Search rankings got you down on Google recently? It’s not the expected over-optimization penalty, as some have been guessing at. Rather, Google may have thought your site was a “parked domain,” when it wasn’t.

Search forums like Webmaster World and Google’s own search discussion areas have had much discussion about recent drops in ranking, such as herehere and as summarized by Search Engine Roundtable. Some have wondered if this was the release of what’s been dubbed an “over-optimization penalty” that Google previously said would be coming this year.

Whether that really will be a penalty of pages with too much SEO or more likely a tougher crackdown on actual spam remains to be seen. But in either case, that penalty isn’t what’s happened.

Rather, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, said the change is due to Google mistakenly classifying some sites as being parked domains, domains that generally lack any content other than ads.

Cutts posted on Google+

I saw a recent post where several sites were asking about their search rankings. The short explanation is that it turns out that our classifier for parked domains was reading from a couple files which mistakenly were empty. As a result, we classified some sites as parked when they weren’t. 

I apologize for this; it looks like the issue is fixed now, and we’ll look into how to prevent this from happening again.

At the end of last year, Google announced that it would be targeting parked domains or “placeholder” sites so that they wouldn’t rank as well.