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Strange, sudden penalty - Where did I go wrong?

 11:11 am on Sep 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

I want to share with you another depressingly sad penalty story...

A while back I started planning to build a new, very simple but to the point website about a Widget. This widget had never seen the light of day and although there were industry rumours, nothing concrete was available and no guarantee that the Widget would ever be released, or even have the expected name. Deciding to take a gamble, I registered the .co.uk domain name of the Widgets model name (it's only called this in EU) and began to build a small site.

Based on what the anticipated specs were going to be, I researched the Technology, the manufacturers earlier Widgets and the reception of a similar Widget (but not exactly the same) that was released in Japan a few weeks earlier. The site turned out only to be a single (although quite long) page - the subject didn't warrent more and I didn't want to pad it out unncessarily. The copy for the page was completely clean-roomed. I read all the reasearch and then wrote completely new copy without referring to the original research other than to check the facts at the end, so as far as I am concerned, when the site launched the copy was unique and the most comprehensive under the one subject available at the time.

With the site ready, I launched it and added a single adsense advert right at the bottom of the page - not really to make revenue, but more for Google to notice and get it indexed. The site launched about 3 weeks before the Widget was officially unveiled at a trade show and in this time soon reached page 1 position 2 on Google.co.uk, 1st place on Bing and 2nd place on Yahoo. Traffic was small, but then nobody really knew about the Widget. When the Widget was announced at the trade show (around 2.5 weeks ago), naturally interest for the Widget was obviously picking up because of the announcement and suprise, the very next day my site micraculously received what looks like -950 penalty from Google - nothing on my site changed since its launch. My site has no cloaking, no trickery, no rapid backlinks, no affiliate links (nobody has even started selling the Widget), nothing - it's 1 informative, plain html page with a couple of images and one single adsense ad at the bottom. On Bing UK it's still position 1, on Yahoo, position 2, on Google.co.uk position 750+ (it's moving backward as more sites reference the Widget), way behind sites from other countries in different languages (arabic anyone?) that have absolutely nothing to do with the Widget, and now the scrapers have ripped my content and are ranking on the first couple of pages. Two weeks later, still penalty land for me ...

Ultimately the site is no big deal - it was an experiment for me more than anything, but where did I go wrong?



 4:41 pm on Sep 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

"when the site launched the copy was unique and the most comprehensive under the one subject available at the time."

I have a site which was full of comprehensive texts about widgets (researched dozen of manuals, pdfs etc, in order to add value and be more comprehensive when compared to competition) and was badly penalized in February.

However, the posts were maybe the best when it comes to details included in the product descriptions, but there were a couple of things missing:

- original images
- video
- personal opinion about a product

These were missing since I hadn't got hands on the product, but used manufacturer's site to get details and images.

So I decided to go the the trade show and get hands-on new products.

Posted a review of a product with original images on the penalized/pandalized site and got ranked between #130 and #140 on Google, but #1 on Bing.

Posted a review of another product also with original images on a brand new site (no product keywords in the domain name, almost no inbound links) and got ranked between #7 and #14.

Repeated posting of similar reviews of other products on the penalized and the new site and got similar results.

So, on the one hand, I think you have to get hands-on the product you are writing about. But, on the other side, if you post these hands-on articles on a penalized site, expect to see all kinds of nonsense pages ranking above you and you will be nowhere.


 10:13 pm on Sep 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

didn't you overdo linkbuilding?


 10:30 pm on Sep 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

Perhaps you should read the Google "quality rater guidelines". They are from 2007 but the basics will still apply. - [huomah.com...] (moderator note- PDF file)

Interesting tidbits from the guidelines:
~ It's possible to get a Vital rating (the best) and a spam tag at the same time.
~ Google's cache copy may be used to rate your site in some instances.
~ A lot is left to judgment on single pageviews without digging around your site.
~ raters generally come in on your best pages.

Much, much more complete with examples... It sure throws the idea of an algorithm being in complete charge out the window, raters have the final say.

[edited by: tedster at 2:02 am (utc) on Sep 19, 2011]


 1:20 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've had a difficult time communicating what you're experiencing. I have a theory, perhaps more than just a theory which really isn't seeing the light of day here. I have a name for it, but that's another story. I do know, I believe, what you are experiencing.

