Analysis One day in June 2006, search startup Foundem vanished from Google. Foundem is the developer of a "universal vertical search" technology, and currently offers comparison shopping across a range of consumer and travel categories by drilling down into vendor sites and returning details of actual flights and products. But on 26 June 2006, Google flipped a switch and all of the obvious comparison shopping keywords no longer applied for the company.
Foundem had been effectively 'disappeared' from Google search results. A few weeks later in August, it was hit with an AdWords penalty, sending the quality score which determined Foundem's minimum AdWords bid through the floor. From paying around 5p per click for a Google sponsored link, Foundem claims it went to £5. The "quality score" is an automated assessment of the AdWords advertiser's landing page, and Foundem's had been lowered from a rating of "excellent" or "very good" to "poor" or "very poor".
The company began a series of reconsideration appeals, but it took a year of trying before senior Google AdWord Evangelist Fred Vallaeys confirmed in a conference call that Foundem had been hit by new algorithms designed to penalise certain types of vertical search sites, including price comparison and travel search. Google documentation specifically refers to penalties for these classes of site, and from the time they hit Foundem until quite recently, the documentation did not appear to require price comparison sites and travel aggregators to have done anything specifically 'wrong' to incur penalties.