Getting out of the penalty box

Life can be cruel. You work hard to create new and compelling content for your site. You’ve studied legitimate SEO techniques. Everything is going well and your site is getting decent page rank scores across the board. Then it hits. A search engine penalty comes out of nowhere and knocks your site out of the index. Talk about a bad day.

To be honest, most webmasters who get penalized know why it happened. They’ve used a myriad of overly aggressive (and often outright malicious) SEO techniques to try to egregiously manipulate their website’s position in search engine rankings. They often go to extraordinary lengths in an effort to game the system rather than do the legitimate work necessary to compete fairly for their page rank. We’re not concerned with those folks in this post. Instead, we’ll talk to the those folks who were working hard and trying to do what was right for their businesses by innocently but actively optimizing their sites who got dinged. It is frustrating, but it happens.

Because there are a small few who will go to such extremes to cheat, search engines have to go to great lengths to protect the integrity of their SERPs. So what happens if you got caught in the effort to stamp out malicious SEO when you are sure you are innocent of any overt crimes? Well, let’s walk through this.

Am I really in the penalty box?

Let’s confirm it. Go to Webmaster Center and log on (or sign in with a Windows Live ID for the first time and then add your site. Note you’ll need to have your site authenticated before you can use Webmaster Center tools).

Once signed in, click the site link you want to check on, and then click the link for the Summary tool. In the Site status section, does it say Blocked: Yes? In this case, No is good. Yes is bad.

How did I get here?

Something on your website was flagged as a problem, either via an automated process, by a review from a person on the Live Search team, or from a report we received from a third party (which was then reviewed by a person on our support team). Perhaps the flagged issue was that you used an optimization technique that you didn’t realize was considered problematic. Perhaps your site was hacked by a malicious third party. Perhaps you were unfortunately corralled by a newly implemented search algorithm that caught something that had been previously undetected. Job #1 right now is to figure out what happened so it can be resolved.

Since the Summary tool confirmed that your site is blocked from the index, the first thing to do is to confirm the issue is not related to malware. In Webmaster Center, check out both the Crawl Issues tool (review the Malware infected issue type) and the Outbound Links tool (select the Show only outbound links to malware option) for possible malware issues. If any malware issues were detected, clean them up immediately.

If malware’s not the issue, then it’s time to carefully review the Live Search Webmaster Center Guidelines. While all are important, pay special attention to the bullet items listed in the section titled, Techniques that might prevent your website from appearing in Live Search results. Posted there are the basic rules that can cause your site to be penalized.

Keep in mind that the basic guidelines between the three major search engines are largely compatible. To get clarity on the issue of search engine guidelines, it would be wise to review the guidelines for both Yahoo! and Google as well.

How did this happen?

Good guys who inadvertently get caught in the penalty box often end up there by one of these three common scenarios:

  1. You noticed that your competitor’s website is ranking well (just where you want your site to be!), so you copied what they were doing with their site. However, you might not realize that the site you copied could be using disreputable technologies and techniques that have yet to be discovered by the search engines. If this is the case, eventually that site’s handy work will be discovered and penalized, and your site may soon be penalized as well. It’s even possible that the site you copied from is already being penalized for some flagged issue and you didn’t recognize that.
  2. You hired a new SEO consultant and they implemented changes to your site with the explicit goal of improving your ranking in search engines rather than helping customers find what they need on your site. Unfortunately, you didn’t realize that some of the tactics they used violated the Live Search Webmaster Center Guidelines. If these tactics are deemed too aggressive, search engine penalties will likely ensue. (A good tip for hiring an SEO is that they should give you a full report of the work they are doing, and they should certify that their work doesn’t violate search engine guidelines.)
  3. Your amazingly clever web engineers devised a creative solution to a technical challenge on your site. Unfortunately, you don’t know what they did, and often times a clever solution can mimic (if not outright be) malicious search engine manipulation. Non-standard tactics, such as cloaking, can raise red flags in some of our automated quality tests. Once discovered, such techniques will often trigger penalties in search engines.

In each of these scenarios, it pays to understand what the "experts" are having you do. If you blindly put your web business in the hands of someone who does not know what they are doing (or worse yet, knows full well and chooses to use malicious technologies and strategies in an attempt to fraudulently manipulate your ranking), your site will be discovered for what it is by the search engines and be penalized.

Where did I cross the line?

SEO work is not easy. Live Search knows that. But there can be a fine line between site optimization and over-optimization (and malicious optimization is just a small stretch beyond that). Keep in mind the following thoughts as you consider what was done to optimize your site:

  • Having lots of valid, relevant links is good. But using hidden links is not. Having tons of artificial (and irrelevant) links gotten through paid link farms or exchanges is worse. Linking out extensively to known web spam sites is worst of all.
  • Using on-page keywords on the body text of your pages is good. Using keywords in your page titles and in links is great. But massive, misleading keyword stuffing in meta tags is not. Keyword stuffing in hidden text is even worse.
  • Providing lots of good, expert content is great. Ripping off someone else’s content or plagiarizing commercial content as your own is not.
  • Having lots of pages of content is good. Having one set of content for users and a completely separate set of content dedicated solely to search engine bots (aka cloaking) is not.
  • Providing valuable content to your users is good. Providing malware or linking out to malware-infected pages is not.

