One of My Niche Sites was Deindexed from Google via Manual “Spam” Penalty (and what I’m doing about it)

search-penalty

– UPDATE MARCH 3, 2017-

I usually don’t like being wrong, but this time I’m happy to report that I THINK I was wrong in my original assessment of this entire horrendous debacle of having my site deindexed entirely from Google search.

Initially, I concluded the “spam” penalty was a result of my content.  However, now I think the penalty was a result of a hack, not content quality.  The reason I didn’t think it was a hack in the first place was I thought I had taken care of the hack issue in September 2016.

In late Summer 2016 I discovered a malware infiltration.  I had it removed, or so I thought.  What tipped me to this was traffic had been plateauing and then starting going down ever so slightly which was odd given the consistent trajectory I had for over 2 years.

I did some searches in Google and discovered a site with a .ru was a replicate of my site and was ranking in Google SERPs for many terms I typically ranked for.  In fact, I received contacts from the .ru visitors into my email.  One lady was irate that the .ru site, which appeared exactly as my site, caused her computer some harm.

Despite having thought I had taken care of the attack back then (malware code was found and removed), that .ru site persisted.  I didn’t do anything because I assumed I had done all I could do and it was just a matter of time.

Then Google dropped the “spam” penalty deindexing my entire site.  Because I thought I had handled the attack, I didn’t think that was it.  I jumped the gun and figured it was my content even though it was perplexing.  Even if content quality had dropped a bit, I didn’t think it warranted a full deindexing.

I removed a lot of content and then the site was restored.  I also told Google in my request for review about the .ru site.  Of course Google doesn’t provide personalized responses, so I have no idea what they did, but I’m happy to report as of March 2017, that .ru site is no longer in existence (finally).

I then restored all content that had been published up until the point of (roughly) my site was hacked.  I’ve had no problems since then.  I still haven’t restored all the content that was published since the time of the hack, which isn’t great but it’s not catastrophic either.

Finally, I checked the domain of the .ru at the beginning of March and noticed it no longer replicates my site.  It’s gone.

The result:  My traffic is not only restored to previous high levels (before the hack), but it’s climbing very nicely.  It’s too bad that 6 months or so of content is gone, but it’s better than the entire site being wiped out.

Despite my recent findings, which I think is the case, but I’ll never know for sure, I have ramped up content quality to previous levels.  In fact, I’m making it better than ever to be on the safe side and because my best performing content always was the better content.

I’ll keep the original article because perhaps it serves as a good reminder… it does me and it reveals how frustrating and difficult these events can be.

Is there a moral to the story?  Do what you can to prevent being hacked.

-END UPDATE MARCH 3, 2017-


– UPDATE FEBRUARY 1, 2017-

I’m happy to report most of the site is reindexed, and traffic, while not completely restored, climbed nicely through January.  Revenue is climbing quickly as well.

This penalty (discussed at length in the original post below) was costly, but it’s also forced me to carefully assess how I should move forward with the site.  My plan going forward, which is already under way, is to offer content, information and images that is unique in the niche… not just unique in that individual posts are written from scratch, but that I’m covering the entire niche from a unique angle.

Not only do I think covering the entire niche from a unique angle is a safe approach Google-wise, but I’m excited to offer something even better than I was before.  That said, it’s a lot of work… but as you know, there is no free lunch in this biz (or any biz for that matter).

Interestingly, it took analyzing my most successful content over the past few years to hone in on what’s worked best and it’s a particular type of content that’s performed well because it offers information, tips and galleries in a way that is not published elsewhere.

While my B2C site has had many ups and downs over the years, I’m optimistic that it can and will grow.

-END OF FEBRUARY 1, 2017 UPDATE-


– UPDATE DECEMBER 11, 2016 –

I’m happy to report the site I reference in the original portion of this post (see below) was reindexed as of this morning.  This update provides details as to what I think happened and what I did for getting the site reindexed inside of 2 weeks shortly.

What did I do to get the site reindexed?

I pulled a lot off content off the site.  I retained only the best content.  By “best” content, I’m referring to content that truly added value to the niche.  The types of content I retained (and passed manual review) included:

Photo galleries:  But, these galleries included a lot of additional text that iss well written and provided plenty of additional information pertaining to the content depicted in the images.

Product galleries:  Like the photo galleries, the product galleries that passed manual review are very well written and provide a ton of helpful information for people looking for the specific products.

