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Spam links to my site got me penalized

 6:41 am on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

I realized today, via google webmaster tools, that one of my sites had over 2000 links to one of our landing pages. The links were run-of-site links on spammy looking websites i.e., viagra, pharma. I don't know how the links got there or why they are there - other than to think a competitor may have put them there.?

I started investigating the issues of our site because of a sudden drop from page 1 on google to page 8. The site no longer pulls up for any of our searches whereas we were between the top 5 on page one.

Any thoughts, advise on what we should do?



 7:00 am on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

If you are certain of your analysis, then what I'd suggest is to document those backlinks on a url. Submit a short and businesslike Reconsideration Request - and include that url. In your message to the reconsideration team, disown any connection to those links.

If you truly have been a victim of "Google-bowling", that can reverse the situation. But also remember that a Reconsideration Request means your site will get a good look from a Gogole staffer. So I'd first recommend cleaning up anything that you feel might be problematic.

If this is your first Reconsideration Request, I'd suggest watching the Google Video mentioned in this thread: Reconsideration Request Tips - from Google Search Quality Team [webmasterworld.com]

[edited by: tedster at 12:55 pm (utc) on Aug. 3, 2009]


 10:39 am on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

This is scary, if it's really what happened, because if this type of subversion works, any site could be vulnerable.


 1:03 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well, the bad news is this kind of thing can happen. It's not something that any old brute-force attack can cause these days -- Google does have some automated protection in place. But sometimes attackers do find ways to make it work. Google says there is "almost" nothing your competitor can do to hurt your ranking. That qualifying word was added, what, maybe two years ago.

And that's why I recommend getting your case in front of a human staffer at Google if you are pretty sure that "competitive disruption" is a correct analysis. See, there is even some fancy vocabulary for it ;)


 1:17 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

We had a 10 year old website completely banned from the engine. After hundreds of hours of research we couldnt find anything wrong on our part.

I started researching every one of our 200k ibl's to the site. I found tens of thousands of spammy links we did not obtain as well as hundreds of custom made articles detailing certain keyword phrases and linking to our website with heavy anchor.

These articles made it look as if we were trying to increase our rankings for these keyword phrases. Shortly after the websites removal from google these articles vanished from the sites they were hosted on. I was only able to get copies of them through cache and the ia.

The picture I am painting is that somebody spent alot of time and money creating articles that looked like we created them on other websites with the express purpose of increasing rankings on our banned site.

They then probably filed spam reports on our site and the articles we didnt create and this possibly lead to us being banned. After the ban they removed the articles to cover there tracks.

I am submitting a detailed overview of this to google to request reinclusion into the index.


 1:22 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

drall, that is exactly the kind of thing I saw a few months back for two unrelated and long-established sites. The thousands of bad links included a lot of parasite hosted articles, and the chosen anchor text was really skewed.

We never heard confirmation from Google that this was the cause of the penalties -- they just don't do that. But rankings returned, in both cases, within days of the reconsideration request.


 3:39 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

The way my home page has also vanished does sound a bit familiar.

I'm also in the process of trying to find unknown backlinks etc, but I'm using microsoft office live tools to build and maintain the site(no IT knowledge at all really) and I cannot get google webmaster tools to work at all.

Anyone know of good tools (preferably free) to track these links if indeed they do exist?

I think the phone call (initial message below) from the guy on the morning our home page vanished was more about getting the site on 1st page via the sponsored links etc, and I do agree it was probably more opportunistic pretender than google malicious.

I'm also a little baffled as to why google displays the first link to our site on the fourth google page and keeps fluctuating between several of our webpages throughout the day, consistently changing them too I might add.

Baffled, worried, training centre goes live August 18th, no google ranking/listing no hits = no business = no money for advertising..... on and on and on.... lol

I do believe that 'cant's come in cans', so what can I do?

Any good advice would be very very welcome indeed.

Newbie writes first time. earlier message

I too have had a problem with google indexing my home page. My home page has been steadily moving up the pages, it was making first page under certain keyword searches, and top of page 2 with my main objective keyword search. On July 24th it was indexed and moved to top of page two. Site hits improved dramatically, but three days later on Monday morning it had vanished! GONE! The first mention of the site is now on page 4, but what is odd is that we are on the same page every day, same spot, but the displayed page is random from my site and fluctuates throughout the day. But what worries me is that on the Monday morning when it vanished I received a phone call from someone claiming to be from google (claiming I stress) telling me that advertising is what I have to now do to get my page back on 1st page... How did he know it wasn't there anymore, or did he just check that day and opportunity knocked, I don't know?
Anyone else had this?
I've contacted google to find out whether this chap is genuinely from them and if he was is it normal practice for them to do this. No reply as yet. Other sub page keywords are hitting the top two searches on page 1, so I'm baffled. I only learnt how to build a website 3 months ago with no IT experience whatsoever and it's all very new to me.
I do apologise for the length of the message, I hope you haven't dosed off.
I hope someone can shed some light on this issue



 4:41 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

I hope you know that there are several SEO companies that specialize in bringing down your competitors through mean techniques like these.