This is what I feel Google is in 2011. You're going to exist up until that tipping point of interest. You've just experienced it. You are a rodent in comparison to the "giants" that took your place atop the organic rankings. Don't be offended by "rodent". It's just a word that I would suggest regarding how Google might classify your site.

It's what I call the "raising of the bar" for which in my opinion, there is no return. Well not unless there is a change of philosophy at Google. You have experienced the tidal wave. Swamped. Gone. Pummeled. Whatever description you choose it's probably about how you're feeling right now.

It's why SEO is meaningless in a lot of ways right now. It's because regardless of what one man can do, it will surely not stand up to the tidal wave.

I hope I wasn't too brutally honest. I think you will find others perhaps poking holes in my understanding, which is fine. Believe ultimately what you want to believe. Based on what you've said, I believe I've walked in your shoes.


 2:12 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

I resonate with one part of your post, MrSavage. There is a threshold of kinds, below which a site doesn't get much attention. I believe it depends, at least in part, on how many impressions the domain is getting in the SERPs - and that is dependent on search volume plus ranking.

Human evaluators only look at the SERPs that are above a certain volume. In fact, I'm convinced there are also parts of the algo that only operate above a search certain volume. So as long as a site is ranking well on a low volume search - it doesn't really get much scrutiny, either human or algorithmic.


You said the new domain ended up being just one page, albeit a very long one. I think that factor might be working against you very strongly.

However, that alone wouldn't really account for a true penalty. Does your site link out? If it does, might Google see it as a doorway page?


 2:40 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Looks like a penalty to me, nothing explains such a loss, unless it's a glitch. But who knows? Try a re-inclusion request,at least to see if you have manual penalty.

IMO the margin of error on Google has increased drastically and on purpose. If you fall through the cracks, too bad--for you.


 2:45 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Just as a reference point, I see about 200 visitors, but before the tidal wave I was in the area of 3000+ per day. It's called buried. I don't consider it a penalty because I believe it's part of the "way it works now". If it's too good to be true, then you know it's coming.


 4:18 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

But MrSavage, this thread is about the situation that steerpikegg described for his new, 1-page site. It's not about your overall situation.

Going from a page one ranking to below 750 in a day is definitely NOT the way things work now. I agree with walkman, it is some kind of a penalty. Especially because his page is now being outranked by sites that are scraping his content.


 5:50 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

It might even be that your site had just been pushed into the sandbox. When there isn't sufficient number of sites talking about a keyword and the search volume for that keyword is also low, google wouldn't obviously push the site into the sandbox. But now that more trusted sites are having stories for that keyword and the search volume is also probably increasing, google would have triggered that part of the algo that pushes newer sites into sandbox.

In fact, I'm convinced there are also parts of the algo that only operate above a search certain volume. So as long as a site is ranking well on a low volume search - it doesn't really get much scrutiny, either human or algorithmic.

This is exactly how their panda algo operates and as I explained in another thread, this is also the reason why sub domaining is helping Hubpages.I am also now seeing a similar sub domain strategy helping other content farms like suite101.com, articlebase.com etc. RIDICULOUS!

But the OP's situation is a different case and it might be the sandbox algo that is now working against his site. The sandbox algo places more weight on the number of available results for a keyword and then it probably uses the search volume to make its decision on a new site.


 8:46 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks for all your replies. I'll try to answer some of the things you've mentioned.

@mirrornl - I haven't done any link building - if there are any links to the site they would be natural

@sgt_kickaxe - The site follows the guidelines pretty well - there's enough to it to be breaking any rules.

@mrsavage - I didn't expect the position to hold particularly well against more established competition, but also never imagined dropping to position 750+

@tedster - I can see that perhaps one long page wasn't the best approach, however for the subject at this stage, there really isn't enough to build a full site. I didn't want to pad it out and make it look like spammy repetition and also didn't want to split it over several pages, as each page would then be pretty thin.

The way I'm looking at it is this: As far as I am concerned the page is of good quality (even after the announcement). I knew there would be a sudden interest in the subject and that established sites would start ranking for it soon after the announcement, in which case I expected to drop down the results as the site was replaced by pages with better in-links and more trusted source.

