Google search rank drop: advice needed

If you show advertising on your website, this is something you need to know. Google have been working behind the scenes, and I no longer rank highly in search resutls for design-related topics.

David Airey web traffic

I’ve just removed what little advertising there was on my blog. The ads were shown in the sidebar, and included just four simple text link ads (two for print cartridge retailers and two for web template sites).

On Monday 10th September, I received 30 percent of my traffic from Google. I first noticed the search ranking drop on 20th September, and on Monday 24th September I received just 6% of traffic from Google. Quite the decrease.

Here are some of my previous Google rankings:

  • #1 for ‘David Airey’
  • First page for ‘graphic design edinburgh’ — important for local business, as described in my search ranking article
  • Second page for ‘logo designer’

graphic design edinburgh in Google

Here are my current rankings after Google affected the search results:

  • Somewhere around #60 for ‘David Airey’
  • Around #60 or #70 for ‘graphic design edinburgh’
  • Similarly, around #60 or #70 for ‘logo designer’

There were also many relevant design-related searches that I ranked highly for. Things like ‘business card designs’, ‘best logos’, ‘printing questions’ etc. But no more.

How can I be sure that accepting payment for links has affected my rankings? I can’t, because there was no notice or explanation.

I guess my naivety has cost me. Having read Google’s stance on paid links, I would’ve been unaffected if applied the ‘rel=nofollow’ code to my four text link ads.

The money I received was minimal. It covered my hosting, and a little extra on top, but nothing to write home about, and certainly nothing worth sacrificing the traffic I was receiving.

Here’s what Google have to say on the subject of paid links:

“Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

“Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the ‘a href’ tag

“Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file”

I’m not exactly sure what that second option entails, but I know how to add rel=”nofollow” to a hyperlink. Rand at SEOmoz recently asked Matt Cutts, head of Google’s spam team, some , and the answers provided some insight, summed up here on .

So advertising is allowed, providing you don’t give any search rank benefits to your sponsors. Personally, and with agreement from Lyndon at , I’ve removed all advertising, as I’m hoping that Google take a second look at my site, and deem it trustworthy again.

First thoughts when I noticed the drop

I thought the drop might have been due to a higher than average number of backlinks I’ve been receiving from my , so I contacted Lyndon and to ask their advice.

Andy didn’t realise I had paid links using ‘dofollow’, but said he would’ve been surprised if my prize giveaway brought a negative impact. Lyndon suggested that I add ‘nofollow’, or remove the text link ads, then ‘request reconsideration’ through Google’s webmaster tools. That’s what I’ve done, although an automated message told me not to expect a response.

Andy, Lyndon, thanks very much for getting back to me about this.

It’d be a shame if I’ve received a permanent decrease, as I’ve worked hard on the blog, but I’m hoping that after a few weeks things will return to normal.

How did Google find out?

During the past month, I posted a message on the Digital Point forum for ‘link sales’, wondering if any relevant sponsors would like to purchase a text link. I remember someone asking me, in the forum thread, if I used ‘nofollow’ on the links, and I said no, stating that I wanted to give my sponsors as much benefit as possible. It’s my guess that someone then reported me to Google, using the ‘report paid links’ page in their webmaster tools.

If you’re in a similar situation, you should check out this post on SEOmoz: . I’m not sure this is a penalty, but that’s a useful article nonetheless.

Have your say

Do you think my prize giveaway could’ve triggered some sort of search rank filter, or is it more likely to be the paid links that cost me?

What are my chances of returning to a trustworthy status with Google?

If you show advertising on your site, I highly recommend adding rel=”nofollow” to your sponsor links, otherwise Google can penalise you without prior notice.

Update: Google have removed my penalty. Find out how I reversed the decision, and exactly why it was imposed in the first place, by reading ‘how I reversed my Google ranking penalty‘.

106 responses

  1. I am no where in your league David, but I am appalled that this has happened to you, and could happen to any of us after we have worked so hard to build our page rank with truly helpful and informative content.

  2. Yikes, David, that’s shocking! I’m disturbed that what appears a relatively minor advert approach on your part created such disastrous Google search results. Your story reminds me how much I don’t know and could trip into, blissfully unaware. Thanks for sharing it as a way to help us make better decisions for our own blogs.

  3. Nic,

    I’m not sure about Javascript ads, so can’t give you an answer there unfortunately. Do search engines follow them? If so, I think it applies.


    I appreciate your sentiments, and fingers crossed this is a temporary measure.


    It is a shame, and took me by surprise. Hopefully by publishing this post some others won’t fall into the same trap.


    Everything seems fine with Yahoo, MSN, and other search engines. Obviously Google is the most popular of the three big ones, but my site rankings seem unaffected with others.


    I’d read about your penalty too, which is unfortunate. I saw you comment that your penalty was due to a grudge? That doesn’t sound too good.

  4. The javascript links are fine, they don’t pass any pagerank, its what Google uses for their own adwords ads.

    Where these hand-coded links or text-link-ads? Text-link-ads leave a footprint that Google can spot, and many people have been burned for using them and other automated link systems like DP’s coop network. If it seems simple, it is, and also easy to recognize when you are data mining information on billions of pages, those patterns emerge. Below the fold and unrelated to the theme of the site “scream” advertising, not unlike sitewide footer links.

