Thursday, November 20, 2008

Help, my site has been banned by Google!

Help, my site has been banned by Google!

woman having her site excluded by GoogleIt is the ultimate search engine marketing nightmare: Your site has been removed from Google's index and your traffic is falling.

By all means panic. Then draw your breath and read our Banned by Google Survival Guide. And yes, it works for the other search engines as well.

When your pages disappear

(November 2004, Update April 2006) There are those that wake up one morning and find that all of their web pages has disappeared from the Google index. Others find that Google has removed one page at the time, finally ending up with the home page, and then: none at all.

A Google ban can also be more subtle. The pages remain in the Google database, but they end up at page 722 for all relevant search queries.

If they had good rankings before, this is more likely than not caused by the wrath of the world's mightiest search engine.

For the sake of argument we will believe you when you say that you don't know why Google (or Yahoo!,, MSN Search or any other search engine) has decided to ban your site and your web pages.

Moreover, we also take it that this is not the result of some mysterious flux in the search engine databases -- i.e. you have really been banned for some weeks now.

What do you do?

Technical reasons

First check whether the disappearance of your pages have a natural cause. For instance: See if someone has changed the robots.txt file and inadvertently stopped the search engine spiders from entering your site.

It could also be that someone has included meta tags that exclude the robots (NOINDEX).

If your web server has too much downtime, that might also hurt. If that is the case, get a new web host or new and stable web server.

Copied sites

It could also be that the ban is caused by someone else. For instance: It could be that someone has copied your site, and that Google, finding identical pages, has decided to give your competitor the benefit of doubt.

If this is the case, you must search Google for a text string that is unique for your web pages and see if you can find the thief. Then demand that the site owner (or -- if that does not work -- his or her web host) remove the offending site, while at the same time informing Google about the matter.

You can read the following articles to learn more about how to handle such instances:

What is spam?

However, more likely than not you have done something that is in violation with Google's written or un-written anti-spam regulations. That is: There is something about your site that leads Google to believe that you are trying to unduly influence your search engine rankings.

Now this is indeed a tricky "judicial" area. Given that Google accepts that web site owners optimize their sites for better search engine listings, it is somewhat hard to decide what is kosher and what is not.

Still, Google's own guidelines gives you clear indications of what they consider to be big "no-no's":

Google argues that you should make pages for users, not for search engines: "Don't deceive your users, or present different content to search engines than you display to users," they say, and goes on to list the following banned advice:

  • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
  • Don't employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Don't send automated queries to Google.
  • Don't load pages with irrelevant words.
  • Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
  • Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.

Google also says:

"Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, 'Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?'"

Actually, this advice does not make as much sense as Google would like it to.

The fact is that Google will not punish you for so-called "organic search engine optimization", as long as the page make perfect sense for any human reader.

Hence, Google will not ban your for sprinkling relevant keyword phrases thought the text, as long as the copy reads as normal text.

We will take a look at Google's list of advice, one by one.

And please remember: Even if you know that you haven't broken these rules, you could still considered a search engine spammer by Google. Check whether anyone else have been involved in the design of the site.

If you have inherited the responsibility for the site from someone else, he or she can have broken the rules. If a search engine marketing company has been involved, they can have stepped beyond the boundaries of proper search engine optimization practices.

Moreover, are you sure your local computer expert may not have tweaked the site a bit, just to be helpful?

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