Fear The Google Blacklist

What happens when search engine optimization backfires? Hitwise researchers illustrate one cautionary tale.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

February 13, 2008

2 Min Read

Internet metrics company Hitwise on Wednesday published a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive search engine optimization.

Search engine optimization (SEO) aims to make a Web site appear higher up on search results pages for keywords related to the Web site's business.

GoCompare.com, a U.K.-based car insurance comparison site, apparently used SEO techniques to reach the number one position for the term "car insurance" on Google's U.K. site.

Then, according to Hitwise U.K. research director Robin Goad, the site got blacklisted by Google, presumably because the SEO techniques it used violated Google's rules.

Google has a lengthy list of rules for Web site owners about what is and isn't acceptable. And Google makes the consequences clear: "If an SEO creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalf, such as doorway pages or 'throwaway' domains, your site could be removed entirely from Google's index," Google explains. "Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it's best to be sure you know exactly how they intend to 'help' you."

The penalty for breaking these rules (and getting caught) can be devastating for online businesses.

"[S]ince being 'blacklisted' it has dropped down the listings and, at the time of writing, is currently on the seventh page of listings -- i.e. well outside of the top 10," said Robin Goad, research director of Hitwise U.K., in a blog post.

A spokesperson from GoCompare.com wasn't immediately available to confirm what had happened. But the company's listing is indeed on the seventh search results page for Google.co.uk.

To hammer the point home, Goad's post includes a graph that shows GoCompare.com's search traffic dropping 87% between the 26th of January, when it held the number one spot for "car insurance," and the 9th of February. During the same period, the company's competitors saw their share of traffic generated from "car insurance" searches rise.

Goad says the GoCompare.com's experience "illustrates the fine balance that needs to be achieved between effective SEO and breaking the 'rules.'" It also demonstrates why Google is feared.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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