    I have to wonder why you’d link to your home page in your header as which uses a 302 redirect to that is odd behavior. It appears you’ve got something funky going on with redirects at the moment, for example redirects with a 302 to which is a bad thing. It should be a permanent 301 redirect to the same page but with the www.

    It appears that you are using wordpress, so #1 I’d make sure that your .htaccess file is the standard wordpress issued one, and then #2 install a plugin to implement proper 301 redirects for the conical domain name, such as:

    302 redirecting all over the site can cause problems with ranking as well, you are not consolidating PageRank, nor taking advantage of the natural linking within the site structure.

  5. That’s funny Google has penalised you, but has already indexed this post.

    Always remember every bad turn/ mistake is learning curve, your knowledge of Google/SEO has just taken a massive leap!


  6. JLH,

    Thanks very much for looking into my code. I wasn’t aware of any odd behaviour, and it’s probably because this WordPress design is my first ever. I’m not too knowledgeable about redirects, and will see what I can do to fix those issues.


    Always great to look at the positives! I was going to publish a ‘reviewme’ review today / tomorrow, but held off after discovering the site that purchased the review was indicated in a ‘bad neighbourhood’.


    I think the sites I linked to were purchasing a lot of text link ads, so in hindsight they weren’t great ones to feature. My screening process, prior to this penalty, involed the focus of the website.

    The four sites I linked to offered web design templates (x2) and printing cartridges (x2).

  7. I agree with the .htaccess file and the redirects I have had this problem myself with the VBSEO plugin I use, I fixed it in the .htaccess file and it only took like 4 days to get my rankings back. Sorry to hear that david, I don’t know alot about wordpress but I’m sure if there are any re-directs plugins to help they’ll appear in a search of the net.

    Best of luck


  8. What happened to “Don’t be evil”? Google’s been pretty bad lately. I bet they’re just trying to monopolize the online advertising market by demoting people who sell ads through TLA and directly. Really, something needs to be done about this. Google has 60% of the sarch engine market share, and “with great power comes great responsibility.”

  9. So let me get this correct. Google will penalize you if you host prize give aways in hopes of backlinks from other blogs and what not?

    If you have read any of that is basically how he built up his traffic. For example he host prize give aways in terms of other people reviewing his site and linking to him and he links them back.

    So is that what google is penalizing?

  10. Are you sure it’s the paid links that did it? I know that Google don’t like them, but when they detect them, I haven’t yet heard of them penalizing a site like this. The most common response seemed to be to just block out those links and ignore them.

    The prize giveaway seems like a more likely culprit I think. Having that same “logo design” text appearing in hundreds of blogs would have been picked up on by Google. It’s such a competitive phrase, they’d definitely take note of a site climbing the rankings so quickly. :(

    Either way, I hope it all gets sorted!

  11. Are you sure you haven’t been hit by the proxy hack?

    Andy Beard has a pretty big post about it, I think.

    People getting knocked out of the rankings and Google not penalising them.

  12. Man, that sucks.

    I wonder how hard Google looks at a site before dishing out a penalty like this. You know, what if you have a blogroll featuring related blogs and you don’t want to go out of your way and add a nofollow tag on each one.

    Google is just too powerful these days…

  13. Are you sure that the penalty is because of the links? And not just a Google-dance algorithm change?

    I was reading an article (bummer…can’t remember where now) that was saying you should build traffic without relying on search engine traffic…now it makes sense! There must be so many business out there that are pretty much in the hands of Google when it comes to surviving or crashing. Scary.

    Hope you traffic situation recovers.

  14. Man, that sucks. Google begins to act more and more like the global internet police, if you now what I mean. I’ve never listened to Google haters before. But now, I don’t know.

    Sorry to hear about it, hope you get those nice results back. You know, the online business gets more and more complex every day. Constant change and always new factors to consider.

  15. That’s interesting, Toon, although I haven’t changed the .htaccess file, or added any redirects, since launching this blog design a few months back. I’ll look into it though.


    Are those paid links you’re talking about? If so, it’s a good idea.


    That could be what Google have penalised. I’m not sure, and don’t think I’ll be able to find out for sure, as there’s no explanation.


    It’d certainly be good to know the culprit. As for the prize draw, a total of around 300 people have entered, with a lot of those entering by subscription only, and a lot more not using ‘logo design’ in the anchor text. Spread that over a few weeks and it seems harsh, would you say? Sill, I guess it could’ve triggered something.


    I’ll head over to Andy’s blog and search for that, as I think it’s one I didn’t read in detail. Thanks for mentioning it.

  16. Sucker,

    I reckon there are so many sites penalised that Google can’t spend any time looking at individual cases (unless it’s a big player).

    Blogrolls won’t be so bad, I should think, because those sites you link to are less likely to be buying any links from others, therefore keeping on Google’s good side. You can never really tell though.


    Thankfully I’m not one of those businesses in the hands of Google, but like any, Google can certainly give a helping hand. I still have plenty of business to keep me going, which is great.

