Mom and Pop Websites? Is Your Brand Big Enough?

When I was on my multi-month critical review of Google a few months back, I frequently highlighted how the perception of spam or quality was often associated with the brand (or lack of brand) behind the content. Stuntdubl wrote a post about brand size reviewing engineer double talk and how brand perception may control the sustainability of your site.

Many people and many sites disappear. For how long just depends on who was behind the infraction and how real their site looks and feels.

About a month ago I asked a friend of mine if he knew that one of his sites got banned from Google. He said no. Then he went and looked at it and asked "why the f*ck did they do that?" His site that was penalized was exceptionally similar to his sites that still rank, with one big exception. It used a default Wordpress theme. Thus it looked like it was probably spam to a search engineer or under-waged remote worker judging a bunch of sites in a rush.

As soon as human editing becomes a big piece of search, humans start thin slicing and start making errors. Once you are gone will anyone notice? Can you escalate the issue to a high enough priority to get your "glitch" fixed?

If you have any top ranking income earning site that exhibits the following traits, look for your income to drop sharply sometime in 2008.

  • has a default Wordpress design
  • has multiple hyphens in the domain name
  • exclusively monetizes via Google AdSense, placed top and to the left in the content area of the page
  • does not have a clear way to contact you
  • lacks an about us section
  • is registered with fake whois

Some cops enjoy handing out speeding tickets. Thin slice your site as though you are a search engineer who enjoys killing spam, but has a quota to kill 1,000 sites a day. Does your site pass the sniff test? Are there areas that could use some improvement?

The democratic nature of the web is a unique concept, but Google no longer uses that line in their marketing brochures. Sometimes the web needs defused.

If you have something that makes money, you need to make it look like it is worthy of its position and earnings. Or else Google will exert as much editorial influence and quality scores as they can to take $$$$$ from you, all in the name of what's good for the customer and helping out "mom and pop webmaster".

After all, when Google Local, YouTube, Google Knol, Google Shopping, and Google Checkout are fully integrated next to AdWords, mom and pop webmaster won't even need to own a website. They can do everything they need on How benevolent.

Published: February 10, 2008 by Aaron Wall in internet


February 10, 2008 - 11:10am

I got pulled over by the MSN traffic cops the other day.

I started a new site recently and did a rolling launch: I didn't want to start organic link building until the content was there, but I did want to establish some history so I could avoid the dreaded "sandbox."

For the first phase I used techniques I learned off the "Blue Hat SEO" site, which address the question of: how do you build links if other people aren't going to link you? I didn't do the "SEO Empire" stuff, but I did use some of the other techniques he mentions.

Things went pretty well the first few weeks: search engine hits started to build up gradually, I started getting some organic links without asking for them. Next thing I know I'm ranking very good in MSN for a competitive term, quite close to the top of the first page.

I musta set off the tilt switch at Microsoft HQ because in a few days the site was gone from the index. Next thing I know the site is getting looked at by Microsofties and the site is getting crawled by MSN rapidly again and again -- a very different pattern than usual. A few days later, I'm back in the index, ranking almost as well as I was before.

Funny, the #1 site in this SERP on MSN is a "SEO Empire" type site -- a thin affiliate site with essentially no content that's liked from maybe 50 link farm sites.

I'm grateful that the MSN engineers took the time to look at my site, because the content is 100% clean.

February 10, 2008 - 5:08pm

Sometimes it is too easy to rank in Microsoft's Live search and you get more exposure than you want. I bought a site with crummy fakish recycled content off a domainer, and it was also one of the ugliest site designs I have ever seen.

I stripped out some of the spamiest parts (sitewide keyword driftnet and rotating reciprocal links with thousands of other sites in his network) and then pointed 1 link at the site. It is already up to #11 and #12 in Microsoft and I don't even want this site to be seen yet. So I am not sure if that should be a :) or a :(

February 10, 2008 - 8:43pm

Yeah... I find it so easy to rank on MSN that it's scary. (Maybe I shouldn't complain.)

It seems that fresh content + good internal SEO + a little authority + a few weeks has given all of my recent projects excellent rankings on MSN. The same sites get a fair amount on medium (category) and longtail (individual item) traffic from Google, but are aren't doing so well for queries that are relevant to the whole site.

Of course, the difference between Google and MSN volume is such that I do about the same being on the #3 SERP page on Google as being on the #3 result on MSN.

My guess is that organic link building and time will do the trick for Google.

Alicia Harper
February 11, 2008 - 3:09pm

Just curious as to how you knew MSN was looking at your site?

February 11, 2008 - 6:10pm

At one point in time I saw referrals from something like
I think other engines may have similar projects too, though they may cloak ther referer.

February 10, 2008 - 1:56pm

I just want to point two things that I think may happen as a result of the points you made above. The first is that domain prices that do not have hyphens and are brand-able will likely go up in price. The second thing I wanted to point out is contrary to what you said earlier about AdSense payout will go down I think it will actually go up. Here is why, with less spam sites using AdSense, the supply of contextual advertising will go down, but the demand for qualified leads remains high. This is great news for people who put work into their properties, but those who rely on auto gen websites will see their revenue drop to a point where its no longer profitable.

