Search Engine Damage Control

Google and other search engines will boot anyone who uses spam tactics to get high rankings. Should marketers fear these threats? You’d better believe it.

But what can be done as damage control if you suspect you’ve been penalized?

If you believe you have inadvertently spammed Google or others and wish you could clean-up your act, I have some good news for you.

First Things First

To begin, review some of the possible reasons for your page/s exclusion from the database. For instance, Google, and most others, publish a page that outlines reasons your site may not be included. Take a look at each engine to determine whether you’ve inadvertently breached their guidelines, or have simply failed to follow the correct procedures for being listed in the database.

If you suspect your page was manually removed from a search engine’s index because of spamming, the engine will likely not comment on the reasons for removal — they won’t even give you an exhaustive list of practices that can result in your removal.

Spamming Tactics

Below are some of the common tactics identified as search engine spam:

  • Cloaking: When one page is served to search engine crawlers to achieve a good ranking, but a different version of the page is served to search engine users. This sometimes involves changing meta tags after a search engine positioning has been achieved.
  • Spoofing/Redirects/Meta Refresh: A meta refresh tag permits visitors to automatically be taken to a different page. When this functionality is abused, users are taken to content that’s unrelated to their search. Thus, search engines are suspicious of pages with a fast meta-refresh rate, and pages that use JavaScript to perform redirection. Use server-side redirection if legitimate redirection is required.
  • Domain Spamming: Identical sites found under different domain names to increase search engine traffic, also known as mirror sites.
  • Tiny Text: Overused to hide keyword stuffing.
  • Invisible Text: Used to hide keyword stuffing by making the stuffed keywords the same color as the page (for instance, white text on a white page background).
  • Deceptive Title and Tags: Irrelevant keywords in the title and meta tags.
  • Deceptive/Misleading Links: Setting up pages/links for the sole purpose of deceiving search engines.
  • Over-submitting: Using the AddURL form to submit hundreds of deceptive pages.
Getting Caught

If you intentionally spam the engines with any of the above tactics and get caught, you can expect the penalty to be the removal of your links from the engine. Spamming is not worth the temporary benefits. Search engine marketing done right is a long-lasting marketing investment, so don’t jeopardize your rankings with any suggestion of spamming a search engine.

Search engines have many ways to detect spamming, including so-called spam filters. They also actively encourage spam reporting by users. So even if you get by the spam filters a few times, others might report you — especially your competitors.

Getting Back onto Google

If your site is removed from Google’s database, the first thing to do is to clean up the page/s and send a re-inclusion request to help@google.com. Google probably won’t make any guarantees about if and when it will re-include your site. If everything is in order, your site should reappear in a month with the next Google refresh.

Before you re-submit your site, ensure there are no technical problems with your server: check for any robots.txt files that might turn away search engine spiders. Remember, too, that if you use frames or Flash it can be hard for the engines to index your site. You’ll also need plenty of relevant text on your pages and tags if your site is to be correctly indexed by search engine crawlers.

In any event, you should contact the search engine in writing. Also make an attempt to contact them by phone. Admit your mistake and make a sincere promise that it will not happen again.

Algorithm Changes

Should you worry about the changes in search engine algorithms? Yes, but there are acceptable and unacceptable methods for dealing with these changes. Spamming is simply unacceptable.

Currently, the engines are emphasizing relevancy. Algorithms seem to favor relevant content, relevant title and description tags, and a relevant linking strategy. In other words, tell it like it is and be precise in your descriptions. Know which keywords are used to find your site, and use those keywords appropriately. And provide good navigation so the engines can crawl deep into your site.

Algorithms have been affected by search engine optimization practices and user behavior. That’s how spamming and best practices have surfaced. And it’s also why search engines continually adjust their algorithms.

Not the Only Game in Town

Google is only one search engine, and there are many more with substance, integrity, and a large number of users. All these engines should be referring searchers to your Website.

Millions of new Web pages are submitted daily, many of which compete for top rankings with your site. Don’t risk your future business online by spamming search engines. It’s your responsibility to know the rules and act responsibly.

Major Search Engines – Who To Contact

Below is a list of the major search engines, their editorial content guidelines, and contact information to settle any possible abuse issues:

  • MSN: Receives editorial content from Inktomi — whose editorial guidelines are here.

    Inktomi’s content policy FAQ will answer most questions on dos and don’ts — or email their spam reporter for help.

  • Netscape: Receives editorial content from Google. The Google Guidelines are worth reading before you get started. Google partners with Yahoo! and Netscape, providing results to Yahoo! and DMOZ directories. Email Google with the name of your site and a detailed description of your problem. Be honest and sincere.
  • Open Directory Project aka DMOZ: Provides content to several partners including Netscape, Google, AOL, HotBot, Lycos, and Pandia. See the guidelines or email any category editor for advice. A list of editors appears at the bottom of every ‘category page’ within ODP.
  • Yahoo! Web Sites and Yahoo! Web Pages: How to suggest a site provides basic information about what Yahoo! expect from you. Or email Yahoo! customer care for further assistance.
  • AltaVista: Their Submission Policies will help you understand the rules. If you use Alta Vista’s contact email, include "Search Results Manipulation" in the subject line — this puts you in touch with their spam reporter.
  • AllTheWeb (Fast)/Lycos: See their Webmaster resources for information. There’s also the Spam Policy and Spam Report email address to which you can write if you’ve inadvertently made a mistake.
  • HotBot: Receives editorial content from Lycos, whose guidelines are here. To contact its Abuse Manager, send an email inquiring about your situation.
  • AOL Web Sites: Receives editorial content from DMOZ and Google. See the suggestions for getting listed, or, to contact AOL for information, write an email that describes your problem.
Work With The Engines

Work with all the engines, use their guidelines, admit it when you’ve made a mistake, make written contact, follow-up with phone calls, and be sincere in your request for re-admission into the database.

Remember, your editorial content (a search engine link to your site) below a search engine’s advertising fold is your business’s best means of acquiring a target audience. This audience consists of astute indivduals performing searches and research who are interested in what you do. You can’t afford to make mistakes. And if you do… start with damage control right away.

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