Refriending Google: Dealing With Penalties & Suspensions

Entering the final afternoon of SMX London, starting with Refriending Google: Dealing With Penalties & Suspensions.

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Executive Editor, Search Engine Land

Q&A Moderator: Kelvin Newman, Creative Director, SiteVisibility


Craig Danuloff, President, ClickEquations Inc.
Mikkel deMib Svendsen, Creative Director,
Craig Macdonald, Chief Marketing Officer, Covario
Michael Wyszomierski, Project Manager, Google

@cjsherman @cdanuloff @demib @Wysz

Chris does the intro. We’re all aware of what’s happened with Panda. It’s not that Google is trying to be evil. There are plenty of acceptable ways to say “hey, I really didn’t do anything wrong.”

We’re leading off with Michael Wyszomierski (well, Chris gave up on trying to pronounce his last name), from Google.

So first, become friends with Google by creating a Google friendly site. And learn what can put that friendship at risk.

Don’t try to trick search engines [Anybody remember the “It’s not nice to fool mother nature” commercial? Google’s like mother nature, but more powerful]

Avoid hidden text or links.

Shows a site that looks nice, but has tons of hidden text. That’s bad.

Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords

[OK, not really complaining here, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this slide deck before, possibly at SphinnCon Jerusalem a few months ago.]

Don’t participate in link schemes that are intended to manipulate Page Rank.

Shows example of an e-mail sent to Matt Cutts offering a link exchange.

Avoid doorway pages, pages created just for search engines.

Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects

Here’s how we do spamfighting at Google

Beyond just talking to people like you and saying “please don’t spam.”

There’s algorithmic spam fighting and manual spam fighting. When you fill out a spam report it goes to our team for manual consideration. Actions from the manual team have a time out period, though we can renew them.

If you made a change afterwards, file a Reconsideration Request.

How do you know if it’s a spam issue?

  • They’re sending a lot more messages in Webmaster Tools.
  • You may know you’ve violated the rules
  • If you’ve been hacked. They’re seeing a lot more of that lately, unfortunately.
  • If you recently bought a domain

It’s probably not spam if you’re just not ranking as well as you’d like.

Opt-in to email forwarding in Webmaster Tools.

File for reconsideration AFTER you’ve cleaned EVERYTHING up.


  • Note previous violations
  • Don’t hide or mislead [it’s not nice to fool mother nature]
  • Don’t submit multiple requests, but it’s OK if you have new info
  • Tell us what you did to fix the violation

Q: What if I cleaned up my site but there are bad links to me.

So see if you can get the links removed. Maybe you asked for those links in the first place. Otherwise note it in the request. Shows example:

“I previously purchased links. I’ve removed what I could. Here’s what I couldn’t remove.”

Be patient, they can’t respond to every request.

They’ve been sending some responses:

  • Manual spam action revoked
  • Site still violates guideleines
  • There was no manual action taken against your site

Chris: Thank you Michael, now we’ll hear from the spammers … I mean practitioners.

And now we have Mikkel. A former black hatter who has been channeling Matt Cutts all conference (while dressed like Liberacci). I guess the same way I’m live-blogging since Lisa Barone and Barry Schwartz aren’t here, Mikkel figured since Matt and Vanessa are missing he’d play that role today.

You may think you’re penalized when really:

  • Your site or market changed
  • You got hit by algo changes and updates
  • You got hit by filtering: Not the same as penalization. Not always in real time.
  • You’re being penalized [even paranoids have enemies]. This is much less common than people think.

What could be wrong?

  • Did your web server slow down? Monitor your site performance. The worst case he saw was when he was hosted by RackSpace, suddenly dropped out of search. RackSpace decided that the engines were taking up too much bandwidth so they blocked them all. Oops.
  • Did you (or your engineers) make changes to your site? Worst example: An engineer redirected all users who didn’t support javascript to a page saying “please install JavaScript.” Oops. Make sure your engineers and decision makers understand search engine basics.
  • Did quality factors like Bounce Rate change on your site?
  • Did you get hacked. [A lot of talk about that at this conference. Seems to be a growing issue. Scary.]

Use Google Webmaster Tools! If you have any bad spikes, find out what’s going on.

Discusses monitoring your market. There may be newer and better sites, better optimized, video or other objects. Maybe you just suck.

Filtering and algo changes. You don’t get penalized for Duplicate Content. It’s a filter. You often have to fix the problem and wait to be respidered. Filtering problems are usually pretty easy to fix. Google’s not mad at you, they’re just protecting their index.

Algo changes happen all the time. 300-500 per year. WATCH OUT – a lot of the public info is NOT accurate.

Most penalizations are automated. Things like hidden text and links, sneaky redirects. Often you’ll get notified in Webmaster Tools, and you can fix the problem and get back in.

The worst kind are the Manual Penalizations. In that case you need to apply for a reconsideration. Fix everything. Be brutally honest. Don’t do it again. Most engines have a 2 strikes and you’re out policy. The engines like knowing who caused the problem. You may need a scapegoat.

There’s no law against breaking the guidelines. Be honest with yourself. Google isn’t listening to your clever arguments. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Google won’t mind because of some clever argument you have. If you’re violating the guidelines make sure you have a backup plan. “And you can always use a competitors SEO agency as the scapegoat. No, don’t do that, that’s really bad advice.”

And now it’s Craig Macdonald from Covario.