    Regarding a ‘Google dance’, I can’t imagine it’d take a search for my name from #1 to #60, though I appreciate your well-wishes. Thanks.


    It’s definitely a learning process, this search ranking malarky. Thanks for your sentiments, and for taking the time to comment.

  17. I would bet someone turned you in for the Ad links. I PM people frequently and tell them they might not wish to adverstise in the forums about buying and selling links. Too many poeple with nothing better to do than turn someone in.

  18. Oh no! David, I’m sorry to hear this! I hope your ranking returns soon, and thank you so much for the heads up! Too bad you had to make a mistake for the rest of us to learn from :(

    I thought you would like to know the following, too. I emailed my husband, who is very very good at SEO and knows many things Google. Here’s what he said:

    “It looks like he got hit with the paid links penalty. There’s a small chance that a tweak in Google’s algorithm caused the change, which will be temporary, but it seems a too extreme to be that. What’s happening to his rankings is consistent with other websites that have been hit with the paid links penalty. Instead of yanking his ads, he should just add the rel=”nofollow” to all paid links.

    Another thing he needs to do is sign up for the google webmaster console at and validate his website. Webmaster tools has a message center where Google will notify you of problems and let you submit reinclusion requests directly. Doing so from Webmaster Tools carries more weight because you have to validate that you are the owner of your website.

    I don’t think the big increase in links from his promotion caused a problem due to the fact that they are all organic rankings directly related to the promotion.

    Once his reinclusion is processed, he’ll probably see everything return to normal, although I don’t know over what time frame. Google’s pretty good about turning that around quickly though, I would guestimate a few weeks.”

    Hope it helps, David!

  19. Don’t worry, David. I’m sure your rank will come back.

    I did a major redesign of my site in the beginning of the year, knowing full well that it was going to get me sandboxed in Google. When I looked at my stats, though, I saw I was getting lots of traffic, but not much of it was relevant. I made changes and Google slammed me — I lost about 2/3 of my traffic from them.

    The changes I made were good ones, though, and in about 6-7 months I had my ranking back for the terms I wanted and I was getting *much* more Google traffic for the new terms I’d added.

    Hopefully it won’t take you as long, but despite what it can feel like, Google really does want to reward sites with relevant content, and yours has it.

  20. Owww, I’m so sorry that happened. I really hope it was not do to the contest because that would just suck.

    I’m no way near your status but something very similar happened to me recently. I’ve been dabbling in viral marketing and for fun, I got a page on the milliondollarwiki for stock picks. After tweaking around with the page, I got ranked #1 for stock picks wiki. But 2 days later, I am now 100+. I do not believe I did anything to violate Google’s terms but who knows. Or perhaps some pages on the site did and that affected the whole wiki. But get this, the page was last indexed on the 17th, before my rank tumble. So maybe Google is just on crack?

    Anyways, it’s just a page for me and an experiment. I hope things work out for your site.

  21. When Google finds a new page, because it likes fresh content it can rank it higher than it normally would. As it gets older it fades unless there are a lot of links being gained for the page. MDW is gaining some links, but in highly competitive niches it needs a lot more to really rank for stuff long term.

  22. Ok so the lesson we have learnt is to add rel=”nofollow” to all paid adverts. Ok I can do that, I probably better do that to some of my clients pages as well.

    Thanks for posting and teaching us your mistake David.

  23. Hey David, your ranking didn’t fell from Google because you were selling paid links, but because your were buying them. The Competition you started on first anniversary of your blog was not anything less then buy paid links.

    I don’t think your site is gonna get its ranking back anytime soon.

    Best of Luck

  24. Are you sure it’s because of the paid links? There are thousands of sites who do not know the concept of nofollow and I seriously don’t think G is gonna penalize all of them. I would think that its the PURCHASE of paid links that the penalty is for, but not sure if you do that….. cause it really doesn’t make sense to penalize advertising that don’t use nofollow. If that’s the case, then they should just completely ignore all PR being passed from external sites!

  25. you do not need to add nofollow when selling paid links, just write above them advertisements or sponsers is also selling paid links they haven’t added no follow and are still ranking in Google. They have just written “sponsored links” above paid links.

  26. Jenni, nice find on the SEO Roundtable paid links configuration. That should be a nice real-world test for determining how zealous Google’s getting at penalizing link sellers, as (a) SEO Roundtable’s been around Google’s index for a while, and (b) I’d expect it to get its hand slapped for paid links very quickly, either through auto-detection by Google or by being “narc”ed out.

    I don’t agree with your assessment that the penalty is from a solicitation to buy (as opposed to sell) paid lyrics via the David’s Digital Point post, but the point is a bit moot, as anyone can report any site via the “Report paid links” tool in Google Webmaster Central.

    Speaking of which…

    To David: It sounds like, at the time that you noticed the traffic change, you already had a verified account for your blog at Webmaster Central . If so, shouldn’t you have seen a message about the penalty in the Message Center? See Danny Sullivan’s 2007-07-18 post re the same at . I thought they were starting to do this.

  27. The drop in ranking due to paid links is an educated guess. You will not know for sure unless a Google engineer says so.

    No, you will not be harmed if you link to this site

    There are a number of sites involved in the contest and none to my knowledge has been penalised.

