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This 164 message thread spans 6 pages: < < 164 ( 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 > >     
Is Google Using a Position #6 "Penalty"?

 10:35 pm on Dec 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

Something is happening that was mentioned in our December 2007 SERP Changes [webmasterworld.com] thread and deserves a dedicated thread.

What some site owners are reporting is that search rankings that have held for a long time, often at #1, were knocked down begun to #6. These reports happen often enough that it looks like there might be something specific going on. However, there are always ranking shifts, so zeroing in on exactly this one thing can be difficult.

-- Here are the main signs --

1. Well established site with a long history.
2. Long time good rankings for a big search term - usually #1
3. Other searches that returned the same url at #1 may also be sent to #6, but not all of them
4. Some reports of a #2 result going to #6.

-- What we can identify so far --

A. It's search term specific (usually the biggest and best converting phrase)
B. Therefore, not a url or domain-wide penalty on all terms
C. A little testing on one site seems to show it's not an on-page problem
D. That leaves off-page but on-site, or off-site, or posibly backlink issues

-- Some loose guesswork and brainstorming --

i. Backlink profiles are not diverse enough - is this a new algo tweak on that factor?
ii. Backlinks are aging or stagnating, with no new ones being added?
iii. I thought about the possibility of paid link devaluation (even going back two or three steps from the site) but that would not consistently place a url at #6, so I've ruled that out.

Is anyone else seeing this Position #6 problem? Something like this could be hard to separate out from all the other movement that the SERPs show.

However, I've now seen it happen to key terms on three different sites operated by the same person (different WhoIs, no incestuous linking) and two corporate sites. Plus there are several other reports in the Decemeber SERP Changes thread. Every one of these cases seems to be hitting the domain root, and not internal url.

I'm not happy with the current level of analysis, however, and definitely looking for more ideas.

[edited by: tedster at 6:28 pm (utc) on Dec. 29, 2007]


cheesy snacks

 6:38 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Judging by peoples views, the sites that have dropped to #6 seem to be mature sites (in my case anyway), the sort of 'old man' resting at #1 with backlinks that are 3 or 4 years old....

Perhaps it could be that newer sites are gaining 'fresher' backlinks through reciprocal linking and that the 'age' or 'trust' of a link is being given less weighting?


 6:41 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

I've identified 3 affected sites so far all for huge terms

All have

* affected phrase or a big part of it in the domain, notable exceptional non dropping phrases confirm this to be a possible factor.

* Affected phrase proiminent in title

* Affected phrase prominent in H1/H2

Generally heavily optimized a la WPG


 6:43 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

This is a specific demotion to six exactly (or possibly where two sites are penalized there must be sevens out there) It's a specific one shot penalty not a vague down grading.


 6:51 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

My last employer had 190 sites many big number ones, several now mysteriously banging their heads on the ceiling for "bigbuckphrase furniture" at six. I think keyphrase in domain is a big part of it. I can't find any examples of sites without the keyphrase in the domain and title. Anyone?


 6:59 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Yes, Jim is spot on, the sites above have just overtaken the downgraded one in my case they've gone up by default.

Yes, but the question to ask is why they haven't been penalized (if indeed there is a "#6 penalty" or a "minus five" penalty). What makes them different from the penalized site? What message are you being sent that isn't being sent to them? And what factors might be disregarded or discounted because they're common to both the penalized and non-penalized sites?


 6:59 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

I've got an example of a downgraded site that's only been online 18 months. Was 1, now six for a money phrase.

cheesy snacks

 7:00 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

yep in my case 4 out of 5 of the sites above me do NOT have the keywords in their URL.

Just out of interest, out of the sites which have dropped to #6 how many were using 'no follow' tags on their homepage?


 7:02 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

out of the sites which have dropped to #6 how many were using 'no follow' tags

hmmm. definitely using nofollow.

cheesy snacks

 7:04 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

intersting point there europeforvisitors.

Basically, the sites above mine are all link exchanging with the 'keywords in anchor text'.

So why have our sites been hit and dropped to #6 when everyone is doing the same thing?

Could it be 'stagnation'? Out of the sites which were #1 and are now #6 how often is new content added, and is it linked off the homepage?


 7:07 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

I just stuck a nofollow on my home page popup SSL certificate (SINCE THE PENALTY!) but lots of unaffected sites are doing the same thing and have it there for ages.

