Is Google's Penalty Icing Organic Search?

The e-commerce community is rankled by Google's latest ranking tweaks and leery of AdWords landing page changes while others complain about timing of Yahoo bid page upgrade.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and the Google rumor mill is not taking any time off for the holidays. Search engine optimization discussion forums and bloggers this week are speculating — and complaining — about the so-called "minus 30 penalty."

From what industry watchers say, it appears that Google is using an automated filter to downgrade the ranking of a site by 30 positions if the site is suspected to be using spam or other unethical techniques to improve search rankings.

Many Web masters in online forums say that they had top rankings on Google and now they cannot get beyond position 31 in Google, which is generally the top of page four. There are even reports of ranking at 31 for all of their keywords and for their branded domain names.

Some reasons cited for the penalty include JavaScript redirects that are misinterpreted as spam and unethical reciprocal linking campaigns and the like.

But what's rankling Web shop owners is that the 30-point drop makes it difficult to tell if the site's ranking fell because of the penalty or because of changes in the market or other in-house issues.

The argument is that if Google were to impose an outright ban on suspected spammers, it would be pretty clear that you were being targeted by the search giant, and you could take the appropriate steps to prove that you're playing by the rules, for instance, by filing a re-inclusion request.

Discussion of the "minus 30 penalty" started showing up a few months ago, and is now resurfacing during the holiday rush. Meanwhile, Matt Cutts, the head of the Web spam team at Google, has yet to address any of the grumblings at his blog, so interested merchants may want to start reading this regularly to see if he does.

In other Google news, e-tailers are taking issue with the new landing page quality score algorithm for AdWords sponsored listings. According to blogger Damon Lightley, an account director at Site Visibility, a search engine marketing and optimization agency, the update is basically forcing advertisers to submit higher bids for their keywords to maintain high rankings in the sponsored listings.

"For certain keywords, Google has even suspended campaigns, telling the advertiser that its campaign is no longer active and that it has to either increase its quality rating or up its bid price (even when it has been consistently getting high click-through rates and conversions). And worst of all, Google did this without warning anyone," writes Lightley. "Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!"

For more details on this latest Google discussion du jour, visit Threadwatch, a community Web site that focuses on Internet marketing technology.

Meanwhile, Yahoo! also recently announced some tweaks that are ticking off some Web shop owners, due to the timing. At there is a lively discussion about the recent change in the Manage Bids page interface.

The Yahoo search market blog recently reported the following: "In early December some of the information you're used to seeing on the Sponsored Search Manage Bids page will no longer be available. The "Top 5 Max Bids," "Position" and "Your Cost" columns will be removed from the current account interface. The View Bids tool will also no longer be available."

The reasoning, says Yahoo, is that all advertisers should have the same information. "If we left things the way they are, the bids of advertisers who have upgraded would not be visible to advertisers who have not yet upgraded…all advertisers will (now) have equal access to the same relevant information."

And, while that's true, some e-commerce community members say the net result of the changes is that you have less information, at least for now, in one spot during the busiest time of year because you can no longer see what your competition is paying. Others believe that while the timing is off, it's a necessary change that will ultimately improve the system, as it will prevent low click-through-rate ads from hogging top spots.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of

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