Last Wednesday morning I went to check my stats at my comedy blog, www.bittertonic.com, as I do numerous times throughout the day due to my stat-tracking addiction, and was pretty amazed to see that they were very low. I didn’t think too much about it as I continued my morning coffee and email reading.
But when I went to check in the afternoon, I realized something was definitely wrong. My numbers were about a quarter of what they should be.
About a week prior I had started getting at least 200 page views a day, the majority coming from Google. Not tremendous, but OK, since I hadn’t done that much marketing work on them. The blog was built so that I could put up my original comedy stuff on it, but first I had to learn about blogging, how to do it and what to use, etc. and so original comedy creation had taken a back seat. I was going to do the big marketing and community building stuff when I put up more of my own content.
I had chosen WordPress for blogging months before and that turned out to be the right choice. It is great open-source blogging software program with a super community who keep churning out unbelievable plugins that can really make the program powerful. It has also become one of the 5 most popular blog platforms, so that when you sign up for extra services or widgets with other companies, like Feedburner, or addthis.com, they always have a WordPress version, so you never feel left out.
Some of the best plugins are Search Engine Optimization plugins, and I had added Aaron Schaefer’s Optimal Title, which move your blog’s name to the end of your Page Title, so that the important words come first, and Head Meta Description by Kaf Oseo, which creates a unique meta description tag for each page, and so I was pretty pleased with the number of visitors coming from Google. Most of them were coming to see a ridiculously funny unicorn video called Charlie Goes To Candy Mountain.
But not any more. Whereas for months that post was in the top 8 in Google’s search result for numerous permutations of the video name, sometimes hitting number 2 right under YouTube’s number 1 slot – for which I was ridiculously proud – starting Wednesday it was gone. Nowhere near.
In fact, all my posts were gone. Nothing was showing up in Google except my home page, which used to sit at number 1 for Bitter Tonic, but now was demoted to number 4. And when I searched my name, my Bitter Tonic profile came up dead last.
I was dumped from Google. Demoted. Banned.
This was not good. I didn’t know what this was. And so my research and ensuing painful learning began. This is what I learned.
You could find yourself kicked out of the Google index for a variety of reasons, and at any time.
The trouble is you may not find out which one it is. And that can really suck.
The most common reason to get dumped from Google is that you employed nefarious or what they call “black hat” SEO practices. These practices – or tricks – are meant to cheat the Google system to get high rankings. If Google catches you cheating, you are out.
Well that seems OK. Except that these cheaters are ruining it for the rest of us.
Because Google does not want people to cheat the system, they keep pretty mum about what cheating actually consists of. They also don’t have to tell you what you did wrong. In fact there is no system in place for you to inquire what your crime is, or why your page lost ranking.
In fact, if you lose your ranking, all you can do is clean up your site and get rid of any offensive practices you might have committed, then request re-inclusion. To request re-inclusion you have to fill out a form – and here’s the rub – you have to check off a box that says you admit to wrong doing. Kind of like forcing a confession, non?
If you are lucky you will get an automated response that says your email has been passed on to someone. That will probably be all you hear from them.
During my research I found loads and loads of horror stories of companies who got dumped by Google – and who couldn’t get back in. For some of them that meant losing thousands of dollars in revenue each month. Ouch.
Some had been using dirty techniques unknowingly that were suggested to them by SEO “experts.” Some had no idea why they lost ranking, but were told by Google that no penalty had been incurred. Others admitted wrong doing, but had cleaned up their act.
Some of the stories have been going on for months – some for years.
Poor Matt Cutts – he is the head of the Google’s Webspam team, and because of his blog, he has become “the Face of Google.” Whenever he blogs about changes to Google’s algorhithms, or about Google penalties, his comment’s section is inundated with pleas from people whose sites have been dropped by Google, and are trying to figure out what they did wrong and how to be reinstated.
Most of the comments go unanswered.
Other blogs and web sites have been “speculating” about the different possibilities. And there’s lots of speculation going on, because of Google’s lack of transparency. What else can one do but guess if there is no place to get to the answer?
So, here is what I have learned and deduced so far about my case:
You could lose rank because of Google penalties for cheating:
- Google penalizes. There may be penalties called the -30 and -950 penalties. These are meted out for cheating, and they bump you either 30 pages, or to the last page of search results. I do not believe this happened to me as my page rank loss is not so consistent.
- For some cheating offenses, Google will drop you completely. To check, do a Google search for site:yourdomainname.com -asdfasdf. My site is not completely dumped, I am still in there for 4 static pages.
