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Diagnosing a possible penalty

     
3:59 pm on May 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

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A site I've worked on (for 2 years +) has just lost SERPS positions across the board, dropping from top positions to the 50s and 60s for everything except for the URL. It has the look of a penalty but the usual diagnostics aren't supporting this.

site: shows all the pages indexed
WMT reports no problems
PR hasn't changed
Reported IBLs haven't changed

My questions are does this suggest a penalty and if so does it look more manual or algorithmic?

I want to be more certain about possible penalties before making any changes, onsite or offsite.

Views appreciated.

9:47 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Its not just .edu blog post's triggering this .... Maybe also News site links specifically.

But it's certainly " if it smells like a paid link ... then it probably is a paid link "

10:22 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

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We did no 301's, but did find 2 parasitical hosting links a few months back, one on the homepage, which was removed in under 15 hours (Arggggg, <hackers> work at night when we sleep!)The other was found a few weeks back pointing to a weightloss site and we did not know it was there until Xenu pointed it out, we run it once every 2 weeks so it could have been there longer.

They have all been removed and this could have been a big casue for the -50 penalty. there just has to be a way out!

[edited by: tedster at 11:00 pm (utc) on May 19, 2009]

10:55 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I just read a very curious article about Google downgrading paid blog posts online at businessweek...HMMMMMM
11:04 pm on May 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

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We can link to that article - which is mostly about the FTC and paid blog posts, but also touches on Google:

Google Downgrades Paid Blog Entries
And the Commission's rules may be less effective at squelching behind-the-scenes arrangements between advertisers and bloggers than policies at Google (GOOG), which has been penalizing paid blog entries by demoting them in its search results.

BusinessWeek article [businessweek.com]

8:01 pm on May 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I always wondered if Google can differentiate properly between paid and not paid blog links.

For example, I have 2 original content blogs, that I set-up in order to create extra links for my main sites. These blogs have original content that doesn't fit in my main sites, but the original goal was to generate extra links to my sites.

Can such a behavior trigger a penalty? I don't see why it should as the blogs are now actual quality stand-alone sites.

3:29 am on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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What if Google built into their algo a filter trip for sites that had edu or blog post links jump a threshold % of overall links.

Wouldn't be hard to do, most edu or paid blog posts have 2-3 links w/ different anchor text into different pages of a site. Many site's will also add a 'legitimate' link to a .gov or unrelated site. Then consider these links typically go to .com sites and if your buying multiple posts... watch out!

3:38 am on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I always wondered if Google can differentiate properly between paid and not paid blog links.... Can such a behavior trigger a penalty?

Anyone visiting such blog sites, would see that the blog is owned by the linked to site. That's not an issue in regards to "paid links".
6:21 pm on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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If you feel you are under a penalty but cannot think of the actual reason, can you file a reconsideration request asking if your sites are under any sort of penalty?

Then after hearing back you can work on what they say.

I don't know if you would hear back but I wanted to see what you guys thought.

6:37 pm on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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You can try, but that kind of reply from Google is very, very rare.
6:53 pm on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am asking because I had done a sitewide link to a homepage using a keyword and I left it for a couple of weeks and then after seeing that it was having a negative affect on rankings, I removed it. Since then, I have recovered some ranking for different keywords (I feel several keywords were penalized) but I am still not sure that the sitewide link to the homepage was the reason for the penalty.

And something such as this might be seen as manipulation although in my case I just didn't know that Google doesn't like this.

I am not sure if it would be good to file a reconsideration request in this situation?

8:06 pm on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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You can file a request whenever you have made changes to better align your website with Google's guidelines - but do not expect a reply or confirmation on whether there was a penalty on your site, or what was the exact cause. That information is just not given out.

You may appreciate this short video from Rachel Searles and Brian White - some of the Google staff who review the reconsideration requests, talking about what to do and what not to do:

[youtube.com...]

[edited by: tedster at 9:01 pm (utc) on May 21, 2009]

8:18 pm on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Ted, thanks for the information.