    When taking advice from someone giving seo opinion, first ask, “how do I know that they know what they are talking about?”

  28. I think the competition is less than paid links. If it were paid links we’d all be getting paid right now (well, those whose links got clicked on). The comp was an obvious link-mania, but it was clever and not devious or cheating. David is an excellent logo designer – we think so and said so on our blogs, if someone wins a prize then good for them.

  29. Heh, I wasn’t worried about my own GR. I was thinking if the competition is the cause then further linking might not help things…

    “When taking advice from someone giving seo opinion, first ask, “how do I know that they know what they are talking about?””
    Which advice is that? Seems that this post is a matter of common sense and deduction rather than advice.

  30. Hi David

    I’ve been a subscriber for a couple of months now and find your content interesting, informative and unique ….all the things that help your site rankings!

    My guess is that unless your site has been down/301’d/something like that then you’ve been penalised for the paid links. Hope you sort it soon.

    PS. May well be calling on your logo design services in the near future.



  31. Wow, what a shocker. Thanks for making everyone aware of “the penalty”. Hope your traffic bounces back after removing the advertising…


  32. Matt Cutts, Big G’s head of spam and chief of the Link Selling Police Department, has gone on record as saying that the only penalty applied for paid links is losing the ability to pass PageRank. Getting kicked out of the index is not a paid link penalty. If it were, the following sites would all be delisted due to their connections with TextLinkAds:

    Sphinn. Graywolf. SEOmoz. Search Engine Guide. Search Engine Land. Search Engine Roundtable. SEO Book. Stuntdubl. Search Engine Journal. SEO Radio. Copyblogger. Andy Hagans. We Build Pages. DoshDosh. Pronet Advertising. Shoemoney. Yaro Starak. Blog Herald. ProBlogger.

    Of course Google won’t come out and say that your site hasn’t been penalised for paid text links. It’s not their style. They want you to believe that’s the reason and they want everyone else to believe that’s the reason so that any competition to AdSense is crushed.

    My feeling is that it’s an algo thing and is probably a temporary one.

  33. David I am pretty sure, there is no penalty for the text links you hosted on your website.

    This is more of an algorithm change, or some other factors kicking in.

    Google doesn`t like paid links, but to differentiate between paid and non paid links is not very easy. I am sure this is a normal Google dance, and you will find your site rising again for the keywords you lost rankings at the moment.

    One more thing you should remember, a blog is very dynamic. The pages which are directly linked from the homepage will be getting buried very soon in archives. This could be also a factor in your lost rankings.

    Also check the rankings you had were for homepage, permalink pages or dynamic pages like paging, categories etc. Only rankings for permalink pages are bit static in nature.

    Moreover if you really believe, Google has spotted your website and decided to penalize you for paid links. The maximum it will do is stop your page passing link popularity to the websites you link. This happened to Statcounter website, which has a page rank of 10 or 9.

  34. How is accepting paid links any different than placing Google AdSense ads on your site, aside from the fact that Google isn’t receiving any money from your old paid links? What I’m saying is, is it possible that Google merely wants the internet to be forced to revolve around them?

  35. “…is it possible that Google merely wants the internet to be forced to revolve around them?”

    Well, it would be good for business, yes. [;-)]

  36. @ Blake …adsense links don’t pass page rank whereas text links do – unless they’ve been penalised or no-followed of course. This is where the google algo comes a little unstuck, hence the requests for whistle blowing on paid links.

  37. As an educated guess, I’d say it is VERY unlikely that just having paid links is the cause of your drop. The most likely cause is:
    Your contest which when you look at it in a certain light is an attempt to manipulate rankings with an unnatural linking pattern. Too many links too fast. This can be acceptable if the site is covering breaking news, but (and Google runs news aggregation, so it knows) your contest would not qualify as news.
    I hope your re-inclusion request fixes it, but I think you are on slightly shaky ground, since, in a way you have broken, or at least bent, Google’s guidelines (but not the one about having advertising, but rather unnatural linking patterns).

  38. My guess is that is not related to Paid links at all, like MyAvatars said, Matt Cutts have said that the only thing that will happen with bough links is that they will not pass link juice. I would really check stuff like your blog listed on reviewme and others services like that as potential cause for the penality. And it look a lot like a minus 30-40-50 penality ;)

  39. You had asked what the second type of acceptable link might be? If a site blocks indexing access to a file on your server called links.php, links.asp or links.cfm (depending on what language is being used) and then you point your links to that page, passing a parameter (linking to “links.php? for instance”) then that would satisfy the second type of ‘acceptable paid advertising technique’.

  40. Im sorry to hear about this David.

    I would have to agree with some of the other comments that I dont think it is the paid links on your blog which has made this happen.

    I think the contest could be the problem. If everyone was linking to you using the same keyword it may look to Google that you are trying to manipulate the SERPS for your own benefit.

    This happened to John Chow because he was getting everyone to link to him using the term making money online. Similarly, he got banned from Google because of it.

    Best of luck with this. Hopefully Google will see sense and return your blog results to normal.


  41. Damn David, really sorry to hear about this.

    When these guys kick , it really hurts.

