Thursday, March 24, 2005

Getting Banned by Google Part 1

Fear of getting banned by Google is running particularly high amongst owners of small/new ecommerce sites, whose livelihood often depends almost entirely on some high Google SERPs. Relying so heavily on search engine traffic is in my view downright dangerous but many small Web businesses do it anyway.

The anxiety level has as much to do with the Google dependency factor as with the fact that myths, rumours and Chinese whispers regarding the “getting banned” issue dominate many Search Engine forums. They’ve almost created an entire industry on the side, peddling all sorts of Search Engine nonsense, from ebooks and reports to how to’s and of course a lot of “search engine tricks”. Neither helped nor hindered by real knowledge or experience, many forum posters contribute to the volume of sheer rubbish that’s bandied around the Internet on this particular topic.

Let me stress this firstly and fore mostly: getting banned is not an everyday occurrence. It’s very much the exception, not the rule. If you can’t find pages that where previously ranked well, chances are that they have lost positions rather than having been dropped altogether. Practically only the most persistent offenders, using techniques Google rather fuzzily outlines in their guidelines, will actually be manually removed or “forced out”. And even these sites can remedy their situation by cleaning up and politely requesting reinclusing. Grovel if you must and remember that Google wants the largest database of all, so if you have content they’ve a vested interest in getting you back in the index. But they’ll let you sweat a little first…

Firstly, if you suspect your site has been banned, you need to establish whether that’s effectively the case or whether you’ve lost position, rather than got thrown out of the index. The simplest and most effective way of checking whether your site is still in the index is by typing “” into Google’s search box. No results returned means effectively that your page is no longer in the database index. But even that doesn’t mean you’ve actually been banned. More on reasons for getting banned in Part 2…

Here’s a few of reasons why your pages may have dropped out without actually having been banned.

Server downtime: if the googlebot can’t find your page(s) because your server is down, it’ll come back later. Google recognises that any server (even their own) suffers from small amounts of downtime. But if your site can’t be found on several revisits, the bot has no choice but to assume that the page(s) have been removed and will drop them from the index. If you’re up next time you get spidered, you’ll be reincluded. Server uptime for any server worth its salt is at least 99 %, but some servers have suffered downtime of up to 70%. Hosting companies also go bust occasionally, taking servers down permanently.

Sandboxing: the phenomenon which causes new, relevant, informative and well turned outbWeb pages to take up high positions which then dwindle and even fizz out completely after a few weeks. My pet theory is that the Google algo “assumes” (guesses, if you prefer) what PageRank a new page will obtain and ranks it accordingly. But when this Pagerank doesn’t materialise, the algo repositions the page accordingly, in some extreme cases outside the index.

Unlinked pages: if a page was previously linked to by just one other page and that link get’s severed (perhaps accidentally) then the former page basically doesn’t exist anymore, as far as Google is concerned and it will remove it.

But if you’re planning some serious black hat SEO or contemplate hiring a dubious SEO firm like Traffic-Power (now renamed, then that means you can’t wait to get banned: don’t wait any longer: why not do it yourself? This may look like a joke but incorrect use of the robots.txt file is actually a fairly common occurrence… See Part 2.


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