Also, thank you for the video. It is good to get more in-depth info about website penalties.

4:35 am on June 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

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thanks for the valuable info here. a major site in my area has apparently been hit with a penalization - the site used to be at the very top 1-3 in a near dozen keywords and suddenly i noticed the site was gone. found it on the 5th-7th pages of those keywords now - i some cases he's right that at #51, twice in fact. when i did a bit of looking around at the kind of backlinks he had (i heard from someone he had fired his webmaster over all this) and i can see some of what might have happened as there were a lot of spammy single pages with limited promotion on them. something made up apparently by (?) godaddy which i don't know anything about but there were dozens of these pages....I suspected there were other spammy and hat tricks but i don't know enough about it - he's been down a few weeks now

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 5:58 am (utc) on June 12, 2009]

5:33 am on June 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Yes exactly what I start thinking when I see reports of these types of "link based" penalties. Time for some negative SEO experiments. If you can get your own site banned or dropped 50 places then you can certainly arrange it for a competitor, does google want this sort of thing going on?
2:50 am on June 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Glad this topic was started already; I was about to start one myself. I know what I think, but it's better to get secondary feedback as well.

I just got called in on a site (which I've worked with before) that dropped from being on the first page for the two major keyword phrases for ages down to #27 and #35.

First it showed the 27 and 35, then bounced back to the first page and now, a couple days later, it's down again and also ported over to AOL Search with the same results, which makes me think it's a real drop, not just seeing a different data center hit.

Added: the PR went up with this last update

[edited by: Marcia at 3:15 am (utc) on June 5, 2009]

1:29 pm on June 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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i see many similarities here with what I am experiencing. my sites rankings dropped hugely about 4 days ago. It has a sitemap covering all the pages and some of the pages were VERY slow to load recently and show in WMT as timed out.

so my theory is that the site has been punished for having pages in the sitemap that googlebot cannot access / just that it cannot access certain pages & nothing to do with the sitemap.

the site ranks #1 for a search on domain.tld but not domain. domain is a non-dictionary word. also any phrase from my homepage also only shows in supplemental results.

what I find quite interesting is that the highest page to rank for a domain name without tld search is not the homepage. and a phrase from said page DOES show in the normal results. so it appears that only the website homepage is being punished here. perhaps I can even go as far as to say that all the links pointing to the homepage are currently being ignored and passing no link juice atm.

in any case I have fixed the slow loading problem & will just wait now. I do not think my problem is anything to do with getting dodgy backlinks as I go for quality.

[edited by: tedster at 5:27 pm (utc) on June 22, 2009]

3:16 pm on June 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Hi has anyone who got penalised by Google on or around the 14th May come back in the SERPS yet.

My site is still hovering around the number 40 - 70 mark having been at number 1 for nearlly all my keywords.

Domain.tld still ranks number 1

Domain ranks 40 - 70

6:18 pm on June 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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What I'm totally amazed at, by reading this thread, is that there can definitely be competitor manipulation happening here -- the addition of one-way links to your site, from less-than-desirable sites (seen from the eyes of Google), can cause these rash penalties to be invoked.

Google's has gotten too smart and complex for itself, and their acknowledged importance of backlinks has resulted in this. Google needs to get back to its content, content, content philosophy, and get rid of this backlinks metric. Webmasters spend all of their time on link campaigns, and the result is that content suffers. Why should backlinks (oh yeah, the Trust factor) supercede original and meaningful content ?

It amazes me that penalties can be invoked from links pointing to you, that you have absolutely no control of. Move over Google, Microsoft (Bing) is on the way....Google's dominance is about to take a huge hit...

9:35 pm on June 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Google needs to get back to its content, content, content philosophy, and get rid of this backlinks metric.

The challenge here is that Google was founded on the "backlinks metric". It's baked into the recipe.

I'd like Google to stop giving PENALTIES for various kinds of backlinks. In other words, shift from their war-like attitude about paid linking. A little more Ghandi and a little less Napoleon.