 6:29 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

If that is all it takes to get a website banned from Google, then I'm sorry, but Google is just not what it used to be. I'm sure they have the brain power to figure out how to discount those links instead of just killing websites.

They have really lost their luster and I hope to see there their market share dwindle in the coming years. Right now, they feel as though they can do what ever they please and they can, but if their market share dwindles and profits follow or maybe the FTC steps in and breaks them up because they have a monoply on search, maybe they will then take a step back and think about what it was that made them what they are.

Had they started out like what they have become, they would of never made it because all the word of mouth advertising would not of happened as much as it did.


 8:22 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

Webmaster Tools suggestion to Google:

Have an option in GWT so a siteowner/webmaster can list ALL the incoming links to the TLD, and next to each listing, put a checkbox. At the top label the column of checkboxes "Check to have googlebot ignore these links".

The siteowner could review the list and check all links that were not requested / not wanted, then click "Submit".

Google would then understand that these links may be part of a spam attack, and the siteowner would not be penalized. (Or, if there was already a penalty in place, a reconsideration could be generated).

There's little or nothing a siteowner can do to defend against this sort of thing, so with Google's help, we'd at least have some recourse.



 8:34 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)


I recall you said in this thread - [webmasterworld.com...] that it was a 301 hijack that your competition used to damage your 10y old site. Have you come to conclusion that it was the backlink profile and not the hijack, or we are talking about two different websites here?

drall, tedster
I can see so many websites with loads of links from spammy articles sites, with the most un-natural anchor text distribution, and these sites are doing very well in google. So what is special about the sites that got banned? Just that there were someone who filed a spam report?


 8:53 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

what is special about the sites that got banned?

I'd say it's the nature of the attack itself, and not the nature of the website that is being attacked. As I said above, "It's not something that any old brute-force attack can cause these days."

I haven't studied the tactics closely enough to know which parts are actually effective - it is often a real scattershot effort, and that clouds the picture. However, even if I had the answer, I would not post the details of a working forumula for taking out your competition.

As a general description, parasite hosted blogs (especially on .edu sites) have been common - especially with anchor text that is skewed off theme, but not radically off-theme. These parasite blog pages have sometimes included very sophisticated cloaking and redirects that are aimed both at Google and at the independent investigator.

Other efforts look like a very vanilla paid link - in the sidebar or footer, and sometimes even in the main menu. But if you investigate the domains involved, you find a style and template that is widely replicated across a significant network.

In other words, these attack businesses are studying Google for loopholes in a very intensive way. It's just like spammers who try to rank organically - they also study Google for gaps and edge cases that they can exploit. And both the SERP spammers and the Google-bowlers are very light on their feet and quick to develop new approaches.


 11:14 pm on Aug 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

mkassets, two different sites. I have a few ;). After emailing google about the hijack with detailed information they finally got it back in and rankings returned for it.

This other site I am currently talking about was naturally displacing some serious players everyone here would know by name.

That these type of tactics are now being employed shows me that a whole new level of negative seo is now taking place.

Things have gotten so out of hand now I think I am going to take the latest buyout offer on my business and take a few years off.


 4:24 am on Aug 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

This scenario is part of what concerns me about one of the patent points being discussed in this thread [webmasterworld.com]. One of the points mentions spikes in backlinks:
[0075] A spike in BACKLINKS can mean two things - a suddenly hot topic, or an attempt to spam.

So, spammy submissions of this sort made by competitors might certainly be seen as "spikes" and might be a vehicle to sabbotage rankings, IMO. Tedster, do you see this as a valid threat and possible flaw in the patent point? (I ask, because you were the author of that thread and I imagine you have given this some thought during your analysis). BTW, I am reading some of your comments further up, and you may have already answered my question.


 4:32 am on Aug 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

As I mentioned above, in the hands of a certain type of person, this is still a threat. It's not just theory, I've seen the examples. The past two updates seemed to open up more vulnerability than was there before, but I do expect Google to minimize it again. There may well be edge cases slipping through for quite a while, but I don't see that kind of successful attack as something that can be done casually.


