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Anatomy of a Banning
Spammed, Banned, Misery & Redemption
rnrtvb




msg:93363
 2:18 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Okay, okay, I spammed…but hardly. I mean for crying out loud my home page was 98% graphics – I needed cool looking fonts to go with the site’s theme, therefore there was virtually no text… what was I to do? So, I put three measly sentences of “hidden text” that basically contained the essence of the image-based copy. Is that so wrong?

I was fat, dumb and happy for over a year then all of a sudden…I was <snipped>! Ouch!

Here’s the chronology:

April 21-03 my site had a PR 6 and was doing very nicely thank you. Except there was one weird occurrence: a site visitor emailed me that telling me my search was not producing desired results (I use Google for my site search.) I dismissed the visitor’s comment as “operator error.”

April 22-03 my site’s PR dropped to 5 and I noticed I had dropped in the PR order in the Google Categories. Weird.

April 23-03 Grey bar. <snip>! I emailed Google and asked what had happened.

April 24-03 Received semi-personalized reply from Google telling me my site had been blocked from the index due to one of a variety of possible causes. I removed the hidden text and redesigned my home page using Verdana font. (I looks very lame now!) Later that day I emailed Google again, explained the situation, begged, groveled and made a fool of myself asking for mercy.

April 24-03 (Same day!) Google emailed me back with a personalized reply thanking me for making changes and informed me my site would be resubmitted for possible reinclusion. (I was very impressed with Google’s rapid replies.)

May 7-03 I joined Webmaster World. What a terrific resource. Except I’m amazed at the amount of bandwidth used for mere speculation. Very entertaining reading though!

May 9-03 I emailed Google again asking for a more definitive statement regarding “possible reinclusion.” No Reply.

May 12-03 I emailed Google again this time I acted like we had never communicated before. I told them I cleaned my site and hoped they would consider me for reinclusion.

May 19-03 I received an email from Google thanking me for making the changes and telling me site should be reincluded very soon.

May-22-03 I’m back baby! PR 6 just like before and still well ranking for many keywords.

The odd thing is, when I view the “cached” version of my page it’s the old page with the hidden text. Go figure!

Anyway, I have a hunch it may not be over yet but just thought I’d share my journey.

Here are some stats:
Since banned from Google my opt-ins dropped 80% and my revenue dropped 60%. A very expensive lesson!

[edited by: Marcia at 7:24 am (utc) on May 23, 2003]
[edit reason] Optimized for appropriate semantics [/edit]

 

GoogleGuy




msg:93364
 2:30 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Reminds me of the story where the guy goes to visit his doctor:

Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this."
Doctor: "Okay, don't do that."

Alright, alright, I'll get serious. Sounds like the hidden-text algorithms kicked in. Penalty was about 30 days, which sounds right. After it's over, the site is re-included without any penalties. Later we may do another pass through the sites that were caught in order to verify that the hidden text is gone.

Bottom-line: if you took all the hidden text off, you should be fine.

wackmaster




msg:93365
 2:47 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

GG - sorry for the direct question but I have to ask as I've seen this so many times...

30 days? I know you've got rfgdxm1 and others raising the question from time to time of 'why not a stiffer penalty...' so I won't go there.

My question is...do most of the sites that do this even know that they were hand-slapped? Because if not, their site may be reinstated before they even figure out why it temporarily vanished.

I've seen sooooooo many 'respectable spammers' lose a site temporarily only to see it reappear. Just wondering if there isn't some way to either bop them a bit harder, or otherwise communicate that 'continuation of said practice is likely to result in more significant future penalties.'

Please forgive if this has been covered elsewhere, but I've tried searching for it and so far have only found stings on severity of penalties...not on how to really make the spam policies stick.

stuntdubl




msg:93366
 3:05 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

I am facing a grey bar right now and not quite sure why.

Were ALL your pages "grey-bar'd" or just the homepage?

I have internal pages that kept their PR, but homepage and one other page are grey.

ick.

wackmaster




msg:93367
 3:07 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

"Respectable Spammers": Sites that give the appearance of being above-board and respectable, but in fact practice spam to varying degrees...sometimes extensively. There's one, for example, in one of the categories we work in that is the talk of the biz. Their tactics are beyond appalling and as a result their site is all over the place in the SERP's. It fell out for a while but then reappeared...don't know if it's related to Dominic or if a spam penalty was imposed and then lifted...but I do know that their spam still shines darkly right below the glossy public face of the site.

