SMX: Boundaries Of The Penalty Box

    June 5, 2007

If you don’t want to land in the proverbial search engine penalty box – or if you’re already there and want to get out – there are signs to look for and steps to be taken.

SMX: Boundaries Of The Penalty Box
“SMX: Boundaries Of The Penalty Box”
SMX: Boundaries Of The Penalty Box

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One thing to do is, of course, not look like spam, yet Tim Mayer, Yahoo Search’s Vice President of Product Management, noted that there are legitimate uses for almost every technique, and that the “fine line” between spam and honest advertising will vary by industry.

Mayer went on to point listeners to Yahoo’s Site Explorer, which can help people report “spammy” links.  About 79 percent of the reports Yahoo receives are genuine, he said.

Peter Linsley, Ask’s Senior Product Manager for Search, started on a related note by defining a “genuine” candidate for the penalty box.  In essence, this person would be hurting the user experience (with dead pages, for example) or gaming the search engines (through cloaking or link farms).

This “genuine” candidate would then start to see a drop in rank and a drop in traffic.  At this point, the situation could still be reversed – Linsley said search engines do look into error cases – but he considers gaming the engines to be the same as tempting fate, and warns people not to let spammers leverage their sites or abuse their comments.

Next up was Aaswath Raman, the Program Manager of Microsoft’s Live Search, and he quickly illustrated how intent and targeting can land a person in the penalty box.  Raman said that, on a popular Star Wars site, a link to makes sense.  A link to does not.

Raman then supplied the address of Microsoft’s Live Search URL Submission site, just in case you feel your site has been unfairly penalized or overlooked.

Matt Cuts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, spoke last, and he gave a simple, if humorous, definition of behavior worthy of the penalty box: “If you’ve left over 10,000  guestbook comments in one hour…  you might be a spammer.”

Cutts stated that Google is always trying to beef up its webmaster guidelines, and that new quality guidelines have, in fact, been posted.  Many of the fresh rules were made in response to specific instances of spamming, and Cutts made clear that Google is “not averse to taking manual action on spam.”

If you run a “mom and pop”-type site that made a mistake, it looks like most of the major engines are willing to forgive and forget.  Intentional bad behavior – particularly if it’s on a larger scale – will send you straight to the penalty box.