I have a deal site that I've been running for about 4 years. In early June, I decided to put some effort towards resurrecting this nearly-dead site by hiring some interns to do some link building. Things were going good until a week ago. Here are the highlights of what I'm seeing:
(1) Over a week ago, I noticed the page rank on my site dropped to a 1 (from a 3).
(2) Last night, I noticed my Google organic traffic dropped to essentially nothing.
(3) When I search for one of my previous popular keywords in Google, I don't even show up on the list anymore. That is, I took a long tail keyword that I used to rank for, surrounded it in quotes, and went through all 17+ pages in Google, and my site did not exist in the listing anymore.
Now for the background. The interns I hired were doing link building by emailing relevant blogs and asking for links and/or a review of the site. We had a lot of feedback on sponsored reviews, so we did quite a few of those. Traffic had been up from these, and we didn't do anything special like put rel="nofollow" on any of the sponsored post links.
I looked at Google Webmastertools, and saw that the crawling activity by Google in June and July received a spike, probably because of the perceived increase interest in the site due to our advertising efforts. SEO traffic had been more healthy too--until yesterday.
Initially when I saw that the site was penalized, I assumed it was the sponsored posts and the lack of rel="nofollow" links. However, I spoke with an SEO buddy of mine, and he is finding it hard to believe that a couple dozen sponsored posts would have blacklisted us.
Instead, his theory is that it's caused by "thin" content. That is, the perceived interest in the site--as reflected by the huge spike in incoming links from relevant blogs--caused Google to reanalyze the site and dig deeper than it had before (thus the increased crawling activity by Google as seen through webmaster tools). Remember that this site is a deal site, which means we have tens of thousands of products, all with their own landing pages. A lot of this content is duplicate content that comes from merchant affiliate feeds with generic titles and descriptions, which we insert into our site.
So his theory is, Google dug deeper, saw that a lot of our content was similar to other sites, and decided to penalize us for crappy content. This would be somewhat in line with the Panda updates and all the recent stuff Google has been doing.
So my question for any of you is, which scenario do you think is more likely? Did Google penalize us for a few dozen paid reviews, or did Google penalize us because the paid reviews caused Google to crawl more pages and find a problem with thin content? Or is there some other theory I'm missing?
Lastly, if it's the paid reviews, could I recover my PR and reclaim my SEO ranking by going back to all of the blogs that did sponsored posts (and disclosed it in the post) and asking them to put rel="nofollow" on all of our links?