One of the most basic elements of online reputation work is to ensure that your business ranks in the major search engines for its own name. Over the last couple of days, I spent a bit of time digging into why one particular website wasn't (possibly contributing to my unfortunate situation at 4pm yesterday).
They are not a client and unfortunately I was digging into this purely out of curiosity rather than commercial interest.
A while back, I wrote about the UK charity search engine everyclick and how they didn't rank for a search for their name. They are still nowhere to be seen in the natural results (though buying branded PPC).
The first bit of digging I did showed that they were down at #61 - a clear penalty as they remained indexed, but search results #61-65 were clearly the results that should have been 1-5.
I have now spent a bit of time digging through their on-site behaviour, inbound links and anything else I can think of and can find nothing to justify a penalty.
My last post explored some of the things I thought they could do differently (and some of these still apply) - such as avoiding duplicate content issues with the pages charities create for them on the charities' own domains, having a bit more indexable content and less duplication on their own site etc. but they have cleared up a lot of the problems I identified back then and I can no longer support my initial conclusion that they were suffering through duplicate content filtering. Previously there were very strong pages on charity websites with the same title as their homepage. They have now changed their site significantly and that is no longer true - yet they rank badly for the search for their exact title tag.
I found a few new things that aren't great - such as a 302 redirect from www.everyclickschools.com into the site, and a lot of widgets that link back with identical anchor text (but in my opinion this is not in any way misleading - and these widgets are genuinely useful and placed editorially on powerful charity websites).
In short, I can see no reason why Google would wish to penalise this site.
That it's a search engine.
Now, it's small, but the charity concept is pretty powerful and they have some evangelical fans (and it's powered by Ask who are at least in the search engine race still!).
I'm not an expert on anti-trust / monopoly law, but it wouldn't surprise me if a company with a truly dominant market share treating its competitors differently to everyone else didn't break the rules. I think this would be like Microsoft selling Vista with a browser that redirected apple.com to microsoft.com (and I reckon they'd be slapped pretty hard for that).
When I wrote about this before, I thought it highlighted some technical problems for everyclick.com. Now, I think it's more sinister than that and indicates potential future problems for Google.
I could be wrong about this - maybe they're up to something nefarious that I haven't spotted. If you think that's the case, let me know in the comments, via twitter or by email - I'm pretty easy to contact and I'll update the post.