I liken it to white collar criminals - for example seemingly respectable CEO's who make off with the company pension fund, and *if* caught at all, are treated as though they had done little more than taken an apple from the fruit stand.

Respectable Spammers are different from *chronic sleazy spammers* who put up joke sites faster than the SE police can nail them...though in my view no less worthy of penalty.

PS - For the record, this post is not a thinly veiled attempt to nail the site referenced above, nor do I intend to report that site; my question is a general one.

[edited by: wackmaster at 3:14 am (utc) on May 23, 2003]

rnrtvb




msg:93368
 3:13 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

> Were ALL your pages "grey-bar'd" or just the homepage?

The whole site! It felt like being banished from the Internet!

rfgdxm1




msg:93369
 3:14 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree partially wackmaster. I find it galling that do to some computer bug losing my site's anchor text I'm creamed until I guess the next update, yet the algo when it actually identifies a spammer by design gives them just a slap on the wrist for about the same time frame. However, because a spam detecting algo could be buggy and think there is hidden text when there isn't, I'm not sure I like the idea of some bot giving a site the Google Death Penalty. On a hand review, a site like this should be banned until the end of time. Or, at least until they beg forgiveness on their virtual hands and knees for sinning against Google. But penalties handed out by bots should be more short term, just in case the bot is buggy. What I don't understand is why Google is letting sites back in *before* it is confirmed that they have cleaned up their act? Wouldn't it make more sense to check back after 30 days, and if the site is found clean add it back into the index at that time? The way Google is doing this, spammers will keep getting kicked out, added back, kicked out ad nauseum.

And to Mike_Mackin, the only respectable spammers are at Hormel. ;)

shaoye




msg:93370
 3:17 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Googleguy, Glad to see you again.
But I see on site, banned for one month, cleaned the hiddent text, now spam again (little change to the orginal hidden text version. Now it's top 5 again with hidden text).
How can I report this to you? You have no sticky email.

wackmaster




msg:93371
 3:19 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

What I don't understand is why Google is letting sites back in *before* it is confirmed that they have cleaned up their act? Wouldn't it make more sense to check back after 30 days, and if the site is found clean add it back into the index at that time? The way Google is doing this, spammers will keep getting kicked out, added back, kicked out ad nauseum.

Well said...exactly the point.

I've even gone so far as to advocate that Google post notices of penalties so sites would *know* that they've committed an SE crime. Some won't care; some will curtail dubious practices; and some will become enlightened. All for the betterment of mankind.

Doubt that will happen in my lifetime however. :-)

shaoye




msg:93372
 3:23 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

GoogleGuy,
I am a spare time webmaster, but I see a million hidden text web sites.

I guess I have to work full time to report these.

Too many sites, too many hidden words in a mm thin, inch long corner.

Besides, some web sites disabled "Ctrl A". So you will not see it with "select all", you will have to do "view source", and again some sites do not let you do "view source". How can you detect them...

I start to admire the spammers...

Their smartness and diligent.
I know if they do not hidden, they will work harder and dumber like me....

GoogleGuy




msg:93373
 3:27 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

shaoye, you can do a spam report to let us know about sites with hidden text. rfgdxm1, the penalty length is open to change if we decide that it isn't long enough. In case the checks aren't running some days, it's safer to let the sites back in first. It's easy enough to check for a site again later.

jdMorgan




msg:93374
 3:30 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

shaoye,

Welcome to WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com]!

The Charter for this forum contains a link to Google's spam reporting address, and some helpful hints on how to report. See the "Charter" link at the top left of this page.

HTH,
Jim

apollo




msg:93375
 4:11 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google really has to get serious about this. The guy spammed with great success for a year. He gets caught and banned then google gives him personalised advice telling him how to get the ban lifted and it is lifted after one month.

Meanwhile other people are suffering because of ridiculous treatment such as expired domains not being credited with new links, even if they had no links before being purchased.