- There is a duplicate content filter. If there are other pages on the web with the exact same content as you, Google frowns. Use this search tool www.copyscape.com to see if you are committing an offense. When I used this, I had a few pages show up with jokes or quotes showing up. Could that be it? This one sucks because of “content scrapers,” or sites that copy your content and post to their own sites. They are penalized, as well as you are penalized. (Update: I just found an article explaining the duplicate search myth by Jill Whalen.)
You don’t have to cheat to lose ranking. You may have lost ranking because:
- Google changed their algorhithm and just doesn’t think your site is up to snuff. This may have happened to me – because all my pages were demoted across the board. About 75% of my posts were me posting other people’s videos, so the new algorhithm may have deemed my site’s content just “not good enough.” That would smart. But why such a huge drop? That would mean that Google’s algorhithm was really stinky before Wednesday, as I had some high ranks for certain keywords.
- There may or may not be something called a Google sandbox. It’s supposed to be like a holding tank or nursery where Google keeps new unproven sites for a bit to check and make sure they are legit. I do not think this is what happened to me. I was ranked early and in the system for 4 months before being demoted.
- You have too many affiliate links on your site. I can’t find much info on this though, so that is troubling. I did have an affiliate tag for chocolate appear in all my posts – I put it up as a test for Valentine’s day. It has received only 6 clicks, and noone bought any chocolate. Could that be it? I got rid of it.
- You have received too many inbound links to your site in too short of a time. That would alert Google to a link-building scam. I hardly have any links coming in to me, so that’s not it.
The scariest reasons to lose rankings are the ones beyond your control:
- You are linking to sites that Google demoted or banned from the index. Are we supposed to check everyday to see if someone goes bad? Or sells their URL to a scammer? And how do we check to see if someone’s web site is bad when there is no list? The best answer I found was we had to do a test on all of our outbound links, and check their Page Rank with the Google toolbar to see if their rank was 0, and the toolbar greyed out. Whoah, that’s a lot of work. I haven’t done this yet, and don’t have the time or desire to do it…tell me there has to be a tool that will do this for you automatically.
- You are linking to something called “bad neighourhoods.” I have not found a decent description for what constutes a bad neighbourhood, nor a site listing them. So how is one to check this off the list?
- Spammy sites are linking to you. Once again, how do you control, stop, check for this? I do have a few strange sites linking to me. I do not know what they are, they seem to be some kind of sites set up for Adsense ads. Two of these linking to me and I am out?
- You goofed. This is within your control, but you made a mistake by accident, and deleted or deactivated a plugin, or something. I have made sitewide mistakes before by making a change to a wordpress template, and unwittingly removed an anchor or something that made the whole site go wacky, but I don’t see any errors this time.
- Yourseoplan.com writes “Google could be experiencing some temporary weirdness that makes the results different from what you’re used to. As we mentioned at the top of this article, we’ve seen this so many times with so many clients that this is probably the most likely scenario. In this case, just check your ranks again in a week or so. You might once again see that good rank you were used to.”
I personally find this really troubling. I hate guessing – it’s such a waste of time. How can you make good decisions without proper information? I’ve spent hours researching only to find that most of this is all speculation, and that true help is not to be found.
The lack of transparency is also a cause for concern. I don’t know what I did wrong, or what changed, so how am I supposed to fix it? I don’t even know where to start looking. It turns out there is no place to look. Sites are being labeled bad or spammy, but we can’t see the black list. Having to go through them all one by one, and checking their rank in the Google toolbar, regularly, is … just nuts. And how often are we supposed to do this?
I was all gung ho about blogging, but this has really bummed me out. It makes me think I have set up a site in a shady corruption-driven country with a fascistic government that can turn on whim, imprison us without telling us why, and then just keep us waiting interminably. Maybe one day we may get the call that says we are released, but they will never tell us what got us in there in the first place.
Would you set up a business there?
The sad part is I don’t imagine Google is sending out “Sorry notes” for all the stress they caused.
I never paid much attention to my yahoo and MSN rankings before. They are still big, but I am only getting a quarter of my usual traffic from them alone. Sigh. So much for my stat-tracking addiction. I can hardly check them now – it’s too painful.
If anyone has any information to offer or spare, please don’t hesitate to let me know. In the meantime I have set out on a program to get my site relisted, and I will let you know how it goes.
Need more info? Here are some good Articles to check out, though some are out of date regarding how to request reinclusion, are:
- Google Dropped My Website! What Should I do? From www.yourseoplan.com
- Check for a Google Penalty from KSL consulting (reinclusion is out of date)
- Google Penalties and How To Avoid Them from www.outsourcelinkbuilding.com
- Matt Cutts on How to File a Reinclusion Request (reinclusion is out of date)
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