Bungled Search Engine Optimization – Cleaning Up the Mess

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2003 Conference, August 18-21, San Jose, CA.

A longer version of this article that describes specific tactics and strategies for fixing bungled search engine optimization, including email addresses for the appropriate teams at all of the major search engines, is available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

Many advertising agencies, design firms, and even web hosting companies offer search engine marketing services for their customers. However, some of the methods they use to obtain top positions are considered to be spam by the major search engines. How do you tell the difference?

Search engine marketing (SEM) can be difficult, even when planned for from the beginning. Making the problem worse is that sites are often inherited and are a mess as far as SEM is concerned. Is a site not ranking due to a technical problem? Has it been banned for bad behavior? Where do you start? The panelists at the Cleaning Up the Mess session examined this issue and provided some guidance for those dealing with this problem.

“Learn what looks funny; use simple forensics right there in your browser to spot dead giveaways,” advised Anne Kennedy, Managing Partner at Beyond Ink. “If it looks or sounds funky, it probably is.”

Kennedy said to watch out for companies that create doorway pages, even if they do not specifically call them doorway pages. “For example, avoid companies that put red-flag clauses like this one: Creation of 300 ‘Directory Information Pages’ (D.I.P.). Each D.I.P. will consist of a unique URL and domain. Each D.I.P. will link directly to Client’s web (to) specifically target the Client’s ‘Key Words’ and ‘Key Word Phrases.'”

Other red-flag phrases include attraction pages, envelope pages, gateway pages, channel pages, and hallway pages. “Except in pay-per-click (PPC) search engine advertising,” Kennedy said, “all optimization work should be done to your site, not the sites your vendor owns.”

Before assuming a site has been banned from a search engine, all panelists recommended looking at possible technical reasons for a site disappearing from a search engine index, such as a robots.txt file, a new URL structure, session I.D.s in query strings, .htaccess files, and secure pages.

“One of our clients actually secured their entire site,” said Matt Bailey of the Karcher Group. “Webmasters can also block access to the entire site if a robots.txt file is used improperly.”

Some people confuse being “in” a search engine with being “ranked” in a search engine. Web pages can be “in” a search engine index without ranking well. However, web pages cannot rank well without being included in the search engine index.

Shari Thurow described a “mess” she had to clean up for a large medical portal site, MedicineNet.com. MedicineNet is an online health care media publishing company with over 22,000 pages of content. They are the publishers of Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary from Wiley. The site receives over 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

“Actually, when MedicineNet first came to me, I had a difficult time believing that their site had been banned in Google; the content was too good,” she said. “Most of the time, a site will disappear from the search engines due to a technical reason, such as a spider requesting pages from a server during the time a server is being rebooted or upgraded.”

What she found was that MedicineNet had actually been banned at Google due to the optimization strategies from previous marketing firms. “These other firms purchased over 90 different domain names and tried to get all of these domains listed in the directories, even though these new domains had identical content to the main MedicineNet site,” she said. “Well, Google discovered this due to the cross-linking structure, and sure enough, the site was banned.”

To get MedicineNet back in Google, Thurow fixed the problems and communicated to Google that MedicineNet had followed all of the guidelines for inclusion into their index. She then asked that the site be respidered.

“Google and all of the search engines will definitely check to see if the banned site follows all of the guidelines,” she said. “Since MedicineNet contains over 22,000 pages, it took a few months for Google to re-index the entire site, after they were given the green light. It took almost six months.”

But the mess is far from complete. “Unfortunately, a lot of sites [including directories” still link to the former spam domains,” Thurow explained. “Even with the 301 redirects, we still have to find all of the sites that link to former spam domains and request a link modification. Though this presents an opportunity for MedicineNet to get better descriptions and links back to their site, it will take a long time to get everything in place. ”

Anne Kennedy summed up the session by stating, “Avoid being a spam penalty waiting to happen; the rules are there in plain view at Google and Inktomi.”

Google’s Submission and Spam Policies


AlltheWeb’s Submission and Spam Policies


Inktomi’s Submission and Spam Policies


AltaVista’s Submission and Spam Policies


Craig Fifield is Product Manager for Microsoft bCentral’s Small Business Web site optimization and submission service, Submit It! and their web site statistics package FastCounter Pro.

A longer version of this article that describes specific tactics and strategies for fixing bungled search engine optimization, including email addresses for the appropriate teams at all of the major search engines, is available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Dot-Coms Pin Hopes on Google IPO
Moscow Times Dec 23 2003 11:37PM GMT
Do-Not-Spam Proves Popular Concept
Internet.com Dec 23 2003 9:12PM GMT
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Internet News Dec 23 2003 9:09PM GMT
Yahoo shifts focus in photo service
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InjuryBoard Launches Search Engine for Personal Injury Law Firms
Research Buzz Dec 23 2003 3:09PM GMT
‘100 by 100’ group tackles Net future
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Google whacking the perfect antidote to spam rage
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Web addresses get nip and tuck–and spam
ZDNet Dec 23 2003 1:44PM GMT
Several modes block spam
Washington Times Dec 23 2003 6:44AM GMT
Report: Local Search Worth $2.5 Billion by 2008
dmnews.com Dec 23 2003 6:13AM GMT
IBM thinks Fast for bioscience searches
ZDNet Dec 22 2003 11:07PM GMT
Risks of Shopping Online: Cyber Security Tips
WebTalk Radio Dec 20 2003 9:12PM GMT
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