So in the last article I talked about the rapid growth of my web site, and left handing with going from 10-15,000 unique pageviews per day to just over 500. So how does a web site just “die on the vine” like that? I guess it’s pretty easy when google attacks!! What I mean is, I had described to you that a couple months into my web site traffic growth google had contacted me for an interview. They even gave me a nice $50 amazon.com certificate for my time! I now realize that basically google had noticed how rapidly my web site traffic had grown – and wanted to know all the details I would give up regarding how I did it……SO THEY COULD STOP IT FROM HAPPENNING!!

Now, I’m not bitter about this – in fact I’m glad it happenned. I entitled this blog “learning everything about blogging the hard way”, because I learned “how not to blog” first. I went for the quick buck, the fast traffic – and I got burned…but I deserved to be! What I take issue with is the fact that when I was interviewed by google (the adsense team) they acted as if I was a ‘great performer’, never indicating that what I had done was potentially bad or wrong. In their defense, the people who interviewed me may only been told to interview me…but I have to believe that they reason they wanted my blueprint for success was to analyze it (and if it was bad) throw a monkey wrench in it. Months later my site just died, and I (at first) didn’t know why.

Here’s how it went down. After 6 months of outstanding traffic growth, I get an email letter from google saying I wasn’t complying with their (adsense) terms of service and had five days to comply. I emailed back, complaining that I didn’t know what to comply with (could they give me a clue). Their reply (that I was surprised to get) said that basically I had too many “adult content” links and posts on my site, which was not allowed, and I would need to remove them asap. They gave me 2 URL’s as examples, and told me to remove the adsense ads from the pages with questionable content. I hadn’t mentioned yet that one of the highest trafficed pages on that web site was one about a certain celebrity named “britney” and her getting out of a car showing her mommy bits to the world. Remember, I was crudely tracking popular keywords, phrases, and stories, and celeb scandals are always top of the flavor of the day. I wrote a short article about the debaucle, pointed where to find the pics, and that was that. Little did I know that one page would garner almost 1 million unique pageviews in only 4-5 months. That one page probably generated half of my traffic, and half of my revenue. It probably is also the entire reason I was contacted by the adsense team regarding the TOS violation. I’m sure that those kinds of traffic numbers, combined with those kinds of adsense earnings raised all kinds of flags.

Now, I didn’t really want to completely remove the pages with the content – because (being greedy) I wanted to continue generating the traffic. So I went through my site with a fine-toothed comb and removed the adsense ads from every single page I could find with even remotely racy or adult content (just like they asked). REPEAT – I REMOVED the adsense ads from all these pages. I had planned to just monetize them in some other way later on. I also removed all the links to these pages from my sidebars, etc. I replied to the adsense team and told them that I complied – but apparently that wasn’t good enough for them, 24 hours later I received an email stating that the site was no longer part of the adsense program due to TOS violations. It also stated that my account was still open, and I could continue to participate with my other sites, but THAT site could not use adsense ad all.

So that was that….since adsense was my primary stream of income on that site, removal from the adsense program pretty much killed it. I began to do reading on various blogs about the subject. I also did some digging on my site, and found that all of my search engine listings were (I thought at first) non-existent. It turns out that they seem to have been hit by the now infamous “google penalty”. What is a google penalty? There are many speculations, but the most talked about are the “-30 penalty” and the “-950″ penalty. There is no official documentation on these, but they are much talked about in various webmaster forums, including the google webmaster groups. Basically, if your site has done something google believes is some type of “cloaking”, “spamming”, “paid link exchange”, “excessive affiliate linking”, or other unethical means to boost your site in search rankings – you will receive a “google penalty” in their search index. The -30 penalty is the lighter of the two, where you site is supposedly knocked down 30 results (so you won’t appear in the top page or two). The -950 penalty is of course the worse, where you are still listed in the index, but relegated so far back in the results pages that no one will ever find you. I found that my site was still indexed, but the pages were just about dead last in the results pages, so I assume that I received the -950 penalty.

I can’t say that the 2 events went entirely hand-in-hand (the -950 penalty and removal from adsense, all within 24 hours) – but they were most certainly related. I’m certain that they was some sort of report or hand-off of information from the adsense team to the google index team to get them removal and the penalty all at once. As I said – I began doing some reading on blogging, seo, google penalties, indexing, and related topics. This is when I first learned (believe it or not) about Matt Cutts and other experts in the field of SEO. Many will not believe I didn’t know who he was before, but since my site was doing so well, I never really had to look into SEO or read much about successful blogging. I thought I was a successful blogger, when in fact I was an accidental successful splogger.

So that’s it, this is the end of my 4 Part series of “How I started blogging” (be sure to read the first 3 posts if you haven’t already). I learned how to do everything the wrong way, my “spammy” sites have been killed off (traffic wise), and I’m left to regroup and begin again. I have decided to be an ethical blogger. I’ve been reading all the pro sites, from problogger to shoemoney, and I’m excited about beginning to build quality sites from scratch. This site is the first one of many (I’ll be building other niche sites on topics I’m passionate and knowledgeable about), and I’ve already written several other posts about best practices getting this one setup. This site will consist of posts telling the tales of my success (and failures) as a blogger. Maybe someday I too will be a ‘pro blogger’.

What happenned to the web site that died? I had more than 43,000 pages when I stopped it from aggregating. I have been removing the pages by hand, and know I’ve got it down to about 10,000 pages. Once I finish removing all the aggregated posts it will probably only have under one to two hundred original content pages. I’m also only keeping only the original pages with truly useful content. The ones written just for the purpose of generating traffic are or will be removed for good. Getting that (and a few other) sites back in google’s good graces and full of original content will surely be the subject of future posts.