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From reading around on this site I may have suffered a penalty - which is possible as last week I re-registered the site perhaps three times in one evening because I recently updated it with some new more relevant keywords.
My questions are:
1) does this sound like I've been penalized?
2) if so - is this a permanent blacklisting or, should I leave it and will all return to normal within a few weeks...or months?
3) is there anything I can do about this?
I've checked and the main site that links to mine (and which helped it get to #1 in the first place) is still live.
thanks in advance, ed
This does sound like it could be either a penalty or a bug (your server's or Google's) Have you seen recent googlebot requests on your server, and do they look good? Also, do you have a Webmaster Tools account set up, and have you checked it for feedback?
Google has always been more interested in including sites than excluding them. The algo now allows automated placement AND REMOVAL of penalties that used to be done manually. Even the harshest of penalties stand a chance of being manually removed through a reinclusion request if all the problems are cleaned up and Google is convinced there will be no repetition.
If you are familiar with the guidelines and do your best not to cross the line, it is extremely unlikely that your site would attract any of those harshest penalties.
I haven't given up on Google. I've got very good sites with unique content (that expands daily, thanks to professional community involvement) and I think my sites are deserving of inclusion within the index. However, about two to three months ago, I stopped obsessing about the ban. With two other search engines out there, I simply began focusing on improving the accessibility and user experience for each of my sites. My traffic continues to grow thanks to MSN and Yahoo, and I'm having some of the most fun I've ever had developing my technologies and designing interfaces. If Google ever takes me back, great. But I'm not going to gut my sites in an effort to abide by a fundamentalist's interpretation of the Google quality guidelines.
This experience would be less frustrating if competing niche directories - that were clearly venturing into naughty-naughty-land - were also banned. But they're not. One example is a competitor's directory site with barely 20,000 vendors organized into 200,000 pages! Uh. Okay. Yet my site, with nearly 30,000 vendors organized into 8,000 index-able pages, is banned :) Oh, the irony.
My sites all integrate AdSense in a tasteful way, and I'm flirting with 5% AdSense CTR, even though AdSense takes a backseat to my direct advertisers. I understand that being an AdSense publisher has no effect on SERPs nor will it prevent you from being banned. But if you're getting close to 5% CTR on targeted AdSense ads that are not prominently displayed, I think it is reasonable to assume that your content is appropriate and appropriately targeted. That sort of performance should trigger an automatic reconsideration.
I've heard anecdotal reports of reconsideration requests taking anywhere from days to years for Google to lift a ban. I understand that the utter lack of transparency in the "appeals" process exists to combat reverse engineering attempts. However, at some point, I wonder if Google might be legally considered a monopoly in the U.S. search industry. And if that happens, I suspect the Google ban will begin to attract the attention of federal and/or state governments. A Google ban directly affects interstate commerce, and without transparency in the appeals process, the federal government (or the public at large) cannot know whether or not the ban itself is applied fairly and without prejudice.
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure how a more transparent appeals process would help black hatters reverse engineer the guidelines. Even so, it would seem that the risk of harm would be dwarfed by the potential for good in that white hatters would more fully know how to walk the line without becoming a statistic.
Lately I'm concentrating my energies on adding more social currency models to my resource sites ("Ask the Pros" type stuff, along with nice features like intern recruitment brokerages for specific industries that are free to use for colleges and universities, and vendors).