I don't think its excessive inbound anchor text weighting either. I'm still up there for a phrase I got with inlink anchor text.


 7:15 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

How about run of site inbound linking?


 7:39 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Another question: Are we talking about a "#6 penalty" or a "minus five" penalty? Because, if it's a "#6 penalty," that means only one site can be penalized for any given search phrase, which seems pretty unlikely.


 7:44 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Another question: Are we talking about a "#6 penalty" or a "minus five" penalty? Because, if it's a "#6 penalty," that means only one site can be penalized for any given search phrase, which seems pretty unlikely.

Grr.... you're distracting from the brainstorming...
(Please re-read carefully tedster's original post. he did an excellent job of describing the situation)

It's actually a Position #6 penalty.

I originally misnamed it a "-5 penalty" because i first noticed several #1 terms were all exactly #6.

We have since realized it can also occur for positions that were previously #2 or #3.

[edited by: whitenight at 7:51 pm (utc) on Dec. 27, 2007]


 7:47 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

sites at 2 or three get busted to six, same as they would have from 1 if two sites get busted they are at six and seven in their old order.


 7:50 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

from 1 if two sites get busted they are at six and seven in their old order.

Exactly. Terms that had double indented listing are now sitting at #6 and #7 also.


 8:02 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Why have we ruled out on-page factors?

I'm not ruling this out entirely, but I'm leaning more towards off-page, but on-site factors.
(which technically could be solved with on-page changes, i'm guessing)


 8:07 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

<pure unadulterated speculation>

We've talked about click data often enough over the past few years that it's the first thing that popped into this old noggin. So, how 'bout something like take the top few results for a search term and drop the less clicked to position six?

</pure unadulterated speculation>


 8:11 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Is it actually a penalty, or possibly loss of a 5 "point" ranking factor boost that's no longer worth that 5 "points" so it's discarded and reflects the total scoring and the consequent drop.

To simplify, if you've been paying me $1.00 a month and the value of the currency drops, then I'm only getting $0.95 worth of purchasing power from your payment. Correspondingly, in the case of SERPs, it wouldn't be getting penalized, it would just be less value placed on the currency (ranking factor) you're paying with, so the purchasing (ranking) power of what you've paid drops accordingly.

Penalty and lack of credit for something, or a lessening of its value, are two different things. That's exactly what I think it is: something being devalued one or two hops back. I've got a site (this one in particular) that's been ranking #2 and #3 for the two top KW phrases for a long time that's just dropped only by about 2-3 places, but I believe it's for the same reason some are dropping to #6.

[edited by: Marcia at 8:17 pm (utc) on Dec. 27, 2007]


 8:16 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Is it actually a penalty, or possibly loss of a 5 "point" ranking factor boost that's no longer worth that 5 "points" so it's discarded and reflects the total scoring and the consequent drop

jd did a good job of explaining why this wouldn't apply.
But again, the instances of finding #2's and #3's stuck exactly at #6 seems to imply a "you're good enough for the first page, just not the top 5 listings(but not bad enough to be below #6)".

Otherwise would be seeing results scattered to #4, #7, #11, #13, etc. according to the "less credit" theory.


 8:22 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

So are we looking at an issue that is SITE related or PAGE related?

If the indented pages still stay together then it suggests SITE related, does it not?

So if a SITE's pages move down, the others around will move up so the ones that move up will have done nothing to go up but did the SITE that went down do anything or did Google just move the goalposts or are the goalposts in the same place and Google moved the pitch? Looks like there are a lot of variables to think about.


 8:40 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Nothing to back up a no. 6 penalty at all on any of my sites. A no. 6 penalty? For #*$!#*$!'s sake, we can go from a no. 2 to a no. 99 penalty and 99% are imagination. It's absurd to suggest a penalty for no. 6! Your site may get a penalty because it's rubbish, but surely not a penalty that suggests it's ...... I've lost the will to live with this thread.


 9:03 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Lots to back up the exact penalty. I see it on 3 of my sites.

Here is what is interesting:

One site of 3 uses paid links, the other two do no - dispels the 'paid link' theory

One site of 3 uses nofollow - the rest do not have that tag anywhere on the site - dispels 'nofollow' issues

All three sites actively get links as late as last week - dispels 'fresh links' theory somewhat

One site suffers this penalty on internal page, others suffer on homepage - dispels 'only root' theories

All three sites load very quick and two are validated. Dispels 'code, load time' theory if there was one.

