My search engine nightmare didn’t begin when Google banned me, that’s just where it ended. To understand my journey, I feel the need to give some background.
I’ve been involved with computers in one capacity or another since 1982. What started on a Tandy TRS-80 (Trash 80) continued to a life-long love of electronics. I took some computer courses at a local junior college before I could enroll in elementary school, and through junior high and high school, I ended up teaching the technology teachers more than they taught me. It led to some destructive actions including creating some batch files which locked my class out of windows, while making all my classmates think they had just infected their computer stations with a virus.
In college I went from being a political science major to computer science, then around to communications before ending up with a degree in broadcast communications. After finding it difficult to find an internship as an engineer in broadcasting (most positions were for marketing and those were usually passing out freebies at events), I decided to minor in communication technology.
Eventually this would land me in a job which would put me in charge of all things electronic while working to communicate to our clients how our products could help them smile. It was a dream come true, and the dream got better when my boss asked me to learn about search engine optimization, and more specifically, how I could get us to the top of the results for Google.
We tried many things and I would watch videos on how to game the search rankings. I learned how historically you just put keywords in the keywords tag and Yahoo would rank you for those keywords. Google was created on the premise that they would not be so easily mislead. They were wrong, it was mere child’s play once I figured out how to manipulate them.
It started as any successful project at our office does, with someone bringing to my attention a technique someone else was using. My boss brought me a real estate website which combined their keyword with every city in our area. This got me to thinking, if I could pair our brand name with cities at the bottom of the page, couldn’t we get the same result in Google? I did, and it was the worst thing I could ever have done.
Suddenly, we were top of page 1 on Google results pages for our own name in any city. This doesn’t seem like much and in hindsight, it was nothing. Anyone can do this for a certain brand, as long as it is their brand. My boss asked me to up the stakes and try this method with our competitor’s keywords. It worked, too well.
We soon received notice that we were being called to court over the matter. Meanwhile, I set about perfecting this creation I had started. I continued to feed my design more keywords, and more cities. I then learned all I could about geo-targeting and how to find distance between cities. I used this to create a web of cities and distances which would put the nearest cities to a site visitor together with relavant keywords to their search to display them at the bottom of our page. At our highest, we were doing 100-200 units a month at a price of $550. It gave us enough capitol to launch the product, and this was our tragic flaw.
With more business than we could handle, a product which had not fully been perfected, and looming litigation, we steamed forward with my design, looking to capitalize on it to the fullest. Once finished, I had achieved the top 10-20 results for any keyword we inserted. This created a Google blockade and prompted Google to act, instituting a manual ban on our websites.
It took months of pleading and requests to Google to get the ban lifted. Little did I know that they kept us on a manual ban until they could create and test what would be known as Penguin. This update killed our search ranking in Google because we had built the entire site around black hat SEO. We needed to change, and I had to fight every step of the way to keep us in the clear with Google.
Any change I enacted on the site seemed to move our sites lower and lower down the results page. Eventually, I had to stop trying to get up in Google. Today, we don’t rank for much of anything besides our own brand. I am sure this is a manual fixation by Google within their search engine algorithms to keep us from getting back up. I have ranked other terms for other companies with far more competition to believe otherwise.
Let my tale be a warning to you. If you think the quick, easy way of black hat SEO is the best, know that once you get caught, it is a long, hard road to recovery.