Text-based articles:  While the site doesn’t have many of these, the ones it does have are unique, well written and are helpful.

Document download posts:  On the site I have a smattering of PDF download documents that I had commissioned by professionals.  The posts were short, but the PDF download was valuable, helpful and unique.

List posts:  I had many lists posts that passed manual review, but these list posts were on one page and provided plenty of information about each item in the list.

Did I throw the baby out with the bath water?

I removed a lot of content, much of which I suspect would have passed manual review.  I culled with a heavy hand so I could avoid multiple denials for reindexing review.  Fortunately this worked, but it worked at a cost of having to remove quite a bit content.  The plus side is most of the content I retained was the highest traffic and best-performing content.  Nevertheless, the culling will cost in monthly revenue.

What was the problem?

I don’t know for certain.  Because I culled with a heavy hand, I’m unable to pinpoint which content was not acceptable to Google.  The big picture problem was not affiliate links because content with affiliate links passed manual review.  I THINK the problem was content, while helpful and liked by a lot of readers and was reasonably popular on social media, simply did not add enough value to the niche.  Many of these were image galleries with insufficient additional information on the topic to tie together the image galleries.

What can you do to avoid getting deindexed for a “Pure spam” penalty?

The litmus test is simple.  For every piece of content you publish ask yourself:  does this content truly add something of value to the internet/the niche?  While this is a broad litmus test, I think for most people, we can tell when a piece of content does this or not.

What am I going to do going forward?

Ironically, I was in the process of updating and improving a lot of existing content.  I noticed a pattern that certain types of content performed best and so I was in process of updating existing content to fit in the pattern of the more successful content.

Therefore, I will proceed with updating the content and republish it.  It’ll be a lot of work, but it will make the site truly outstanding.

I’m also adding new content that will be outstanding and helpful to the niche.

Overall, the frequency of new content will be much less, but I will focus on each piece of content performing better (i.e. more revenue and more traffic).

A final lesson: Just because other sites do it, doesn’t mean you should

I got sloppy because I decided to do a lot of what other sites in the niche were doing.  I veered from my original editorial principles and it cost me.

And no, I’m not choked other sites get away with publishing the type of content that cost me an indexation.  That’s petty and a waste of time.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make a truly exceptional website.

I hope publishing my experience helps you avoid a similar fate.

– END OF DECEMBER 16, 2016 UPDATE –


Below is the original article.

This is an unpleasant turn of events.

One of my niche sites (B2C) was very recently deindexed from Google (8 days ago).  It was a manual “Pure spam” penalty.  Yes, the entire site was booted out of Google search.

At first I thought I knew what the problem was.  I fixed what I thought was the problem and then submitted the site for review.

That review was denied as of last night.

At least Google responds pretty fast to the review request.  It took them about 7 days which I thought was fast.  I’m impressed by that because it shows Google works with publishers quickly to get a site back into the index.  They could opt to take 3 months or longer for manual penalty reviews.

Since my initial request for review failed, it’s time for plan B, which is taking rehabilitation efforts to the next level (I’m working on this today as you can well imagine).

What is a manual Google spam penalty?

I don’t know all the details. In fact I know very little except that it’s not good for any website.  Basically, a Google employee checked out my site, didn’t like it and yanked it from the Google search index.

Google then sent me this message in Search Console:

Pages on this site appear to use aggressive spam techniques such as automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites, and/or repeated or egregious violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Interestingly, another fairly large site in the same niche suffered the same fate as mine.

Why did I get this penalty?

I can only speculate.  It would be helpful had Google told me in more detail the offending content, but that’s not going to happen so I have to guess.

I have a lot of published test content that I noindexed and I didn’t think it would matter.  A lot of this content is junk that I used for all kinds of testing purposes.  It could very well be this at a minimum.  However, it could be more widespread than that.  I simply don’t know.

That said, after thinking about this development over the last week or so, the only conclusion I can come up with is I broke my own rules which have made my niche sites a success in the first place.

For years I focused on well-written, helpful and unique content.  By unique content that included unique images.  It was this approach that made the site a fairly fast success in the first place.  I reached out for user generated content and had professionals in the niche contribute regularly.  It was these time-consuming practices that I slowed down on and chose shortcuts instead.  Of course, had the shortcuts worked, that would have been cool too… but alas, they didn’t and so I pay the price.