Seriously, after reading this thread would you advise someone not to use hidden text if you thought that hidden text would enable them to get a PR6 and 'do very nicely thank you' and that if they got caught google would assign a consultant to discuss it with them so that they would only be banned for a month?

skipfactor




msg:93376
 5:16 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi shaoye,

some sites do not let you do "view source". How can you detect them...

I like this handy-dandy tool, works on those sneaky redirects too:

[searchengineworld.com...]

keeper




msg:93377
 5:56 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

...hidden text would enable them to get a PR6 ...

Hidden text is not related to PageRankTM :)

Powdork




msg:93378
 6:04 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

rnrtvb,
Why not use alt text to explain your page. A little snippet for each image should do the trick providing:
1. The alt text describes the image and is concise (you can sneak a keyword or two in if its related to the image.)

2. The image links to something. A larger image on an html page for instance. Google is currently not using alt text unless it is within an href tag. I'm not sure if they read it when the image links to another larger jpg.

This would be very respectable spamming IMO.;)

copongcopong




msg:93379
 6:05 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have a site that lets users submit word for definition. Then when submitted, the words are change to be a link.

The link word/s is handle by php (single page) to do such things:

  1. search the word in the database#1, if found redirect to a page to define the word.

  2. if found in database#2 redirect to a page to show page with database#2 info.

  3. if not in the 2 databases, send to another page to let users add a meaning to that word.

My question. was my site penalized due to redirects? (BTW, I used header redirect in php)

rnrtvb




msg:93380
 6:17 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

apollo:

I'm very sorry if I was not totally clear in my posting.

I did NOT “spam with great success for a year.” I have excellent site content that I worked very hard to develop. I have over 50 one-way links pointing into my site. I have several hundred carefully cultivated reciprocal links. I update monthly, practice every legitimate form of SEM, participate in Paid for Inclusion programs, and advertise in print media.

Google in no way shape or form gave me any advice -- they simply restated the policy that is on their website.

I believe it is impossible for three sentences worth of hidden text to result in a PR 6.

bodybuilding




msg:93381
 6:41 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hmm... my site was banned around the same time for a line of hidden text that I didn't know we had on the front page. It was immediately removed and they said they would re-include my site after I e-mailed them. I checked over our whole site of 7000 pages (pure exclusive content)!

I am wondering why we are not back in? Maybe more sites will be let back in soon? *Worried*

I've been stressing for a month! Wife and dogs are hating me. LOL!

Trust me, 30 days is long enough to make any site owner lose a few years off their life. I don't know if I can stand another week! I hope somebody can help me.

I was one of the first people to visit Google out of everybody I know and I recommended it to all my friends. It is by far the best and always will be. It is history in the making folks, so pay attention!

stever




msg:93382
 6:47 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

A point for the "pure" - Google does not give out rules for SEO/SEM therefore you cannot be following the Google "rules" and you cannot be "legitimate".

What Google does do is tell webmasters what Google as a search engine doesn't like, and especially what they don't like coming from SEO/SEMs, which is a vastly different thing.

You all, including rfgdxm1 and his references to "a broken algo" and a "bug in the system", manipulated your sites and their links to and from other sites in order to achieve a better ranking for terms that you had identified.

Would you not at least accept the possibility that your sites may have been affected by a change in the Google algorithm which affected the manipulations you had made, as opposed to, or in addition to, manipulations that others had made and that you identify as "spam"?

You all used SEO/SEM methods - it is not possible to be just a little bit pregnant.

One of the earliest quotes I remember reading from GoogleGuy bears thinking of when I read the interminable complaints of the last couple of weeks:

There is an important message here though, especially for the smaller webmaster. Let's define that as: you manage a single-digit number of domains, or you read here to promote your own personal site, or you don't do SEO for a living. The message is pretty simple, and it's one that full-time SEO's should already know: SEO can at times be dangerous to the health of your site. Please be careful out there on the net, alright?

GoogleGuy




msg:93383
 7:20 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

bodybuilding, you're coming up on day 30 in a day or two, so you'll be fine soon. Please help rnrtvb spread the word not to do hidden text though..

PollyG




msg:93384
 7:43 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hello,

Has anyone answered the question on whether new sites included in April that have disappeared completely off the index - is it a ban or should we just wait and see?

I am really confused and keep checking my site to see what I may have done wrong.. I'm not a Webmaster, I just run my own business and did my best to develop my own website.

