Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Archive for the malware Category

How to Avoid a Google Penalty

Oops! Don't run afoul of a Google penalty.Some “Google Penalties” Aren’t

Colloquially, the term “Google penalty” , usually means anything on your website that is harming your rankings. According to Google, though, a “penalty” is a manual action taken by Google that negatively affects your rankings.

Manual Penalties

These are real “penalties”. If you get hit with a manual penalty, you should see evidence from that in your Google Search Console. Normally Google will identify exactly what you’ve done that they don’t like. So obviously, you should fix whatever that might be.

Google penalties will reduce your online visibility and traffic.

Once you’ve fixed the offending practice on your site, you can ask Google to re-index your site with the corrective actions implemented. Normally that will restore you to Google’s good graces and eliminate the penalty. This doesn’t happen immediately, though, and you can expect the delay of possibly weeks before you see your rankings improve.

Algorithm penalties

There are a number of things that might happen on your website that can negatively affect your rankings without incurring a manual penalty. I call those algorithm penalties because they’re just a normal result of Google’s algorithms evaluating the content on your site. Here are a few of the most common ones.

  • Free hosting services
    • If you’re cutting costs by using a free hosting service, there is one common attribute of those that can get you in trouble with Google. That’s when the hosting service compensates for the free service they’re giving you by adding advertising to your web pages. Some of  that advertising may be pretty spammy, and Google is not likely to be happy with it.
  • Malware
    • If your website has been infected by any viruses, trojans, or spyware, you’ll get hit with one of these penalties. Make sure your website is malware-free. The GlobalSign blog has some excellent suggestions on how to find malware on your site and how to protect against it. You can check that out here.
  • Thin content
    • Many websites for visually oriented businesses overly rely on images on their pages and have very little text. Those photos or graphics could be pictures of your pet cat as far as Google can tell. Google can read the alternate text behind your images (you do have that, right?), but other than that images do little to help Google understand what your page is about.
    • Aside from that, if you’re overly concerned about brevity on your pages, you can run into the same problem. If there’s too little text content on your pages, regardless of why, you may be penalized for thin content.
    • You can also run into those pages being considered “duplicate content” if the actual body content of the page pales in size with other elements on the page that are common to all pages on your website (think footers, sidebars, and so forth). In this caseyou may be facing the plagiarism penalty (see below).
  • Keyword stuffing
    • This is an ancient SEO technique to make sure your targeted keyword phrase appears many times on the page. This used to work with some early search engines. But it provides a very poor user experience for those trying to read your content. Google is smart enough to identify that and consider it a negative ranking factor. I still see this from time to time.
  • Plagiarism
    • Duplicate dogs are fine. Duplicate content? Not so much.If you copied significant amounts of content from another website (even if you own that other website) Google considers it to be duplicate content. Google is excellent at identifying duplicate content and will usually try to show only the oldest of those duplicate pages. If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that there is little benefit to the user if Google shows a bunch of pages that all say the same thing. So Google doesn’t do that. If the content on your page is not original, it may never show up in Google search results.
    • I see this sometimes on websites designed by vertical web services. These are companies that specialize in a particular kind of businesses like handyman services, dental practices, plumbers, etc. The often have lots of excellent pre-written content about the kinds of services these businesses provide. One problem with this is that many other businesses in your niche may use the same pre-written content that ends up on your website. Bingo: you have duplicate content! If you use such a company, please ensure that the content they put on your pages is unique to you.

We can help!

If you’re concerned that you might be at risk for some of these penalties, give us a call. We can review your website with you over the phone at no cost and help you understand any potential issues that may be lurking there.

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Twice As Much Malware On Google?

Baracuda Labs 2010 midyear security reportBarracuda Labs conducted a study across Bing, Google, Twitter and Yahoo!, over a roughly two-month period, and found that Google has twice as many links to malware as Bing, Yahoo! and Twitter combined.  They were looking particularly at “trending topics”: timely issues related to news, current events, and other emerging topics. In their forward, they state:

Everyday more information and more people come online. This creates opportunities in making new connections and finding new things. This is the core of what fuels progress on the Internet. However, this influx of activities also creates new opportunities for attackers to insert themselves. We have focused on understanding how attackers are pursuing these opportunities.

Key findings include these:

  • Google takes the crown for malware distribution – turning up more than twice as much malware as Bing, Twitter and Yahoo! combined when searches on popular trending topics were performed. Google scored 69%; Yahoo! 18 %; Bing 12%; and Twitter 1%.
  • The average amount of time for a trending topic to appear on one of the major search engines after appearing on Twitter varied tremendously: 1.2 days for Google, 4.3 days for Bing, and 4.8 days for Yahoo!
  • Most of the malware found was between the hours of 4:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. GMT.
  • The top 10 terms used by malware distributors include the name of a NFL player, three actresses, a Playboy Playmate and a college student who faked his way into Harvard.

Be Alert for Domain Scams

domain scam alertTwo of our clients have come to us within the past few days to ask about bills they got in the mail that looked like invoices for domain name registration renewals. They came from Domain Listing Service, and close inspection shows they are for “Annual Website Search Engine Listing” at a cost of $75.

If you get one of these, don’t pay it!

They promise quarterly submissions to 25 major search engines … which won’t help your rankings in the least. But if any of our clients want that done, Rank Magic will do it for free. (Partly because that’s all it’s worth to you.)

The next questionable approach is a fax that looks very legalese and quotes an extensive excerpt from the United States Legal Code, Title 15. The scary headline says FINAL NOTICE OF DOMAIN EXTENSION and the fax will show your domain name prominently, but with a different extension. I’ve received several, including one listing RANKMAGIC.US for instance.

What they’re offering is to allow you to reserve another version of your domain to prevent some other company taking that domain and causing confusion among your customers. If you think that might be a problem, go ahead and register other domains — with .net, .org, .us, .biz, .tv or whatever other top level domain extensions you want. Typical cost is $25/year apiece, but  if you call the toll free number on this fax, they’ll try to sell it to you for a 10-year term or a 5-year term. If you ask for the 1-year rate, they quote $35.

I plan to toss all of these right into the circular file.

The Most Common Preventable Security Hole

most common preventable security holeJonathan James hacked into the Pentagon and NASA computer systems in 1999 at the age of 15 and became the youngest person to go to jail under the federal cybercrime law. Now 23, he was interviewed by PC Magazine (August 21, 2007 issue) about the state of online security. His response to a key question was important:


What is the most common preventable security hole you’ve seen


Aside from users, I’d have to say updates. Users always ignore messages about updating software, so they’re often running vulnerable apps. I guess they don’t realize that outdated software often is outdated because someone found a way to use it to take over your computer. Even after a vendor releases a patch for a new vulnerability, there are still a lot of people running the vulnerable software. Sometimes (probably not as rarely as you’d think) companies run vulnerable software for years because a computer is functioning as it should and they operate under an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” policy.

Oh — and don’t use Internet Explorer.

Some People Will Click On Anything

Know why there’s so much spam hitting your in-box? Because there are still people who will buy stuff from those guys. I’ve often wondered, “who would be stupid enough to buy from some sleaze-ball who sends them spam?” Sadly, the answer appears to be “lots of people”.

Pose whatever theory you like as to why, but an AdWords experiment revealed that people will click on just about anything – even if the ad tells them their computer will be infected with a virus if they do. (!) One ad had a headline that said “Get infected here!”. Over 400 people clicked on it.

Here’s the full story. <sigh>