I don't see why they can't simply IGNORE backlinks that they identify as against their guidelines. Just assign their own internal rel='nofollow' on the backend. They've long said they can do this, and they were doing it even before the rel='nofollow' attribute was made standard.

If Google could say, flat out, that there is absolutely nothing a competitor can do to harm your rankings - with no "weasel words" - that would be a greatly improved situation.

12:32 pm on June 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Tedster, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you just said.
9:12 am on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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3 of my oldest sites have been hit in the exact same way. All went from ranking on Page 1 of several of their keywords for months to Page 5-7 within two weeks of each other. First one site, then the other 2 like 2 weeks later. They and are now bouncing around from Page 4-7 literally on a daily basis. This started on June 7th.

I thought this might have to do with the May-June and now July SERP problems as posted in the other thread, but now I think it's a penalty, too coincidental.

Sites showing on Page 5 when searching domain name only, page 1 for actual URL. Only home pages affected, inner pages stable.

PR remains stable on all sites, PR3 across the board.

Have not bought a single link in my life, have several one-ways on sitewide/blogrolls but only on related sites that were not junk sites, all of them ranked for their keywords, loaded with content and with PR.

No malware detected on my sites, nothing in GWT, going to run XENU now.

Have no clue, #*$! is going on, these were my main money sites and the traffic has been hit hard. I am always very careful when I build links.

Finally found this thread, have been searching all over the web to find some reason for this.

9:40 am on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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@Love2Blog: I suffer the same - and could not find out what went wrong. It seems to be some kind of over-optimization - either onpage or offpage - so either a overuse of keywords on the page or overuse of a keyword in the anchor-text. I'm still wondering what to do about it (like delete links or getting new links with other anchor-texts).
10:04 am on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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@cangoou
This really sucks!

I checked both of those issues first, my keywords on page are fine, I am not one to overstuff, I write for my users, the sites were converting so well and had a very low bounce rate. I also checked my anchors, lots of variation, it's actually over varied, I pay close attention to that.

I think I am not going to do anything right now and wait out the whole SERP problem that a lot of people are getting as discussed in this thread: [webmasterworld.com...]

I had added a few more links when this all started, but I am not going to keep doing that, as I am worried this may cause more problems. I have been adding more content in the last week, fresh updated and dated stuff.

I honestly felt like this was because of link value being diminished in the last update, as about 30% of my links are from article marketing.

I also realized that I had no 301 redirect so the http://example.com and http://www.example.com were like two different sites, I noticed in Yahoo Site Explorer that I had 2500 links for one and 3300 links for the other, so I just put in a redirect tonight, see if that makes any difference.

I am just so pissed because in one swoop G can just wipe you out, and while the sites rank in Bing and Yahoo, you know how that goes, the traffic is just not the same. I am still hoping that the ranks will come back, because I honestly do not know what it is I did.

Ironically, I have another blog, that I actually have sold like 15 text links on and have not built one manual link in over 6 months, only added posts and it sits Page 1 Position 1! And the other sites where I have busted my butt, got hammered.

[edited by: engine at 10:37 am (utc) on July 6, 2009]
[edit reason] Please use example.com [/edit]

10:06 am on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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BTW, I had thought about building links too fast, but since these sites only have about 7,000 links in Site Explorer and they are over 1 year old, I doubt that that's an issue. Apparently these links were good enough for the sites to sit on Page 1 for months, but not anymore. And these are low competition keywords.
11:43 am on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am in the same boat as you Love2Blog, got hit on the 13th. However in my case, all my sites were interlinking with each other (Suppose this is a link farm, link scheme in the eyes of google), I have removed all this few days ago, so I hope this is the case, waiting for googlebot to crawl my sites and see for himself all links are gone, I hope I am not be being penalised for putting in my website url in the URL field on blogs.
5:22 pm on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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At the start of June we saw a few of our main category pages drop around 30, 50 or 90 positions overnight for their main keywords but we also saw our overall traffic go up 50% through long tail terms. Traffic settled down during June to slightly higher than normal levels but the affected pages never recovered for the affected keywords. It's an ecommerce site.

