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Lost Rankings Due to Site Redesign or Spam?

April 18, 2007

[Jillís note: I started answering this question with the usual answer, but
as I looked at the site in question, I realized there was more going on than
meets the eye.  Please read through the entire question and my response to
see what I mean! - J ]


Dear Jill,


We recently released our new website in Feb. and prior to release we held
the number 1 position on Google for [our main keyword phrase] and the number
3 slot and number 2 spots for [additional keyword phrases].


Within days of our release our rankings fell through the roof as did the
number of quality Google leads that were coming through our doors.  We seem
to still be holding up well on the other sites but still not like we did
before. We have an SEO firm working with us and we have been with them for 4
years. At this time I am starting to wonder why we continue to fall and what
we/they are not doing right.  Is it normal to fall like this after the
launch of a new site? They told us it would be a week or 2 and now we are on
month 2.


Thanks for your time.


Best regards,




++Jillís Response++


Hi John,


This is common with redesigns when you switch content management systems or
otherwise change your URLs.  You will often have to wait for some period for
the search engines to remove your old URLs and index the new ones. Plus,
they sometimes give less weight to new URLs that have no history (or
previous link popularity).


However, then I took a quick glance at the site and noticed some disturbing
things.  I thought it would be a good idea to discuss them here so that
others could learn what *not* to do on their own sites, especially as it
seems to have had such a dramatically negative impact on the business.

The home page looked nice and professional at first glance; however, near
the bottom of the page was a scrolling window with a ton of keyword-rich
copy contained in it.  Scrolling through that window revealed a ton of
keyword-rich text links.  Neither of these things are necessarily search
engine spam in and of themselves, but because of the way they were
integrated into the website, they certainly set off alarm bells in my head.
Companies donít bury great marketing copy that will help sell their products
or services.  They do that only when they donít understand how to write for
their users and search engines alike.


Even though this copy was technically visible (one could scroll the inner
window and read it all) the search engines may very well consider it hidden


A quick peek at some of the pages in the ďhiddenĒ links revealed more
problems for this site.  The links were pointing to a slew of old-fashioned
doorway pages, the likes of which I hadnít seen since the 1990s!  Sure, they
were a bit more sophisticated than the old 90s versions, as they were
integrated into the site template.  They could even be mistaken for real
site pages when viewed individually; however, it was pretty much just
ďmadlib spam.Ē  In other words, all 20 or so pages said the same thing, only
they switched out keyword phrases for other keyword phrases.  They were
poorly written and oftentimes simply gibberish.


[huge sigh]


Itís scary to know that there are still SEO companies out there creating
this kind of junk. John declined to tell me who his SEO company is, so I
donít know if itís a well-known firm or not.  I donít know what he paid for
the pleasure of spamming the search engines either, but I hope it wasnít
much.  He also just told me that due to their lack of a search engine
presence in Google for the past few months, theyíve just had to lay someone
off.  Now, I donít believe in relying on search engine rankings in order to
successfully run your business, but when you think of the horrible impact a
bad SEO company can have on a business, itís frightening.  Iím quite sure
that one day in the not-too-distant future there will be lawsuits based on
this kind of bad SEO.  That wonít be good for any of us in the SEO industry.

Johnís CEO is now aware of the problem and theyíre cleaning up the mess.  I
suggested that he file a Google reinclusion request once they have removed
the spam.


If anyone reading this provides this sort of SEO spam to clients, you really
should be ashamed of yourself. If you work for a company that offers this
type of shoddy work and didnít know that it was spam, you may want to voice
your concerns to the folks in charge (and/or find a new job).  Being
responsible for a companyís loss of business would not be a good feeling at



Post Comment

 Lara Kulpa said:
Comment @ 04/18/07 at 8:32 pm Wow, JillÖ I too canít believe there are still people out there pushing that kind of junk. What bothers me even more, is that given the fact that many of us ďhonorableĒ SEOs blog about this stuff on a regular basis, there are people out there who are still so uninformed. Itís really sadÖ Maybe one of the search engine giants out there should develp a tool for site owners to check and see if their SEO company is ruining them. Let this also be a lesson to site owners: If your SEO company isnít willing to sign a statement or put in their contract that they DONíT use these sneaky underhanded tactics, and donít support them, maybe itís time to find another SEO company.
 Kiril said:
Comment @ 04/19/07 at 2:47 am Dear Jill, I am running a travel fare comaprison website in the UK. It was launched in 2003 and until the end of 2005 we had great Google rankings for all our major keywords/phrases. In September 2005 we launched a new design of the website, keeping the same urls, structure and content as we had it in the old design. One day, couple of months later, I found from our tracking stats that we have lost all our google traffic and when I checked our rankings in google it appeared that we have had a drop of at least 30-50 positions for each keyword! As you can imagine this resulted a massive drop in sales and revenues. Naturally we started looking for the problem - we hired a SEO company to do a review and analyse the website and to recognise the reason for this decline. After 3 months and 15k eur we got a lousy report saying nothing more than what we already knew and not even pointing out what the possible problem might be. We hired a second company which had absolutely the same result - none! We have been making changes and modification ever since but have not been able to reclaim our positions. Please give me an advice what should we do? Maybe recommend a reliable and reputable SEO company? Thanks!
 Jigar said:
Comment @ 04/19/07 at 4:21 am Hi Jill, It really is bad to see such work. We have this problem in India a lot. A lot of them offer seo services which can be considered to be 60% black hat like text matching background and that sort!! Can we get the link of the page that has this window at the bottom? I have seen a lot of good well known websites having their keywords as links to other pages at the bottom of all pages. Is this also spam? Regards Jigar Shah
 Judith said:
Comment @ 04/19/07 at 10:32 am What I wonder about is if they received a notice from Google about being dropped due to hidden text. My site has been on the top page for years. Then, last week I actually received an e-mail from Google telling me they removed my site from their index because of hidden text. The text they noted was actually porn links! Turns out my site had been hacked and the hidden text was links to all kinds of porn. So in this case, Google actually did me a favor. I went through the reinclusion process to let them know about the situation and that the text was removed. I also humbly thanked them. My site was reinstated within days! I was surprised that I was notified about being dropped. I thought that just happened without notice. And, I was pleasantly surprised at the reinstatement being so quick when they warn it could take 30 days ó mine was only a couple. In my over a decade of experience, Iíve found clients will go the path of least resistance that caters to what they want (and donít care to know) regardless of the reality of the situation. When I advise how to improve rankings, more times than not I hear ďIsnít there an easier way?Ē Nope! And, if they go elsewhere because I make things more difficult than they perceive they should be or are willing to deal with, well they get what they get because it is what it is!
 Jill said:
Comment @ 04/19/07 at 10:50 am Hi Judith, No, they didnít receive a notice from Google, just lost all their rankings. Jill
 Bob G said:
It is amazing how so many SEO outfits are uneducated about SEO - I had a case yesterday about a client asking if .org, .edu sites carry more weight simply beacuse of their post was a simple question. I asked him where learned this, and he responded that other SEO companies told him this garbage.
 Jill said:
Hi Bob,

Yes, that's a very common myth floating around out there, in fact, many of the well-known firms still believe that one!

 John said:
I am assuming that you have set up the redirects properly before the website redesign took place especially if the page names have changed. This I am assuming is quite obvious and you have done that already. If the content has changed completely as part of the redesign then the rank can fall. In either case, the fall in ranking of your website can be temporary and might come back up again in a week or so.