USC Clothing’s branded .co.uk site may have been hit by a manual penalty by Google as it stopped appearing in organic searches. Some of you may remember that a similar thing happened to My Blog Guest last week.

The first thing I noticed when I searched for USC Clothing was that despite there being no organic entry, the paid entry was still prominent which made me think that despite whatever guidelines you breach if you are willing to pay Google then you can maintain your visibility. I did find this slightly ironic as buying a link is against Google’s guidelines and may result in a manual penalty unless you buy from Google themselves, albeit in the form of an advert.

USC Clothing SERPs

Admittedly here there seems to be something odd going on as Republic still displays in SERPs (and this domain is 301 redirected to www.usc.co.uk) but nonetheless the main USC UK domain seems to have been kicked off organic results quite thoroughly.

This then led me on to thinking about the user intent and experience something that Google’s Matt Cutts has been encouraging Webmasters to consider when designing their sites. As a laymen, I don’t know that USC Clothing has breached Googles guidelines so my first impression is either they have server issues or perhaps have gone bankrupt; neither are true, however, according to Google they’ve dropped off the face of the planet.

There is also the problem of people who genuinely want to speak to a brand, for example they want to find the customer services details. As a user, I don’t care what Google guidelines a site may or may not have breached, I want some information, so in the USC case the Google results are potentially no longer that relevant showing me Yahoo Answers and Review sites.

USC Customer Service SERP

If you contrast this to Bing which does help me to find the information I am looking for:

USC Bing SERPs

The point I am trying to make is, to the user, it is not clear why my search may not be returning the results I expect and in my opinion it is pretty poor of Google not to be more transparent about the fact it has manipulated the search result manually for some reason.

This does also illustrate to brands that if you do not follow the Google guidelines then your site may appear to drop off the face of the planet.

So what can you do? I am sure the SEO community will be able to go in-depth into the technical side but from what I have seen in the USC case I now certainly would consider using Yahoo Answers to ensure my basic Customer Services details were available, there is an opportunity for misinformation to be spread so surely better to get the right information here. Also this reinforces the importance of review sites. In this instance USCs social networks (Twitter and Facebook) don’t appear to be affected so potentially make customers aware of the issue here too.

Google aren’t the only people able to apply manual penalties to sites – as many organisations around the globe 4Ps hosts an internal DNS cache, so for April Fool’s Day I decided to apply a manual penalty to google.co.uk’s DNS record. This made it resolve to a different IP address which internally then redirected the user to bing.com.

The result, a lot of confused people thinking that Google was down, or had been hacked by Microsoft. It also showed how used to going to a browser and typing “g” for Google our team were!

As a matter of principle I have now ensured my devices automatically redirect me to Bing, which I have to say has made me excited about search again. I can find things I found in Google I had to keep adjusting my search to find and has a pretty picture each day.

If you’re interested in make the move to another search engine, or want to know more, then just give myself or our team a call. I’ve included some more comments from other members of the 4Ps team below – clearly I’m not the only one who is thinking this way!

I very much agree that penalties like this don’t really create the right behaviour from customers or brands. I feel there should be a warning with actual guidance on potential issues giving companies time to respond rather than a direct penalisation. What’s the point of having a Webmaster Tools toolset if all it gives are very basic guidelines?

Hannah Miller, Director of Consulting

Have to say I agree as well, it is Google using a fear “stick” when they should be using an education “carrot” to advise webmasters of issues with organic search guidelines. There’s no reason the “stick” couldn’t be applied later if the warnings aren’t heeded but suddenly penalising people who may not even be doing anything wrong (“negative SEO” becoming an increasingly familiar entity these days) isn’t beneficial to anybody, least of all the end users. Good way to make more ad revenue though…for Google.

Ruth Attwood, Advanced Search Consultant

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