Google Downrank Penalty


One is torn between respect owed to Google for all they’ve done with search and frustration with their insufficient help/info for downranked sites. I know a small number of folks on the web spam team work to keep “collateral damage” low, but I think what bugs me is the ongoing strong implication that there is very little collateral damage when in fact there is a lot.

Ironically this opaque approach to downranking penalties is what spawns a lot of bad information at many forums and leads to the mistrust of Google that is increasingly common among many of the elite SEOs and webmasters.

The big part of my frustration comes from what I think is a lie, or at best a misleading thing that Google tells sites in the standard emails from Google support, which says that because your site is found in the Google index you have no penalty.

I now believe that by any reasonable definition of “penalty” this is a false and unreasonable statement.

What they really mean by this emails is that your site has no “manual penalty”. A manual penalty is invoked in extreme cases where sites are removed from the index. This is generally for things like hidden text, sneaky redirection, or other SEO tricks banned by the Google Webmaster Guidelines. However, if your site has a big downrank it probably has been penalized by the algorithm in a direct way, probably by a subtraction of points that leads to a much lower score for many/all of the pages in your site.

Here’s a good example of the downranking penalty at our Online Highways Travel site:

Searching Google for “Province of Djizak” it would be reasonable for a user to find this page somewhat high among the results: http://www.ohwy.com/uz/z/zdjizak.htm

Why would a user want this page? It’s highly relevant for the search, leads to more info about Uzbekistan, and our Uzbekistan section was created mostly by a leading travel expert from Uzbekistan who publishes the leading travel magazine for the Silk Road region of Asia.

So, why is this page relegated to obscurity, at position of approximately 190 of 193 results listed? Here it is on the last page of the Google results.

I wish I knew, though I’ve been assured by Google in several emails that we have no penalty when clearly … we do.

Google probably has a right to penalize and re-rank however they see fit, but along with this power and responsibility goes an obligation to tell an unvarnished truth about the status of sites. I used to believe that large sites with high advertising spends were not more likely to get special help than small sites, and to Google’s credit they have historically been good listeners/talkers at events like WebmasterWorld and Search Engine Strategies, but I now wonder if the lines are getting blurred between the advertising and ranking realms at Google. Google probably has the right to do things as they see fit, but please don’t tell me that thousands of small and medium-sized sites with relevant pages aren’t getting penalized and downranked when they … clearly are.

Update: Blogging about this has affected the results – on May 11 this blog post is number one for the term “Province of Djizak”! Our subject page remains very low – about 201 in rankings even though it is *referenced* by the number ONE page for the term (and of course is much more relevant to the search).

This, combined with the Chico the Wonder Dog experiments and a lot of reading and talking with SEO people, leads me to think that the downrank penalty really is site wide and that Google really is sacrificing a lot of good pages like our UZ section to punish us for what they see as undesirable cross linking / thin pages / failure in some cases to use nofollow on links / ?

Update 2: Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the rank? Our Djizzak Province page appears, after all, two places above this, um, highly relevant page for that query: Application of defecation lime from sugar industry in Uzbekistan

Update 3: OK, I have now created what I would argue is the world’s best “Province of Djizak” web page, located at the Online Highways blog. Unfortunately I had a problem changing the title but that page should *at least* rise higher than 200 for a query. Why? Because it is quite a bit more relevant than any others for that term and it now has TWO LINKS from this, the top page for the query “Province of Djizak“. If my hypothesis is correct it will not rise up because it will fall under OHWY’s site downranking penalty.

Update 4: Province of Djizak original OHWY page is now number one at Google for “Province of Djizak”. This is NOT at all consistent with my site penalty hypothesis above. It is consistent with the idea that we need to beef up incoming, new links to get pages re-ranked.

Update 5 (June 1). The original OHWY page is again heavily penalized – number 216 from number 1 yesterday. This, alas, is totally consistent with the sitewide penalty hypothesis I describe above.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
This entry was posted in advertising, Google, search, SEO, Webmasterworld. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Google Downrank Penalty

  1. JLH says:

    Too bad you aren’t trying to sell German cars then you’d either get reincluded in 24 hours, or best case, not get banned at all, get a phone call, time to fix the site, and then get a nice write up on Google blog with a link.

    So all you need is an advertising budget like BMW or VW, and you’re golden. For the rest of the 99.99999% sites in the world, you’re left blogging and going to said forums for no real help at all.

    I feel for ya man.

  2. JoeDuck says:

    JLH here’s some info you probably know already about the BMW thing: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/recent-reinclusions/

    Now, our case appears to be different in that we have NOT been removed from the index, just effectively removed from the SERPs. My cynical side says that Google does this more for legal reasons more than search reasons because excluding sites completely would be harder to explain so they just keep many pages indexed but severely downranked. My non-cynical side no longer deals with this issue – the exclusion of good pages on a site with *thousands* of *unsolicited* incoming links from various travel sites does not conform to what Google insists are their ranking guidelines. Our good pages are acceptable collateral damage to Google.

  3. JohnMu says:

    regarding the -950 thing, I’d watch this video [Matt Cutts] made: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4814548594071648913#1m42s
    Starting around 1:42 into the video is where I talk about this.

    from http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/013423.html
    “… think about how you could be not optimizing quite as much”? Anyone who finds a -950 thing almost has to be using some sort of tool to determine rankings.

  4. Your Djizak page may be low in rank because you’ve spelled it incorrectly once on the page:

    “The Province is divided into 11 admin-istrative districts with Djizzak as its”

    The other reason it may rank low is that it contains more advertising than content. Add around 1,000 more words of text about Djizak and I bet the page moves up from page 20 of Google search results to page 1.

  5. JoeDuck says:

    Sam thanks for the advice. Spelling varies on that province quite a bit, but note that that page is far more relevant to the very specific query “province of Djizak” than all but a handful of those that rank above it. In any case it’s ripe for testing so we’ll see soon enough! Here is the new page:
    http://blog.ohwy.com/?page_id=3

  6. JoeDuck says:

    Update 4: Province of Djizak original OHWY page is now number one at Google for “Province of Djizak”. This is NOT at all consistent with my site penalty hypothesis above. It is consistent with the idea that we need to beef up incoming, new links to get pages re-ranked.

    Update 5 (June 1). The original OHWY page is again heavily penalized – number 216 from number 1 yesterday. This, alas, is totally consistent with the sitewide penalty hypothesis I describe above.

  7. WebmasterOfHighQualitySite says:

    Yes, I agree with you absolutely. IT IS PENALTY.

    IMHO, Google is paranoid, stupid search engine. I boycott Google. I do not use this engine even in my every day work. I use Ask.com or Yahoo.com instead.

    I have a high quality site, I follow guidelines. My pages were downranked without any reason and I do not know why.

    Penalizing for EXTERNAL SEO FACTORS is NONSENSE, because it opens the way for de-SEO – techniques to downrank sites of competitors! Everyone can programmaticaly spam guestbooks, blogs, directories to downrank their competitors! Google programmers don’t get simple logical things. Shame on google programmers.

    Google programmers are non-competent MORONS. Period.

  8. Igor Berger says:

    Hey Duck I am nuclear, so you may not want my comments. 🙂

    The further the page goes down the tree directory the harder to get the hits for it in SE results.

    The page you doing is tier 3 so it is on the bottom of the pole.
    I have PR 4 on my top page travel Website and tier 3 pages are almost all supplementary. Explosion—> I am disallowing supplementary pages not to leak PR. And getting better results.

    Igor the Troll

  9. Igor Berger says:

    Hey Duck, nice to know you are you own man and not follow the crowd.

    I was looking at your site and I did not see Capadokia so I started thinking maybe it is not a city, and found Nevsehir which is a city in the province of Capadokia.
    Live and learn. 🙂

    You do have an error on the Turkey map, where Nevsehir alt says Canada….I did not know Nevsehir is in Canada? Maybe you are Turkish and live in Canada? 🙂 just joking.

    I travel in Turkey for a few weeks and loved it very much!

    Maybe you can do the next country Thailand.

    My business Website is a travel agency in Thailand. You can find it by following my signiture link.

    Igor

  10. JoeDuck says:

    Update XXXXIV: I just came back from the SES Conference and it seems very likely our sitewide downranking is from Google thinking this is a “thin affiliate” website. ie even though some of the pages are rich in content, almost the entier site has affiliate links and many of the pages are “thin” in content. This can generate an entire site downranking. Unfortunate for people who want to learn about the things we are rich in (e.g. “Uzbekistan Travel”) but we’ll work to fix this with new travel content.

  11. JoeDuck says:

    Update MCXLIVI: Google is now correctly listing our “Province of Djizak” material very high in the rankings, correctly placing the blog article at the top:

  12. JoeDuck says:

    Back to 200+. The dramatic swings are pretty darn interesting – wish I could explain them. Perhaps they re-rank without applying the downranking for “affiliate site” until they reasses it, and then if they decide it’s still that way they zap the page again. The problem, obviously, is that this method punishes good pages if the site is not satisfactory to Google. Justifying this as working to “user needs” is a stretch to my way of thinking.

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