Raped by Google: Over Optimization Penalty

I’m going to give you a bit of background prior to diving into the Google over optimization penalty that a website of mine received. I recently bought a website for 6 months revenue ($1,000) after haggling down the seller from 9 months revenue; this website’s niche can be quite variable and the seller needed money, hence its relatively low price. This site had stable serps for the past 8 months for a nice variety of search terms; it did not require any upkeep. Additionally, it had decent backlinks – a few hundred blog comments and blogroll links on the rest of the previous owners related websites.

2 weeks after the purchase (December 7), the previous owner’s entire network got dropped in the Google serps from the first page for their search terms to the back of the index, ranging from page 30-88. However, my site was performing fantastic, and it was on the path to making back my initial investment in 3-4 months. It did not get knocked down with his entire network, so I thought it might just be some odd fluke, or I did not get hit when he did because the registration details changed and that things would soon change for me as well. Indeed things did change; 2 weeks after his site dropped (December 22), my site dropped to the back of Google’s index.

Google Snuffs Snuffy

So I could have waved goodbye to the money that I did not make back yet, but I decided to do a little investigative work to see what really happened.  The index page had no content and only links to the category pages that then linked to the actual articles; this is not ideal, but was not the cause of this penalty.  The 8 links on the blogroll linked back to the original owner’s related sites with anchor text keyword1 keywordx keyword2; only keywordx varied with each link.  The anchor texts of these links was changed, so that keyword1 and keyword2 were exchanged for synonymous words, removed, or reworded to sound more natural.  These links were clearly over optimized, and Google probably picked up on the fact that they did not appear natural, but instead appeared like someone was trying to manipulate the serps. I slowly proceeded to change these anchor texts over the next 2 weeks.

Furthermore, the meta description looked like: “Keyword1 keyword2 keyword3.  The best place for keyword1 keyword4 keyword2 keyword3. Keyword1 keyword2 keyword3”.  Making a meta description look more spammy is almost a challenge.  The meta description was changed to, “Keyword1 keyword2 keyword3 (3 other non-keywords) keyword4 (7 other non-keywords)”.  Clearly the previous meta description was spammy and was a likely cause for the Google over optimization penalty.

If you can believe it, there were even more causes for this over optimization penalty hidden within this website.  The site used a modified WordPress template, and keywords were stuffed into corners and places where they obviously did not belong.  A glance at the source code revealed keywords in unusual locations (greyhat bordering on blackhat seo).  These excessive, hidden, or unnecessary keywords were removed in order to help remove this penalty.  In all honesty, I’m surprised it actually took Google 9 months from this websites start for them to see this over optimization; I guess these things just take time.

The over optimization penalty first appear on this website on December 22; I started initiating changes over the next 2 weeks as I discovered a handful of inappropriate practices.  On January 4th, the website regained its top rankings for its search terms.  Since then, the website has been bouncing between its previous top 3 ranking for a variety of search terms to a ranking of 9, 10, and 11 depending upon which Google data center is used to check to serps.  Note that it may take some time for your rankings to completely stabilize to their pre-penalty values.  If you have been hit with a Google over optimization penalty, it should be obvious what changes need to be initiated in order for you to regain your old ranks.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting. My sites went down about the same time, I thought it was because my back links dropped because of a plugin mis-function.

    No over optimization.

    Other than re-instating the cross links, I’ve done nothing and the sites seem to have started on the way back. Some bounce up and down.

    I think something else is going on here.

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