    I can’t offer any suggestions over and above that of what others have suggested.

    I hope it works out.

  42. Melanie,

    Shame I didn’t catch one of your PMs. I wondered why someone asked me that question, then disappeared.


    Thanks very much for asking your husband. I’ve requested reinclusion, and hopefully it’ll do some good (although there’s a lot of mixed opinion on what the cause was, so perhaps not?).


    I appreciate the compliment, and thanks for your story.


    Not to worry. These things are sent to test us. Cheers for the well-wishes.


    Glad to provide something that helps you out. I’m hoping that this’ll educate a few others into good practice.

    Thanks everyone else for commenting here. I’m sorry, I started to respond to everyone individually, which I always aim to do, but there are a lot of comments, and I’m off out to miss a few sitters (I mean play some football).

    If my rankings come back, or if I hear anything definitive about why this happened, I’ll be sure to let you know.

  43. Here is something I have spotted which isn’t ideal

    I didn’t realise you were a member of 9Rules, or maybe you are not a full member, as I don’t see a badge.

    I just grabbed a random article and went searching in Google for the title with quotes.

    They have a full copy of the article, and no link back to the original source.

    Sure Google can detect duplicate copies, but it doesn’t help if they don’t link back to the original.

    For a blog network this is irresponsible.

  44. Thanks for taking a look, Andy. Sadly, that’s an article I, myself, posted to 9rules, back in December when I’d been blogging for about 8 weeks in total. I have another 9rules account now, as I forgot the login details for that one, otherwise I’d delete the old post you found. Another prime example of my superior SEO knowledge.

  45. “It’d certainly be good to know the culprit. As for the prize draw, a total of around 300 people have entered, with a lot of those entering by subscription only, and a lot more not using ‘logo design’ in the anchor text. Spread that over a few weeks and it seems harsh, would you say? Sill, I guess it could’ve triggered something.”

    That does make it sound a lot less of a problem now, but I just can’t think of what else it could have been. Thousands of blogs use TLA and such.

    Perhaps it was because of the publicity that this competition received? It’s a massive competition, and got well mentioned in some good sized blogs. Perhaps a member of the Google team is subscribed to Contest Blogger, or a similar site, and picked up on things that way? (Along the same lines as your Digital Point theory.)

    Whatever it was, I hope it gets resolved soon!

  46. I have to say I’m not expert. Seems silly google would do that- what are they the anti-christ? I have learned a lot from your post and the comments that have followed so thank you. You certainly should have your page rank back though. Hope it either
    1. comes back soon- people that earn it should have it.
    2. you prosper even more with out it! :)


  47. Jealousy sucks big time, but this is not the first time it has happened when it relates to a giveaway. I am involved with the world of motorcycle message boards (as both admin and user) and in one of the giveaways for one of the sites I participate on got shut down because someone was jealous… hopefully that is not what happened here.

  48. I know nothing on this paid link/unpaid link scenario – since I do only the blogging for fun. But since it affected you ranking significantly, I can say it is inane that someone with great content get the shaft for something I barely notice.

    Google…world domination is next?

  49. Hi. I have only visited your blog a handful of times and am quite surprised that you have been hit by this. There are a lot of blogs that take a lot more paid links than you were taking and do a lot more to manipulate search engines, such as John Chow and Text Link Ads – both have been penalised – probably for link selling.

    It is curious that you have been singled out while there are bigger fish to fry. There are a couple of other problems that this could be. The primary one that comes to mind is duplicate content. Google in particular has become quite efficient at detecting duplicate content. This would hit you with an algorithmic penalty, which would probably only have a small effect on your ranking.

    However, when you are hit with a manual penalty this usually has a greater effect on your rankings, such as reducing your rankings for uncompetitive phrases that you should easily rank for. Saying this, I have also seen huge ranking problems due to duplicate content, but this was a very server case where the content had been duplicated over 1000 times.

    If you are hit with an algorithmic penalty, as soon as the problem is removed you should recoup your rankings. Whereas to remove a manual penalty you are either going to have to bend Google’s ear or hope they come back and realise that you have cleaned up your site.

    Saying that, your site is still being cached by Google on a regular basis, which leads me to side with Andy and Lyndon that you have been hit with a manual penalty.

    I don’t agree with Jason P. that Google are attempting world domination. If you think about it the best way for Google to handle the paid link situation is to penalise paid link advertisers. This is the root of the problem, which is why you see penalties going out to the seller rather than the buyer. If people know they are asking for trouble by selling paid links the quality of search results will be more natural and arguably of a higher quality. If you think about it, you are actually taking the piss out of them by selling paid links. Why should they use their resources to spider your site every other day if you’re using it to manipulate them?

    I’m sure you will be back to where you were in the not to distant future.

  50. I don’t see any penalty at all.
    IMO, this is just a matter of geo targetting.
    Your site appears to be hosted in Boston, US. You should realise that prefers UK based sites. If you select “Pages from the UK”, a US based .com site will never feature in the result set.
    Looking closer at the results for “graphic designer edinburgh”, you are among the first 5 non-UK based results. That’s not bad at all, but unfortunately bad enough if people from the UK are your main audience and when the first 50 results are taken by UK based sites.

