Sitelinks at #60 – A Warning Shot From Google

Posted on April 27th, 2008 at 2:58 am by Michael VanDeMar under blogthropology, Google, SEO, Social Media

Last Thursday Barry Schwartz (Rustybrick) reported over at SERoundtable about a discussion going on in a Google Groups thread, having to do with a webmaster who had dropped 6 pages from the #1 spot, but was still seeing sitelinks when he did get to his listing. Barry said that he did not see the listings for himself, and was wondering why no one else could see them (he knew they were real due to a screenshot the webmaster took here).

The answer to Barry’s question is that in order for the sitelinks to appear, even for a penalized site, the listing still has to be the #1 listing on that page. So, you have to play around with the parameters manually in order to get it to work. For instance, I currently see him at the top of the page when I change it to start at #62, using the &start= parameter, using this query: [vacation realty] (cached version):


(Click to enlarge)

What this strongly indicates is that the -60 penalty is indeed more of a manual process rather than an algorithmic one. The engineers on the web spam team have said, Nope, we can’t let you be number one (for whatever reason it is they decided to penalize the site), but as far as the algo is concerned we’re still looking at a site that should have some authority. This does in fact make sense… the site in question might have plenty of ranking power coming in through legit methods, regardless of what it did to incur the penalty (which, reading into a comment made by JohnMu in the thread, appears to be overzealous linking practices, including using sponsored themes to gain links). In fact, often times just being #1 can facilitate people linking to you. Of course, this does slightly go against something Matt Cutts said last year, when he stated that assuming a site shouldn’t rank just because it buys paid links is committing a logical fallacy (ie. just because they buy paid links doesn’t mean Google will penalize them), but of course this wouldn’t be the first time Matt has changed the game. The most notorious case is probably when he went from these claims (found here):

The rel=”nofollow” attribute is an easy way for a website to tell search engines that the website can’t or doesn’t want to vouch for a link… In an ideal world, nofollow would only be for untrusted links… Anytime you have a user that you’d trust, there’s no need to use nofollow links. – Matt Cutts, May 15, 2006

to not much further down the road to asserting that anyone who accepted money for a link they didn’t nofollow was a spammer.

The question is, without cleanup, how long will a site that is exhibiting behavior like the one in question retain what authority it has left, before it is removed altogether? We know (or at least can reasonably assume, based on observation) that with the Google PageRank penalties that ran rampant last year, at first they were simply cosmetic, designed to inhibit people who were selling links based on the PageRank of their sites from continuing to do so. The rankings of the sites pretty much stayed the same. However, when we look at John Chow’s site, and do the same kind of manipulation, his does not show sitelinks any longer (which, iirc, used to be the case when searching on his name). So I think it’s safe to say that if Google does send you a warning shot across the bow, it would be wise to clean up the site before it becomes more permanent in nature (assuming, of course, that sort of thing matters to you).

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5 Responses to “Sitelinks at #60 – A Warning Shot From Google”

  1. Andy Beard Says:

    Another factor in the case of this site is that the search term is a navigational query, based on how many people reach the site using those search terms.
    The sitelinks will disappear because the navigational query over time will not bring people to the site any more.

  2. Dominating SEO Says:

    Amazing finding Micheal, you made me your fan !!!

  3. David Eaves Says:

    Iv’e seen them show up for my directory before around the 40, 50 or 60 mark, they always show up if you just Google biz-dir.co.uk. Given up on trying to get it to rank for anything on Google again, I have tried everything.

  4. Terry Reeves Says:

    I am seeing more and more sitelinks across the net every day. One major client has acquired sitelinks within the past week, just in time for a complete website overhaul including moving many of the pages that are now in the site links.

    The fun never ends.

  5. Doug Says:

    Hey Im glad to see this is around, hopefully it helps with getting the site back. We are doing a big clean up job and trying to get these people to stop using the themes. Check the google group for an update.

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