  • Don’t cloak
  • Clean up your content
  • Document everything
  • Fall on your sword. Practice your “aw, shucks” face. They don’t want to hear excuses.

Spammy links:

  • Stop paying for links. It’s a difficult conversation with your client. It will cause short term pain. [And probably long term pain].
  • Clean up your link profile
  • Document everything. Keep track of every link and all the communication with webmasters. [Wow, he sends this whole audit trail on to Google. I’m getting images of a Law & Order episode “I’ll take the death penalty off the table if you give up your supplier. And wear a wire.”]

Did a correlation analysis.

  • Value of optimized content in predicting ranking has been going down. He thinks it’s because the competition is better at this so there’s less opportunity here.
  • Keywords in URL have high correlation.
  • H1 tag still matters
  • Quality links. Not quantity. Having a body count of links is almost irrelevant. 5 Quality Links may be worth more than 50,000 low quality links.
  • Page load times are very important.

Bing vs Google

  • Bing is even less interested than Google in link quantity. Need quality links.
  • Google really hates having to wait
  • Bing is far more sensitive to localization than Google


They wrote a white paper on this. Their clients were generally helped by Panda.

Search engines want relevancy:

  • UGC
  • Distributed link strategy (infographics)
  • Quality links

You can download their white paper from

And finally, Craig Danuloff from ClickEquations

He’s talking about the paid side. Particularly Quality Score. Just wrote a book on it, coming out at SMX Advanced in Seattle.

Quality Score is Google looking backword at your keyword / ad copy pair to find out what’s going to work best in the future to:

  • make them the most money
  • satisfy the user
  • help you

Secret formula, known only the Colonel and 2 guys in Atlanta. OK, I made that up.

Here are the factors:

  • CTR. It’s not the CTR they tell you about. It’s specifically for the cross-section of Keyword+AdCopy, Account, Display URL, Geography
  • Relevance. Also doesn’t mean what you think it does [but he doesn’t clarify]
  • Other, mostly penalties, on things that occur after the click.

The effects of Quality Score:

  • Are you in the game? Can you show up?
  • What position should you get?
  • How much do you pay per click
  • What is the keywords’ “First Page Bid Estimate”

QS below 4 or 5? Big problem. Unless it’s really satisfying some business need get rid of these.

With a score of 4 – 6 you can probably work at it.

At 7 you win. You generally only do better if you have some systemic advantage, like it’s a brand term … or you’re cheating.

How is Ad Rank calculated?

  • Bid * Quality Score = Ad Rank

How is CPC calculated?

  • Next Ad Rank / Your Quality Score = CPC

He thinks people spend far too much time managing their bids. Focus more on your Quality Score.

How to get a Landing Page Quality Score penalty:

  • Provide bad user experience
  • Violate guidelines
  • Choose a “Questionable business model”
  • Choose a problematic market space

Poor landing page experience tend to be things that are genuinely bad. Usually if you have these you already know it:

  • Very slow
  • No privacy policy
  • Little original content
  • Too many ads
  • Missing ‘About Us’ w/ contact info
  • Fail to disclose on email requests
  • Pop-ups, bots, or unexpected coe

Landing Page Quality score is a binary function. If you’re OK, you’re OK.

Landing pages can hurt Quality Score, they can’t help.

They recently took all these aggressive behaviors and pulled these out of Landing Page Quality and now they’ll just suspend your site.

Questionable business models: Get rich quick, eBooks, email collection, click arbitrage, affiliate. He doesn’t really understand the problem with eBooks, guesses that they’re often used to provide minimal value. Most controversial is the idea of the Affiliate links.

Bad neighborhoods: Even if you’re 100% legit, you’ll have a problem if you’re in health care, sexual products, financial products. You’re presumed guilty. You need to prove yourself.

Path to redemption: Fix, apologize, request forgiveness, wait (landing page crawlers can take days or weeks), repeat. [Though according to what Mikkel was saying, repeat doesn’t really work. They’re much less likely to forgive the second time. Unless of course “repeat” implies with a different site that Google wouldn’t connect to the previously penalized one].

And we’re up to Q&A.

Question for Michael. How many reconsideration requests do you get and how often do you manually intervene.

Michael: The exact number won’t be that helpful to you. We get  a lot. But we do get through them pretty quickly. In most cases there is no penalty, it’s some other issue. That’s why we’re sending those messages now.

Q: Give example of a site that was filtered

Mikkel: Hackers got into my database. Google found out and put up a message on my listings. That’s how I found out. I cleaned it up and was back in.

Q: What advice would you give to webmasters of large sites that don’t always provide the resources to clean up a problem.

Mikkel: It’s like a grocery store saying “we know we have bad food that’s old and rotten but we don’t have the time to throw it out.” Sorry. Building a website takes a lot of time. Prioritize. Be realistic about what you can handle. You have to manage it.

Craig M: With one of our clients all products have to go through an off-shore tech team, through some difficult process. The only thing I’ve seen that works is to bring in a 3rd party SEO expert, sometimes they’ll be able to convince where you fail. [Boy I hate that. But yeah. Of course, he is an interested party. Maybe consultants’ sales pitches should be “I’ll tell your boss what you’re telling him, but I’ll do it in a deep authoritative voice while wearing an expensive suit.” Or is that already the implied consultants’ sales pitch?]

Michael: You can always not show the content to Google through robots.txt or something while you’re waiting for the resources to fix the problem.

And we’re done. I’m moderating the next session so I won’t be blogging it.

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