Growing Threat to Online Business - Becoming Collateral Damage in Google

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Is the ever escalating fight Google is waging against spam creating too much collateral damage? Are a handful extremely dedicated employees the right solution? In a story published on PBS they take a look at the recent supplemental sex blog issue that we covered here a few weeks ago.

In this recent case, Tony Comstock of Comstock Films noticed that his site’s Google-referred traffic had dropped precipitously after Christmas, and told blogger/author Violet Blue. She then notified Xeni Jardin at culture blog BoingBoing, who then wrote a high-profile post on the subject.

On the public side Matt came in addressed the problem and things got fixed. Here's an excerpt of the email with the PBS author.

Google does adjust its algorithms to try to improve search quality, and that can cause changes in rankings for sites. Before new changes are deployed, they have to pass a number of tests. We can also look at factors such as the amount of “churn” [change in search results] caused by a particular change. In this case, the small number of sites affected meant that we didn’t detect the situation before it went live. As a fallback, we also monitor feedback from various online sources: blogs, forums, emails, etc. In a very short time, we noticed a couple blog posts, checked out their reports, and discovered the issue. After that, we were able to fix the issues involved quite quickly.

Danny did a killer job looking back at what happened and analyzing the sex blog fiasco

Many different things could be going on, but for a number of similar sites to be involved, it does suggest that Google was doing some tinkering with the ranking algorithm, especially perhaps parts that deal with adult content.

Perhaps there was indeed some start of this that happened a few weeks ago, and maybe a further tweak just went too far this week. The attention certainly got Google to make some adjustments, so I don't see this as some attempt to wipe out indie adult sites.

Last week a non SEO blog that I read had a problem with google

I suspect the major problem is that Typepad doesn't allow 301-redirects from the old domain to the new one. So anything I post shows up at two URLs: www.thedisneyblog.com/.html and thedisneyblog.typepad.com/.html. I don't know what's going on for a fact, but I'm guessing that Google's Index interprets this as being spammy and blocks the domain. I wouldn't mind if they delisted the typepad domain, but they've delisted the www.thedisneyblog.com domain. The one I've been working so hard to restore since August.

I'm going to email them again today. But it is my understanding that Typepad has no plans to change that and no other way to resolve this indexing situation with Google.

So, I guess I'm looking for two things. Either someone at Google who can get this straightened out for me. Or someone who can help me quickly port The Disney Blog to another webservice and leave Typepad/SixApart behind. I'm willing to pay for the latter choice. Please email me today.

I blogged about it hoping that Matt or Adam would be reading on the weekend and take a quick peek. Again Matt went above and beyond and detailed the problem which turned out to be hidden text caused by the six apart CMS.Now initially Google tried to do the right thing contacting the site owner but those emails never got through:

One of the points in the comment left by Google was that they did try and contact me via email a week before they delisted the site. If I had received that email I would have taken care of it immediately. Alas, the only emails they sent to were all su, webmaster, owner, help, info @ thedisneyblog.com. At no point did they look for contact info on the website itself, or use contact info I had provided through the Google Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics. So I've added an email for

, and I would recommend every blogger do the same. It would be nice if at the same time Google sends out the one-week warning, they also highlight the offending blog in the Webmaster Tools (and Google Analytics if that's being used too) and then also send an email to the account used to configure either of those tools. I think that would cover all the bases.

In the end the problem got solved because the "right person" saw it amplified the situation and put it in front of "the right person" who solved the issue. Really kudos to you Matt for getting involved and doing th right thing.

Google has a lot of employees like Matt, Adam, Vanessa, Mihai Parparita, and Carl Sjogreen who I've personally seen respond to problems even on Christmas. While their effort is truly admirable and to be commended, is depending on the blogosphere's random "six degrees of separation" really workable? In cases where Google is responsible for 70% or more of a site's traffic there's very little a site owner can do to protect themselves. There was a time when you could depend on advertising with Google, however I have been one of the "small number" of sites that became collateral damage during a PPC algorithmic shift more than once.

So to you Googlers who are out in the trenches every day looking for issues and interacting with the community, and solving problems I salute and thank you. To you the faceless all consuming Google who holds so much influence over our daily lives, we fear you, but are both powerless and foolish to ignore you. While your changes may only affect a small number of sites, there's very little solace or consolation with that knowledge when you are one of those sites that was just marginalized.

Comments

Nice Post Graywolf

I know all the arguments for not relying on Google for your traffic and most are valid, however there is another side to the story. If a site receives a fair amount of Google traffic and is therefore successful then the owner of the site may just be preoccupied with trying to maintain the site for users, not generating a viral buzz out there. A family selling original woodworking creations is busy working hard filling orders they don't have time to go and make youtube videos of Briana or come up with a million-pixel page.

There also is an issue of market dominance. Google owns such a large share of the search market that they have almost grown to a staple or utility of the web. They are the internet. Real people don't follow links or type in URLs they "google". The average person assumes that when they are searching on google they are searching the entire internet and completely unaware of the daily battles that the webmaster/SEO crowd faces daily. Since website publishers don't pay for listing in the index and are not trully google "customers" we really have no recourse, but as any utility, if they cut off our services we suffer.

The truth is there has been millions and millions of people's lives improved drastically by google, however there is also a small collateral group of people who have been damaged beyond repair due to the butterfly effect of an algo update here or there. And as Graywolf points out, unless you go on a posting rampage, ala danish-furniture-websites, or have the ear of the right person, you are sunk.

