Updated October 24, 2011 – (Original August 22, 2006)
by Eric Ward

“Help, our site was penalized by Google. We used to be ranked on page one but now we are on page ten and it’s killing us”.

I heard this same plea twenty times at the most recent SES San Jose conference.

Some of you live in a state of constant fear that your site is just moments away from being banned or penalized by Google for some linking tactic you have done. Maybe you spammed a blog a few years ago, or submitted to an FFA page. Or hired a link building firm in a third world country. (See Are You A Link Whore?).

While it is certainly true that all major search engines are on the look out for suspicious linking activity, it’s also true that very few sites end up getting busted. A far more likely scenario is that the engines have simply stopped giving you credit for links that they used to give you credit for. You haven’t been singled out or penalized at all. When you ranked on page one it was due to a combination of factors, one of which was the type and quality of links pointing back to your site. If Google or any other engine decides that a particular web page is not as trustworthy as they once thought, then if you had a link from that page the engine no longer gives as much weight to that link. Your rank drops as a natural result of the devaluing of the links pointing to you. This is a far different thing that an outright penalty. An outright penalty is when the engine decides your site has purposely set out to fool them, and they take action against you based on the severity of the infraction.

If you have never set out to fool the engines, then relax. Rankings shift all the time. You may simply need to acquire a few more high trust links to get right back where you were. Today I rank number one at all three major engines for the phrase Link Building Expert. Have a look. But tomorrow I might not.

If that happens, it’s not a penalty. It’s just Google doing its thing.

Eric Ward
About the Author Eric Ward founded the Web’s first service for announcing, linking, and building buzz for Web sites, back in 1994. His client list is a who’s who of online brands. Ward is best known as the person behind the linking campaigns for Amazon.com Books, Weather.com, The Link Exchange, Rodney Dangerfield (Rodney.com), the AMA, and PBS.org. His services won the 1995 Award For Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web’s 100 most influential people by Websight magazine in 1997. Eric is a 4-star speaker at Jupiter’s Search Engine Strategies conferences, and publishes LinkMoses Private: Link Building and Content Publicity Tactics. Eric has written online marketing advice columns for MarketingProfs, ClickZ and Ad Age magazine.  He, his wife Melissa, and toddler Noah live in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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