bloard - 9:20 pm on Dec 20, 2012 (gmt 0)
I'm sure this is "tin hat" type of thinking, but...
I realize that automated queries are against G's TOS. I also know that in the laundry list of things that Matt Cutts occasionally mentions as potential violations is automated queries. I have just never bought it as being a real factor without me having recieved a warning or something.
But... On my penalized site in May I started using a popular rank checking tool. (Post-Penguin penalty). I run it pretty much daily. It only checks about 35 queries to check the top 50 positions for each. It seems like it does its queries with 10 results per page. So, since all pages on that site are now -950, I suppose it runs roughly 150 searches per day within about an hour and a half (it's also searching bing/yahoo during that 1.5 hours and has a delay of several seconds between queries).
Unlike the pros that use proxy servers etc to check rankings, I never really considered what I was doing to be that far out of bounds. Heck, I probably do more than that many manual searches in a day. It uses the same ip from my local computer that I also log into my WMT account with. My -950 penalty started in late June... roughly a month after starting to use the tool.
I would never consider this to be a legitimate cause of a penalty. But - about 2 weeks ago I had 3 pages come out of -950 for a few days. (sort of). But what has me interested in the connection is that the penalty was lifted for those pages ONLY for the exact word order that I use in the automated tool.
Meaning... If a page was about Small Red Widgets, my automated query (one per page) was "Cheap Red Widgets Small" - clearly not a common word order for the search, which would normally be "Cheap Small Red Widgets". For the 3 pages that moved out of -950, the penalty was lifted ONLY for the exact word order of my automated query for that page. Any other word order (including more commonly searched word orders) and I remained at -950.
One more piece of data... this occurred after I had taken a 3 day break from using the ranking tool. Once I saw a glimmer of hope, I went back to running the program daily and everything went back to -950 again.
I am almost positive that this is a coincidence and not causation. But I'm going to stop my automated queries for quite awhile to see what happens. The coincidence between the exact word order seems to tell me that there is something going on as that word order is not contained in any backlinks, or anything on-page. The only connection to the exact word order is the ranking tool.
I'll report back.... I'm sure with news that it was another wild goose chase.