I don't want to jump the gun and e-mail Google.. I can't find any hidden text - so could it be anything else?

Thanks chaps / ladies

nutsandbolts




msg:93385
 7:51 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Sites just keep on being dropped PollyG. I suffered last night as another one of mine plopped off the index for no reason whatsoever. Pagerank of 6 too with no tricks, no hidden text, no cross-linking, no hidden links etc.... I would wait it out for a week to see if Google sorts everything out as many people are affected with this new index.

[edited by: nutsandbolts at 7:51 am (utc) on May 23, 2003]

seofreak




msg:93386
 7:51 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Let's wait for another few days and then see .. because i have come accross few big sites also having PR0 for internal pages.

regarding hidden text techniques - I have even found websites in dmoz directory having PR5 above using hidden texts! I have even seen doorway pages which have broken links added to dmoz. It's really surprising.

rfgdxm1




msg:93387
 7:56 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Considering that my main site is doing quite well for all but one keyword, I would doubt I hit something the algo thought as spam. Of course, who knows what the Google algo thinks? And, I have looked at the sites of a number of people's sites here that plummeted, and none that I have seen were spammy. And, since these aren't my sites, those I can at least look at objectively. Plus, GG himself mentioned that problems that a lot of people identified, such as inexplicably missing backlinks, anchor text, etc. were known issues, and even stated these would be rolled into the index at some later time, said vaguely to be more than weeks, and less than months. Thus there is something quirky at Google's end, as this has never been the way they have done so before.

As for SEO, Google hasn't said that is per se unacceptable. Only that certain specific practices, such as hidden text, being part of link farms, etc. are a no-no. However, if SEO of the sort that isn't on the list of no-nos is like being a little bit pregnant, God help anyone trying to design a website.

rfgdxm1




msg:93388
 8:00 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

>regarding hidden text techniques - I have even found websites in dmoz directory having PR5 above using hidden texts! I have even seen doorway pages which have broken links added to dmoz. It's really surprising.

According to ODP guidelines, hidden text is NOT justification to refuse to add, or delete, a site. Doorway pages are. As for doorway pages, consider that the site may have changed since when it was reviewed.

pff_iy




msg:93389
 8:39 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi All

I am very new to search engine marketing, I joined Webmaster world about a month ago because I wanted to promote my non commercial site. The reason for this was to promote the sport that I am dedicating the site to. I was hoping to get good ranking in order to try and get advertising so that I could keep the site going without it burning a hole in my pocket. I already dedicate alot of time to it I did not want to pay for the up keep. I have never used any search engine optimisation technique. I borrowed the template of the site from a frind and then started populating the site.

My site has gone from a white bar to not being ranked could I have been banned? If so I do not know why?.

What should I be looking for see what I may be doing wrong?

seofreak




msg:93390
 9:09 am on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

>According to ODP guidelines, hidden text is NOT justification to refuse to add, or delete, a site. Doorway pages are. As for doorway pages, consider that the site may have changed since when it was reviewed.

ya ... i hear ya ... it was just surprising at first.

whoz2




msg:93391
 1:41 pm on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have a site that was ranking good on hundreds of keywords in Google for years. A SEO I hired did some shady tricks that got the site banned last November (Thanksgiving day). I emailed Google asking why the site was removed but got a generalized reply stating multiple possible reasons why a site would be banned. I went thru the site looking for problems and found quite a few possible causes. They've been removed and I've asked Google several times to add my site to the index but with no reply and no change. I'm really not sure what caused the ban and now I don't have a clue as to whats wrong. I've lost thousands of dollars in revenue over this and can't get a straight answer as to what the problem is from Google. Can someone look at this site to see if theres something I've missed?

saltwaterpizza




msg:93392
 2:07 pm on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Ok, semi-newbie here, and I've got a question regarding hidden text.

My web site is hosted at NC State University. Because of this, we are required to put a disclaimer at the bottom of every page stating that the content is ours and not the university's. I've put the disclaimer in a black font that stands out really well on all the pages, but I've got lots of line breaks before I posted the disclaimer. A typical user would have to scroll down quite a bit past the main content before ever seeing the disclaimer.

Does that count as hidden text? Or is hidden text where you use the same font and same background?

Thanks!

Scott

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