For the first 2 years of the site, I was actively involved in every post and vetted most everything before it went live.  In fact, I wrote tons of posts myself often spending a full day and in some cases a full week on a single post.  While the site was image centric, those posts were well-written and included plenty of additional information (i.e. in addition to just images).

In a nutshell, over the last 12 to 18 months, my site’s quality did diminish as I pursued more content and failed to vet content.

The irony is my effort to speed up growth which resulted in diminished quality, never improved revenue (revenue remained high, but plateaued) and didn’t improve traffic before getting deindexed.  I should have noticed this earlier on.  My bad.

In fact, for quite some time, 80% of my traffic has been generated by about 10% to 15%% of the content.  That content is the best quality content.  It’s a correlation I should have paid much closer attention to a long time ago.

The problems arose with me not paying enough attention to it resulting in content quality suffering.

What am I doing about this?

I’m doing all I can to get this fixed ASAP.

I’m completely rehabbing the site this week.  I’m in the middle of a culling exercise which involves removing quite a bit of lesser quality content.  In fact, this will result in retaining 100 to 300 posts.  I’ve not yet completed the culling process, but it won’t take long because I know which content is good.  I’ll cross reference that with the historically best performing content in Analytics.  I’ll keep only the best performing that’s also of excellent quality.

I could take the bit by bit approach and only remove the worst content (junkie test content) and go step by step or I can just remove a lot of weaker content.  I’m going to proceed with a heavy hand and remove a lot of weaker content in an effort to get reindexed ASAP.

Fortunately, my best content also attracts the most traffic.  Obviously if my site is reindexed, overall traffic will be down because a lot of content I’m removing does get some traffic, but that’s the way it goes.  The plus side is if the site is reindexed with my top 100 to 150 pieces of content, it will still be a nicely profitable site upon which I can continue building… and do so with much closer oversight and attention to quality.

Once the culling done, I’ll submit a request for review.  I’ll keep you posted as to the outcome.

What happens if my site is not reindexed after draconian rehabilitation efforts?

Amazingly, without search traffic, my site still gets a lot of traffic and still earns okay via social, direct and email traffic.  However, Google traffic was plentiful and so the smart move is to do all I can to get reindexed.  It’s hard to be motivated to continue building a site that’s deindexed from Google.

If the site doesn’t get reindexed after the next request for review, I’ll delete more content.  I’ll do this until it’s reindexed and then I’ll continue growing it.  It’s a niche I love and know.  There’s no reason to give up.

However, in the event after culling the site down to a few of the very best pieces of content, the site is still not reindexed, I’ll have no choice but to chalk it up to a business loss and focus on other sites (I have several others that I’m building, so I’ll just work on those).  Obviously I hope it doesn’t come to this, but it’s not the end of the world if it does.

In fact, my biggest online success came after the first Google Penguin algo update roughed up a few of my better performing sites back in 2012.  I took a hit then.  I learned a lot from that, adjusted my approach, rebuilt and ended up doing far better than I would have had I continued with my pre-Penguin strategy.

Is this a change in Google quality standards or did I drop the ball?

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it’s my dropping the ball on quality as I let other people handle the site.  As publisher, it’s still on me because people I hired proceeded on my instructions.  It’s not the fault of people working on my site; it’s my fault for not properly instructing them and for my failing to provide feedback and pay attention to what was happening.

of course it’s within the realm of possibility that Google is tightening up content quality standards, but unless a slew of websites get deindexed, it’s likely all on me.  I’ve read of no news or press releases from Google about tougher content requirements so that’s very likely not the case.  I’ve also not read about other deindexing accounts.

Will Google reindex my site?

I’ve had a site deindexed for a malware attack infection before and once fixed, Google reindexed it within 9 days.  I’m proceeding on the belief Google will reindex the site once it meets it’s quality standards.

Learning Points (thus far):

Quality content is key

Regardless of which niche you’re in, quality content is paramount.  Less is more.  Unique is key.  These are principles I started the site on and were the foundation of my course, yet I veered from that over the last 12 to 18 months.

For every piece of content you publish, assess whether it adds value in some way.  Admittedly, in recent months as I removed myself from the day-to-day of the site, some content probably added very little to the topic.

Pay attention to what’s getting published (if you outsource)

Better quality going forward means I will review all content very carefully before it’s published.  This will mean publishing less content, but it will be better content.  I will focus on topics I know well and enjoy.

