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The Death of Micro Niche Sniper Sites

10 May 2010 No Comment

Google deindexing sniper sitesThere has been a lot of chatter recently about Google de-indexing so called “sniper” sites – small, tightly targeted mini sites aimed at ranking well for very specific keywords, and monetizing via affiliate promotion or Adsense.

Lots of people have jumped on the sniper bandwagon over the past 12 months, spurred on by products like George Brown’s Google Sniper, and (Xfactor) John’s Micro Niche Adsense Course. And there can be no denying that these sites can generate a profit, but the problem is they rely on SEO for their traffic, and Google doesn’t like them, and has de-indexed a number of sites recently and closed a number of Adsense accounts!

Now, you might argue that nobody outside of Google really knows the reason why those sites were killed off by Google, but actually you can be reasonably sure what Google does/doesn’t want!

Most often deindexing of sites, and/or banning of Adsense accounts occurs after a manual review (I’m talking about MFA/Sniper sites and thin affiliate sites here). So there are 2 things to consider:

  1. What would trigger a manual review
  2. What would Google not want to find during a review which would cause them to take action.

Let’s take a look at triggers first…

Now we all know that Google keep their algorithm close to their chest, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what they do/don’t like from a site in their index. Look at it from Google’s point of view, what are they trying to achieve?

It’s tempting to look at it in terms of Adsense, and that then don’t want you taking their advertising money but IMO that is entirely wrong, you should be looking at it from a search perspective.

Google (as a search engine) exist to provide SERPS to searchers – that’s their raison d’être. They are trying to second guess their searchers, to take their search term input, and provide them a “perfect” list of websites – exactly the sites that searcher wants to see based on the terms they searched on.

Now, while every search is different, there are generalisations which we can be pretty confident about. Let’s look at an example, let’s say I do a search for “Sony Bravia Televisions”.
What sort of sites is this searcher looking for? Well there could be a number of options, I might be looking to buy one, I might have a broken one and want it fixed, I might run my own blog and I’m looking for a photo to use along with a post I just wrote, I might be a college student doing research for a paper, I might be a hacker looking for technical information to help me tinker with the circuitry… the list is endless.

However, I would suggest that a huge percentage of searchers entering this term (probably way over 90%) are looking for one of two things – either to but one (so they are looking for an e-commerce site, like Amazon) or for quality information on the product (either the manufacturer’s site or a quality in-depth review).

Do you think that searcher is looking for an MFA site? An Xfactor site for example will provide them with a page of text, largely cobbled together from Amazon reviews, and a bunch of Adsense adverts. Does that “add value” to the searcher? Does that give the searcher what they were looking for? No, in fact all it does at best is force the searcher to make one more click (they click an Adsense ad to reach an e-commerce site, rather than click directly from the SERPS).

Why doesn’t Google like sniper sites?

So if Google wants to give the searcher the best possible SERPS, and sniper/MFA/Xfactor sites are preventing that, is it any wonder they are deindexing and/or banning them?

Now, I mentioned looking at what might trigger a review. Well, most times I’ve heard of an account being manually reviewed it has been when the account passed an earnings threshold. I’ve read $100 per day, and $200 per day. Now those could be flukes (i.e. those earnings could have nothing to do with the timing of the review) but Google are big, and manual reviews are expensive to them, so it sounds quite likely.

The other thing that could potentially trigger a review is complaints from searchers. I have no idea if Google do listen to and act on complaints from searchers, but it would make sense that they do. If someone searches for “Sony Bravia Televisions” and gets pissed off that 5 of the sites in the top ten look almost the same and provide no real content do you think they might email Google about it? It’s certainly quite possible, and I suspect that Google might use an automated flag system – get 3 or more flags and you’ll get added to the manual review list!

Now, whatever the reason for getting reviewed, what happens if you are? Well again, we don’t know exactly what a reviewer will be looking for, but again we can have a pretty good guess. Does the site look professional? Is the navigation clean and honest (i.e. clicking on links that look like navigation, but are really Adsense links is not honest!), does it provide good quality, unique content? Are the Adsense blocks (or other adverts) too aggressive?

Now I suspect that most people reading this could look at a site and make a pretty good guess about whether it would pass a Google review or not just on instinct, even though we don’t know exactly what they are looking for. Just ask yourself, “Is this site giving value to the searcher, or only trying to make money for the site owner?” – I believe that one question will tell you whether a site is likely to stand up to review 9 times out of 10.

So is this the end of “sniper” sites?

Not necessarily. The key, as I mentioned above, is to add value and give the searcher whatever it is they are looking for. Don’t put up 1, 2, or 5 page sites that just regurgitate content found elsewhere, don’t try to “trick” people into clicking on your adverts, make your sites look good and unique, don’t “follow the herd” too much using templates and styles other people are using. If you focus on creating good quality, useful content then I believe you’ll be fine – if you’re creating good content that people actually want to consume (rather than just click through) then you and Google are working together, rather than fighting each other! Finally, steer very clear of putting up content about SEO – remember that Google doesn’t really want people “manipulating” their SERPS, so teach other people to do so at your own risk (especially if you’re then putting Adsense on the page!) and this doesn’t just apply to mini-sites. Alan Liew’s MoneyMakerInfo blog, a well established and profitable blog teaching SEO and other online business information, and monetised via Adsense was recently taken down by Google, and while they cited spam as the reason, it looks quite likely that they considered it a “Made For Adsense” blog, and since it was hosted on Blogger (owned by Google) they simply deleted the entire site! A good reason if you needed one for making sure you control the hosting of your own sites!

So the formula for avoiding Google wrath is clear…

Add value, give the searchers what they are looking for, and don’t spam = you and Google can be friends!

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