I’ve been researching Google SEO for over 10 years and own over 100 domains and through SEO testing have had at least 20 domains banned/penalized in Google.
I expected many of my SEO test sites to be banned or to gain a Google penalty since was testing SEO limits, so have a lot of experience with Google penalties and trying to recover from a Google penalty: both Google automated and manual penalties.
Google Penalty for Selling Text Link Ads
In 2008 I tried selling text links ads from a recipe/cooking site I own (used one of the popular text link seller sites) and after a lot of technical problems finally got the entire web site added to their text link inventory, that was 50,000 pages available for selling text links from.
I expected overtime to make a fair bit of extra cash from selling text links, apparently averages about $5 per link for a site like that one, so with 50,000 pages to link from there was the potential for a lot of money without having to do any work: my preferred way of making money online :-).
On September the 4th 2008 the traffic to the site dropped from over 10,000 visitors a day (looked like the daily amount was passing 12,000 visitors) to less than 2,000 and had remained that low until December 2008 when I originally wrote this article!
This was a growing site, over the proceeding 6 months it had gone from 11,000 recipes to 36,000 (took the site to about 8K visitors a day) and had recently (few weeks earlier) broken the 50,000 recipe mark (that’s when I sold my first link from the site) and was easily breaking 10,000 visitors a day with the majority of the traffic from Google.
A week before the drop in traffic I’d added another 10,000 recipes (working on 100,000 recipes in total) and it looked like just before the Google penalty the site was passing 12,000 visitors a day with about 10K from Google SERPS.
So this was a growing site content and traffic wise and Google loved it which meant the traffic drop had to be a Google penalty.
At the time I’d sold a massive two text links from the site making less than $10!!!!
You need to be very careful with both buying and selling links, if a backlink SEO service has their inventory penalized, do you really think they’d inform the link buyers or just keep taking their money?
Google Penalty Checker
Since there was nothing else obviously wrong with the recipe site (there are a lot of recipe sites with a similar content structure etc…) I believe the Google penalty was due to the text links: you can never be 100% certain (unless Google informs you, which they sometimes do now via Google Webmaster Tools), but I’m very confident it was the links for this penalty.
There are no real Google penalty checkers, there’s tools you can use to check aspects of a site like is it indexed, but there’s no automated way to check for a Google SEO penalty, it’s a combination of understanding SEO and tracking a sites SERPs etc… In 2014 you can of course check Google Webmaster Tools which does include the Manual Actions (whether your site has a manual penalty), as you can see from the image below Google does give some information (this isn’t from the recipe site BTW, the recipe site doesn’t have any manual web spam messages).
Google Web SPAM
This strongly suggests Google either automatically or via their employees (they have an army of Google ‘drones’ looking for what Google call web SPAM) are checking the text link selling sites and acting accordingly, with 50,000 pages in the text link sellers inventory wasn’t hard for them to find that site**!
I find it hard to believe they’d catch the site as a seller of links from two links on two deep pages of a 50,000+ page website where the links had been added recently (days).
** All a Google employee would have to do is sign up as an advertiser of these text link seller websites and search through their inventory for publishers selling links. Advertisers don’t even have to pay for a link to see the URL, so a Google employee could find hundreds of sites selling links without even having to buy a link: that’s what I’d do, Google can probably automate it.
Google Reconsideration Request
Within a week or so of being sure it was a Google penalty (I had server problems the week before just to muddy the water!) I removed the site from the text link sellers inventory and had put in a re-inclusion request via Google’s Webmaster tools admitting to selling links and explaining the text links had been removed and the entire site removed from the text link sellers inventory. Basically the site would never be used to sell text links again.
You normally don’t get a useful response to a Google reconsideration requests (that was true when I wrote this) and to date (December 2008) not had one (Update: did later get a response they’d checked the site, but no information, just they’d checked: see image).
Basically if the re-inclusion request works your site will start ranking again, if not you can only assume either Google haven’t got to your re-inclusion request yet or they still think the site deserves a penalty (or it’s an automated Google penalty and their automated system will or will not deal with the penalty).
From experience I know if you make an SEO mistake like this and come clean in the re-inclusion request as long as you’ve removed the offending problem Google should reinstate the site eventually (can take months and you tend to loose some rankings which is fair enough, you have to rebuild the SEO trust and authority).
2+ months on and I was getting worried it was a permanent Google penalty which would SUCK!!!
My First Google Penalty/Ban
I did so well with the site that without having to use PPC traffic I sold over £80,000 worth of lingerie in one year. I realized then how good I was at SEO and it was far more interesting/challenging than selling adult products: it meshed with who I am as a person, research scientist at heart.
I got the 1,000 product adult site ranked high in Google (top 5 for the Lingerie SERP at one point for example) through a combination of on-page SEO and blackhat SEO linking practices, blog comment link spamming and this resulted in the site generating about 8,000 visitors a day: most from Google!
In hindsight without the black hat SEO techniques I think I’d have got the site to around 5,000 visitors a day within the same period of time, but long term pass 8,000 visitors a day, so was a mistake to go blackhat.
I made a blackhat SEO mistake and admit it, the site deserved a Google ban. In 2014 I still own the penalized domain, was my first real business domain and won’t ever let it expire even though it makes no profits.
In my defense I needed the site to do well as it was my only source of income at the time and humans will take risks when their backs are against a wall! A few years earlier I’d had to drop out of University on medical grounds and had been claiming benefits on medical grounds (was very poor with a wife and 3 young children). Sob story just like everyone who needs to make money fast with Google.
