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Google Penalty Solutions - An Example Unwind
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2009-11-04 21:21:01
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By: Bob Sakayama
2009-11-04 21:21:01
Penalty "unwinds" are all achieved by discovering compliance breaches. Penalties are NOT an SEO problem, although SEO usually triggers the event. Penalties are a COMPLIANCE problem.

The mantra around here goes like this:

First, compliance
Then, optimization

If you attempt to optimize a non-compliant structure, there is a very good chance that you will actually trigger the failure. Compliance is very misunderstood. Most enterprises don't even pay attention to it until they are penalized, at which point it becomes the most important thing going forward.

So discovery starts out focused on matters related specifically to Google webmaster guidelines, as well as basic search compliance standards. Most of these rules are obvious when you know them, and even more obvious if you think like a search engine (doesn't everyone?).

For example, it's easy to understand why engines might have problems with multiple sites owned by the same party. Google used to claim that their goal was one in which the search could not be manipulated by monied interests. How naive we all once were!

If you can afford to have many sites, all chasing the same keywords, you might be seen to have an edge. Not that you can't do this, you can. But there are lines in the sand regarding how flagrantly you exploit your advantage.

The other clearly understood issue with multiple sites is the ability to use them to push each others rank. Again, you can do this, but you must abide by the unseen rules that are imposed upon these multi-site strategies.

This sets up a very common penalty, what we call a "trademark suppression." Here's one typical example:

The enterprise has many sites, and one stops performing completely.

Upon inspection, it quickly becomes obvious that 3 of their sites have been penalized, all with the full blown trademark suppression, where the site does not rank on page 1 for the web trademark (domain name minus the extension eg "re1y").

In this example, the site had multiple subdomains created to provide exactly matching keywords in the domain name. This can work very well as an optimization strategy, if you implement as if it were a top level domain. In this instance the subdomains were using the same navigation as the main site - a big no no (that many sites get away with). All subdomains were then blocked completely with robots.txt and on-page noindex.

We then discover that an in-house SEO strategist was interlinking multiple sites with no attention to compliance considerations.

Because the main site supports the business - it's the main contributor to income - it is critical to recover this one piece before too much damage is done.

We immediately blocked indexing on ALL the other sites and subdomains by using both robots.txt and on-page meta noindex. We do this redundant block because robots.txt by itself will only block the site from indexing due to internal links. By itself, this strategy of blocking all other top level domains can sometimes restore compliance of the main site.

It's important to take an ultra conservative approach, because we want to be structurally clean when we go for reconsideration.

Because links can also trigger this penalty, we usually run some forensics on inbounds pointing to the homepage and any other page that appears to be suppressed, just to gain a little situational awareness of the linking environment. Links were very clean - if we have to come back to this, will focus on the links from directories, and blogs where there are many links from the same domain.

In my experience, it is usually wiser to leave the links for last. That's because most link vets will find problem links, yet sites can often come back even with some questionable links. But if you remove links that support ranks, you are going to come back with rank loss. Rank preservation is always key to everything we do, especially in penalty solutions.

Since we found structural problems, we addressed them immediately, removing all inappropriate interconnections, or blocking indexing of conflicting structures.

The site came out of penalty before we filed the reconsideration request. This is not really unusual - especially in this case because the remediation took so long. On a complex system with multiple compliance issues, we never really know what exactly triggered the failure. We just address all issues. The fact that the site recovered on its own suggests that if there was a single trigger, it was one we dealt with early on.

In this instance I strongly suspect the subdomains. Client pressed me for an answer on the trigger because he claimed the subs were really ranking high just before the penalty. I told him I really didn't know but we could find out - just run an experiment, unblock the subdomains and see if we stay penalty free. Client did not want to run the test.

Blog_id: 5 | Posted: 2009-11-04 21:21:01 | Views (10,970) | Comments (3)  
Comment By: TylerD
re: Google Penalty Solutions - An Example Unwind
(posted 2009-11-05 14:50:29)

Very instructive. Thanks for this post. One question:

Can you please explain what are the "unseen rules that are imposed upon these multi-site strategies"?

Response By Bob Sakayama
in response to thread started by
(posted 2009-11-06 23:17:02)

That's just a snarky comment on Google's unwillingness to share compliance standards with us. There are lots of red lines you can't cross, including inappropriately interlinking your sites, sharing functionality across sites, breaking the subdomain rules for link backs to the top level domain, etc. Basically, if you have multiple sites, anything that reveals to bots that you control more than one is something to avoid. To be safe, keep every site COMPLETELY independent of all others in your suite.

Comment By: daniel black
re: Google Penalty Solutions - An Example Unwind
(posted 2010-09-14 18:57:23)

I have applied all this points with no results to my google penalty. I use to have 3 site interlinked. Lat december not only did I unlink them I combined them all into a mega site. The 3 sites were related one was a general chat the other a teen chat and a community. The 2 domains were deleted. Cleaned up the code and now I have a site of perfection. Yet it still has a penalty. I have submitted numerous requests for reconsideration with no results.

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