniques in an underhanded manner, which it doesnt sound like he was.


 1:29 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Chiyo - in answer I went from a PR6 on the main site to an empty box "this site is not ranked by Google". I too have no idea how this works - all I know is my e-mails for inclusion to Google have been ignored as has my manual submission.

A spam report surely would be analysed manually - therefore back to my point - why can't they be more intelligent?


 1:33 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Thanks futurex - a point well made.

It's not my sites that are that important - heck I probably have learned enough on this forum to start again and get under the radar so to speak by buying more domains.....but I'm not trying to spam.

My problem is I can't build the sites MY way, I have to build them GOOGLE'S WAY and that's sad!


 1:52 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

There seems to be a lot of sites that got gray barred recently (i.e. removed from the database). I don't think it happened to you because of crosslinking. Google usually PR0's (white bar) crosslinking sites, not gray bar.


 2:00 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

So why me?
In fact let's broaden it out and back to my original point....why do they all get grey barred?

Google's power is all very well, but they seem to be creating a web in their own image which on paper is fine because their aims are pretty good. However when it goes wrong - in my case and I guess others - this Googleweb becomes a bit of a joke with little alternative.


 2:26 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

the-bfb, you are exactly right, and I think many people in this forum miss the big picture b/c they are looking at their own little web site world. There are tons of major corporations that have individual country sites that cross-link to to each other and share duplicate content.

IBM is a perfect example. They have a list of all of their country sites on the home page of each site so they are cross-linking. And IBM, by the nature of their products and services, will most certainly have tons of duplicate content. But yet they, like all other major corporations, are given a pass on Google. Why? Is it b/c they are large? Is it b/c you know they are not spamming; they are simply semi-customizing their info for each country, but at the same time allowing you easy access to any country site. I would hope the latter reason is the answer, but who knows?

I have often seen the argument used on this site, that what you may NOT consider spamming may be considered spamming by someone else. the-bfb is simply cross-linking his sites in a way the he feels benefits his customer. Who is to say it is spam or not? I guess Google, and that is the problem.


 2:29 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

BTW I AM A big Google fan and don't go much for conspiracy theories.

But notice how Googleguy doesn't comment on threads such as these?


 2:37 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

The_bfb, Google is trying to produce quality search results. That's what has got them where they are, and the key to continued success.

If 20 geographic versions of the same site dominate some searches, those sites will almost certainly get blitzed if Google sees the problem.

I AM concerned about the ill-defined nature of crosslink penalties. I see a whole spectrum of PR manipulators, some blatant, some more subtle. Some of these seem to survive update after update. Nevertheless, I get rather paranoid about very innocent linking of sites I work with that ARE related and should be linking to each other.

If Google could take one step that would mitigate webmaster claims of unfairness, it would be to have a better reinclusion/penalty-lifting response mechanism. Despite claims that Google is devoting more resources to this issue, we still get many reports of months going by with no reply to desperate inquiries. A simple reply of "lose the crosslinks, you bonehead, and we'll restore you" would go a long way for the well-intentioned webmaster who gets caught in a spam purge.


 2:39 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have found this site. As far as I can see the 30+ crosslinked sites all go to basically the same database search, with some tweaking.

some of the sites differ only by TLD (ie .co.uk, .com or .net versions following the same kw1-kw2 combination).

Others are basically synonymous with each other.

As far as I can see, the usual reason for such proliferation of similar sites would be for SEO - the benefit to the user of having access to kw1-town.com and kw1-town.co.uk, for example, seems pretty limited.

The intentions behind this may be totally honorable, but I can also see exactly why it was banned by Google. Somehow the creator has, for their own individual reasons, innocently hit upon a method/site structure also favoured by spammers, which happens to deliver excellent SERPS until it is banned.

It's not enough just not to *be* a spammer - you have to ensure that you don't look like one either. I too have inadvertently fallen foul of the system in the past, and the advice I have received on this board has been extremely helpful in ensuring that it doesn't happen again.

REmember: what google giveth, google may taketh away!


 2:45 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)


I have a similar site that does well for "keyword-region" and is #1 for "community-a". I am in the process of setting up specific sites for 15 communities. These would also each link to a property database. Any suggestions on what to avoid so I don't suffer the same fate?


 2:53 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Henry UK - You have a very valid point and hindsight is a wonderful thing!

As a couple of correspondents have pointed out - and is my point - they throw the baby out with the bathwater by kicking out 50+ sites from their database.

I would have been happy to get an "Oi bonehead" e-mail along with some constructive criticism. The main site is one of the best sites of its kind out there....now it's invisible.

The problem we have is that a small company made good, has got a dominant place in the market and has not got the resource to do what is required.....


 2:57 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)


If you are setting up 15 sites because you have 15 separate and distinct sets of independent content to deliver to 15 separate communities, and each of them will include the property database as one small part, then you'll probably be fine.

If you are doing this for SEO reasons - ie they are all just slightly different doorway pages with basically the same content - then you are risking trouble.

A good rule of thumb is that if you are GENUINELY creating sites for the benefit of users, you are less likely to get into trouble.

If you start saying: I need to create these sites in order to get placement in search results, so that I can fulfil the needs of users by allowing them to find my site, then you are beginning to slide down the spammy slope...

Also, if you are worried about excessive crosslinking, don't do it: ask yourself whether community-a really needs a link to get to community-b.

If the links between the communities would genuinely be mutually beneficial all round, then maybe you ought to think about creating just one site with channels for each of the communities.

just MHO of course


 3:03 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's been a while since we've had a good cross-linking thread....

I'll have to say that I am a card carrying member of the cross-link paranoia club. I run a dozen e-commerce sites and I am scared to place even one link from one site to another. Although it would be natural for me to have a page on each site saying "if you liked our site, visit some of our sister companies", but I've just been terrified by the horror stories.

On the other hand, if you are selling, say, baseball bats, should you have one site called bestbaseballbats.com with sub-categories for little league bats, aluminum bats, practice bats etc. - or should you have twenty sites like littleleauguebats.com etc. My preference is the former, and I suppose that some of the reason for cross link penalties is to punish this behavior.

The problem is that this is all so hard to quantify. We all know that hidden text and links are no-no's and that if caught we will be penalized. But how about cross linking? Maybe google should post their cross linking guidelines somewhere! I know that they are very secretive, as they should be, about their algo's - but the cross linking penalty is such a tough one, why not just lay it out there for us? I know people will say that this will just lead to perfectly designed ways to subvert the policy (and it will), but google could amend the policy regularly and post the changes. This forum could be a powerful place to generate good feedback toward developing such a policy?


 3:04 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

And my 2p - if in doubt - don't do it.......sad isn't it!


 3:18 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Another good rule of thumb might be that if you find that your content effectively has multiple entries in SERPS under slightly differen variant names for the same KW combination, then you are on thin ice.


 3:37 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

henryUK - But is this my point? Thin Ice, SERPS etc. all of this points to us having to write sites for Google and not sites for our customers.

You write sites for Google - they're not as good as you'd like but customers will probably see you ranked 30 on Google.

You write sites how you like which are great for Joe Punter and he can't find you!


 4:37 pm on May 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>The point he is making is that the choice to ban him was not by the users but by google.<<

I don't think users would ban "him," they would ban Google for having non-revelent results. IOW, users would simply drop Google over time and look for another SE with better search results, just like they dropped AV, etc.

That's the reason I switched from AV to Google, and I'm about as typical as one can get. ;)

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