After realizing my back pain was not going to be cured quickly I gave up on my career plans (could have finished my science degree quite easily, guess I still could) to be a research geneticist (planned to work on something like curing/controlling HIV/AIDS) and my life went from working towards a research career that excited me to just making money to make ends meet.
I had and still have no interest in lingerie/sex toys, through research I found there was a big market for that type of product and the markup was amazing!
I can not fault Google for banning the lingerie site permanently since I’d made a big SEO mistake and unlike with selling text links there’s no way to remove thousands of comment spammed links, so unfortunately that site will probably be always banned in Google!
Interestingly and fortunately I’d realized a few months before the Google ban that what I’d done could damage the site permanently and so I put a new business plan into action and setup an SEO business.
This was at a time when the SEO consensus was you couldn’t get a domain banned for link spamming since it would be too easy to perform negative SEO on your competitors: link spam the crap out of your competition and see their sites drop like flies from Google :-)
I saw it differently, Google is a business not a fair democracy and though their mantra is “Do No Evil” it’s easier to throw some of the babies out with the bath water and recover them when their parents complain than manually check every single domain before issuing a Google penalty. Basically Google bans 1,000s of sites and if 10 are a mistake their owners will let Google know, result Google manually checks 10 sites not 1,000 manually: it’s good business for Google, but not so much for the business owners left with a penalized site by mistake.
One month before I was ready to offer paid SEO services the site was hit with a disastrous Google penalty (from 8,000 to 1,000 visitors a day!). After a few months of trying to keep the lingerie site running on about 10% of the traffic whilst building up my SEO business I was able to put the lingerie site into moth balls and concentrate 100% of my time into SEO services.
I wasn’t upset about this at all, (I didn’t enjoy selling those products) within a few months of the penalty I was making more from offering SEO services than from the lingerie site at it’s peak.
Strangely enough for as long as I’ve been making money on the Internet I’ve always landed on my feet so to speak when something goes wrong. I’ve lost clients who pay over £1,000 a month only to get a new client days later paying £1,500 a month.
It’s weird, it’s almost like every time something goes wrong something even better happens a short time later. It’s like the AdSense money lost from the recipe site, I probably lost $500 a month due to the traffic drop, but gained over $1,000 a month from promoting a new Clickbank product :)
Looks like I just lost some Clickbank traffic (sales down) last week and now the recipe site is recovering :) the Internet is so dynamic there’s loads of money making opportunities if only you see AND act on them.
Anyway, back to my recipe sites Google penalty.
Google Penalty Recovery
Over the last month traffic has been stable at around 1,200 visitors a day.
Today is December 4th 2008 and I’m already at 5,600 visitors and looking at relevant SERPs many have recovered, wahoo, looks like the penalty has been lifted, thank you Google :)
Mental note to self: stop taking risks on important websites, it’s STUPID!!!
3 Month Google Penalty
I find it hard to believe a penalty would start and stop on the 4th of the month by coincidence (a one in thirty chance it could), so looks like the site had a 3 calendar month Google penalty.
I’ve heard others say they’ve had penalties around 3 months, but this is the first time for me to be sure it’s exactly 3 calendar months to the day.
As long as it’s not a coincidence this strongly suggests an automated penalty, basically Google found a problem with the site and penalized it on the 4th September. Exactly 3 calendar months later a bot or something rechecked the site found the problem fixed and removed the penalty.
I’m 99% sure this penalty was for the text links, which if I’m right begs the question how would Google automatically find sites selling text links? I can see how they would do it manually, but not automated unless they can scan through the text link sellers inventory with a bot or something.
I knew Google doesn’t like sites selling text links, but believed as long as your not stupid nothing bad would happen. The program I used for selling links involved a WordPress plugin, but you get to name the plugin file anything you like (I didn’t use anything obvious) and so there should be no way for a bot to find the plugin (there’s nothing in the end HTML that would give it away)!
Will update this post in a few days, hoping the site fully recovers and it can again break the 10,000 visitors a day mark. As it was going the first few days in September I could be in for over 15,000 visitors a day and if it’s recovered I’ll continue to add more recipes until I break that 100,000 recipes mark.
Wish me luck.
Google Penalty Update
See the comments for discussions regarding the penalty recovery process etc…
The penalty recovery lasted roughly one week, as you can see from the traffic stats below had exactly 7 days recovery then wham the penalty was back and worse than before!
1 December 2008 1,201
2 December 2008 1,210
3 December 2008 1,370 (this is the penalty level traffic)
4 December 2008 6,620
5 December 2008 5,910
6 December 2008 5,899
7 December 2008 6,994
8 December 2008 6,559
9 December 2008 6,715
10 December 2008 3,446
11 December 2008 1,024 (and again penalized!)
12 December 2008 711
13 December 2008 876
Well that sucks.
2014 Google Penalty Update
Well, I’ve not done much with the site over the past few years and the low traffic has remained, so looks like the Google penalty remains in place today. I tend not to worry about this sort of thing, it’s so easy to build a new website and get it ranked that I’ve found it’s easier just to move on and try not to make the same mistake again.
Since the site is really old now and to be honest the content is not that great (text format recipes I found from a lot of sources, no images, just text) I don’t think I’d waste my time trying to recover the site per se. If I ever care about recipe SERPs again I’d probably delete the site and do a sitewide 301 redirect to the home page of a new site with much better quality content. If I were building a recipe site today it would be image rich, YouTube video rich, link in with social media etc… my old site is what worked 10 years ago, users expect a LOT more today.