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I'm helping a company figure out why their web presence is now toast and my best guess is that Googlebot was tricked into deleting their site "website.com" by a competitor who posted nearly identical logo and graphics content at "website.us". The .com site has been up for years and the .us for only a few months (verifiable using Alexa.com wayback), yet the bogus .us site is the only one that appears in the SERPs. The .com had a PR of 6 until a few weeks ago and great placement for key terms. Now it is completely OUT of Google (except for adwords listings :o )
I assume that you have checked their website carefully and found that they have not done something to get themselves banned.
Identical logo and graphics should not make any difference with Google if there is other content on the pages.
Some time ago there was a thread about websites exploiting a weekness in Google's algo by redirecting to other websites. I did not really understand the technicalities in that, but I imagine that your client's competitor might be using that trick.
I am glad more people see it as a legitimate problem. I wish G would see it as a legitimate problem as well. It is more often than not associated with hijacked recently deleted and re-registered domains that have existing Y and ODP listings. An uncanny number of these have links from Y Asia and a few other other Eastern Y directories. The problem is these sites are "disposable" to the cloakers, (I counted 28 cloaks of this type with my obfuscated content pointing to just one single competitor with a server side affiliate tracking link) though the hijacked sites are by no means disposable. I sent this list to webmaster@google with googleguy in the subject and got nothing but the autoresponder reply. I am thinking about cloaking to *hijackers only* content containing multiple copyrighted terms, trademarks and expletives. Contacting NOC's is getting old.
Just 3 days ago, I added new pages to my site, expanding it by about 1000%. Same day the new pages got a couple of visitors using AOL accounts, and a few hours later, some automated program (from Nigeria?) visited almost all my pages.
Is this just a coincidence or something more sinister is going on? Will find out soon.
Thus it is almost certainly a a deliberate and successful attempt to replace the legitimate site to knock it out of good position.
Troels point may come into play here as well because the site construction seems fine now but in the past may not have fully complied with Guidelines (ironically the non-compliance with extra keywords was at the time it was in top positions).
As always I advise people to read and comply with the Google Guidelines and they've done so.
HOWEVER - if I assume this was a form of "placement hijacking" it all makes sense and all that Google did wrong was to very reasonably assume the two sites were the same company when in fact it was a clever scheme to replace one company with another.
He's sending notes and calling Google but I have a hunch they get 10,000 such items a day (an hour?).
I think Google really would be well advised to have some form of "priority service" where people could pay a fee to have problems reviewed and perhaps money refunded if it was a "Google error".... My beef with Yahoo is that they appear to apply guidelines arbitrarily and then won't explain how to remove them. I hope Google is not moving in that direction.
The entire Google algo is a flaw, so it will fit in nicely with the rest.