It also means hiring only outstanding writers, even for shorter snippets of content.

Pursue topics on which I can really make a difference

Going forward with the site, I’ll be focusing on topics and types of content with which I can contribute something unique to the niche.  Fortunately, there is, more or less, a pattern of topics and types of content that have always performed best.  This is the content I’m retaining and will continue publishing.

Save your money

This can be a volatile business.  In fact, being an entrepreneur can be volatile financially.  I remember when I practiced law, there were good and bad months.  It’s the nature of running a business.  Therefore, if possible, save as much as you can to weather downturns.

Diversify if you can

I’m fortunate because the revenue from this website is just a part of my business’ revenue.  One stream of many.  Therefore, a great lesson here is if you can, diversify your revenue streams.  I know it’s hard when starting out, but as you grow, take time to diversify your business.

Deindexing CAN and DOES happen

Let this perhaps be the biggest take-away.  Deindexing can and does happen for a variety of reasons… not just for spammy backlinks.

I’m not out of the woods yet

My site is still not reindexed.  I’ll submit a request for review very shortly; hopefully later today.

I’m publishing this post now (instead of waiting until the site is reindexed) because it just may help you avoid the same fate (you can review your own site) and it’s also part of being transparent when publishing a blog like Fat Stacks.  If I’m publishing information about how to build niche sites, it’s incumbent on me to report the good and the bad.

That said, without specifics from Google, it’s hard to provide specifics as to what you should and shouldn’t do.  I’d love to be able to tell you precisely what types of content were the culprits, but I can’t.  Therefore, in an abundance of caution, I’m taking draconian measures to have the best chance of success when submitting my request for review.

Am I freaking out?

No.

At first it was a surprise and it made for a bad day, but it’s strangely relieving because this will definitely shape my niche site business direction going forward.  This will force me to do what I know I should do, what I did for a long time, but failed to do for the last year or so.

This development will simplify my approach.  I definitely have some work ahead of me, but that’s fine.  I don’t mind.

I’ve also developed multiple revenue streams across several niche sites so losing one is not all that big of a deal.  Yes, it’ll cost me revenue, but it’s not going to impact my living all that much.

Am I getting out of niche sites altogether?

No way.

I love publishing niche sites.   I own several niche sites.  Having one site take a beating is par for the course.  At the end of the day I love building out these sites and so that’s what I’ll do.

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27 Comments

  1. Wendy Plowman says

    My heart fell when I heard that you were deindexed and I honestly feel your pain. Happened to me as well, long ago. It still cuts deep. I hated Google. Blamed everyone but myself for its demise. Unlike you, I trashed the site and gave up on sites for many years. I am “back in the saddle” now and wow, how things have changed.

    I will be very interested in your approach to this problem, what steps you are taking to resolve it and hope you share the steps you take to correct them.

    Thank you, Jon, for your transparency in this matter. I was waiting to see if you would step up to the plate – an you did. You have my respect sir.

    1. Jon says

      Hey Wendy,

      That’s nice of you to say. Thank you. This can be a volatile biz. Them’s the breaks. My approach will be to get it reindexed and make it better. However, I may focus on other projects. A lot of people have copied my site so I may just chalk it up to a loss and move forward with other projects, about which I’ll be much closer-lipped. We’ll see what happens.

      1. Wendy Plowman says

        Congrats on being Reindexed Jon! Looking forward to your update in the coming weeks.

        1. Julia Marshall says

          still not showing up in Google with a site: sitename search. Does it take a few days for a re-indexed site to appear in the search results.

          1. Jon says

            Hey Julia,

            I suppose so. I’ve never dealt with this, but Search Console confirmed with a message that my site was reindexed so I’ll trust all will be restored fully in due course.

  2. James says

    That really sucks. Your site looks so good. I was socked it got deindexd. Hopefully your site gets back in google.

    1. Jon says

      Yup, overall the site was good, but it had its problems. I just wish I knew specifically what the problem was. Without knowing specifics, I had to remove a lot of acceptable content… but c’est la vie. These things happen.

    2. Joe D. says

      “Your site looks so good”

      i read and re-read/re-scanned the article 3 times. What is the deindexed website url?

  3. Lionel says

    Hey Jon, man I’m so sorry to hear this happened, it really sucks. I’ve been there. But I’m sure you’ll be reindexed soon and you’ll be rolling again and your site will be even better and more profitable! Keep us updated.

