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PR and Google traffic just went down the tubes yesterday

 8:55 pm on Jul 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have a deal site that I've been running for about 4 years. In early June, I decided to put some effort towards resurrecting this nearly-dead site by hiring some interns to do some link building. Things were going good until a week ago. Here are the highlights of what I'm seeing:

(1) Over a week ago, I noticed the page rank on my site dropped to a 1 (from a 3).

(2) Last night, I noticed my Google organic traffic dropped to essentially nothing.

(3) When I search for one of my previous popular keywords in Google, I don't even show up on the list anymore. That is, I took a long tail keyword that I used to rank for, surrounded it in quotes, and went through all 17+ pages in Google, and my site did not exist in the listing anymore.

Now for the background. The interns I hired were doing link building by emailing relevant blogs and asking for links and/or a review of the site. We had a lot of feedback on sponsored reviews, so we did quite a few of those. Traffic had been up from these, and we didn't do anything special like put rel="nofollow" on any of the sponsored post links.

I looked at Google Webmastertools, and saw that the crawling activity by Google in June and July received a spike, probably because of the perceived increase interest in the site due to our advertising efforts. SEO traffic had been more healthy too--until yesterday.

Initially when I saw that the site was penalized, I assumed it was the sponsored posts and the lack of rel="nofollow" links. However, I spoke with an SEO buddy of mine, and he is finding it hard to believe that a couple dozen sponsored posts would have blacklisted us.

Instead, his theory is that it's caused by "thin" content. That is, the perceived interest in the site--as reflected by the huge spike in incoming links from relevant blogs--caused Google to reanalyze the site and dig deeper than it had before (thus the increased crawling activity by Google as seen through webmaster tools). Remember that this site is a deal site, which means we have tens of thousands of products, all with their own landing pages. A lot of this content is duplicate content that comes from merchant affiliate feeds with generic titles and descriptions, which we insert into our site.

So his theory is, Google dug deeper, saw that a lot of our content was similar to other sites, and decided to penalize us for crappy content. This would be somewhat in line with the Panda updates and all the recent stuff Google has been doing.

So my question for any of you is, which scenario do you think is more likely? Did Google penalize us for a few dozen paid reviews, or did Google penalize us because the paid reviews caused Google to crawl more pages and find a problem with thin content? Or is there some other theory I'm missing?

Lastly, if it's the paid reviews, could I recover my PR and reclaim my SEO ranking by going back to all of the blogs that did sponsored posts (and disclosed it in the post) and asking them to put rel="nofollow" on all of our links?




 11:01 pm on Jul 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Now for the background. The interns I hired were doing link building by emailing relevant blogs and asking for links and/or a review of the site. We had a lot of feedback on sponsored reviews, so we did quite a few of those. Traffic had been up from these, and we didn't do anything special like put rel="nofollow" on any of the sponsored post links.
I had to offer something at one of these sites and asked them to remove the link after mission done just to be safe.

However, I spoke with an SEO buddy of mine, and he is finding it hard to believe that a couple dozen sponsored posts would have blacklisted us.
What he says /I say means nothing, but you have all hallmarks of being manually penalized. The good news is that sponsored 'reviews' are easy to remove--if that was the only thing. The maybe bad news is that Google will now manually review the content too.

 12:16 am on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

You sent out emails and were publishing sponsored posts without a)nofollow on the links and b)disclosing they were sponsored posts correct?

If that's the case it would only have taken one spam report, perhaps with a copy of your email, to trigger a manual review and if they found some questionable posts its safe (on their part) to question your entire site.

The good news - you have options.
#1 - They knew you would notice traffic plummet and would probably act to restore it.
#2 - Remove the sponsored posts or nofollow their links or robots.txt those posts... or a combination of the above.
#3 - Wait a few days for the dust to settle, it may be algorithmic, and file a reconsideration request if the changes don't help.

On their end they will again review your site to ensure compliance with their rules and will want to be sure you got the message and won't be a problem again. Sponsored posts aren't evil but with easy ways to prevent them from manipulating search results it's good.

Google is firm but fair, the penalty if one exists is not likely permanent.


 12:25 am on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

You just learned the important rule of paid links of not doing it in a manner that makes it easy for a competitor to rat you out.


