Recommendations for Handling Google’s Latest Penalty to Real Estate and Regional Websites

A few weeks ago, Rand from SEOmoz posted an article and chart that talked about identifying if your website had been penalized by Google and a process for potentially understanding the extent to which you have been penalized. The article has become even more valuable as a result of recent changes in Google search results this June that appear to have (particularly) affected the real estate market and real estate websites engaged in high volume link exchanges. In addition, there is an great discussion between Rand and Matt Cutts of Google that addresses the topic of search penalties, how they can be potentially resolved and what “red alerts” may trigger a penalty.

It’s possible that a website may have been penalized for a few relevant keywords, but not their entire portfolio of strategic keyword opportunities. Here’s a quick checklist of searches to perform to determine the extent of your (possible) Google Penalty:

  1. Do you see results for your domain when you use the command: site:www.domain.com (swapping out “domain” for your website of course)?
  2. Does your site rank well (or at the top of results) for uniquely branded terms or the company name?
  3. Does your site appear prominently in search results when you copy and paste your exact title into Google?
  4. Does your site rank well for longer-tail keyword variations of your keyword strategy, or less competitive terminology that you have been targeting historically?

It’s important to understand that if you said “No” to any of these questions, you may indeed have been penalized.

I personally think that the update affected “region-specific” websites that were heavily invested in link exchange heavy tactics beyond the real estate market, such as local/regional service providers and possibly travel related websites. I have a friend that lost all of his top keyword rankings in his market and I am 99% certain it is because of the percentage of reciprocal links found on his website.

Here’s what I did to help address the situation:

  • Evaluated the inbound/outbound link relationships to the site and determined that over 50% of his links were related to a link exchange type of strategy.
  • Removed all inbound links that were link exchange-related, including a complete section of the website dedicated to “link exchanges” (I’m pretty certain that caused a few issues).
  • I 301 redirected all (originally) indexed link exchange pages to a page indicating that the websites was no longer participating in link exchange requests.
  • Using Google Webmaster Tools, I uploaded a Google Sitemap but in this case, did not submit a reinclusion request because I personally did not feel it was warranted (given the fact that the site still ranked for some of the more long-tail keyword terms).
  • NOTE: I’m not a big fan of Google Sitemaps (although I do use it for many clients), because I think it leaves a false sense of security for website owners, implying that everything is going to be alright if they check this regularly and give Google their information (yes, it is possible that Google will someday not be the most important thing in the online world), potentially neglecting important facets of website administration that may also be of value. That may be a posting opportunity to write about in the future.

Here’s what I recommended the website owner DO, in addition to the steps above:

  • Evaluate historical traffic reports to determine if any of the link exchange material was actually generating reasonable or valuable traffic. If it was, contact the appropriate webmaster and discuss opportunities for a more formalized relationship – possible a complete article or resource that both webmaster’s could exchange, instead of a simple link request.
  • Obtain more high-quality links (which is easier said than done). My advice was to maximize the community relationships already in place, and make certain to take advantage of local business organizations and trade associations that will list the company on their respective websites.
  • If you have your company listed somewhere, get the website listed as well.
  • I’d love for them to write articles or guides around the area or for popular content generation sites related to their industry and region, but it’s often difficult to balance the demands of the day with your job as copywriter (which he is not). That being said, I highly recommended paying greater attention to local/regional news resources online for identifying potential opportunities for articles, announcements or other content submission opportunities.

It’s important to understand that if your website was penalized, it can take longer than 60 days for the site to reappear in Google’s search index, which can be very painful and stressful to any website owner. If you know you’ve taken care of the issues that caused the penalty, the best advice is to figure out ways to obtain more high quality inbound links. Often times, those links are already available to you, in coordination with traditional business management-related activities. It just takes time and a second look to uncover them.

Final Note:
I’m willing to take a look at a few websites and provide some free advice – or walk through the steps above if interested. Feel free to contact me through this post or the standard contact page.


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