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How to Tell if Your Domain is Banned in a Search Engine

Mark Jackson
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Do you have a domain that appears to have ranking problems in Google, Yahoo or MSN? Sometimes this may leave you wondering, "Has my Web site somehow been banned in the search engines?"; "Did my search engine optimization firm do something bad?".

If your Web site is brand new, you can skip this and just read some earlier columns on optimizing a new Web site.

If your Web site once ranked and all of a sudden seems to be taking a hit, perhaps you should check to see if you've suffered a ban in any one of the search engines or encountered a penalty.

First, let's take a look at what a ban might look like.

Oftentimes it is difficult to tell whether a domain name is banned in the search engine or simply penalized by the search engine. Or, perhaps the domain name is neither banned, nor penalized. It could be, you just managed to screw up your site. Let's look at all of the possibilities and explore how to tell whether or not a domain name is banned.

Let's first look at Google. Go to www.google.com and type in the domain name, with and without the "www." For example, search for "www.domain.com" and then search for "domain.com" (without using quotes around the domain name). If the domain shows up in the search results then it is not banned in Google.

If the domain name does not show up in the search results but there are search results then there may be an issue with that domain name. For example, if the domain name does not appear, but the domain name is highlighted or shows up in bold on other sites in the search results, there most likely is a problem with that domain name.

To investigate a domain further at Google, let's look at what Google returns when we perform a site: search at Google. For example, if you go to Google and search for "site:www.domain.com" and then "site:domain.com" and Google comes back with "Your search - site:www.domain.com - did not match any documents," the site most likely is banned at Google.

If you add the domain name to Google Webmaster Tools, you should be able to learn more about the domain name, even if you do not own that domain name. In fact, you can add just about any domain name (as long as it resolves to a page, or is up and running). I recently added a domain name that I know is banned in the index and received the message from Google, "No pages from your site are currently included in Google's index. Indexing can take time. You may find it helpful to review our information for webmasters and webmaster guidelines."

If you own the domain name and have the ability to perform Google's verification procedure then you may find out additional information about the domain. I recently verified a domain name that I know is currently banned in the Google index, and learned that if a site is truly banned in Google, their Webmaster Tools section will not show you any data. For example, when you look at the Diagnostics/Web Crawl area there will be no data shown; in the Links/Pages with external links section, there will be no data listed.

What should you do if the domain name appears to be banned? If the domain is banned in Google, make sure you take a look at the Google Webmaster Guidelines and see if the domain/Web site violates any of those guidelines. If you are certain that the domain name does not violate any of the guidelines, or if it once did but no longer does, then you should consider putting in a reinclusion request. Google explains that you need to sign into your Google Webmaster Tools account and go to the Removed Content tab, and then click "Reinclude" next to the content you're trying to get back in the Google index.

There are several reasons why domain names can be banned in Google. Some bans appear to be different than others. For example, if a domain name is not renewed, I have seen it appear to be removed from the Google index, especially when a domain name reaches the "pending delete" status.

Also, newly registered domain names tend to be immediately indexed, but then will tend to drop out of the index. In these cases, the domains aren't necessarily banned from the index; they're simply removed. Adding content to the domain and getting links to that domain from other web sites will help get the domain back in the Google index. Otherwise, some really tricked up SEO, or just bad luck, can certainly get you banned.

A couple of great forum discussions on this topic are currently happening here:
Google Penalty?
Why is this Web site banned in Google?

Let's take a look at Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search and determine whether or not a domain name is banned in their indexes. Searching for the domain name in either Yahoo's or Live Search's search field (e.g., www.domain.com) will show pages from that domain name. If the domain is not found in the search results, then going to Yahoo's Site Explorer or Microsoft's Webmaster Center will also help determine if the domain is in the index or not.

If the domain name is not in either Yahoo or Microsoft's index, then it will most likely show a message like, "We were unable to find any results for the given URL in our index: www.domain.com". If the domain name shows that pages are indexed, then most likely it is not banned.

Here's a forum discussion on a Yahoo ban: Banned by Yahoo?

In most cases, loss of rankings could just be a stupid mistake that someone made (302 redirecting a bunch of pages from your site to a different domain; redesign/relaunching a Web site and not properly 301 redirecting the URLs; redesigning/relaunching a Web site and going from 1,000 pages indexed to 40). These are just a few examples of how you could "ban yourself" ("penalize" would be a more appropriate term). It is far more common that you hurt yourself than it is that the search engines ban you.

As always, if you're not sure, contact a search engine optimization professional for assistance/counseling.


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