It may just be time that google takes some of their billions and billions and hires a few hundred interns and gives them a desk and a phone, if not to improve their product, but out of a sense of duty that comes with such a utilitarian monopoly. Not everybody needs three phds and an income with two commas to be effective employee, a person on the other end of the phone may be all it takes.

nice post

I actually think Google will be the cause of the next dot com bust.
Google will make some fundamental shift in their algorithms and a massive change in the serps will result in companies going bust.
Sure new sites will receive traffic but even online businesses can't shift that quickly and sites with new traffic will not be equipped to monetise it the same way the previous sites did.
I actually think if we saw a major shake up you might see governments stepping to try a force Google to stick to the same also.

anyway back to the point.
Because of this I suspect Google will have to keep playing the catch the spammer game as they are because any fundamental changes would have a global economic impact.

So, lesson learned:

So, lesson learned: Diversify.

Yeah good post BUT

Yeah good post BUT collateral damage is NOT a growing threat Michael.

If you had blogs back in 2003 you might realize how much care Google takes today in NOT getting it wrong.

I have a simple solution, study what is currently being seen as "spam" and stay as far away from it as you can. Worked for me! ;)

Agreed

Google is now much more stable than it used to be and the collateral damage is much lower than it was in the days of the monthly updates.

Sites used to bounce around in the SERPs on a month to month basis making it very difficult for online businesses to plan ahead.

Google Collateral Damage

I was one of the few (there are a few others here as well, you know who you are ;) to have one of my sites banned from google a few years back because my site was hosted by Search King. An innocent site banned because of its host, now that was collateral damage.

Google just nuked all the sites hosted by Searchking...

Banning all those innocent sites caused a firestorm of bad press for google (the first bad press google ever got - that I know of)

But google has learned, and now they appear to go out of their way to avoid collateral dammage to innocent sites.
A very good thing.

The changes in the google algo are just a part of the life of a webmaster. Pages go up and pages go down, but at least now if your site is unfairly penalized by google you at least now have a path to follow to get justice from google. Major Kudos to Matt and crew for this!!!

By the by... If anyone's site is damaged beyond repair by the "Butterfly effect" of google algo changes... They NEED real bad to find another way to make a living... and thats no joke.

Three thumbs up

Three thumbs up on the post.

Ditto

>>Google just nuked all the sites hosted by Searchking...

Same here.

Way back in 2000, before Google took over search/the universe/everything but was obviously a rising star and could do no wrong and search engines where biting the dust right and left, I asked my newbie question at WmW, "Do we really want all our traffic to come from one source: Google? And what do we do about it?" The SEO conventional wisdom answer I got was "diversify - get good rankings in Inktomi..."

Well scroll ahead, by the time Searchking got hit with the Google Ugly Stick (GUS) there were no "other" search engines left to diversify too - everybody had switched to Google or had self distructed and Ink was just a pale shadow of itself.

So I still hear "diversify" and marketing as answers. That might be fine for SEO's and pro-marketers but I doubt the mom and pop's have the slightest clue on how to do that nor do they have the savvy to whine in the right ear to make it to BoingBoing and gain Matt Cutts attention. Yes I do think Google is a bit more responsive to collateral damage now a days, but I suspect that there is a lot more of it still going on than we ever realize. Small sites that just disappear with a whimper not a roar. Think of it this way - the Google TrustRank/aging filter/whatever causes collateral damage to new sites, just for being new, every single day just because Google is still just about the only game in search.

Highlighted

Worth highlighting this point:

to you Googlers who are out in the trenches every day looking for issues and interacting with the community, and solving problems I salute and thank you. To you the faceless all consuming Google who holds so much influence over our daily lives, we fear you, but are both powerless and foolish to ignore you.

I have a simple solution,

I have a simple solution, study what is currently being seen as "spam" and stay as far away from it as you can. Worked for me! ;)

If it's spam then it's not collateral damage, no one is arguing that. Collateral damage implies that the innocent non-combatants are being hit. Should we blame the kid who made the mistake of going to class in a school too close to the bomb factory? The point of the original post is that truly innocent sites that do no wrong sometimes get hit with no recourse to anyone unless they ride the bus with Matt Cutts. The mom and pops who ignorantly break the rules are not collateral damage but targets, google doesn't look for intent they look for spam.

..

?>>>Yes I do think Google is a bit more responsive to collateral damage now a days, but I suspect that there is a lot more of it still going on than we ever realize. Small sites that just disappear with a whimper not a roar.

Your most likely correct Brad.
But, I do have to say that at least google appears to be trying to address some of the issues with collateral damage.

Brad, if you remember when our sites at SK got nuked, one of the things most everyone kept saying was that google needed a way for webmasters that had been banned unfairly to get redress from google.

It took google a few years.... The system for redress that google has now is not perfect, not by a long shot, but you have to admit it is better than the non existent system they had before.

Side Note: The majority of these clean sites that claim they are suffering ‘collateral damage’ have in fact been hacked and are ?unknowingly hosting javascript redirects and all kinds of nasty malware.

Most of these site owners have no clue their site has been cracked so when all of a sudden their site drops out of the google index they start yelling at the top of their lungs about being ‘collateral damage’ in google. When in fact their site has been hacked and google has removed it from the index for the protection of their users.

No doubt these site owners are victims, just not victims of google.

I don’t see where google has any choice but to bann these ‘innocent’ hacked sites until they are secure again and not carrying any malware or javascript redirects.

Matt has a post on his blog today about this very thing.

>I don’t see where google

>I don’t see where google has any choice but to bann these ‘innocent’ hacked sites until they are secure again and not carrying any malware or javascript redirects.

it is a shame when Google is one of the sites hosting such insecurities though
http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2007-01-12-n73.html

..

Well they can't very well bann themselves now can they... ;)

I saw a google groups exploit a few weeks ago, the pages were redirecting to some blacklisted online casinos. Google had those pages down fast, the pages were down about 72 hours after I first spotted them.

I submitted a very short story here at TW about that specific google groups exploit, but it never was published.

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