On February 10th a client of ours recently saw a complete loss in rankings. Needless to say we completely freaked out and began our recovery process however this particular client had previously lost rankings over a year before. Because of this we know that the websites code, architecture, content and backlinks are rock solid as we’d spent over six months making sure the website was whiter than white. In any case the original issue that caused the previous problem was to do with moving domain and hosting to an American provider. This recovered within 24 hours after we moved it back to the UK.
It was a head scratcher.
Tensions have been high in the office as we crunch data, try new techniques and apply a healthy dose of lateral thinking to try and figure out what’s gone wrong.
In a flash of inspiration I decided to see if this was an isolated incident with our client or if there were wider implications. By adding our client’s domain name plus a few others into the traffic analysis tools semrush.com and searchmetrics.com it became quickly apparent that this was a huge issue for almost every .gb.com domained website. 20 minutes and many domain names later we had concrete evidence that all .gb.com domain names had lost masses of traffic which we can only assume is from search rankings based on the huge numbers involved.
Why has this happened?
Contrary to what domain registrars would have you believe there are a number of domain names that are not legitimate top level domains (TLDs). .gb.com, .uk.net and a number of others are actually the clever result of someone (CentalNic) buying www.gb.com and selling sub domains i.e. food.gb.com at a premium.
Update: CentralNic have been in touch and asked us to clarify that our research suggests that it is just .gb.com that has been affected to date.
Google have in the past addressed abuse of sub domains, in particular when the popular website ebay.com ranked for almost everything instantly in 2007 when they spammed Google with keyword.ebay.com domain names. This is the first time we have seen such a penalty directed towards a particular domain name in this way.
Similarly there have been issues with TLDs like .info and .cc which have been used by spammers and black hat SEOs to game Google through the use of exact match domains, a practice that is no longer as effective as it once was. Feedback from Twitter suggests gb.com has been widely used by payday loan sites, a market that is a frequent recipient of Google penalties!
What this means is that .gb.com domain names are now toxic to your business.
How to fix it
Fixing this problem is easy however recovering your lost rankings may take up to three months. The solution is to:
- Buy and host a new domain name using a genuine .com or .co.uk TLD
- Move all of your websites files to the new web space
- Create or modify your old websites .htaccess file to 301 (permanently) redirect the traffic from your old pages to the same design and structure as your newly created website. This means leaving your old web space active. You might want to ask your host to reduce the service so you’re on their cheapest hosting package to save money.
- Visit Google Analytics and Webmaster tools and update your domain information. Don’s set up any new accounts; just modify what’s there to retain any history.
- Trigger a re-crawl of both websites using Google Web Master Tools
- Wait and watch your websites rankings start to recover.
The reason it takes up to three months is that Google doesn’t instantly visit and recognise your new pages or re-analyse your old websites links. This takes time and apart from suggesting that Google re-crawls these pages there’s not a lot you can do to influence this process.
CentralNic on the case
We’ve been called by CentralNic, the official registrar of gb.com who have said they’re speaking to Google directly about this matter. Hopefully there will be an official response shortly.
Update – Success
We’ve successfully moved our clients website using the above process and have seen it begun to regain its rankings for our target terms. We’ll keep monitoring the situation to ensure its not just Google’s honeymoon period kicking in.