Things that we thought may have contributed to this:-
1) In March we did alot of 301 work to address canonical issues and also redirect pages for withdrawn products to the main category page rather than leaving a stub page saying 'product withdrawn'.

2) We've been rewriting content to deal with duplicate content issues (other sites use the same product info) and 301'ing the old page to the new content pages (about 50 a week). About 1/3rd of the site has been rewritten since March.

3) We realised one of our other sites (not touched in years) has sitewide links to the home page of this one, so we adjusted that to link more usefully to the relevent category pages rather than the home page. This caused a big change in our backlink profile, but made it more balanced.

4) We noticed alot of our content has been scraped by a well known shopping comparison wiki site and used generally (rather than against our products!) and was outranking us. This was removed by that site a few weeks back but is still cached by google.

5) A year ago we stopped a link building campaign that had been going for a few months when we realised some of the targeted pages were dropping for the target keywords (some had improved but not hugely). On closer inspection alot of the links were in the footers of sites that were once genuine but are now owned by link builders.

Observations:-
1) One page dropped for two phrases; one phrase was the target for link building by the SEO over a year back (-90), the other was the phrase used when we changed the linking strategy from our other site (-50).

2) A page that was not targeted by the SEO but was targeted when we revised links from our other site did not change position.

3) The other affected pages were all the subject of link building by the SEO and fell for the phrases targeted.

4) Other pages targeted by the SEO have been unaffected.

5) Traffic improved for long tail terms after revising links from our other site (one page stabilised after months of in and out for it's main phrase combined with locations).

6) Number of pages indexed by Google is now 2,700 as opposed to 800 in March when we began rewriting content and is still going up almost daily.

Conclusions:
I don't think the content scraped from our site would cause this issue, or the 301 work, or our rewriting (that appears to be helping).

However, the coincidence between the anchor text used in external links and the affected terms/pages is too much to ignore. Add this to the knowledge that the most affected pages/terms were those targeted for SEO link building a year ago and it just shouts "back link issue".

There is some conflicting evidence. Some of our links are obviously good, some had no impact and others appear to have had a negative impact.

Our first plan of attack is to remove the links from our other site for one of the affected category pages to see if that has a positive or negative effect on that page.

7:24 pm on July 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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@WarrenBuffett
I know for sure that blog comments would not cause a penalty, maybe devalued link juice from them causing a loss of SERP positions, but not penalty. My sites are not interlinked on recip level, but 2 of the sites do link one-way to the one that fell to Pg 5 first, but it has since its inception over a year ago. I am going to remove them and see what happens.

@claaarky
Thanks for the great details.

2:54 am on July 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I seem to have the penalty and not one edu link nor have I done any 301 prior to the SERP drops.

I do have some blogroll links, which maybe viewed by Google as paid, but not one single one is.

3:23 am on July 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I'd like Google to stop giving PENALTIES for various kinds of backlinks. In other words, shift from their war-like attitude about paid linking. A little more Ghandi and a little less Napoleon.

I don't see why they can't simply IGNORE backlinks that they identify as against their guidelines. Just assign their own internal rel='nofollow' on the backend. They've long said they can do this, and they were doing it even before the rel='nofollow' attribute was made standard.

Google has done enough to discuss with webmasters on paid links. None of the webmasters want to listen everyone does so much link buying and link selling these days. An administrator of a leading forum like you want Google to stop penalizing paid links. Its the same attitude of everyone out there if you think in Google point of view what they do is right.

I am in this industry for more than 7 years now and all the recent link penalties that Google give are more to do with link buying / link selling / link spamming and other link building abuses. Almost all of them are justified everyone i have seen who got penalized by this -60 penalty abused links in some way or the other.

4:09 am on July 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

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So I have a question, is it best to stop all manual link building activities during this possible penalty, in the event that it maybe link related in any way and it may just add to the problems?
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