 4:16 am on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

so the question now is
1) Should I submit a reconsideration via google; or
2) Do nothing wait it out; or
3) attempt to contact the spam site and demand removal?


 5:04 am on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

#3 is out - you've got no grounds for such a demand, and you'd be wasting time at best. If you think the linking site is hacked, you might want to let them know. That's about it.

So your choice is between #1 and #2. If you've got no reason to fear a human inspection of your site, I prefer the Reconsideration Request. If there is an incorrect penalty flag against your site, then the recovery can be quite speedy compared to playing the waiting game.


 1:37 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Reno - "Have an option in GWT so a siteowner/webmaster can list ALL the incoming links to the TLD, and next to each listing, put a checkbox. At the top label the column of checkboxes "Check to have googlebot ignore these links"."

Looks like it's something Google are already thinking about - [mattcutts.com...] - the poll has finished and the options are gone, but about half way down MC says about one of the options:

"suppose you look at backlinks and see that some come from a spammy site or scraper. That option would let you say “Don’t count those links; I have nothing to do with that site.”"

Thing is, for them to put that as an option surely must mean bowling can definitely have an effect (if done correctly of course)


 5:54 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Thanks James for the reference -- I had not seen that. It seems to me that the more Google can do to empower the siteowners to fight this sort of thing, the less stress it will be on their own system. I'll be eager to see if it is incorporated into the already excellent GWT -- if so, I hope we'll all get a heads-up right away.



 6:04 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

That would be an awesome tool! I just checked mine and there are alot of spammy ones too coming to our site.... sad thing is ... the guys that scraped our content and linked to us are running google ads all over it.


 6:41 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Sorry I don't share the excitement.

So I will have to go over each and every one of the 15,000 pages linking to my site and approve each in GWT?

And even if I do that I am not protected from anything. An attacker can build few thousands of pages with links that look legit and after few months (after "approval") change the content and the anchors while keeping it on the same approved URLs. And to prevent that kind of attack you have to monitor your links regulary, and to do that for a medium/large website you have to hire a team of link approvers ...

The only solution I see is that under no circumstances google will let incoming links hurt the website being linked to. This is the only robust solution. It is simple, it is safe and it makes sense. No need to complicate matters.


 6:52 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well my website is now back in the index. When I filed the reconsideration request I pointed out with great detail how Google had been possibly duped into thinking our website was manipulating rankings.

As Tedster stated I do not want to point out all of the details for obvious reasons but it is crystal clear to me now that if properly done this particular negative seo tactic can not only have penalties leveled against specific pages but get your entire website kicked from the index.

Will add this to my almost ridiculous list of things to worry about with Google now.


 7:04 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)


Cool, glad it has been resolved.

How long did it take google to take action on your request? I think it was surprisingly fast. I was sure it would take them many weeks just to take a look at it (if not to trash it immediately) with the number of requests they were probably receiving ...


 7:29 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

The only solution I see is that under no circumstances google will let incoming links hurt the website being linked to

No doubt about it, that's the best approach, but given Google's willingness to include penalties in their ranking algo, I don't know that we'll see them go that way anytime soon. If they don't, I'd hope they'd at least do the "ignore links" option -- it's certainly not ideal, but better than nothing, which is where we are right now.



 8:15 am on Aug 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

The philosophy around penalties is exactly the same as criminal justice- retribution and deterrence.

IF you "sin" there must be consequences. If it works, then does nothing, everyone would go black-hat. There would be NO downside, just a series of short-lived upsides- leading to an arms-race as everyone struggled to stay ahead of the devaluation curve.

Throw-away domains would be launched in the thousands, soley for the purpose of propping up black-hat websites. It would be chaos.

To stop this proliferation, there has to be some way of making transgressions a risky business. So, penalties are applied. These punish the transgressors, but most importantly discourage most sites from even attempting it.

Of course, the criminal justice analogy can only go so far. The "evidence" is pattern-based, the "trial" is algorithmic, and the punishment arbitrary. The appeals process is the very opposite of transparent, and the judiciary are inscrutible, unanswerable and unimpeachable.

But for all that, I believe penalisation is a necessary ingredient in the algo, though the entire process needs improvement, IMHO.


 11:12 pm on Sep 3, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have a website suffering from one of the yoyo effects (a few days in/out of the 1st serps).
Now I discovered a certain domain linking 1000-fold from spammy pages (fake-search-results).

I would love to see a way to disable backlinks from certain domains in the Webmaster-Tools.


 12:38 am on Sep 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well after the fiasco we just went through I can vouch that a system in WMT that would allow webmasters to report and remove backlinks we do not want to be associated with would prevent quite a bit of these problems.


