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This 75 message thread spans 3 pages: 75 ( [1] 2 3 > >     
Diagnosing a possible penalty

 3:59 pm on May 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

A site I've worked on (for 2 years +) has just lost SERPS positions across the board, dropping from top positions to the 50s and 60s for everything except for the URL. It has the look of a penalty but the usual diagnostics aren't supporting this.

site: shows all the pages indexed
WMT reports no problems
PR hasn't changed
Reported IBLs haven't changed

My questions are does this suggest a penalty and if so does it look more manual or algorithmic?

I want to be more certain about possible penalties before making any changes, onsite or offsite.

Views appreciated.



 1:39 am on May 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

A five page drop for all regular keyword searches? That sounds like a penalty to me. It's hard to say what's algorithmic or manual these days - even penalties that are created as manual often get automated, such as link selling.

That kind of penalty usually means Google feels you are trying to manipulate the SERPs pretty actively. Been involved in that kind of thing - link and PR building schemes and the like? Automated website creation, scraping, parasite hosting?


 1:54 am on May 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

A 5-page drop across the board certainly looks like a penalty. Check how you're ranking for a "domain-name" search (without the .com/.net/.whatever, just search for your domain name). If such a query puts you in the fifties, it's almost (!) guaranteed to be a penalty. Note that this "trick" won't work if your domain consists of one general word.

If penalized, you might want to check the URL [google.com...] to see if google has detected any malware operating from your site. Also, check the source code of your site to see if it contains any injected links to viagra sites and junk like that. I know hacking always sounds like one of those far-away things that "simply won't happen to you", but I strongly urge you to consider the possibility. Make sure you keep your back-end (CMS/shopping cart/whatever) as up-to-date as possible.

Also, I have found out the hard way that misbehaviour on one domain can cause SERP trouble with another domain, possibly due to google simply devaluing the WHOIS domain owner. Be 100% honest with yourself and clear yourself of ANY AND ALL rule-breaking junk you might have; no matter how old or stale. Two domains not being linked in hypertext does not imply Google doesn't know you own both domains.


 9:14 am on May 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

I got some top10-sites that dropped to 50+ as well a week ago, but are now coming back to 20-30. How long is it since your site has been dropping?


 4:04 pm on May 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have a group of 5 sites that fell from their rankings to page 5 or 7 for all their keywords yesterday. These are older established sites. They still have their sitelinks though. Does this sound like a penalty, glitch or algo change?


 11:28 pm on May 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

Penalty - we were hit with the same problem around 2-3am yesterday. We are actively trying to determine why were penalized. We feel it maybe link related.

[edited by: tedster at 1:10 am (utc) on May 16, 2009]


 11:56 pm on May 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have a group of 5 sites that fell from their rankings to page 5 or 7 for all their keywords yesterday. These are older established sites. They still have their sitelinks though. Does this sound like a penalty, glitch or algo change?

Are you refering to mini-sitelinks or the 'real deal'? Real sitelinks on pages other than one are highly suggestive of a penalty. Unless, ofcourse, G's penalty algorithm is glitching. Or the penalty algo has changed.

Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing for sure.


 12:20 am on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Johnnie, one site has the 'real deal' sitelinks and the other has what I guess is "mini-sitelinks'. What do you mean by "Real sitelinks on pages other than one are highly suggestive of a penalty"?


 2:56 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

We had a -50 penalty into two 10-years websites. We know that this is a penalty and know that is that we bought some .edu links.

I think Google run a new filter to detect this kind of paid links and punished a lot of sites with same penalty.


 4:15 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

The -50 penalty is a pain.

I have 3-4 years old sites which sit in this penalty box for 12 months, there is really nothing you can do about it.

Setting up the content on a brand new domain with a 301 (if the site stays in the -50 box) is usually the best idea.

[edited by: SEOPTI at 4:16 pm (utc) on May 16, 2009]


 4:25 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Would a site still have sitelinks if it has a penalty?


 6:03 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

Also, would anything else be indicative of a penalty like a drop in PR or some information in the google webmaster account?


 6:51 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have seen penalized sites retain their sitelinks - at least for a time. And a PR drop is not an indicator of a penalty. If you search through the PR Update threads here you'll see that.

In Webmaster Tools, the only certain indicator of a penalty would be a message from Google in your message box that tells you about it.

There are many possible causes for penalties, and there are many reasons for ranking drops that are not truly penalties. I'd suggest you read some of the threads in the Hot Topics area [webmasterworld.com], which is always pinned to the top of this forum's index page. Also, if you haven't reviewed them recently, be sure you are familiar with Google's Webmaster Guidelines [google.com].

You might want to review your backlinks to make sure they are aligned to Google's guidelines. Also, run a link checker such as Xenu on your own site to be sure you aren't hosting any outbound links that you aren't aware of (and don't want). There's a whole lot of server hacks and parasite hosting these days.


 8:49 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

What do you mean by "Real sitelinks on pages other than one are highly suggestive of a penalty"?

Sitelinks (the 'big' ones) are generally only seen on the first result. When seen on page five, the specific site has likely been subjected to a penalty.


 9:33 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

This particular site still has its sitelinks.

Situation hasn't improved, rankings still down 5 pages for everything. Still no message from WMT. But I did discover something odd in the internal links report. Turns out that one of the internal pages has a few thousand IBLs from a site-wides on an affiliate site. In volume terms, that makes it the most linked page on the domain, even more than the homepage. I hadn't picked up on this before (doesn't show up on Yahoo Site Explorer or any backlinks tool I've used). Could this be an issue for a penalty?


