Google Just Nerfed Us, a Venture-Backed Startup

Google Just Nerfed Us, a Venture-Backed Startup

[ UPDATE: With help from Pierre Far and Matt Cutts, it seems that a rel canonical will help stem the issue.  http://www.safeshepherd.com, http://safeshepherd.com, https://www.safeshepherd.com and https://safeshepherd.com all vied for rank.. and lost in a split vote ]

Well, you’ve stumped me, Google.  We’re a ventured-backed startup that’s been getting a bunch of mainstream press.  This should be great for SEO, right?  Today, we no longer rank for our own name.  Google just nerfed us.

  Yeah, our blog is doing just fine..

Here’s what Google is telling me in Webmaster Tools.  For 2,500 impressions at rank 1 on keywords Safe Shepherd, we’ve had 2,000 clicks (80% CTR).  A few days ago we were mentioned on CNN HLN’s Morning Express and had 1,300 clicks out of 1,300 impressions (wooh!).  In the days following though, our impressions and clicks have gone to zero, kaput.  I can’t find our homepage in search anymore (I stopped when I got to page 10 and “What Human Food Is Safe for a Shepherd Dog? | eHow.com”).  But when I search site:safeshepherd.com, it’s there.  So what gives?

We launched MelonCard.com back in August.  Knowing the name was liable to change, we built in our site on a white-label system where every mention of our name, our logo, our domain, etc., all of it gets filtered through code which adjusts the content based on the Hostname.  This made it really easy to transition to SafeShepherd.com while keeping up MelonCard.com and gathering analytics for privacybuddy.org (that one didn’t work out).  Despite the duplicated content, this is exactly what Google suggests for doing a domain name change.  We just completed the transition yesterday with 301-redirects, and all done by the book.

[ EDIT: To clarify: The issue is that the domain “safeshepherd.com” used to rank for the search “Safe Shepherd”.  Now it doesn’t.  MelonCard.com’s page rank juice will clearly take time to transfer, but shouldn’t bring down our ranking for SafeShepherd.com. ]

Truly, that’s all we’ve changed.  Well, we’ve added a load balancer on our Redis servers and changed some copy, but I don’t think Google is too concerned about that.  I want to believe there’s something else we’ve done wrong.  Trust me, I’ve scoured for anything else that could have happened.  I’ve looked for misplaced rel-canonical links and checked Alexa to see the sites linking in to us.  Nothing has changed in our sitemap.xml, Google lists nothing blocked by robots.txt, nothing.  Is it a change in Google?  I hear we’re top-ranked on Google Japan.

Have we hired a circus of link spammers or turks writing low-quality SEO?  No.  We’ve just strived to gain users and community with high quality back-links through press (Forbes, TIME.com, LifeHacker, etc.), and now I feel betrayed by the mystery of Google’s search algorithm.  I understand Google fights to deliver spam-free results, but I don’t understand why I wasn’t informed with a nice little message like, “Hey, we think you hired click-spam.  Find out more or contact a representative.”  It’s been quiet over here.

I’d love any help, any feedback on what we could have done wrong or how I can get some diagnostics to fix this hiccup.  I’ve gone through every tool and number that Google Webmaster has given me.  What else have I missed?  Kudos to whoever can help me get through this one.

Or hell, I guess we can always come up with a new company which’ll have a clean slate for search rankings.