    Somehow, on that google search image in your post, you have thicked “the pages from the UK” radio button. Why thicking that radio if your site cannot appear for local results at all ?
    Therefor i suspect that there was a time that you appeared in the local result set. Could it be that your site was previously hosted in London ?

    If so, contact your host
    They announced the opening of a new datacenter in Atlanta Metro Area on sept. 5, and on sept 18 (when your rankings began to drop), they have changed nameservers. I seriously suspect that this nameserver change has moved your site from a UK based hosting towards a US based hosting.

    And pls, forget about all the Google bashing on the pointless digitalpoint forums. Google is not a bad girl at all !
    Most people in that place don’t have a clue. But yeah, i understand, in a place filled with spammers, it’s normal that the first thing people think of is a ‘google penalty’


  51. Thanks everyone for the continued comments. Spending a lot of time with a client today, but before I do, I thought I’d mention that my site has always been hosted on a US server, for over a year with the same company, so I’m not sure that has anything to do with it.

    I appreciate you taking a look though, Danny.

    It seems that anything I previously ranked well for, I’m now shown on either page 6 or 7 of the results (including ‘graphic design edinburgh’ when searching ‘the web’ – not a UK-based search).

  52. David, there’s one small detail. It’s not really the physcial location of the server that matters. It’s all about the IP of nameserver.
    It’s perfectly possible to have a site hosted in the US and still being considered as a UK site at the same time as long as the namevers of the US based server point to a UK ip.

    What about local search on ? Have you ever been found on that one ?

  53. Lol Mihaela.
    Why is it that you come to that conclusion ?

    I still believe it’s a matter of geotargetting. Could be what i said above, could also be an algo change that gives more benefit to UK sites.

    Surely, the 302 redirect from towards (which was probably an attempt to address geo targetting issues) is also not doing you any good, David.
    Has that one always been in place ?
    Avoid 302 redirect for this ! You’re site should 301 redirect towards the .com

  54. David, don’t worry. It’s just the common fluctuation that happens during Google’s algorithm’s change which is going on right now.

    My blog “Blogging Bits” was neither ranking for “Blogging Bits” nor “” a couple of days ago, but today when I checked, it ranks at least second for the same keywords :)

    On one of my other sites where Google was sending me 2000 unique visitors everyday suddenly dropped to below 1000 per day, but a few days back it started sending me three thousand and five hundred visitors per day!

    If I have learnt anything in my three years of creating websites, it is that you can never rely on Google to send you consistent traffic.

    You needn’t panic, this is just the way Google works ;)

  55. That blows David. Sorry to hear about it!

    Like others, I think it’s less likely to be the paid links than perhaps the focus on the competition. But it certainly blows! I’m subscribed so will be interested to see how long it lasts…

  56. David,

    I think it’s more than just having paid links on your page. It’s more likely that the contest you are running caused a large number of links to your site in a short period which seems unnatural. Also a lot of the blogs that posted about your contest duplicated the entire post verbatim. Google probably traced the contest back to its source and saw it as a way of trying to manipulate the SEPRs and thus penalized you.

  57. I think it’s not about google and “paid links”. This is all about OUTGOING links. If you got many outgoing link you got lower position in SEPRs.
    I’ve checked this many times and i think it’s true

  58. Well, this post and the comments have been a real education. I had absolutely no idea a site could be penalised (by Google, at least) for failing to add nofollow to paid links.
    I can’t believe that you’d be penalised for the prize post, unless they don’t like all the replicated content on all the other sites that featured the competition. I’m just guessing here.

    Just when I think I’m getting to grips with SEO, I read a post like this, and discover that I’ve so much more to learn. Hoping for a speedy status quo ante for you, David.

  59. huh, Google definitely needs to straighten out their policies. They should at least give one warning to the “offenders” before penalizing them.
    I too hope things will get sorted out soon and your ranking on Google will get back to normal.

    Thanks for sharing with us your misadventures with Google. I didn’t know about nofollow attribute required for all paid links. Something that I should keep in mind for future.
    But I do agree with what some of the other commentors said here – you shouldn’t take off your paid links, just add the nofollow attribite to them.

    And don’t despair, I’m sure your ranking will be even higher once Google re-indexes your blog.

    Good luck with it!

  60. That was a long read! In spite of all the expertise in the world, no one really knows what is going on deep inside of the Google engine. The problem is exacerbated by internet marketing people who try new ways to play the adsense/adwords game and that keeps Google moving. While they try to fight the “players” sometimes, innocent by-standers can get hurt. The storm will pass as I am sure the core principles of strong content and relevant activities will win out eventually, otherwise, the whole Google thing will fail. We rooting for you, David!

  61. @Danny Rotsaert…

    LOL… yeah. I was just making a joke. Too bad I forgot the “”

    David, DMOZ had the same problem and apparently it was because of funny redirects too. Can you imagine? DMOZ losing its rankings? I had a good laugh, really. Now they are back.

    You’ll do fine. Fix those redirects, check all your links to make sure you are not accidentally linking to a spam site and then wait. The rankings will come back.