 2:57 am on Sep 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

Point? It's obviously easier now to trigger a penalty on your competitors than it is to build up your own site.

It's interesting. It's like an addiction. It's fun at first, but then it gets out of control. So, like handing out penalties, sure it was great at first. It really kept things in line. Then it started to become out of control, perhaps a few too many penalties and obvious ones at that. Nnow it's not so much fun.

My point is? If Google is hyper sensitive and comes running with a penalty because of spammy backlinks it becomes pretty easy to figure out. Everyone discusses their penalties. People read. People learn. As they are learning, Google needs to adjust their thinking. So now, instead of handing out penalties to keep the internet cleaner, the penalties are in fact being used as weapons to ensure sites are removed from the index. People are starting to see that now.

It boils down to the fact that they have almost started to create an avalanche of new issues. They need to hire a LOT of people to deal with this problem as it grows. Either that, or all you webmasters will realize how scary the internet is right now. The onus is on you to figure out the problem. At what point does Google really have to decide if you were the person putting up those links, or was it some bad guy in the middle of the night? Further, what if Google keeps a record of your behaviour online? I just think aren't all the guys on death row claiming their innocence? So is the process coming down to a trial over who is actually responsible for your penalty? What if Google doesn't believe you when you say you are innocent and you didn't post those links? Then what? Something really to think about.

If anything, it shows me how dependent everyone seems to be on one search engine. For me, that is a place that I never want to go. Dependent on one search engine? Obviously as people have stated here, it's a real gamble for keep an online business successful. I sure the hell wouldn't rely on one website to live on. If all it takes is some jackass to sabotage my backlinks and the result is my business is shut off completely? Think about this in the real world. Closing your doors and shutting off the lights at a moments notice and expecting to survive on your business?

This thread is more a reality cheque than anything. If you need your website to survive, then consider the "what if's". If there is such a thing as a permanent Google webmaster history for websites, then you should be concerned whether they will believe you about future penalties and whether you were actually the one responsible for the situation.

For me? Way too much work. Tick this and that? I hope to god that there is a solid #2 search engine in the very near future.


 3:28 am on Sep 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

It's obviously easier now to trigger a penalty on your competitors than it is to build up your own site.

I'm not sure that conclusion is obvious or even true. We are not flooded here with the kind of complaint that opened this thread -- even though there are many who are trying to execute this kind of competitive disruption.

It takes some serious insight into how Google is working right now to make a spammy backlinks campaign look authentic, rather than contrived. And that insight needs to stay ahead of the shifting pattern detection rules at Google. For those who are working at it, this takes significant resources - and it also involves a lot of exposure of their networks.

it shows me how dependent everyone seems to be on one search engine

I agree with that sentiment -- and the growing dependency has been a long-time concern for a lot of us here. We do not have a healthy search marketplace right now.


 4:04 am on Sep 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

I agree with that sentiment -- and the growing dependency has been a long-time concern for a lot of us here. We do not have a healthy search marketplace right now.

I'm right there with both of you, so much so, I've recently taken off my SEO hat and replaced it with the 'business building / sales and marketing 101' cap...

Currently, I'm building a Word of Mouth / Offline Marketing ONLY website for myself so I don't have to stress over search engine traffic! *

I fully intend to move all traffic generation away from the search engines with one of the main reasons being the substance of this thread, the yo yo threads and the overall / general ability of Google to control too much of my income from site ownership when I depend on them for the traffic to my websites.

My goal is to create a revenue stream totally independent of Google, because there are too many things that can go wrong from a, 'How do I continue to make a living off a website's traffic when I depend on Google.', perspective.

The site will be completely noindex, nofollowed... I may change my mind in the future and allow the home page to be indexed just so people who think you have to type the site name into Google to get there can find it, but the basic underlying concept is to go completely 'Google Free' and build a website people talk about and want / like to visit.

Here are the benefits:
I don't have to worry about who I link to.
I don't have to worry about which sites link to me.
I don't have to worry about my link anchor text.
I don't have to worry about my on page text.
I don't have to worry about the affiliates I decide to use.
I don't have to worry about competitors trying to destroy my rankings.
I don't have to worry about...

Talk about headache relief! I can build a super duper uber 'web 3.0' cool website people will actually like and enjoy visiting, because I can do what makes sense and works for my visitors, rather than trying to incorporate Google and the associated BS into everything I do with it!

* It's completely AJAX based, lightning fast and 'click free' for the main navigation, because I can just do what I want to do with it... Google probably actually wouldn't find more than a page on it even if I allowed it to be indexed.

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