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General Search Ranking Penalties

There is not much clarity regarding penalties and, as I have mentioned before, the very term itself is applied loosely and inaccurately time and time again. I have taken a few moments to put together a list of common search penalties and their diagnosis / prognosis / and treatments. Time estimates in the prognosis are based on our previous efforts – each penalty removal is different.

  1. Sitewide Ban:
    • Diagnosis: Sitewide bans are the easiest to diagnose. You were in the index, now you aren’t. To determine this ban, check site:[yourdomain].com in G/Y/. If your site normally shows up for this query but no longer does, you have suffered a sitewide ban. Please make sure to determine the following though: 1, you are not employing a robots.txt or meta robots noindex tag sitewide preventing inclusion; 2, your site remains indexed in at least one of the other search engines (penalties are specific to each search engine!)
    • Prognosis: Great variation in reinclusion success rates with this penalty due to myriad causes.
    • Treatment: More likely than not, a sitewide ban is due to serious on-site violations. Content generators (TE, YACG, RSSGM), site-wide keyword or content stuffing, or excessive multi-site innerlinking on Yahoo exclusively can cause this ban.  The treatment process, of course, differs for each. However, you and your webmaster will need to remove all ToS violations, even those which did not bring about the ban, and submit reinclusion requests to each of the major search engines. Be sure to document and include in the request the supposed causes of the ban and what steps you undertook to clean up the site.
  2. Individual Page Ban:
    • Diagnosis: An individual page has been dropped from the index. Normally this can be determined by simply typing the URL of that page to determine if it exists.
    • Prognosis: Depending on the cause, this could be a long process. 2+ months.
    • Treatment: First, make sure that you are not a victim of a 302 hijack which unfortunately still occurs (although more often than not the hijack is unintentional). Secondly, make sure the page is not being blocked by Robots.txt or Meta Robots No-Index tags. Third, assuming neither the first nor second case are true, make sure there are no items on the page which would discourage indexing. If the page has user-generated content, such as blog comments, make sure none of the links point to malicious third-party sites, or sites that themselves are banned. Check the inbound links using a search engine from which you are not banned to determine if any new inbound links are coming from malicious or banned sites. Once this is completed, provide a link directly from the homepage of your site to encourage reinclusion. You may consider a standard reinclusion request at this point as well, although it is normally not necessary.
  3. Sitewide Ranking Depression:
    • Diagnosis: Rankings as a whole seem to drop for the site, but the site remains indexed in Google. Appears to affect all pages fairly uniformly and primarily 10+ spots in Google.
    • Prognosis: A difficult penalty to clean up as ranking depressions normally deal with external links. However, turnaround can be quick if the shady techniques are quickly resolved and reinclusion request submitted. 4-6 Weeks
    • Treatment: Determine whether or not the rankings losses can be attributed to lost inbound links. For a site that only has a handful of links to begin with, a few dropped links can cause significant rankings changes. Otherwise, you must do a complete site audit to determine on-site and off-site optimization techniques that violate the Terms of Service. A reconsideration request will be necessary. Be sure to document and include in the request the supposed causes of the ban and what steps you undertook to clean up the site.
  4. Individual Page Ranking Depression:
    • Diagnosis: Individual page loses its rankings for all keywords while other pages on the site continue to do well.
    • Prognosis: Low variability, normally caused by external links.
    • Treatment: Identify and remove negative inbound links. Submit reconsideration request which documents the links removed
  5. Individual Keyword(s) Ranking Depression:
    • Diagnosis: Losing rankings (500+ ranking drop) for keywords on pages that continue to rank for other competitive terms. For example, losing rankings on your homepage for the keyword “baseball” but retaining rankings for “baseball gloves”.
    • Prognosis: This is a fairly rare penalty and appears to be directly related to inbound linking. Reconsideration requests will be necessary, but can be cleaned up in 4 to 6 weeks time.
    • Treatment: Because a reconsideration request is necessary, you will need to clean up your whole site. However, the bulk of your efforts will be spent on link removal. Spend as much time as necessary to identify links built to your site or page using shady methodologies (purchased text links, link exchanges, link spam comments, etc.) Document as many of these as possible in an Excel spreadsheet. One by one, contact the webmasters and ask for them to be removed. In some cases, it may be worth offering to pay to have them removed. Document in the Excel file which you have been able to contact, what the response was, and whether or not the link was removed. Submit a reconsideration request and link to the Excel file which you now host on your own website. This way they can see that you are making a good faith effort to remove the links and are willing to expose to them all of the negative links with which you are familiar.
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1 Comment

  1. Tudor Mateescu
    Oct 16, 2008

    hmm.. to much reconsideration requests.. can’t resolve the problems with a few strong links?

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