Search engine traffic is essential to most websites and Google is the biggest search engine out there. If your domain, or a domain you're interested in purchasing has been banned by Google, it can devastate your business.
In this post I'll cover ways to determine if a domain you own, are interested in purchasing or one you just bought may be banned from Google search results.
Why does Google ban sites?
First it is important to understand why Google may choose to drop a website from its index. Google's mission is to index all the content on the Internet to make it easy for people to find what they are looking for. Since there are many pages that can be returned in the search engine result pages (SERPs) they have to sort the results of a search based on which page Google thinks best fits the search query. Google uses various techniques to determine how to sort the list. According to Google, they have around 200 different parameters that they use to rank a site. Except for Google's PageRank, most of these parameters are not very well publicized but many can be inferred.
Most people click on the first link returned and many barely even go past the first page of search results, so the higher you rank in Google, the more traffic you will get. In order to get their sites to rank better in Google, some webmasters or Search Engine Optimization companies (SEO companies/consultants) attempt to do things that will cause their pages to rank better, but in a way that Google doesn't like. For example, Google considers pages with many external links to it to be more authoritative than pages with fewer links to it. Some people try and buy links, exchange links or create multiple websites with the sole purpose of linking to sites to increase PageRank. While this technically should increase ranking, it violates the spirit of what Google is trying to accomplish.
Google is a big company with a lot of very smart people working on their core business, search. Because of the volume of searches they see and the many ways people try to game the system, they develop new parameters and tech niches to counteract these artificial methods of increase ranking in their search results.
My guess is that some of these techniques are difficult to separate from the organic methods, as well as some users just habitually violating Google's Terms of Service that it is just easier to drop the bad domain from the index than to try to program around it. Google uses a sort of honor system. You are allowed into Google's system and are given a set of guidelines but if you don't follow them, you're out. And when you're out you're out. All the pages on your site disappear from Google's search results and Googlebot doesn't visit your site any more. They don't give you a warning and they don't send you a notice to let you know you've been dropped. They don't even provide a way to check if your domain has been banned.
How to tell if a domain was banned from Google
Even though you won't know if a domain was dropped from Google's index, you can do some investigating to get some information.
First thing to check is if any pages for the domain appear in Google's search results. Do a search for site:example.com, where example.com is your domain name. If there are no results returned, and your site previously had been index by Google, it's likely your site was banned.
Another item to look at is your PageRank. If you are developing websites, it can help to know what your PageRank is. The most popular way to check your PageRank is to use the Google Toolbar for FireFox or Internet Explorer. One of the options in the toolbar is to display PageRank. If your PageRank dropped to 0 or is showing as "No PageRank information available" but you previously had a PageRank, then your domain may have been banned.
Even if you don't own the domain, if you are thinking of purchasing a website or purchasing a domain name, this can give you an idea if the current site has been penalized by Google or not.
How to check if a domain you just bought was banned by Google
Sometimes you purchase a domain name and you don't know the history behind it. The previous techniques I mentioned won't work since the site didn't exist for Google to index it. But you can still check to see if things look fishy.
It appears that this domain name might have previously been used for a spam site. Likely one that failed since it was available for me to purchase it. I can't be sure, but it seems likely that the domain may have been dropped from Google. The way many spam sites operate is they purchase domain names then try to get the most out of them up until Google bans them, then the domains are allowed to expire.
The way I discovered this was to add this site to Google Webmaster Tools. After I added and verified the site I went into the Statistics section and clicked on What Googlebot sees. This page shows keywords Google has found on the site or in links to the site. This site hasn't been indexed by Google since I've owned the domain but I still saw 50 keywords listed. All of them the type of words you would see on spam sites.
That doesn't prove the site was banned but it does show that the site content may have contained and since the domain was available, it obviously wasn't successful.
How to get your site back in Google search results
If this is a site you've been running, the first thing you need to do is determine what might have caused Google to ban your site. To do that, thoroughly review Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Go through each item line by line and consider if your site may be breaking these guidelines.
The most common reasons for being banned from Google are:
- Keyword spamming - adding too many occurrences of keywords on the page for the sole purpose of influencing search engine results. This is especially bad if you try to hide the keywords from human visitors by doing something like making the text color the same as the background color, or even very similar.
- Cloaking - cloaking is the practice of serving a different page to website crawlers than you would serve to human visitors.
- Redirects - if you create landing pages just for search engines that automatically redirect users to another page, this is similar to cloacking and frowned upon.
- Paying for links or and free link exchanging schemes - Exchanging links isn't bad and paying for links in directories or advertising isn't bad either, but there are good ways and bad was to do it. Many people seem to get into trouble for this.
- Spam - If you use spam to promote your site, either through email, blog comments, forum posts, etc your site can be banned. Even if your site is considered to be a spam site, you can be dropped from the index. Many people get ticked off when they receive spam or when they see spam sites in their search results pages and they report spam sites to Google. Get enough reports and they do something about it unless your site is obviously a real site.
Also keep in mind, it may be possible that you have not done anything wrong and the ban was in error. Google indexes many sites and has to rely on automated tools to find violations, and as I mentioned, these techniques are similar to what normal sites do, so sometimes sites may be flagged unjustly.
How to ask Google to include your site
If you have made changes to your site to fix any problems that were caused by not following the guidelines, or you did not violate any of the guidelines and your domain was possibly banned in error, you can ask Google to reconsider the ban.
To ask for reconsideration, log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and in the Dashboard, you will see a link titled Request Reconsideration and fill out and submit the form.
Don't include any unnecessary information in the message. Stick to the facts. Google doesn't care if you're losing money and you can't afford your kid's braces now or stuff like that. The instructions they provide are:
Tell us more about what happened: what actions might have led to any penalties, and what corrective actions have been taken. If you used a search engine optimization (SEO) company, please note that. Describing the SEO firm and their actions is a helpful indication of good faith that may assist in evaluation of reconsideration requests. If you recently acquired this domain and think it may have violated the guidelines before you owned it, let us know that below. In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimizers, affiliate programs, etc.) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.
Google will then look at your site and determine if they want to let you back into the index or not. Just because you ask, doesn't mean you'll be allowed back in. It can take many weeks for your site to be re indexed and you will not likely receive an email letting you know if the ban was removed or not. Seeing Googlebot crawling your site regularly again is a good indication the ban was lifted.