  62. Hi David,
    Sorry to hear about this, but honestly all this is speculation with out proof. As an example my site is set up similarly to yours but I checked on google (searching “industrial design blog”), to my surprise, I’ve moved up from 5th to third! So I disagree with much that is said here.

    But I think the problem lies in something that we might have discussed before, blog objective and blog Key words. Frankly I don’t think your blog talks a lot about “logo design” or “graphic design” as much as “tips on how to blog better”? If you poll your recent articles I spy about 50% of your posts on logo or graphic design.

    So really, personally I feel there is nothing wrong and google is doing its job. Is just that your many great and wonderful varied content is diluting google’s targeted search algorithms.

    I think there lies an identity crisis with your blog, are you about better blogging or better graphic design? I think if you shifted your focus back to more content about graphic design (ie graphic design key words) or graphics in blog templates, you might rank a lot better.

    Also consider using Ultimate Tag Warrior or upgrade to WP 2.3 for keyword tagging.

    Hope this helps.

  63. David, I have detailed your problems on my blog and asked that people visit and read your post in full here.

    I have also asked them to think of you if they need logo or graphic design.

    Whatever the reason, the outcome sucks and I hope your business will build back up through links and not search engines.

    All the best.

  64. Your site is still included in the google index, just moved down the rankings, so submitting for reinclusion is pointless. You only need to get reincluded if your site has been removed from the index.

    I’ve no doubt the drop is temporary and is related to your contest marketing, not a few paid links. Google is after sites built just to host junk links to casino etc sites, not proper sites with a few related links.

    To be honest I think your reaction is very knee-jerk as google rankings change temporarily all the time, especially if your site changes or the links to your site change. You seem to be making the classic beginner seo (and you say you are a beginner) mistake of mixing up cause and effect and blaming something unrelated for a natural google temporary drop.

  65. I think you’re right, Calvin, that you can’t actually know for sure.

    Still, we get these people who make knee-jerk reactions, thinking they do know what’s happening (looking close to home here).


    I’ll have to go back to my old ReviewMe articles and make sure I add ‘nofollow’ to the site links. Good point. Off-topic, I’m liking the new avatar. You look great in it, very friendly.


    Just upgraded to WP 2.3, and no major malfunctions, barr a few plugins that don’t work. Thanks for leaving your thoughts here, and for your advice on my meta info.


    Your post, and reference, is very much appreciated. Thank you!


    You’re the first to mention that, about the re-inclusion, and it’s something I hadn’t actually thought through. I am a beginner where SEO is concerned, very much so, and thanks for stopping in.

  66. extremely educational. it seems like we’re all learning at your expense, david!

    back in june i was part of a group writing project and all of a sudden my google traffic dropped like crazy. was it because of all the links that got passed around? who knows.

    a little while ago my traffic went up again. someone invited me to a project that totally unexpectedly turned into a huge link fest and it almost looks like google is happy about it. go figure.

    google is a bit like a big, fat demi god. you never know whether he’s gonna shower you with gifts or hit you with his big mallet.

  67. No problem. Ideally you should be ready for when you google rankings fluctuate as it can and will happen periodically, even for sites that have ranked top for years.

    It’s easier said than done but you need to get clients coming in from marketing efforts other then google to cushion the blow when it happens. A good thing to remember is ‘google doesn’t owe you a living’. Have you tried adwords to get your site guaranteed appearences in the top ad spots?

    You may have done this already but what is crucially important is to get the real keywords that people are searching for graphic designers with in your titles and also referenced on the page in text. So use wordtracker or something like that to get a list of relevant keywords and variations then write articles that concentrate on one of these keywords each if possible.

    And of course get links in to the articles with similar keywords in the anchor text.

    Please, please don’t help google dictate what people should add to links on their own sites by advising others to act on untested theories. Whether the link is paid for or not, if it is selected with a bit of care (and I’m sure you would reject hosting links to a lot of sites due to dubious quality) then it is still a quality link and you have every right to add it.

  68. Jez, that comment regarding a reinclusion is not actually true. Adam Lasnik has said that if you suffer a penalty (which this certainly seems to be as opposed to a mere reshuffle of a few places in the serps), you should definitely file a reinclusion request once what you thought you did wrong is fixed. It’s referenced a few different places.

    Still being listed for some search terms but not others seems to be the default nowadays for a specific type of penalty, one that hasn’t been figured out yet by anyone (even communication from googlers I’ve read indicates they have no clue what triggers it).

    But I totally second the rest of the sentiments and I don’t believe it’s the paid links either, if they were on topic and relevant. I’d look at redirects and duplicate content specifically, or it could just be googlebot getting it’s knickers in a bundle….

  69. Good point Sam I Am, just had a look up on the Adam Lasnick thing and saw this quote regarding reinclusion requests: ‘Basically, there’s no harm in filling one out if you feel your site’s presence or ranking in Google has been adjusted due to guideline violations’.

    David, the comment from Danny Rotsaert about nameservers is interesting and could well be worth looking into.

    I notice that if in google, you do you get a list of your indexed pages but if you do the same with ‘pages from the uk’ ticked, you get nothing.