 10:36 pm on May 16, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just found an interesting thread on the supporters forum where one of the senior forum members suggests that these kind of rankings drops may not be a penalty at all, but rather a tripped filter.

Anyone know a bit more about filters?


 5:32 pm on May 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Does anyone have any experience with being penalized by a tripped filter? It would seem to me if you correct the problem the filter would reset but I guess the big question is timing - is it instant or gradual?


 8:19 pm on May 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

A tripped filter which needs some time to be released isn't so much different from a penalty, isn't it?


 9:01 pm on May 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yes, it's pretty much a game of semantics. If your url gets caught in the "duplicate content" filter, you would only see it in the SERPs by adding &filter=0 to the URL for the results - or clicking on the "show omitted results" link on the the last page of the original SERPs.

Some cases are released as soon as the website change is indexed. Some are released automatically but in stages. And still others are held prisoner until a specific date, when Google releases a whole batch of similarly affected sites at the same time. What makes those different treatments happen is a bit of a mystery, but it seems to be related to how serious (how manipulative) Google considers the issue to be.

I'm still holding with zeus on this current issue - something seems to be off to me, and I'm hoping to see things change in the very near future.


 10:04 pm on May 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

We are effected by the same penalty and recently implemented a number of 301 re-directs. Did anyone else penalized do any major 301's recently?


 8:49 am on May 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

We have been hit by a 4-6 page filtering on some major keywords in the last week.It has not affected the entire domain only certain keywords.

There is a very strong correlation to the pages that have been penalised and the pages that show an unusually high number (>1000) of IBL's showing in WMT.

The pages that have been affected have recently acheived a very high number of backlinks through 301 redirection of all pages of satellite sites.

There seems to be something really amiss with 301 recoignition/acceptance/weight since about the 4th of May.

I have a real fealing though that this has alot to do with paid link detection as well....


 10:52 am on May 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

I echo the sentiments of checking source code for dropped links on a hack exploit.


 11:59 am on May 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

My best advice would be to give your site a complete once over and check for any internal issues (everything from SEO to having been hacked and links been added) but do NOT make any hasty or drastic changes trying to see if it helps. Wait it out at least 7-10 days and see what the rankings do between now and then before starting to implement gradual changes. Even then, test for effect slowly.

I've just had the opposite happen, when my site was new it was hit with a penalty in which only one keyword was not allowed to pass or receive rank, unfortunately it was the sites primary keyword. The site received a sitelink but it looked extremely odd with that one word removed from titles, big blue widgets appeared as big blue.

The site was too new to be competing with the 10+ year sites it has as competition. It reached as high as 6th before getting penalized and I suspect reaching page one with a new site is what triggered it. Now, years later, the site is again trusted for the keyword despite never having made any changes. The site has never purchased links and follows webmaster guidelines so it's proof that you can get penalized even when you've done nothing wrong if it is best for the internet in general.


 7:30 pm on May 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

When this happened to a site of mine 2 years ago, I determined that I had stuffed too many keywords in the content. I cut those in half and the page resumed the former ranking withing a few days.


 11:55 pm on May 18, 2009 (gmt 0)

Check with XENU.

Don't assume that the only factors are on-page and off-page factors.

We had a site loose ranking and I had all these concerns about duplicate content and such.

We got a clue from Xenu where the site was timing out a lot and no one at the host had any explanation.

I did have the opportunity to sit down with one Matt Cutts (I think at PubCon) and he did take a look at the site (and I got to look at his browser tools!) and he said he didn't think there was anything wrong with it. (I don't know if he'll do this today, this was a couple of years ago).

What we ended up finding out was that there was a backhaul problem that had to do with how the ISP was connecting to the backbone as one of several types of redundancies. Apparently there was icing in a microwave antennae somewhere that was causing intermittent server lags, but they weren't sufficient enough to trigger that the system failed-over to the other backhaul.

No one noticed it in the early part of the failure except Google. Oh yeah, and XENU. Later, the icing increased and caused a total failure with that rout which then caused everyone to realize what had been happening.

So check with our little alien friend and see if he (she?) has anything to report that looks like server time out errors.


 7:45 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

In my day to day, I have access to working with a lot of different webmasters- which gives me a unique vantage point. I've certainly seen an escalated number of webmasters hit by this recent penalty slap. Yet it's still a SMALL percentage of the total portfolio of sites I work with.

So i've been digging into identfying commonalities with the sites that have experienced problems.

One focal observation is that the effected sites all have duplicate content problems- even on their home page. And, the effected sites have been shoved into the supplemental index for their own exact match content snippets.

Key Question: are others that have reported being slapped on this forum seeing their content being shoved into the supplemental index?

A second main common characteristic I have witnessed thus far is that many of the webmasters I have spoken with have been recently dabbling with 301 redirects more than usual.

Is this some kind of updated 301 redirect penalty?


 8:49 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

Tommy - I have been reviewing many sites also hit with this penalty and I agree that 301's could be a possible angle. I've also seen duplicate content as part of many of these sites hit. The one thing I noticed on every site was were paid edu blog posts. Anyone else hit ever participate in this type of linking?


 9:05 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

talismon, i've posted on other threads that I suffered this -50 penalty because of paid edu blog posts. We got this penalty in 3 of our main websites. Anyone else?


 9:38 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yes 301 issues, dupe content, parasitical hosting, insertions could be the cause - BUT rest assured the major reasons ARE (look like or are) paid links.


 9:39 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

I'm also seeing edu blog backlinks for several penalized sites. Problem - there are many hacked edu servers doing parasite hosting. So if paid edu blog posts are the target of, or trigger for, this penalty, then the door might be open again for successful google bowling.

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