What To Do When “The Man” Gets You Down (in the SERPs)

Alcatraz - Inside the Main Cellhouse

If your website is lost to Google (aka “The Man”), not just buried in the SERPs, it may have violated Google’s Terms of Service (TOS) by singular or multiple violations. This isn’t a mistake, so be prepared to get on your knees, confess your crimes, wait for the Googlers to flip the switch back on and release you from spammers’ prison.

In the Post Mortem: Site Forensics Session at Search Engine Strategies, New York Michael Stebbins, CEO and Founder of Market Motive and Rand Fishkin, you know, CEO of SEOmoz, divulged the how to tell if your site has been banned or penalized and the subsequent hoops one must jump through to regain Google’s trust.

Starting the session, moderator Adam Goldberg, Chief Innovation Officer at ClearSaleing introduced the speakers and handed over the podium to Stebbins. “First things first, find out if you are really banned or just penalized.”

How to Know For Certain:

  • Google Webmaster tools. (Google will straight-up tell you if you are)
  • Or site search query
    • Site:HatsOfMeat.com
    • If you see results, it’s NOT banned (Whew 🙂 )

That said, one should be aware of what will piss off the Giant. Stebbins grouped the sins into three categories, Venial (Forgivable), Regular Sins (Not good, but wont get you banned, just penalized) and Mortal Sins, (You’re not going to like where this leads, believe it).

Venial Sin, Removed by a Technical Mistake

  • ie Robots.txt moved from staging server to live server
  • No sweat & easy to fix

Sin Myth: Repeated Requests to Google

  • NOT reason for website removal
  • Typically confused with getting services blocked to a client

Sin 1: Linking to Bad Neighborhoods

  • Red flag to Google
  • Imply reciprocal links and/or agreements that are not natural representation of organic and “genuine” relevance.

Sin 2: Keeping Bad Company

  • Are you sharing server IP addresses with bad sites? (What do you mean “you don’t know?!)
  • Find Out ASAP!
    • Who’s on my web server?
    • Have any of those sites been banned
    • IP addresses are seen as a common ownership sign
    • My IP Neighbors or Link Vendor
    • Any sites with zero pages? (Pssst! that’s  not good)
      • If there are only a few, search by hand
      • Many, write a small script

Solution: Move the site to a dedicated server.

Sin 3: Using Other People’s Content

  • First page wins, the rest are “less relevant”
  • You don’t usually get pulled for JUST this, but it exacerbates the other sins

MORTAL SIN 1: Fake Popularity

  • >80% links are to (or from) your other sites!
  • Same ownership is detected using:
    • Server class C IP address (90% certainty)
    • AdSense ID (90% certain, if the checks are all going to the same dude… The Man can connect the dots…)
    • Site registration information (90% certain when manual)

MORTAL SIN 2: Selling Naked Links

  • Links that pass juice
  • Usually results in penalty but CAN result in removal
  • Exacerbated by other sins… if caught
  • Hard to detect: Sites can fly under the radar
    • Unless ratted out
    • “buy text links” or other like phrases on site (well, that’s just plain dumb)
    • Google will take away your power ie devaluation from PR8 to PR3 to try and get you in line for this sin.

MORTAL SIN3: Fake Relevance

  • Robots are BLIND & DEAF
    • It’s OK to present different content to bots than users (as long as the intent is not to rank)
    • Hiding text
    • Hiding links
    • Hiding auto redirects
    • Doorway pages

How To Get Re-Included

  • If your site has committed 3 mortal sins… move on, darlin’ this ship has not only sailed, it SUNK. Invest elsewhere.
  • 2 mortal sins, worth a try…
    • Fix problems
    • Prepare to confess your sins… IN DETAIL
    • Submit site for reconsideration along with the mea culpa
    • If multiple sites with similar template or IP address
      • Get ONE re-included, then reset (Kind of Sophie’s Choice here, I know, it’s hard)
      • Tell them why you love your site, why you need it to be saved, why it’s relevant
      • Admit what you did wrong in the past tense
      • Show what you are doing right now that you know better

Stebbins closed with a good rule of thumb: “Follow the money. Search Engines only work if their algorithm produces relevant results with genuine popularity. Genuine relevance and popularity ensures you are a good partner for Google.”

While transitioning between presentation Goldberg asked: “If your competitor is committing these sins, can you rat them out?” (Muhahaha!)

Fishkin answered: “Reporting spam has little to no effect (especially recently). But, if there are multiple egregious sins, send it through webmaster tools & create publicity around it, like SEO blogs. Bring it to the attention of people in those spheres and the word will get around 🙂 .”

And with that Fishkin took the podium with his deck entitled: Bans & Penalties: Knowing When to Hold ‘Em, When to Fold ‘Em and How to Circumvent Google Penalties

First things first, confirm you’ve been banned/penalized through the methods Stebbins discussed.

Ok, so you are banned/penalized. *sob* What now?!

Our instincts are either fight or flight, Fishkin outlines what the conditions are for holding your own and standing your ground, or running away to a new domain with your tail between your legs.

Conditions for a Fight: (Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!)

  • Respected/prominent/growing brand (especially if it’s your one and only brand)
  • Single site (or maybe 2 or 3…)
  • If you own many sites, the Engine has a perception that you’re not normal = red flag (Who needs 237 sites? No one.)
  • Low number of offenses
  • First time offender, fix it, apologize and learn from the paddling Google gave you (‘Cause the second time around isn’t going to be as easy).
  • Connections to the Man and the people who work for him (aka Googlers)
  • Face to face interactions can really help (even on the interwebnets!)

When to Fly

  • Somewhat-easy-to-reporduce Site
  • Low Brand Value
  • Low Quality/Quantity of links
  • Multi-strike offender
  • You have the experience to do(know) better next time.


Get Black Hat Results With White Hat Tactics

Legal ways to do stuff you’ve been penalized for:

  • Lots of targeted anchor text quick – link bait/link magnets! (make industry friends QUICK)
  • Embedded Content (badges & widgets) – Make embeded content easy to obtain & have it link back to your site. (GIVE it away!)
  • Content/Technology Licensing – assuming you have great content to license out…
  • Showing Different Content to Engines versus users (it’s OK as long as the intent is not to manipulate) Cookies/session IDs & Logged-In Users
  • Selling Links (*nudge, nudge. wink, wink*) – Sell access to a link-likely audience (Mashable, techCrunch, StumpleUpon, Techmeme etc)
  • Redirect “Live Link” conversations to Event Sponsorships/Promotions/Partnerships

“we don’t sell links because it’s against Google’s TOS, BUT… we can have you sponsor a Schmoozefest we’re hosting”

  • Sell “Reviews” of Sites/Products/Services For Potential Inclusion; Not “Links” ie Best of the Web (you’re buying the review).

There you have it, fellas and dames, now have some good clean, legal fun.

photo credit: jdnx

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