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When I finaly got around to checking the situation out I discovered that Google is penalizing (essentially banning) specific pages on the site. So you can understand what I am seeing, take this example.
I have a page about "versions of widgets". I used to be top 5 for that phrase. Now, when I search for "versions of widgets" I can not be found, at all. The page in question still appears when I use the site operator but it is not searchable. You can not even find the page when searching for unique phrases. It's essentially been banned, even though can still can be found with the site operator.
I have identified 15 or so such pages. There doesn't seem to be a common thread between them though. Some have toolbar PR, others do not. One has a couple of sold links on it but the others do not. Some of them were well ranked when this happened, others were not.
Has anyone else experienced this type of "partial banning" of a site? What could be the potenial causes?
Sad to say, that it too has been content banned. It would seem the penalty is being transferred by the redirect.
I'm going to do one final test. I have put up some completely new content now. (It could be that the index page is being penalized because it has the same file name) I want to see if new content will also be banned on the new domain. It'll be a week or two before I know the answer though.
To try and fix this issue, I'm going to pull all the links I have sold on the site at the end of the month. I'll then submit the site for reconsideration. Have any of you guys sent a reconsideration request?
The new content that I put on the new domain got indexed. The text on it is not content banned. It is, in fact, searchable for unique phrases.
Just to recap, all the content on the original domain has been content banned, even pages I have written long after the ban was placed on my site. All the content I moved over to the new domain is also content banned (I persevered the file names and used a 301 to redirect them). But new content on the new domain is immune to the problem.
It would seem either the text of the articles themselves is flagged or that the ban is being transferred by the 301.
Remember the other site I mentioned earlier, which got flat-out banned (site:example.com returns nothing)? I 301ed it to a new domain (again preserving file names) and the ban did not transfer to the new domain. It's actually showing signs that it could reclaim most of it's position, given time a little more time.
So, what? The content itself is banned?! That's just not fair. I wrote, or paid freelancers to write, every single word on that site.
Any updates from you guys on clues as to the cause and/or solution? I did submit a reconsideration request to Google but I'm not too hopeful that it will work.
I'm also curious to hear what kind of on-page optimization you guys are doing? The original articles I wrote for the site 3 years ago are probably a little bit keyword heavy (I confess I was a newb) but definitely very readable. The later articles have less and less of that sort of thing but the filename, title and h1 tag all match. Aside from that I don't really do much on-page optimization.
[edited by: dial_d at 9:18 pm (utc) on April 2, 2008]
Normally in my experience, the penalty will transfer with a 301.
But how are they detecting it? Is it the the filename? Is it the content itself?
It doesn't transfer the entire penalty or my new content on the new domain would also be content banned.
I guess I will do a complete overhaul on a few pages and move them over to see what happens. I'll change the filenames and significantly rewrite the articles (but still redirect from the old URL).
I almost hope that doesn't work because the idea of rewriting every article on that site is not something I relish doing.
A) The filename, meta tags, content and even the design have been completely changed.
B) The filename stayed the same but everything else was changed.
C) Only the filename was changed, everything else stayed the same.
I guess it's just to wait and see.... again. Maybe this time I (we) will learn something meaningful.
In an odd twist 8 of the original 14 articles I moved over to the new domain have become searchable for unique text again! What's more, they have reclaimed their previous positions! (5 of them are #1 again!)
I'm going to wait a while longer and see if the others follow suit. If they do I'm going to transfer the whole site over.
As of this morning the site seems to be in some sort of flux. Several pages appear to have been dropped when I do a site:example.com, although those pages are still searchable. For the meantime I'm just going to wait until things settle down.
I did manage to find that 3 of those 14 pages had been partially or entirely copied by various sources. I have sent emails to those sources but I will probably have to end up sending complaining to their web hosts in the end.
After finding those 3 articles this morning which were being copied, I spent the morning checking every single page on copyscape. I only found 10 articles where any significant amount of text was being copied by others.
Two of those were quite severe though. The first one had copied about 50% of one of my articles but has placed that text on tens, if not hundreds, of nearly identical pages. There was another instance where an article was copied in it's entirety and sent out as a press release. (I'm pretty damn steamed about that one.) There are something like 10 copies of that article floating around the net now. I, of course, have sent them all cease and desist letters.
I'm not really sure if either of those is significant enough to cause my site being content banned though. By and large, the site has not been copied.
One other thing did turn up though; I found two sites which are basically linking to every single page I have on that site. They have crawled the site and used that info to populate a database which they are using to auto-generate long lists of links. I'm sure you have all seen these types of sites before. Certainly my site gets its fair share of this sort of thing but it did stand out they are linking to nearly every page at some point throughout their site.
Finally, I said before that I do not have any duplicate content issues but they may not be entirely true. The content is not duplicate in any way but the navigation (which is quite long) is exactly the same on every page. Maybe I am being foolish in assuming that G can differentiate between the navigation and just a bunch of links. As a side note, I am using divs on this site so the navigation links are the very last thing in the source code.
This might actually explain why the new domain got the ban lifted. The navigation is much smaller on it.
Not to put you on the spot Achronic (because you seem to understand it) but are you referring to a loss of just rankings or a page(s) that vanished from the directory. The vanishing page thingy, especially the index page, begin to pop up in various forums about six months ago. Not that index pages havenít always vanished in the past. Normally the vanished page will appear with a site: www. mydomain.com or variations but when you do any phrase search in Google the page has vanished not dropped in the rankings. Furthermore if you go to McDar the searched for terms do not appear on any data centers period. If any of the searched for terms do appear the page has not vanished. The exception could be the terms are so optimized what few there are were penalized dramatically.
The only real commonality I have seen is people seemed to have been making changes to the pages prior to the penalty especially navigation links. Also many people mention paid links. To me it looks like on the face it is a manual ban but why leave traces of the page and PR. What Iím wondering though as I read more is can Google mistake something as a paid link. And that is for the real minds because I donít see how they couldnít make a mistake especially with an automated algo searching for that type of thing.
No nav changes, no site changes, and whole entire industry got slammed in some fashion (although only a couple of us penalized like me). I've also confirmed with someone at that knows it's a paid link filter thing.
My guess is that it's 90% buying links and 10% something else I haven't figured out yet which combined into a perfect storm of "google hates me".
If is was manually reviewed, perhaps the reviewer didn't bother to check the domains to see if they were owned by the same person.
It's just pure speculation though. I have no proof of that, only that it does fit the scenario.
I've also confirmed with someone at that knows it's a paid link filter thing.
Care to expound on that a little bit? You know someone at G or maybe some expert?
As it turns out my problem was not related to crosslinking or buying and selling links at all. It was in fact the navigation which was causing the problems.
Either, it was a duplicate content issue or it was due to the large number of links on each page (more than 100) or a combination of the two. I actually tend to lean towards it being a duplicate content issue mainly because of the type of penalty and also because I see pages all the time that seem to suffer no penalty from having more than 100 links.
So, I wanted to come back here and tell you guys to double check your own sites for duplicate content and don't just look at the visible text on the page.
In any case, about 1/3rd of the pages have been re-cached at this point and all have returned to (at or near) their original position in the SERPs. Traffic is up by 60% and climbing. I'm really pretty damn pleased with the result.