This is a post that we have been meaning to write for a while but the fact that it is Friday and that the issue of domain hijacking by a proxy server has surfaced yet again has prompted us to finally put finger to keyboard…
The background to this is a period in early December 2010 where we noticed that the our online enquiries had dried up. We are not going to claim that we are regularly snowed under with online enquiries but we get enough to notice when they vanish.
We tested the form and it was all working as it should but Google Analytics was showing that we were only getting approximately 10% of our normal organic search traffic, which is obviously an alarming thing to see, especially as it was approximately 1 month after we relaunched this site.
The next logical step was to run a few test searches on phrases that we know we usually rank well for and this identified the route of the problem. As can be seen in the screenshot below, our usual ranking had mysteriously turned into a rank for a site that we had never heard of and were publishing our content:
What was strange was that all the content on the domain was ours and our phone number was still there, but the contact form had been broken, which would clearly explain why we hadn’t received any enquiries.
To the well informed (which we humbly like to think we are in these matters), it was clear that a proxy server had effectively hijacked our domain. What was more alarming was that appspot.com is a Google owned property and it seemed odd that this would actually happen.
We are not the first, or probably won’t be the last judging by the Webmaster World discussion, to have suffered this fate and a search on http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=proxy+hijack+appspot shows that it is not an isolated incident.
Google proxy hacking is a slightly complex concept to get your head around but there is a superb summary at http://www.seofaststart.com/blog/google-proxy-hacking which is a few years old but remains an excellent article if you want to find out more.
How do you recover from a domain hijack?
All the above is just background information – what we really wanted to share with you was our experiences of how to get out of the quagmire that we were in and get the enquiries flowing again. We took 3 very straightfoward steps:
- Went public with the issue and asked a question on Google’s support forums
- Filed a reinclusion request, explaining what we believed had happened
- Filed a spam report, again explaining what we believe had occured
Which of these was the catalyst for the resulution of the issue is not clear, but we were pleased to see that normal business had resumed the day after we went through these steps.
There was no official response on Google’s support forums but we can only suspect that manual intervention was used to address the problem.
There will be no surprise in the fact that we find it frustrating that this can still happen when Google has known about it for so long, and that appspot.com is a Google service, but we must acknowledge that Google faces a huge number of issues in combating spam and we suspect that they have bigger fish to fry than explaining what happened to our enquiries.
We do hope, however, that our particular case and the explanation of the steps we took once we had identifed the issue will be of some help to those who are unfortunate enough to fall victim to the same problem.
Have you had a similar experience?