February 10, 2008 - 5:16pm

But which will clean up first, AdSense or affiliate platforms like CJ? There is also the watered down effect inherent to networks like AdSense.

Many of the spammy publishers ran deep niche sites that primarily got traffic from arbitrage or other channels that are somewhat cleaner than the traffic from sites like Facebook and MySpace. Supply keeps increasing, but it is the wrong supply. And so publishers like me are paying for the money advertisers lose on MySpace.

Also, with algorithms increasing authority weight, sites like eHow, WeHow, Wikihow (yes 2 mirror brands of the original) are clogging up the SERPs with sites like Yahoo! Answers as well taking a big chunk.

It also seems to me that Google's answer to finding mom and pop websites is that they should be on Google local or other Google verticals. As their vertical search technologies improve smaller websites will be even more screwed with trying to get exposure unless they are in those verticals or are great at link building.

I think in general that the value of great domain names will continue to rise for the next 5 to 10 years. But I am still hoping that Marchex opens up their portfolio and sells a few to people who want to develop those names.

SEO Optimization
February 10, 2008 - 3:02pm

Its weird that you mentioned this. Not long time ago (like a week or two) I had a redesign of my site website. I have to admit that somehow I forgot that background used as image + background color with the color of the links to keep the same style of the design would result as "hidden link" viewed from spiders, but visible if viewed from browser. What I experienced is that the site first lost rankings for its primary keywords I was targeting (xhtml coding).

I always kept the site away from Google's hands, but after the lost of traffic and I spotted the "bug" (which I later fixed) I thought to get closer to Google and submitted it in the Google webmaster tools as well as on the analytics. Now, the site doesn't even rank for (xhtmlcoding).

I might be rushing, but reading this article makes me think it has to do something with human editing quality scores rather then with the bug I had which later on got fixed. I will just give it some more time and see where this will actually end up.

insignificant flek
February 10, 2008 - 9:11pm

Any particular data/reason the hyphenated urls look to fall out of favor?

February 10, 2008 - 11:47pm

I didn't say hyphens, but multiple hyphens. When thin slicing spam those names look cheaper and less trustworthy than their non-hyphenated couterparts.

February 11, 2008 - 2:17am

"Thin slice your site as though you are a search engineer who enjoys killing spam, but has a quota to kill 1,000 sites a day"

They enjoy "killing"? Or they don`t have anything else more constructive to do?

February 11, 2008 - 2:51am

They can only do so much with algorithms. From there they need apply public relations FUD, and hand editing to give the FUD some teeth.

February 11, 2008 - 12:17pm

I'm not sure I follow or agree with your conclusions. Just because 1 friend of yours had their site banned from Google and they HAPPENED to have a default WP theme, doesn't make it a fact. That's what statisticians do when they look at search results. They say 'well, i looked at 100 top results and they had these things in common'. Sure, sites with default WP themes might have a higher liklihood of getting banned from google. But it's not because they use a default WP theme, it's because it's a splog. So it's not the WP theme that's the problem, it's the spam. What you are doing is called 'curve fitting' in statistics and it's not an accurate way of making assumptions or observations about search results.

While it might be a good idea to use real Whois data, have contact information, and an aboutus section, it's not something that is a 'ban'able' offense. As the web gets bigger, it's not practicle or POSSIBLE to have human editors become a larger part of search. Google is about scale, it's not about to have a bunch of humans pushing buttons looking for sites that use default WP Themes.

February 11, 2008 - 6:05pm

Even Matt Cutts said Google is not about using humans to scale search, as long as they can find a way to do is scalably. And Google engineers *do* read this blog and *have* burned sites that were mentioned on it.

Sure that one can be an anomaly, but if I edited spam I would be looking at common clues...default Wordpress theme is usually a signal that other things were not done well either. So is fake whois.

I don't think they will be searching out default Wordpress theme sites, but I do believe that if they come across something that ranks better than they feel it should and it has a default Wordpress theme it is more likely to get nuked.

February 11, 2008 - 4:58pm

I have started a blog at my site almost a month ago to check how efficient it can be:

And I have putted some free graphics stuff to it that I have produced by myself. Then I have posted a link to my blog at big indie developer's forum so Google can index it faster.

As I planned my site got indexed pretty fast. Amazingly but a couple of keyword combinations I have targeted - got ranked with 1th - 4th places in Google. Some new traffic started to hit my site.
Then (after 2-3 days of nice results) some strange thing appeared. My site get lost from Google search results! I was shocked.
Thankfully, after another 3 days - it get back. Almost same time (or maybe a couple days later) I have noticed other amazing effect.
Before all that happened - my rank in Alexa was almost 2.000.000 (which is pretty weak) but after for some reason it became about 337.000

Anyway, Aaron, to support your next Blog post - it's worth a try to start your own blog!

February 12, 2008 - 10:13am

Since around Jan 20 my site has disappeared from the google radar and it has 2 hyphens in the domain name.

I can still find it doing a site: search, but try a normal search and it just does not show up.

Previous to jan 20, I could create a new post and fairly quickly do a search for the post title and it would appear #1 or pretty high in the google search.

Today of I do that, nothing - the only way to get a search ranking is 'post title' site:

I feel that I have been penalized by google (not sure why they would), but others on various others forums say not.

What do you think, I would apprecaite any advice?

site is

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