Google slaps a penalty on my Shopify store

From a photo I took in Antarctica

3 weeks ago I built an online store,, selling DIY real estate flyers, but now I have to rethink my entire strategy because Google slapped a “spam” penalty on my domain.

The business was going well, I already had a handful of orders and I was gathering quality links to to the domain. I made sure my site was reactively SEO optimized and made a list of keywords I wanted to rank for. A month after I launched I went through the list of keywords site launched I noticed that I wasn’t even in the top 400 results of Google.

I wasn't even the first 400 results for any of my keywords

This was odd. The keywords weren’t particularly competitive – even my blog ranked well for these SERPS (search engine results pages) because of my original blog post about

I spent all last night researching possible reasons why a site wouldn’t rank for non-competitive keywords and stumbled across the concept of Google penalizing sites’s ability to rank for certain keywords because they spammed (explained by Google below)

I never engaged in any malicious activity with my store, like paid links, link farms, scraping, etc, but I’m not the first one to run a store under this domain. My store’s domain might have been given a penalty by Google under the domain previous owner.

My theory was that whoever owned my domain before me might have done something he shouldn’t have and Google is treating as “spam”.

There is no way I can be 100% sure, I didn’t get any warnings in Google Webmaster Tools and the site is still relatively new – so maybe Google is taking its sweet time ranking for it.

However, my artificial flower/plant store Silk Artificial got a healthy dose of organic search traffic in the first month or so.

A graph showing organic search traffic for my flower shop

Meanwhile sputtered with an average of 5 visits a day from organic search traffic after one month. Maybe it’s easier to rank for artificial plant related keywords than it is for real estate keywords.

Graph showing the number of visits to my old real estate flyers store

I don’t have the patience to wait and see if Google will lift the penalty on, so I’m going to solve this 2 ways:

1) I registered a brand new domain for my real estate flyers called SnapFlyers. It’s a pain in the ass to rebrand everything, set up another Shopify store and rewrite all the content, but it’s a fresh start and hopefully Google will be less biased when evaluating my site for quality content.

The website of SnapFlyers

2) 301 redirected my old real estate flyer domain to another domain. There is some controversy on whether or not Google spam penalties get applied to new domain, but I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I 301 redirected to another domain

Update: After positing this a few people had some great suggestions on how to work around this.

@craigmillr suggests submitting a re-inclusion request. This is especially designed for cases where you purchased a domain previously. The only downside is that Google takes a few weeks to review the requests and they don’t actually email you back – so you have no way of knowing the conclusion.

If you are able to identify spammy backlinks then you can also ask Google to disavow these links.

My new store: Real Estate Flyers

A few months ago Shopify’s VP of Marketing bet me $100 that I couldn’t build an online store and get a first sale before February 1st 2013. I chose to sell artificial plants, flowers and trees for no reason in particular other than it would be funny to see people’s expressions when you told them you sell flowers online. It’s the same logic that sent me to Antarctica for a vacation to escape the Canadian winter.

It turned out that running an online store is more addictive than ecstasy induced bubble wrap popping. I decided I want to open another store, but this time it’s going to be different. This time I’m going to try and pick a product that I actually know a thing or two about.

I picked Real Estate Flyers.

I don’t know much about the real estate industry, but I do know a thing or two about designing great flyers. Fortunately my esteemed colleage and juice connoisseur, Bruno knows all about the flyer business as a former realtor himself.

The idea is to sell DIY real estate flyers to realtors to feature their properties. The trick is to make it dead simple to customize the feature sheet templates so that any realtor can edit them. It only takes an agent 5-10 minutes to customize these feature sheets and print it off when they have finished editing it.

This is what the site looked like when it launched

I conjured up the flyer site in three days, using the code/design from Silk Artificial. Then spent the week making feature sheet flyers. When I made 9 flyers I hit the launch button and SnapFlyers went live.

Both Silk Artificial and Real Estate Flyers share the same designer

It took me about 3 weeks before I sold my first flower on Silk Artificial, so you can imagine my surprise when some cheery chap from Australia purchased a flyer within 48 hours of being live.

I received my first order within the first 2 days

It’s now been a week since I launched the site and already it’s been more profitable than Silk Artificial. This could be fun.

The best month ever

A quick recap on what has probably been one of the most exciting months this year…

Featured in Entrepreneurs magazine

The notoriously well connected and overall good looking chap Mark Hayes got an article profiling Angry Birds and Shopify’s success in Entrepreneur magazine. It centered around how Shopify (me) got their site up and running  in less than 72 hours. From Wednesday Oct 27th, until Friday Oct 29th I went home, turned my phone off, injected red bull into the blood stream and worked. Surprisingly, 8 months later and their shop is still largely unchanged from my original and wow, is it ever doing well.

I got back from the Himalayas

I got back from visiting tallest mountains in the world including Everest and the Annapurnas. Out of Kenya, Peru, and whatever other country I’ve stumbled upon, Nepal was truly a spectacular adventure. Me and my pops hunted rhino on the backs of elephants, brushed death in a car crash, accidently ended up in Bangladesh, canoed through crocodile infested waters, and played a soccer match at the foot of Annapurna One.




 New position at Shopify

I’m now responsible for the UI and UX of the admin at Shopify. Over the past few years at Shopify I’ve done a lot, I’ve designed the documentation, forums, partners area,, app store, theme store, themes, admin, theme reviews and a smattering of other projects.  Being responsible for all those projects took a massive toll on me and I felt overwhelmed.

Now that I’m responsible for one area, I have a renewed sense of energy and you bet your bollocks that we have some wicked stuff in the tubes for Shopify stores.

A visit from Epic Meal Time

Epic Meal Time is an immensely popular TV show, especially among the youngins. They came to the Shopify head office and filmed an episode from our rooftop patio. It was insanity. I didn’t realize what a big deal they were until we walked the streets of Ottawa and got stopped every few minutes so people could take photos with them.  Turns out they know how to party as well.

Lightning Talks booked for the next 2 months

I started this thing called Lightning Talks at Shopify. Basically you get up in front of the whole office and talk about something interesting for 5 minutes. It could be a lesson in typography, pottery, brewing your own beer, haikus, whatever. It’s been a huge hit and we’ve had 55 talks in the past 8 months and over half the people at Shopify have spoken.

Anyway, it’s been such a success that for next 2 months we are fully booked with talks.

This is post is getting arduous, so let’s shout out the remaining tid bits….

  • A pigeon flew through my drivers side window while I was driving 40mph
  • Signed a new apartment for a presentable 2 bedroom flat, steps from where all the Ottawa “night life” is
  • I launched a new company called Splendid Themes - watch this space
  • Soccer team is undefeated after 4 games
  • I’ve got 600+ followers now on twitter
  • In 24h 7000 people clicked on my tweet
  • I ran I 5k in 26:29 (top time for this year)
  • I did a ton of design stuff, but I’ll save that for another post.

Let’s see what else this year brings!