  70. Thanks Jaypee, and not to worry. These things happen to the best of them, from what I’m reading.


    You hit it on the head by saying, “you never know”. Jez makes a good point (thanks Jez) by saying that Google doesn’t owe me a living, and I shouldn’t ‘place all my eggs in one basket’.

    I mentioned before, that I have plenty of business to keep me going, and whilst this is a set-back, it’s by no means a disaster – more a learning experience. At least that’s how I’m looking at it.


    I’ve been creating more and more titles with relevant keywords. It’s something I knew nothing about when I first starting blogging less than a year back, but now I know the importance of it.

    I checked with my host about the nameservers, after Danny picked up on it, and that’s not the case. It could well have been, and was an interesting thought, but my host has put that one to bed.

    My htaccess file needs sorting out, and I’m hoping to get it fixed, once and for all, in the next week or so.

    Sam I Am,

    Thanks for mentioning about the re-inclusion. I actually filed two requests – the 1st for paid linking, when I thought someone might’ve reported me, and the 2nd for the duplicate content. Fingers crossed it’ll have a positive effect.

  71. Chino, it actually should NOT be a habit, because if you are linking to site that is relevant or part of what you are writing about then why add nofollow to it? You obviously feel it is good enough to alert your users to… It’s when you can’t control who is adding the link and what they are adding that it is a good idea (ie. comments and forums primarily).

    David, don’t hold your breath after filing the reinclusion. We’ve filed 5 or 6 and haven’t done anything wrong (at least not according to what Google puts up as the things you can do wrong!) but Googlebot still has it’s head somewhere dark and can’t seem to figure out quality relevant content from spam anymore these days…. bummer.

  72. Thanks David for such an informative post. It’s truly a shame that you’ve had to learn this the hard way and were penalized for an apparently insignificant mistake. I too have been thinking about removing all adverts from my website, mainly because they don’t seem to do much for me, but also because I don’t think many people care to follow them. I know I don’t when I’m on other sites, so why should I maintain them on mine? Thanks again, and good luck with restoring your google standings.

  73. Sam I Am,

    I’m not holding my breath. Shame about your rankings too. What’s your web address?


    You’re very welcome for the post. It is a shame, but there are positives to take from it, and perhaps I’ll get the old rankings back one day.

  74. I’m even paranoid about adding it in wordpress’s comment system these days, that’s how messed up G has gotten my mind. It’s . You’ll notice that even for things like ‘wiki travel guide’, for which there are only 4 in the world, we can’t seem to get a top hundred ranking. Yahoo puts us at spot number 2. I’m not saying we are banned, just penalized (or else learning the hard way that googlebot makes mistakes).

    We have had two bouncebacks totalling 12 days out of 5 months with normal rankings in G. I’ll do a post on it in not too long, but there’s really no lessons that can be learned from it since we are doing everything by the book….

  75. Are you not sure that this has more to do with the contest? It would seem to me that G penalized you for giving out $4k in prizes to people who linked to your site. In effect, you BOUGHT links with the contest and G won’t reward buying links.

  76. I think that is terrible.

    You are David Airey, therefore you should show up for David Airey on a Google query.

    It’s as simple as that. How are they working to improve their engine when they are just making it crappier by filtering relevant results?

    Now if I’m looking for you I have to go through 5 pages of stuff that isn’t what I’m looking for!

    Google needs to find another approach :P

  77. This is absoloutely shocking, and i always think the same thoughts.
    Google is basically saying ‘Were the big boys, you work on our terms to do well’ .. ie: there trying to make the industry work according to their standards, but it never will, just like microsoft force people to work to their way.

    People will always disobey and what google must do is revise their formula’s and improve there system to counter this, not try and stop people from letting people advertise on their site. This will only serve to get peoples back ups.

  78. Google hate links market. U should use Java, nofollow, or flash ads. Direct links are dangerous for Your rankings. Use AdSense, if U want to benefits from blog.

  79. I think the same thing has somehow happened to us (not that we have paid advertising, or links), as we’ve gone from page 1 on for “mothership” down to somewhere around page 26, very quickly. The other search don’t seem to have been effected as much, although “mothership” has gone from the 2nd link to the 2nd page during the same timeframe.

    We’re not dependent on google at all (most work comes from word-of-mouth) but it would be nice to know it’s up there.

  80. Google definitely needs to straighten out their policies. They should at least give one warning to the “offenders” before penalizing them.
    I too hope things will get sorted out soon and your ranking on Google will get back to normal.

  81. Its a real shame that google uses such a blunt instrument when detecting paid adverts. I can see the point in not allowing compnaies to boost their ranking by having paid for links all over the web. Google is a search engine not a commerical directory.

    A good post though and great advice about the nofollow attribute.


  82. I also found that letting google place ads on my web site seriously hurt my rankings. I decided it is not worth it. It really doesn’t pay to be an advertiser for anyone but yourself.

  83. When I first found my blog was a default nofollow blog, I changed to dofollow and added a commentLuv, but I read a post about why the author chose to use nofollow, I used rel=”nofollow” to my part of sponsor links.
    I am luck to read your post which warns me to use nofollow tags to all my outgoing links. Thanks for your informative post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *