My SEO Firm Got Me Banned – Now What?

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Imagine this scenario, if you dare. Early one Monday morning you wake up, check Google, and your site has vanished from the search engine results pages. Panic ensues. You call your SEO firm and get voice mail. For three days. Finally they call back with a few excuses and apologies, but no real solution.

Yes, sites can be penalized by the engines. And if the cause was something your SEO firm did, don’t assume they will know what it was or even what they have to do to get you “un” penalized. Even worse, the pressure to perform can sometimes lead to SEOs/SEMs trying tactics that really should be avoided – a little research on your part may alert you to the underlying cause for the penalty.

In my experience most SEOs/SEMs are terrific and professional, but as with any field, there are others that aren’t – maybe you unwittingly hired one of them. Take a deep breath and consider …

Possible Causes – Why Have You Been Banned?

A site may be penalized for a number of things.  For example, the Google Webmaster Guidelines (http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769) clearly list possible causes, including hidden text or hidden links, cloaking or sneaky redirects, multiple pages, subdomains/domains with duplicate content, or doorway pages with little or no original content. It’s a good bet that if Google says they don’t like these things, and you do these things, you could get penalized.

Yahoo! and MSN also have similar “triggers”, although likely not identical to those listed by Google. The all-important linking strategy, for example, can lead to banning if you obtain too many inbound links (IBLs) too quickly, buy links, or are involved in suspect linking schemes.

To further muddy the waters, if your rankings slip, you can’t always assume you’ve been penalized.  Perhaps you used to rank on page one. Your rank was due to a combination of factors, one of which was the links pointing back to your site. But if a search engine database update determines that one of the sites linking to you is not as “trustworthy” as previously judged, other links on that page are also considered to be less trustworthy.  The result? Your site’s rank drops due to the lowered trust of the links pointing to it.

An outright penalty is much different than lowered rank. If the engines feel you have purposely tried to fool their algorithms, they can take action against you based on the severity of the infraction. Unfortunately, severity is in the eyes of the engine.

Possible Solutions – How Do I Get Reinstated?

So there you are. Your site has been penalized or banned. Now what do you do? Here are some search-engine-specific steps to help get you back in the good graces of the engines and re-crawled/re-ranked as soon as possible.

Google

With Google, start here – http://www.google.com/support/webmasters. Via this page, you can make a request for re-inclusion. Before doing so, however, I strongly suggest searching for and removing any possible traces of spam or bad linking behavior on your website.

Matt Cutts (a Google blogger SEOs/SEMs should definitely read) explains it this way: “Fundamentally, Google wants to know two things: 1) that any spam on the site is gone or fixed, and 2) that it’s not going to happen again. I’d recommend giving a short explanation of what happened from your perspective: what actions may have led to any penalties and any corrective action that you’ve taken to prevent any spam in the future. If you employed an SEO company, it indicates good faith if you tell us specifics about the SEO firm and what they did, it assists us in evaluating re-inclusion requests. Note that SEO and mostly affiliate sites may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be re-included; such sites should be quite familiar with Google’s quality guidelines.”

Will it work? There’s only one way to find out. Google wants quality – provide it and you may live long and prosper.

By the way, if you are a Google Sitemaps user, you can also submit a re-inclusion request via a link at the bottom of your account page.

Yahoo!

First, it’s a good idea to review the Yahoo! Search Content Quality Guidelines page located at http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/basics/basics-18.html. If you are certain your site was in the Yahoo! index but is now gone, you may have been removed for cause.

Fortunately, Yahoo! provides a way to check. Use their URL Status Review Request form at http://add.yahoo.com/fast/help/us/ysearch/cgi_urlstatus and then make necessary site changes to suit the guidelines.

MSN

MSN has a Site Owner Help section at http://search.msn.com/docs/siteowner.aspx that provides details on no-no SEO tactics, as well as access to re-inclusion request forms.

MSN also includes this ominous (depending upon the nature of your competitors) but potentially very helpful piece of advice …

“We may remove a website from the index if the website was reported as spam. If you suspect that your website was incorrectly identified as spam, please send an e-mail message to webspam@microsoft.com.”

Conclusion
Search engines are obviously not going to sit by while marketers try to rig the results. In today’s extremely competitive online market, search engines need their results to be useful or else they will fail. So, do yourself a favor – don’t try to fool them in the first place, and don’t be naive about your SEO/SEM efforts, whether they are in-house or outsourced.

Ignorance of a tactic committed by a third party you hired may not be enough to save your site. And if you do get busted, fix the problem, apologize, request re-inclusion, and be patient. After all, you were warned, whether you took the time to read that warning before submitting your website or not.

One last bit of advice. Keep in mind that the older your site, the more you have to lose.  All the search engines give a little extra credit to sites that have been around a while. If your site currently ranks fairly well, isn’t brand new, and you have been 100% white-hat in your SEO/SEM efforts, then a major part of your ongoing linking and SEO strategy needs to be protecting the trust and link equity you have already established. Be very cautious about the tactics you use and the inbound links you request to avoid that nightmare Monday morning scenario.

About the Author

Eric Ward advises clients on link-building strategies and tactics that actually make sense. Eric created the web's first service for building links and publicity for websites, and he continues to offer these services today.

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