The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SES NY 2010 Series: Getting Penalized and Banned in Search, An Interview With Michael Stebbins from Market Motive


How to get penalized and banned in Google.It’s that time of year again. SES New York is only a few weeks away and I’ll be covering the conference again via blogging and Twitter. As part of my coverage, I’ll be writing a blog posts previewing some of the sessions that I’m excited about attending. My first post is about a session titled “Post Mortem: Banned Site Forensics” and it will be co-presented by Michael Stebbins, the CEO of Market Motive, and Rand Fishkin, the CEO of SEOmoz, on Tuesday, March 23rd at 12:45. During the session, Michael and Rand will share some of the most egregious tactics that can get you in trouble, and also how to deal with getting penalized or banned. I had a chance to interview Michael last week about the session and you will find the interview below.

Getting Penalized or Banned in Search
If you work in SEO long enough, you’ll eventually hear the nightmare stories about sites getting penalized or banned by the search engines. I actually monitored a site a few months ago (a major brand) that was pulled from Google’s index for a five to six week period before being reincluded by the search giant. I can’t imagine how much money the company lost during that timeframe. It took me only ten minutes of digging to understand what they were doing wrong (and the tactic was blatantly against Google’s webmaster guidelines). That was a bad move and I’m sure it cost them dearly.

But every company being penalized doesn’t set out to break the rules. I’ve seen many instances of companies implementing dark grey to black hat tactics simply based on a lack of experience. They might have read about how to quickly rank highly on some random blog and went ahead and implemented those tactics. They weren’t necessarily trying to game the system, but ended up making changes that could get them in trouble. Sure, they might jump up the rankings for a few weeks or months, but they also might eventually get caught. That’s typically when the companies getting penalized or banned seek professional assistance.

Michael Stebbins of Market Motive.Needless to say, this is an important topic in SEO and why I chose to write about the session here on my blog. Michael has a wealth of experience in helping companies that have been penalized or banned, and was able to take a few minutes last week to answer some of my questions.

So without further ado, here is my interview with Michael Stebbins:

Glenn: What are the top three or four things people will learn at your session?

Michael: We'll cover which sins are forgivable and which ones can result in indefinite exclusion from the search results. We’ll also cover how to know if your site is banned in the first place. We get calls for help where site owners are certain they've been banned and it turns out the site is still indexed, but is penalized. Being penalized and being banned are very different outcomes. I'll show attendees a way to know for sure. We’ll then cover the five most common reasons sites are taken out of the index and I'll show the do's and don'ts in the reinclusion process.

Glenn: In your opinion, what are the leading causes/tactics for sites getting banned (over the past 12 to 18 months)?

Michael: Nearly all the “unforgivable” sins center around trying to fool the search engines into believing your site is more popular than it really is. The bots are getting smarter, but they are still blind and deaf. Since they cannot emulate a human behind a browser this leaves some opportunities for unscrupulous site owners to manipulate what the engines read versus what real people see and experience.

Glenn: As the engines have evolved, how have tactics for getting penalized evolved? i.e. How have older tactics like white on white text, keyword stuffing, cloaking, etc. evolved to more advanced forms of breaking the rules?

Michael: Google keeps this information close to the vest. But Bing recently posted what they are looking for to identify web spam. If you understand Google's motivation to show relevant sites, and combine this with some technical knowledge of how a bot finds and reads a web page, it's not too hard to figure out what the engines are looking for. Only certain false popularity techniques can be picked up with a bot at this time. The rest have to be reported and then checked via a manual review.

Glenn: Based on your experience, what are some of the top misconceptions about getting penalized by the engines?

Michael: It's funny, or actually it's not so funny, but nearly everyone who gets a site banned denies that they've done anything wrong. It's like a crime drama where the “victim” hides evidence out of embarrassment or denial. Eventually, we figure it out and are able to help. Another one that keeps coming up is denial of service after over-using Google resources. The denial of service relates to queries to Google's data -- not to inclusion in the index.

Glenn: Are there times where a smaller SEO violation can lead to a website completely getting pulled from the index?

Michael: Absolutely. We've found sites that trigger manual review for a forgivable sin, but once under review, an unforgivable sin is discovered and the site is beyond recovery at that point. Picture a driver getting pulled over for a tail light infraction only to get arrested for a bank robbery.

Glenn: Based on your experience helping sites that have been penalized or banned, how long does it take to bounce back from a penalty? (If a site owner goes through the process of fixing the issue and then filing a reinclusion request).

Michael: We've seen reinclusion in two weeks, but we've seen hundreds of sites that have little hope of ever being reincluded.

Glenn: Are there any case studies you are going to present during your session (along with statistics) about sites that were penalized?

Michael: I'll use some anonymized data to give examples of statistical data that can trigger a review. But for obvious reasons, we don't want to expose sites that were banned or are working on a reinclusion.

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Based on the importance of the subject matter, along with Michael and Rand’s experience, I believe this is a session that is hard to miss… I think the information being presented can help clients, agencies, consultants, and in-house SEO’s all better understand how to keep their sites in good standing. I’ll be attending the session on Tuesday and tweeting core points as they come up. Again, the session is scheduled for 12:45-1:45 on Tuesday, March 23rd.

So, be there or get banned by Google. Just kidding. :)

If you have any questions, post them below. Either Michael or myself will respond.

GG

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