    1. Jon says

      Hey Lionel,

      Thanks a lot. Eventually I suspect it will be reindexed. I’ll keep you all posted.

  4. Brian says

    Hi Jon.

    I wanted to chime in and thank you for your transparency with this deindexing – not a fun situation to be dealing with. Your taking ownership of issues that may have happened under your watch is impressive and I’m confident that this will serve you well regardless of the specific outcome of this site. Keep your head up! Here’s hoping that the site is reindexed and seeing good results for you again in short order.

    Best.

    1. Jon says

      Hey Brian,

      You’re welcome on the transparency. Thank you for the kind feedback. No, it’s not fun, but it’s also not the end of the world.

      1. Brian says

        Hey – congrats on the reindexing Jon! That was resolved more quickly than I was expecting – am glad for you. Well done!

        1. Jon says

          Hey Brian,

          Thanks. I decided to ask Google via Feedback contact form if they could shed more light on what the problem was, but I doubt I’ll get a response. Yeah, the process went pretty fast.

  5. Malcolm Thomas says

    Congrats Jon, your site is reindexed. I can see only 2 pages. Seems like you have culled most of the content. Good luck on your future updates.

  6. Doug says

    WOW! Glad to hear you have the site reindexed. That’s a terrible feeling when you get that email informing you of the penalty.

    1. Jon says

      Hey Doug,

      Yeah it sucked, but that’s how it goes. It’s been a good wake-up call and it’s totally tweaked my mindset with building niche sites. I’m neck deep in niche sites right now (hence quiet here), but I working on something pretty awesome that’s shaping up to have far more potential than anything I’ve ever done. It’s a ton of work, but it’s really, really good. I’ll write about this in more detail down the road.

  7. Harris says

    Hey Jon,

    I’m glad your site is re-indexed. You should remove also several links that point to deleted posts and generate HTTP 404 errors. That will be a daunting task I guess.

    One question: Did a manual penalty like that affected also your Adsense account? Did your Adsense ads disappeared while your site was de-indexed?

    Thanks

    1. Jon says

      Hey Harris,

      Thanks. Yeah, it’s still a bit of a mess as I recently added SSL cert to it. I used to have an SSL cert on it, but removed it because it was a hassle with some ad networks, but in today’s climate with Google pretty much forcing SSL, I put it back on.

      I had no issues with my AdSense account, which is kind of interesting. That was why I went about fixing it so quickly… to avoid any AdSense problems. And no, AdSense ads did not disappear while deindexed.

  8. Brian says

    Was it your main B2C site that got penalized. Do you think doing the large database type sites you added in your course would handle a manual review even if you has noindexed all the product pages since most of those pages are thin and more for providing ease of search/sorting for readers

  9. Andrew says

    Hi Jon –

    Great stuff – thanks for sharing! Can you tell me when your course will be available for purchase?

    1. Jon says

      Probably in a month or two. I’m doing some more testing and am working like nuts on a new niche site that I launched in late 2016.

  10. Brian says

    Would u still use the human proof content writing service u recommended in the past after this thincontebt issue u experienced?

    1. Jon says

      Yes. It wasn’t their content as far as I can tell. I suspect it was some freelancers I hired plus a new approach to some recent posts over the last 6 months that was the problem. The site is pretty much fully up and running again with the exception of about 60 to 80 posts which were poor quality. It was a bad decision on my part which I have since fixed. Live and learn.

  11. Mike says

    I had a similar experience with Google back in 2014. I purchased a domain name that had a spotty history. It was the regular price as all the other so I figured all was well and good until my site wasn’t showing up. I was able to get in touch with someone withing a few days and got the issue resolved pretty quickly too. I’ve had people tell me how surprised that were that I got to correspond with an ACTUAL person, AND they helped me with the problem PDQ.

    1. Jon says

      Thanks for the comment Mike. That’s great you actually got a response. I never did get a response but when I submitted my site for a review, I provided a bunch of details about the hacking situation as well as the .ru site that was a copy cat of mine and was wreaking havoc. Fortunately that .ru site no longer replicates my site so all is good and my traffic is doing spectacularly well now that the hacking scenario which plagued me for at least 6 months is taken care of.

  12. anupkc says

    hy, very good article
    thanks for sharing keep up the good work

    very helpfull your work

    thanks,

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