What I didn't expect was to go from page one to oblivion behind pages that are any combination of a) nothing to do with the subject b) outright spam / mfa junk c) not even in the English language or even in the Roman alphabet (don't forget we're talking about google.co.uk here) d) scraping my content into MFA junk

As I mentioned in the OP, this was really more of an experiment for me to see how advance planning and securing an exact match domain of a very new search term worked out. If the site tanks in Google it's no big deal, but I would just love to know why. I thought a 950 penalty (which is what I assume the site has) was for really breaking the guidelines by some margin like malware or something equally terrible.

[edited by: tedster at 3:10 pm (utc) on Sep 19, 2011]


 9:19 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Check your stats and see if there's been a manual visit before your site tanked from a google IP address (if it starts with 66.249 it may well be theirs) by someone using a Mac. If you've had a visit you've almost certainly got a manual penalty on the grounds that your site 'doesn't offer additional value' in the opinion of the visitor, or you've used (again in his/her opinion) spammy ways to get there. This is the way that businesses both huge and tiny are brought to their knees within a few short moments these days.


 9:33 am on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Check your stats and see if there's been a manual visit before your site tanked from a google IP address

Just checked (there's not an awful lot to go through) and I can't see anything from these IP ranges other than gbot and adsense bot


 2:45 pm on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Send a re-inclusion request saying that as far as I know I haven't done anything bad...blah..blah but want to know. If no penalty is imposed by the Google Gods, you will get an automatic replay after a few days. To confirm a penalty it takes longer, I think.


 5:43 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Troubleshooting isn't simple anymore. Drops in traffic (yes as I described in my situation) aren't one thing. They are not penalties only. Before it was pretty easy. Big drop? You've done something wrong. Post Panda, new Google algo, you can do nothing wrong except for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You chose unwisely?

I know your situation, I know what you're asking and I've mentioned the prospects in that. If you're site is new, then sandbox could be the issue. The scraping? Possibly. Or it could just simply be a matter that what you were covering is NO LONGER IN THE SHADOWS. When light shines on those keywords, your strategy is no longer effective. The balancing out factors, like keyword domain might have leveled the playing field a bit, but that was then and this is now.

So sudden drops mean either a) you did something wrong or b) you did nothing wrong and the "criteria" to rank for that keyword search changed thanks to Google. In my opinion a shallow or specialized site with singular content will get compared to a site with hundreds of sort of similar pages. It it's within reason, Google will put them ahead of a singular website such as yours. The only piece that doesn't make sense to me is why the sites above you are junk. Are they all? The top SERPS aren't well known? That's the variable that doesn't add up to me.

I would say though on your "experiment" it's a practice that may have worked in the past. I personally will not put any stock, faith or hope in having staying power based on what you're trying to do. If it becomes a subject that matters, Google will open the "range" of sites that it considers relevant. Those sites aren't one trick ponies. One good written article or site about "widget A" to me, will sink far below the well known "quality" site that discusses "widget". Who cares if you're an expert at "widget A"? Google apparently doesn't.

Remember this is my opinion based on my experiences. Take what you want, leave the rest. I'm not into scrutiny so consider this my last contribution to these types of threads. Remember one thing, there is no Google playbook. It doesn't exist. That's why you need to take suggestions as being speculative. It's like calling a car mechanic and asking them to fix your car over the phone.


 6:59 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Is the site really just 1 page? No privacy policy, no contact information? Just a 1 page site about the product?


 7:28 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

@MrSavage - I understand where you are going with that and I did fully expect the page to drop once the established sites started writing about the product. What I am trying to fathom though is why such a large drop only in G.

@bwnbwn - I is just one page with information about the product- I'm not selling anything or providing any service, collecting data, affiliating etc so I really couldn't see the need for contact/privacy or anything other than information.

To use an analogy, the site is new and maybe G doesn't trust the site, but it would be like going into a pub, seeing a new face whom you didn't know and was maybe slightly suspicious of and then arresting them and throwing them in jail with the serial killers and murderers. In fact, worse, because the site is ranking far below the web equivalent of these.

Sure, it's a new site, it's small and doesn't have much in the way of backlinks, but really, is it SO incredibly evil that it should be treated worse than the blackest spammers and sites having absolutely zero to do with the subject and not even in a language relevant to the target audience?

As I say, it's just an experiment, but to me a very revealing and also very depressing one.

