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    When Google tells you to get lost


    Robelen Bajar explores the depths of Google’s bottomless search pit for websites that mysteriously disappear.

    If you’ve been following the drama series Lost, you’d understand the arduous journey of a booby-trapped way home. (Yes, they’re still lost). When it comes to the internet jungle, no website should befall the same fate. Especially if the jungle is Google and the fate is one of banishment, by intent or by accident.

    Search engines such as Google banish a website from its search pages for various reasons. Among them are practices labelled as “black hat” – underground methods that attempt to outsmart and manipulate search engines in order to artificially boost search rankings. Keyword stuffing – the excessive placement of keywords on websites – and irrelevant linking are two of the main tactics.

    Others include Gateway or Doorway Pages – low-quality sites filled with gibberish and no real content. Scraper sites are equally guilty as they contain nothing but advertising. And link farms are unpardonable as they display links and nothing more.

    These tactics cheat search engines and can result in your website being banished into the internet blackhole.

    In February 2006, BMW came unstuck when its German site bmw.de was delisted by Google for deceiving users by presenting different content to search engines than to users – a “black hat” tactic commonly used by gambling and pornography sites. The Japanese camera and office machines company Ricoh was also cited as having used similar tactics and suffered the same fate.

    For all the preaching on search engine marketing, it’s clear that any business looking to maximise web traffic needs to remain listed on every important search engine. Losing a place in Google means being invisible to about 80 percent of people who search in Australia and about 45 percent globally.

    Last February, Hitwise measured the impact of being lost in virtual space. It cited insurance comparison website GoCompare.com, which was blacklisted by Google after the search engine detected irregular inbound links to its site.

    Prior to the ban, GoCompare topped Google’s organic results for the search term “car insurance”, capturing 17.49 percent of all clicks from the keyword. But after Google sanctioned the website on 26 January this year, GoCompare plummeted down the search rankings and suffered an 87 percent reduction in traffic, generating a mere 2.31 percent of clicks in the first week following the ban.

    The woes of GoCompare became the blessing for its closest competitors, Confused.com and Comparethemarket.com, as their search engine traffic soared by 77 percent and close to 300 percent respectively over the subsequent two weeks.

    Know the difference between good and evil practice and you may be spared from Google’s bottomless search pit. But beware – search engines may also ban your site if it does not adhere to “other” criteria. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what these criteria are. In any case, don’t expect their insider secrets to be aired on YouTube. The safest and surest strategy is to keep your website focused on relevant and quality content at all times.

    Case in point: In January, Avant News reported that the official Republican Party website gop.com was delisted by Google for repeated spelling and grammatical errors! In the report, a Google rep explained that junk sites are often riddled with syntactical errors (obviously quality content is not their forte). When Googlebots spot consistent errors over a period of time, an offending site is dealt with accordingly.

    This highlights the need for business managers and webmasters to implement quality control processes to minimise the risk.

    And while it is definitely a big setback, being blacklisted need not be your eternal fate. Like a publicly-shamed child in the same vein as Corey Delaney of the Narre Warren South street mayhem fame, you can repent and ask to be welcomed back into the Google family.

    It can be as simple as re-submitting your site to its directory. One thing is for sure, you can expect a long trial period to prove that you’re a reformed Google citizen. During this time, Google may list your site on one of its back pages. After a long period of “clean living”, you may notice your rank rising and traffic referred by Google starting to show up once again – a sign that your website is finally out of the digital dog house.

    We may never know if the islanders from Lost will ever be found, but your website is certainly never a lost cause.

    Robelen Bajar is Marketing Manager at Melbourne IT, which helps entrepreneurs start, grow and manage their businesses online.