Defending Your Website Against Unjust Ranking Penalties

In the past many Google penalties were blatantly obvious. You either got traffic or you did not. But as time has passed penalties are getting blurrier, meaning your site can be penalized and still get traffic from Google. Some traffic reductions are due to competitive market forces, some are due to algorithm changes, some are due to automated filters, and some are due to penalties. If you are new to the market (and in some cases, even if you are experienced) it is hard to know which problems, if any, are holding back your ranking potential.

A friend just told me about how his Google traffic went way up after he spoke with a Google engineer, but he didn't want to talk about it publicly. I wonder how many other people are just like him, but don't speak about it or don't know they are penalized? And then I think back to the ban of the official AdSense blog, Brian Clark's PageRank hit, and Sugar Rae's ranking woes, and have come to the conclusion that spam fighting has become more of a shoot first and ask questions later game. They do not make a lot of mistakes, but when your site is just a number, it hurts pretty bad.

From a marketer perspective this shoot first shift is an important one which requires a few things of online publishers hoping to keep their businesses profitable:

  • Track your traffic using analytics tools, such that you know if/when something goes wrong, can prove it with hard stats, and can research it more specifically.
  • Publish at least 2 or 3 sites in different markets to give yourself additional data points on whether the issue is site specific or not.
  • Use public relations and viral link marketing where you once used link buys. If you are still renting links try to make them covert, and offset them with many natural links.
  • If possible package your offering as a service, so that you can justify charging recurring, and/or create an affiliate program. These make your income less reliant on search engines.
  • If nobody cares that the site is missing there is no harm nor foul. Build up enough social significance that you can cause enough noise if/when something goes wrong such that Google gets enough blowback to fix the issue quickly.
Published: December 23, 2007 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


December 23, 2007 - 4:50pm

I've always wondered if sites that use Google Adsense get the reverse of a penalty in the form of a Google algorithmic halo.

In effect, sites that don't use Adsense for their advertising are then incurring a traffic penalty...

While it is fine for Google to show ads next to search results, I think there is a tremendous conflict of interest when it comes to showing ads on sites it ranks. I honestly can't believe more people aren't calling them out on this. (Maybe they're afraid for their own rankings/traffic)

December 23, 2007 - 11:13pm

When AdSense was brand new AdSense sites may have got some sort of pass, but not one that really boosted rankings heavily. And one of my AdSense sites got crushed. As Google has started opening up AdSense data to advertisers they have been more focused on cleaning up the AdSense network.

December 23, 2007 - 8:48pm

I have a friend who had some paid text link on their home page. The whole site was being penalized by google because of the paid links.

I figured it out by googling "www.domainname". You would think the index page should come up first but it was an internal page that didn't have the paid text links. So it was like Google was trying to not become irrelevant - it wouldn't show the home page but it would show an internal page without the paid text links.

So obviously a penalty - but they are trying to protect the relevancy of the SERPS even when they penalize.

December 23, 2007 - 11:14pm

they are trying to protect the relevancy of the SERPS even when they penalize.

If you search for Text Link Ads or John Chow you will see that this is not always the case.

December 24, 2007 - 8:40pm

Good point.

I guess in the case of Text Link Ads it would seem to me they are trying to defend their business model.

It's kind of funny that Text Link Ads can still buy the top sponsored result for "", but they don't get the 1st organic ranking.

December 25, 2007 - 2:56pm

I got an email from Google over three years ago saying that I had illegal clicks on my page and was therefore ineligible for Adsense. I asked why and they said it was their policy not to tell anyone. they wouldn't address the issue with me. Three years later I am still banned. I even tried to get Adsense for a company I was working for that was founded by Larry Page's brother! I got the polite "Your site does not meet the needs of our advertisers" message. Of course, the next week someone else at the company acquired an Adsense account easily.

The power they hold over the internet is frightening. With a simple decision they can destroy a business. (not mine, it wasn't that important) Aren't you all a little worried that Google has this much power?

David Eaves
December 28, 2007 - 7:48pm

I have been trying to work out what Smashing did to get their minus 40 penalty, it is a quality and very popular blog, they were selling text links, but those now appear to be no followed, in any case that shouldn't have really caused any ranking drop.

December 28, 2007 - 8:14pm

Sounds like they just need to do a reinclusion request in Google and if they find that ineffective just make a blog post about the issue.

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