 2:03 am on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

If it's algorithmic you may be lucky. If it's manual and if you use feeds, I sincerely doubt Goog will let you rank for a long time. It's perfectly Ok to type even 2 sentences in a blog post to say that Dell has X computer at $60 off but to put tens of thousands of products automatically it's not kosher. There is 'similar' and that there's totally identical and mass produced totally identical with barely any effort. More than one person can write about the same thing, only one will be #1 obviously but :)


 3:04 am on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone for the responses. I guess what I'm going to do is nofollow all my links, and then proceed to go through my competitors one by one and buy sponsored posts for them to kill their sites so that I'm the last man standing... :)

I'm being facetious, but still, that's the thing that's broken about Google's new algorithm. Yeah it sounds dandy and all when everyone is trying to do the right thing, but for any black hat SEO artist, just go ruin your competitors one by one.

Anyway, I'm trying the nofollow thing, as well as trying to address my content issues, and we'll see what happens from there.

THanks again...



 11:18 am on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

that's the thing that's broken about Google's new algorithm.

Hmm, in this case I wouldn't be so quick to state that "Google is broken". It seems Google has successfully, and rather quickly, removed a site that has attempted to manipulate search results, and which even had duplicate content that may be found on other websites.


 9:03 pm on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Marvin, first, I didn't say Google was broken. Obviously they're not, as they're making billions of dollars a quarter and quite successful.

Second, you basically just ignored the point I made, which is that if sponsored posts are so bad, I could destroy my competitors. If you want to address that, feel free, otherwise, I'm not really sure what point you were making.

I readily admit my site has some thin content, so you're not really contributing anything except reiterating what I just said.

Robert Charlton

 9:50 pm on Jul 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

dustin999 - I will say that when I read your second paragraph, I first read it the way Marvin did, as one more 'Google is broken' comment. One needs to tie both sentences together to read it as a statement about a potential Google weakness, where a competitor might be able to hurt you.

In that regard, I know of some cases in the past where competitors have hurt sites by sending them some spammy links. Thin content (and/or an overall weak backlink profile) will make a site more vulnerable to that kind of mischief.

It could be that your site was marginal to begin with, perhaps marginal enough that in a manual review Google decided not to give you the benefit of the doubt.


 1:37 am on Jul 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

I agree with Robert,
I have gotten sitewides from a few sites and when added up are in millions of pages and as afar as I can tell nothing bad happened. On the positive side my sites listed in a list of similar to mine sites but the fear was there.

My fist ever G penalty was a link from another of my sites to my main site: a CMS produced an infinite index.php?sddfghj and 10000+ were indexed by Google so I had 10,000+ links coming in as far as G was concerned. of course listening to 'experts' and desperate, I bought a PR9 link (yp, PR9!) among others to get out to get out and then I truly ef-ed myself :)

But links form others CAN HURT YOU. I am sure they have tests to determine intent but you can fall through the cracks. That's why my main site is always ready to pass manual inspection...after a few slight modifications just in case ;)

In this case though, they obviously got it right. See my above posts too.


 1:49 pm on Jul 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks guys for the feedback. I guess in my mind, I'm trying to figure out the best way out of this. I'm going forward with adding rel="nofollow" to all of the poor links (or at least trying to), and probably going to noindex a bunch of the pages that have duplicate content and are what I would consider "thin" pages.

Thanks again...



 5:36 pm on Jul 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

I had the same thing occur - same day even - the SERPs updated at 10:30pm EST on Saturday, really killed my night out. I have permission to use the trademark of my merchant and the site has been ranking either #1 or in the top five since the first of the year. The site has over 100 pages indexed by Google and good content is continually being added to it.

After this issue, it dropped to page 6. The site was a PR6 and dropped to a PR5. We had almost all our PR7 sites drop to PR6. Seems Google is "raising the bar".

What we have done is the following:

- updated to the latest version of WordPress
- fixed all 404s (even the ones that are stupid)
- Updated Title Tag, Description and added new content to home page
- Modified all Titles on site to be specific, accurate and compelling
- added 25 pages of new content (new content was spidered in less than 24 hours)
- scheduled a press release
- we are currently doing a full link audit
- checking internal linking issues

Any other ideas? We beat all competitors in terms of design, quality and content. Why we tripped a filter, I have no idea. We have been building our sites the same way for the last three years and this is our first penalty.

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