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Google’s Mueller Discusses Site Demotions

Screenshot of Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller

A publisher with a long list of reasons why their site may have been demoted asked why the site was demoted in Google search results. John Mueller explained why the issues the publisher suspected weren’t necessarily the reason why the site was demoted.

Why is My Site Demoted?

The question that was asked noted several reasons why the site may have lost rankings, including competitor sabotage.

This is the question:

“My site is no longer appearing in search results. There are no violations on my site and it stopped appearing completely from March 12th. It’s a Google News approved site.

I received over 3,000 bad backlinks from my competitors and over fake DMCA complaints from my competitors which I have countered them and am awaiting Google’s response.

Why is my site de-indexed, demoted in Google when there is no violation on my site?”

Difference Between De-indexed and Demoted

Mueller began his answer by clarifying the difference between a demotion in rankings and being de-indexed. I’m not sure if “demoted” is a term used at Google. But it’s a descriptive word for communicating that a site lost rankings.

I think nowadays a site is either relevant or not relevant, rather than demoted or promoted.

Here is John’s explanation of the difference between de-indexed and demoted.

“It’s really hard to say without a site.

From our point of view there’s a really big difference between a site that’s de-indexed and a site that is demoted.

So de-indexed would be not appearing at all. It’s not indexed at all which oftentimes is either due to a very significant web spam issue or a technical issue.

And so… if it’s really de-indexed that’s something where oftentimes they’re really clear paths to resolving that.”

By a clear path Mueller probably is referencing the fact that Google notifies publishers via the Google Search Console if there’s an issue that results in being removed from Google’s index.

Mueller Explains Site Demotions

Now Mueller’s explains a site demotion:

“Whereas if it’s demoted where it’s not ranking as well as before then that’s a lot trickier because that can be due to a lot of different reasons, with regards to the quality of the content, kind of the general set up of the site, all of that can kind of play a role there.”

Negative SEO Links

Mueller downplays the effectiveness of bad backlinks pointed by competitors at the publisher’s website. Mueller doesn’t tell the publisher to file a link disavow, which is interesting because it affirms that Google has a handle on these kinds of links and doesn’t need a link disavow file because the links are not the reason for the site losing rankings.

One would think that if link disavows were important to solving these negative SEO problems Mueller would have recommended their use. But Mueller did not recommend link disavows for solving a negative backlink attack.

In fact, he said not to worry about those links because in his opinion Google very likely is ignoring them. So if Google is ignoring negative SEO links, then those cannot be the reason why a site lost rankings and filing a link disavow is trying to solve a problem with the wrong tool.

The solution for fixing a site demotion lies elsewhere.

Mueller on Links and DMCA:

“In general, I wouldn’t worry too much about these 3,000 bad backlinks from competitors. Our systems are pretty good at recognizing those kinds of things and ignoring them.

So that’s something I wouldn’t focus on too much.

With regards to DMCA complaints, obviously responding to them if they’re invalid is the right approach there…”


In order to understand what happened to a site, a publisher needs to understand what kinds of issues actually cause site demotions. The obvious reasons like bad links aren’t always the answer.

When a site is losing rankings and it’s difficult to find a reason why, it might be time to have someone with experience and an open mind to take a look at it.

There’s a related article that offers more insights from Google’s John Mueller:
Google Offers Reasons for Significant SERP Changes

Watch the Webmaster Hangout:

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Google’s Mueller Discusses Site Demotions

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