Fix it!

Now that you’ve identified what likely caused the problem, go into your site’s source code and remove the offending issues. Note that the issues mentioned earlier are not only considered to be problems with Live Search. When your site does something that gets you penalized with one search engine, it’s only a matter of time before the other two are likely to act in the same manner. As such, the investment of your time to correct these issues is well worth the effort.

OK, I’ve fixed the problems. Now what?

Once site has been fixed, you can go to the Live Search Support page and request reinclusion into the Live Search index. Fill out the form completely, including the security code from the presented image. Select the Content Inclusion Request option, and be sure to include a clear explanation of what you have done to fix all previous conflicts with the Live Search guidelines. Once the form is completed, click Submit. A member of the Live Search support team will quickly review your request and schedule your site to be recrawled. If the crawler determines that issues have indeed been resolved, then your site will be added back into the index.

Soon you’ll be back and doing better than ever. Talk about a good day!

— Rick DeJarnette, Live Search Webmaster Center

Join the conversation

  1. Anonymous

    When a site is penalty does it mean a single page or the entire site?

  2. Anonymous

    "The other two" search engines – there aren’t just 3 search engines out there (particularly in international markets). are pretty close to Microsoft’s market share in some markets.

  3. Anonymous

    Good post. I just wished that you could penalize more efficiently those heavily black-hat SEO dependant websites from your index as every single day those sites rank well in the SERPs is another day they are forcing honest companies to pay for expensive sponsored links campaigns.

  4. Anonymous

    Excellent and informative piece, especially the latter section entitled "where did I cross the line" as it shows clearly how a good technique can become a bad technique in just a couple of steps.

  5. Anonymous

    i hope live search reinclusion requests are handled more efficiently than google’s.

  6. Anonymous

    Just so happens that I have a current client who has this trouble.  He had a site that ranked moderately well, changed business names, registered a new domain and put up an almost identical site under the new domain, leaving the old one up also.

    My plan to get him out of the penalty box (jump in if you think I’m going about it the wrong way):  I have never looked at this site before so I intend to work on the SEO of the old site, get it ranking the best I can because that will still get him immediate business even under a prior business name.  Link building efforts will be concentrated simultaneously on the new site, even though it currently will have no effect.  I will then 301 redirect the old site to the new site and request out of the penalty box.

    *fingers crossed*

  7. Anonymous


    This really good post i read for Live penalization. The steps are  explained make help people to come out of box. I saw some of sites they have created pages such as summery or sitemap which involves keyword stuffing. So i feel that live will say no for that.  Can tell us some good tips to improve our sites for ranking in Live or points which help us in better ranking in Live

  8. Anonymous


    what can cause a site will be penalty??

  9. Anonymous

    When a site is penalty does it mean a single page or the entire site?

  10. Quality Directory

    None of my sites have ever been penalized. Aggressive site optimization is way beyond what I can do, but I know some people whose sites were penalized and they didn't know why. It will be helpful for search engines to notify the site owners in the Webmaster Tools when their sites are penalized. This will save a lot of speculation and get the owner to fix the issue in a timely manner.

  11. HomeComputerGames

    I do hope incoming links do not effect a site in a bad way as I have heard from some. It seems it would be too easy to cause trouble for competitors if so.

  12. Jori Avlis

    How can I know that i'm on the penalty box? With the low trafic coming from bing, it's difficult to notice… do we receive some kind of an alert?

  13. Anonymous

    I thinks its pretty fair, does it take long to pull your site on penalty box?

  14. miles2go

    Most of the webmaster doesn't know it,if they know don't have the solutions. This will help all of them.

  15. mybz

    I like the fact that the webmaster center flat out tells you if your site is blocked or not.

  16. richardb

    Got a question for you – Logged into webmaster center and when I click "Summary" it says our site is "No" For blocked.  Still not showing up in the search. Why would that be? Ways to fix this?  I have filed an inclusion request about 2 weeks ago and have not heard anything.  An email to somone would be helpful.  Thanks.

  17. chilli

    Thank you Admin.

  18. novintabligh

    great information, especially on cloaking. thanks.

  19. novintabligh

    thanks for your information. how can a site be penalized?

  20. tanurj

    As a newbie, this article was really helpful, thanks for sharing!

  21. ManBearPig

    It's nice that bing actually tells you that your site has been penalised unlike Google.

  22. Spynboxe

    The fact that Bing tell you that you have penalty is so much better than Google.  I have spent months trying to figure out why my site has not been ranking in Google only to discover I had a penalty when I sent if for re-consideration.  Google didn't tell me I had one and I was supposed to magically figure it out.  Also bing tell you all the links that are being counted towards a page which is really useful.

  23. textex

    I've been penalized by Bing but have no idea why. They just keep telling me there is 'spam' on our site. However we don't have spam. I've submitted a reinclusion request with no luck. Wish I could get some more feedback what we are doing wrong. So frustrating!

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