Webmasters in an online webmaster forum observed an anomaly in Google's results that might indicate a new Google penalty. Which websites have been penalized and could this affect your own website?
What has happened?
Many webmasters reported that their websites lost all of their top positions on Google and dropped to position 50 and below.
The problem is that the usual metrics shows that the websites are okay. For example, one of the websites was older than two years, the inbound links did not change and the Google PageRank in Google's toolbar also did not change. Another penalized website was older than 10 years.
Why have these websites been penalized?
There were several theories in the forum thread:
1. Spam on another websites
One theory was that the websites could have been penalized because the webmaster used spammy methods on another of his domains.
Even if your websites are not linked, Google can still know that you are the owner of both websites. They have several ways to find this out, including WHOIS information and Google accounts.
2. Links to spammy websites
Your website might link to spammy websites even if you don't want to do that. Website widgets, counters and other plugins sometimes put invisible links to other sites on your website.
The server might have also been hacked and there could be a link that you don't want on your website. (Editor's note: You can find a link checker in IBP: Tools > Broken link checker).
3. Paid links from .edu domains
A theory that looks very likely was the use of paid links from .edu domains. It seems that there are many hacked .edu servers that host websites on which these links can appear.
Paid links from other sites might also cause problems. If paid links from .edu pages really can cause a ranking drop then this would enable your competitors to harm your website by purchasing these links for your website.
What should you do now?
We think that it's likely that Google is working on its paid link filters and that paid links from .edu domains and other sites are the reason for the problems.
Stay away from paid links. Google doesn't like them and chances are that your website will get problems if you use them. Better focus on high quality organic links.