I heard back from AltaVista regarding the most recent round of missing pages that some people have complained about. "We are more actively looking at the site submissions coming in," said Tracy Roberts, AltaVista's marketing director. As a result, more sites found to be spamming have been removed, Roberts said.
If your pages are gone, and if you get a "Too many URLs at that site have been submitted today" message, then there's a pretty good chance AltaVista has decided you were spamming them. If you disagree, then you should get in contact using AltaVista's feedback form. "We are monitoring those, so that when a request is made, we will go in and look at the site," Roberts said.
Unfortunately, I don't get the impression AltaVista is doing a very good job at following up on these messages. Just see the case of the wedding photo site, in the story below. Additionally, in two missing page cases I investigated, neither webmaster ever heard back from AltaVista about why their pages were removed. In one of them, AltaVista told me they decided spamming was involved -- so perhaps you can take no news to be bad news. But in the other case, the person who didn't hear back was hosted within a site where someone else was spamming. This person did nothing wrong, which AltaVista confirmed, but they never told this to the site owner, who diligently used the feedback form to seek help.
The latter case is a good reason why you should get your own web site, if you are serious about doing business on the web. When you use free web space or are hosted within a domain shared by others, you may get accidentally removed if someone else within the domain misbehaves. Sharing a web address with someone is like sharing a house -- and if someone sets fire to their room, your room might burn down as well.
For those who do have their own sites, to avoid problems at AltaVista, don't oversubmit. If your pages are listed, then leave things alone. You certainly shouldn't submit more than about five unique pages per day, to stay safe. That's not a published limit -- there is no published limit -- but it should keep you out of trouble. If you feel compelled to submit a large number of pages, then do a group of five every other day.
By the way, my advice goes directly against the advice AltaVista is now offering webmasters in its new advanced area. "If you want all your pages in the index in the next day or two, then you should add them all individually," it says. I was amazed to find this. If you follow these instructions and submit many pages, you'll almost certainly trip AltaVista submission limit. You'll be prevented from submitting additional pages, and your site will probably be flagged for human review.
Does this mean someone else can submit your site and make it seem like you were trying to spam AltaVista with excess submissions? Certainly many people have asked me that recently. AltaVista's Roberts said this shouldn't happen, and that AltaVista has ways to detect whether they think a webmaster is being targeted by someone else. She declined to explain how, but AltaVista seems to be examining the IP address used by those submitting. If so, that means they can identify some people who spam based on how they connect to the web, rather than based on the URL that is being submitted. AltaVista probably also looks at the sheer number of submissions recently versus submissions in the past. If your site has never oversubmitted and suddenly it does, they'd probably realize you weren't doing it.
Naturally, you can expect AltaVista will look at the content of your pages, when investigating a potential spam attempt. That means that if you do have spam listed with AltaVista, or a large number of doorway pages, it is quite likely that a competitor could resubmit these pages to flag them to AltaVista's attention. Even though you didn't spam by oversubmitting, your pages may still get yanked if considered of little value.
It's worth bearing in mind that AltaVista is one of the few remaining major search engines where the pages you individually submit show up within a few days, which I generally describe as an Instant Add system. We all watched how Go closed its Instant Add system after abuse. To its credit, AltaVista is still hanging in there and helping a lot of webmasters with good content quickly get listed. But if games like submitting other people's sites continue, as I suspect is on the increase, we're almost certainly going to see AltaVista decide that Instant Add is no longer worth operating.
Remember, if you do see a site spamming AltaVista, they are one of the few search engines that has a feedback for specifically for this. Use the URL below, and choose the "Spam Reporting" option. You might also try a post within the new Advanced Search forum. There's already an active thread devoted to spamming issues, and people from AltaVista have been monitoring it.
AltaVista Search Contact Form
You can also use this form to ask why pages have gone missing, if this has happened to you. Use the "URL Listing Support" option.