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Reviving "dead" website

Former designers wiped them off the Internet

11:38 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Here's the basic story:

A lawyer friend of mine has a website which for years has ranked pretty well: top 5 or so for his key search terms. He was getting good traffic from day one. He hires a new SEO/design firm last year to get him even more traffic. (Yes, he admits he was a little greedy.) Eventually, he thinks he is big enough that he doesn't need these guys and stops paying them at the end of a month. They say he violated their poorly written contact (yes, a lawyer signed this) and then promised to wipe him off the Internet.

Unfortunately, before he cut them loose he didn't change the username and password to his site, so according my friend, the SEO firm "pulled all the content out and all the search word optimization" they had done. (My guess is they also pulled all of the inbound links they set up for the guy.) Three weeks later his site drops out of sight. I mean, it is gone! Even if you type the domain name in, it does not directly come up in Google, only a few references to it (like only from his LinkedIn page, etc). These guys cleaned him out.

He was able to restore the content, but even after several months he is still off the grind. I would like to help him out and can do some basic SEO for him, but am worried the former designers did some nasty "other things" to his domain to knock him out. Since I don't have any idea what that might be (or how to undo it) I thought ask everyone here for things to look for or look out for. For example: if somehow they go him banned from Google, how would I know and what could I do?

That's basically it. Appreciate your help!

3:35 am on Jan 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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First, I'd consider moving it to a new host or at least a new server on the existing hosting service - just in case there is some kind of back door installed allowing the bad guys future access. Knowing that you've got a clean installation brings peace of mind.

Second, his ranking power may have been coming mostly from the previous SEO company's own link farm. If so, the most important thing will be getting fresh, new and legitimate backlinks. Our Link Development forum [webmasterworld.com] is full of good ideas in that area.

I'd suggest registering for Google Webmaster Tools and verifying the site with them. The information that becomes immediately available might tell you a lot. Do the same with Yahoo Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Tools, too.

Once you've registered, you've got a channel to send a reconsideration request to the Google Team, as well as a good way to submit a Sitemap (that may help a lot.)

There's a lot of information about Google Search in our forum's Hot Topics area [webmasterworld.com], which is always pinned to the top of this forum's index page. You will probably find a lot to think over there in your attempts to rejuvenate the site - things that will help with all search engines, not just Google.

Good luck with this, it sounds like a good project to take on.

3:58 am on Jan 12, 2010 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator phranque is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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as ted describes, start with the basics and make sure everything is in order first.
i would run a dns report as well.

also, you can get a pretty good look at the inbound link situation with SiteExplorer.
and losing those inbound links may be a "blessing in disguise" in the long run.

6:22 pm on Jan 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for all the info. Some of that I would have thought of (hopefully) and some of it I would not have. Sounds like I have a lot of work a head of me.

Guess the real point of my question is should I be wary of anything really nasty that these guys might have done that the average person would miss without closer inspection?

1:59 am on Jan 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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It is possible that the Google URL removal tool was used, which I don't believe is possible to overcome for a duration of six months, unless a reconsideration request changes that. I would agree with the earlier comment that you should not be using any server-side code (eg. a CMS) used by the firm, nor use the same server.

Set up the same content, at the same URLs if at all possible, on a clean server, then see what messages if any are in Google webmaster tools, and watch your logs to see if the site is being crawled by Googlebot or other search engine spiders.

7:07 pm on Jan 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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The "Google URL removal tool!" That's the kind of thing I was looking for. Many thanks!
9:32 am on Jan 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Previous SEO work is something you own. It's what you paid for during previous months. Snatching it away is stealing, damages are loss to income. Breaking a contract, they may have a case but can't take stuff off the site. This guy is a lawyer?
12:42 pm on Jan 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member lammert is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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It is now possible to undo URL removal requests. You have to go to your Google Webmasters Tools account and verify that you are the site owner by uploading a .HTML file in the root directory of your site.

You then check your robots.txt if it contains DisAllow statements which might affect Googlebot and check of there are meta robots noindex tags in the pages that are served. If you are sure that neither robots.txt nor the meta tags are blocking your site, you go to:

Webmaster Tools -> Site Configuration -> Crawler Access.

You click on the Remove URL tab. It should display a list of URLs which have been submitted to be removed from the SERPs, together with the status, request date and some other information. There should be a Cancel button to cancel current requests.

It is a rather new functionality, announced by Google on July 20. 2009 on their Webmasters Tools blog and it is according to their post specificly ment for undoing removal requests submitted by other webmasters. From that blog post (which assumes the other webmaster acted in good faith):

You can now see URL removal requests submitted by other users for any sites you own, and revoke them if necessary. In the past, if another webmaster for your site mistakenly removed a URL on your site and left for vacation it was a difficult process to undo the request.
2:47 pm on Jan 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Thanks to all.

Finally got access to the site and it turns out it was just the robots.txt, which was set to:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

I have changed it to allow, but this appears to be what was doing the damage. Anyone disagree? Anything else I might be missing? Also, any idea as to how long before Google crawls it again?

Lots of information in the Google Webmaster tools, once I was able to verify the site. I had an account but haven't used it much in the past. That will change now.

On another note, I agree that if SEO work was done the previous guys need to get paid for it, but disagree with sabotaging the site in retaliation. I am, however, getting paid up front for my work.

lammert - I checked on the Removal Tool and it says "No URL Removal requests." But thanks for pointing that out!

8:54 pm on Feb 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

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With the Google Webmaster tools, you can also submit your site be reconsidered - [google.com...]
4:17 am on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Ack, making changes in hopes of solving unknown problems usually leads to new problems and even the best advice is a shot in the dark without seeing the sites code.

Restore the site from a backup created PRIOR to the SEO's becoming vindictive. Restore the site files and the database completely if at all possible and change all passwords/recovery questions including ftp access, cpanel access, email access etc...etc.

Make sure the URLs all match the old ones (check a copy of an old sitemap if that's all you have as record) and then do nothing more for now. Let Google work it out and monitor webmaster tools for errors.

Obviously something was done to tank rankings but I doubt it was removal from the SEO link juice factory because you said the site was well ranked before.

The advice above of looking for URL removal requests, DNS changes and robots.txt exclusions is excellent but step #1 is to restore the site to its former glory as soon as possible with an older backup. You can add any recent articles later once you figure out what they did.

The GOOD news is that there is honestly nothing they could have done that will be permanent.

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