Experiment aside, and talking about more normal and substantial sites, it's still very grim. I guess this is the way things are in 2011 but I'd so much love to go back to the days when you could build a site, get a stable (and perhaps low) ranking and then work on the site, add and improve content and see a steady growth in relation to the work you put in. These days it's just completely random, staggering from penalty to algo-change with absolutely no idea why or with any clue of how to improve your site.


 7:55 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Reason I ask is placing an adsense ad on a site without proper information could be a problem. I know sounds really far out but you need that information for TOS purposes.
Drawing straws here but sounds like this could be an issue if the site had a review and adsense is on the site.
You must have and abide by an appropriate privacy policy that clearly discloses that third parties may be placing and reading cookies on your users’ browser, or using web beacons to collect information, in the course of ads being served on your website. Your privacy policy should also include information about user options for cookie management.


 8:08 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

@steerpikegg, I know what you are saying and how you're feeling.

As I mentioned, a site of mine was enjoying 2000+ uniques per day. A sudden drop, and that number is around the 200 uniques per day. In my instance, based on where I'm at, I'm about as buried as you might be in the Google SERPS. I'm fine in Bing and Yahoo still just like you. Our domain choice is similar also.

Am I submitting a reconsideration? No. Do I think it's something I've done? No. Am I under Panda? Most likely. I've been updating and cleaned up. It just so happens that the subject came out of the shadows. As a result, I guess I'm just a POS site. My rankings would indicate that.

I bring up my site because it's relevant to your situation I believe. It's at least relevant to the core of your experiment. The aspect that does differ, is that "premium site" dominate the top results, but I'm so far back that every Tom, Dick and Harry rank better.

Ooops I said I was done in my last post. My bad!


 8:38 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Is the site really just 1 page? No privacy policy, no contact information? Just a 1 page site about the product?

I'm thinking this is the most likely cause of the problem too. I'd add a product factsheet page and contact/about the author page (for press or something) to give the site a bit more of a footprint and internally linking the pages to the index.

That said, I have released sites that started well, then dropped off the radar before bouncing back a few weeks later. Sandboxing possibly.


 9:00 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

I registered the .co.uk domain name of the Widgets model name (it's only called this in EU) and began to build a small site.

i wonder if this is possibly part of the problem.

Is it possible that having an exact match domain based on a product (for which you are not the manufacturer) can be a liability?

For example, if Foo Bar Widget company created the Turbo Widget 3000 and I register a domain called turbowidget3000.co.uk and I have no direct relationship with the Foo Bar Widget Company, could that come back to bite me on the hind?

We've heard people say that exact match domains are doing more poorly than in the past.

We've also heard that "branding" is playing a bigger role in ranking.

and we generally believe that google is well informed about who "owns" a site.

So maybe google is saying, "Wait a minute, you aren't the Foo Bar Widget Company - who are you trying to fool?"

Maybe just speculation, but I think it is worth examining further.


 9:12 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

erm going against the grain a bit, but does it really look like a penalty

or a 1 page 3 week old site now stampeded by multipage , established , high PR, sites now getting in on the the hot piece,

plus the tradition re ranking after an initial spell in the sunshine

Robert Charlton

 10:51 pm on Sep 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

To follow up on Planet13's comments... is there any history of trademark issues triggering a penalty?


 1:00 am on Sep 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

So in a nutshell.
1- very new site about a product fixing to come on the scene 1 page with nothing to validate there is a real person behind the deal.

It isn't Google as I did the very same thing. I found out about a new Gov. regulation hitting the scene and bought the exact match domain. Built a site around it, added good content all the hops, all the necessary info to see this was a legit site, were we could be contacted, privacy policy all the necessary information so if a review was done this site did not look like a shoe box site.

We ranked top from the go. You couldn't even do adwords not enough searches. The news hit the press we went from 100 a day to thousands a day, and never had a sandbox, never faltered in the serps. It has been 3 years since the launch and still ranking in the top with 1000's of other sites hitting the scene. Now there are 1000's of sites buying traffic with adwords.

I don't think G is at fault here. You produced a 1 page site the fan hit the market and that was that. No contact, no privacy just 1 page. If I visit a 1 page site I am gone and will never be back. I figure G feels the same way about this. No disrespect about your work it was just not done like it should have been.

I would add the necessary info to validate it. Add more content spice it up a bit, and see what develops.

You say it was an experiment so I guess just because it tanked the experiment is over? Not in my life I would get to work and finish the experiment.

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