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Analysis of Google Directory Penalties

Background on Google penalties
List of penalized directories


Why are some directories penalized while 5000+ other directories are not?

Possible Factors
Analysis
Are they all paid directories? No, there are some that are free. Others are free with paid options. Some require only a reciprocal link.
Are they predominantly "bid for position" No
Do they all have a large number of backlinks? Yes, directory owners tend to chase PR.
Do they all use the same directory script? No
Do they all use the same version of a directory script? No
Do they all offer advertising? No, many of the directories penalized do not make money by selling advertising.
Do they all hang out on Digital Point forum? Probably only relevant because directory owners sell links to each other.
Do the directories have original category structures? I have not looked at this closely, but many of the big ones that I know of spend time creating original categories rather than using knock off databases that are widespread elsewhere.
Does a large percentage of backlink anchor text include the trade name of the directory? Yes.
Does backlink anchor text follow a natural pattern? Probably not. In general, a large percentage of links have a few anchors.
Do a large percentage of inbound links point to the site's home page? Yes, directory owners are usually trying to maximize PageRank.
Is the quality of the listings lower on the penalized directories? If anything, the quality of the sites listed is higher than the average directories. These sites often charge more and thus get submissions from serious, long-term sites. These are generally quality well-run directories. I know hundreds of really bad ones that were not penalized.
Are the directory owners participating in underhanded schemes that would deserve a penalty? None that I can find. Some may say selling advertising is but Google has no systematic way of identifying ads. A manual penalty would explain but it is not likely.
Did the directories increase their links totals at a fast pace? Yes, In many cases, but certainly not all of them.
Have these directories had their content duplicated using proxy servers. Some have but many penalized directories show no evidence of proxy copying. On the other hand, some non-penalized directories do show evidence of proxy copying.
Do the directories have "sitewide" inbound links? I have not looked at the individual directories closely but I know from experience that this is common practice. Directories want to get the most brand exposure, traffic and "link pop".
Do the directories have duplicate content? Yes, like many directories, ad content and listings are have very similar text across sites.
Is there a linking relationship between the sites? Yes, the vast majority of directories have one or more outgoing links to parts of the group. There appears to be an obvious pattern of links to a core group of sites.

 

Factors that have probably had an effect in the penalties

Factors
Analysis
A linking relationship between the sites. The vast majority of directories have one or more outgoing links to parts of the group. There appears to be links to a core group of sites (the Alive group).
A large percentage of inbound links point to the site's home page.  
A high proportion of "sitewide" inbound links.  
Incoming link "anchor text" not distributed in a natural pattern. In general, a large percentage of links have a few anchors. A large percentage of backlink anchor text include the trade name of the directory
Duplicate content within the directories. Ad content and listings are have very similar text across sites. I have had a couple of comments from penalized owners who's listings are original content that they added themselves.
Directories accumulated inbound links too fast. Can be a factor especially for new sites. Would probably raise flags.


Factors that might be having an effect

Possible Factors
Analysis
"Bid for position" directories These are probably affected to a greater extent because these seem to market strongly to other directories. The majority of their listings are from other directories.
Directories have their content duplicated using proxy servers - the proxy page is replacing the directory page in the search engine index. There are plenty of examples but nothing consistent. Many penalized directories show no proxy links at all. It is quite possible that a few webmasters are taking advantage of the real site not ranking in order to get their search results. This likely happened after the initial penalties. Analysis is ongoing.
Duplicate category structures - cookie cutter directories Duplicate category structures would usually increase duplicate content. Some directories use readily available copies of categories. More analysis required.

Factors probably not having an effect

Factors
Analysis
Directories require a payment in order to be listed Paid directories usually spend quite a bit more effort to promote their sites so it is likely the links that are getting them in trouble rather than the fact that they are "paid".
Directories have sitewide outbound links At least half of the directories do not have sitewide links on their site.
The fact that they sell advertising Many do not sell advertising. Problems are probably more related to sitewide links and links to the linking relationship between the directories.
Use of the same directory script No evidence that Google is looking for any type of software or design signature. All major scripts including custom scripts have been affected.
Many directory owners are active members on Digital Point forum. Probably only relevant because directory owners sell links to each other.
Directory owners participating in underhanded schemes that would deserve a penalty? No evidence found. These are some of the better owners around unlike the ones out for a quick buck.

Here are some possible solutions for directory owners


Recent Changes and Updates

Sep 25, 2007 Some sites have started reducing their outgoing links to the group.
Sep 26 - More directory sites have been added to the list.
- I have completely rewritten the Google / Search Engine Penalty background page.
Sep 27 - I have added some quality factors to the Google / Search Engine Penalty background page.
- Improved the analysis. Added conclusions of factors probably affecting the penalized sites.
Sep 27 - Have noticed some "nofollows" have been added to affected sites.
- Have added a possible solutions for directory owners page.
Oct 1 Some of the directories seem to be affected by a proxy server attack. Analysis is ongoing.
Oct 3 Added more free directories to the list
Create a separate page of the list of penalized directories.
Oct 3 Added some analysis of possible proxy server hacking.
Oct 9 - Oct 11 A few more directories added to the list.
Fall 2007 There have been some minor signs of penalized sites doing better.
Feb 27, 2008 Aviva Directory has been excused from Google's penalty box. Aviva has worked hard to get back. it's results improved a month ago and now has PageRank again.
Dec 2009 Google has forgiven the directories that were penalized in 2007. The directories are ranking well again and have regained their PR. See the directories with previous penalties page.


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