One site has only one keyword suffering, while another is still at position one. Both keywords have had links targeted to homepage of this site for these phrases within the last two weeks, yet only one of the terms took the hit.

It would appear to me at face to be one of the two things:

Issue, glitch or bug

New filter which works to promote and stabilize retention rates of top ranking websites in competitive genres.

- Explains current(new websites) that have reached top positions, but doesn't account for sites that were top 3 and were now demoted somewhat.

My sense is that this is some type of data glitch.


 9:18 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Could it be caused by an increase in "keyword rich" links from scrapper sites?

Usually the top 3 serp results get the most links from scrapper sites, which would explain why the top results get hit.


 9:37 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

"I see it on 3 of my sites."

15 minutes of searching and I can't find an example of this penalty at all, let alone one owner's group of sites effected more than once.

Assuming this thing exists because people say it does, since it is an extraordinarily mild penalty it would seem the "sin" would have to be very mild.


 9:42 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

The penalty is out there whether you lose the will to live about it or not. You were talking figuratively of course which might be a pity:) The penalty doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're willing to throw away some pre-conceptions, but it is the willingness to do that sometimes that makes the difference between a great SEO and a merely good one.

Please keep posts in this thread on topic and focussed on why this penalty has been applied so that contributors can get the knowledge they need to keep their families fed. For some of us contributing, this is a very important issue

There's plenty of empirical information known by those here which can be shared to prove the point if you care to do more than rant and sticky note some of the converted (including me) if you need to get clued up.

I like the "stagnation" idea. Site saturation and home page content staying level and I wouldn't totally rule out the clickthrough idea either.

I have a good list of un-questionably penalised sites and
it strikes me that to bottom this out we need to get together off line, share examples and knowledge and split the analysis work between us.

I've got a fair bit riding on this one.


 9:43 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hey folks :)

Don't know if this will help any of you figure this out but the site i help run is in a section of the gaming world which is...well...stagnant to be perfectly honest. No decent new games which gets the big general gaming sites linking back to us and our competitors.

We are usually sitting at no 2 for a 3 word term which has about 3 million results, the no1 position is taken up by the actual publisher of the games franchise...the "authority" site as you might call it. The top 10 results in G for the 3 word search term cover my site, the publishers, 1 other competitor and smaller sites which either sells or reviews said games. My site and the competitor site stopped recip linking cause...well...we basically ran out of coverage sites to link to.

The no.1 authority site moved down to no.6 last month and stayed there for a week. After the week had passed they moved to no.2 and the wiki entry moved to number 1, my site got moved to no.6

At that point i didnt worry, my competitors site was moved off the top 10 :)

This week we moved back to no.2 with the wiki entry moving to no 3 and the "authority" site of the piblisher moving back to no1. The competitors site which used to sit at no.6 is now at no.10 after that happened the search results for my main 3 keywords and for the other 5 set of keywords we targeted settled down.

We found out this week that our competitors site was agressivley (VERY agressivley) getting their forum members to anchor text link inbound links to their site using the actual domain name keyword of OUR site :( They have been doing it all month which may explain why their relativley new site (less than 3 months old) shot up so fast to the top 10, it looks like google was juggling the top 10 results due to the aggressive linking that the site was doing and then settled down after 3 or 4 weeks to something similar to the old results which, to be honest, hasnt really moved much for about a year now :)

Dont know if this will shed any light on the subject...


 9:46 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

The effect of the downgrade is to precise and sensible, following exact rules as we've discussed to be the result of any kind of a bug. This penalty is happening and somebody meant it to happen.

I've got a list of about six independently owned sites at position six for big money phrases where they were 1,2 or 3 for long periods of time.

Always at 6.

It's to exact to be a bug.


 9:47 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Just to add to the above post of mine, the competitor's forum members was anchor text linking from blogs...a LOT of blogs.


 9:55 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

All sounds reasonable Katie. Superb post - exactly what was needed.

You've added weight to back link freshness and link devaluation theories. Thank you very much for your valuable contribution.

My first gut feeling was that Google cut out a lot of links and therefore my link profile caused my pain, but the specificity of the number six placement puts everything a different light.

Try this for size:

Google filtered out a huge load of deprecated low value backlinks in cleaning up its index and then looked at the SERPS and thought hold on we've killed a lot of reasonably decent, honest small business people here who used to be at number one but now were off the radar. They just happened to have the misfortune to promote their sites with large counts of low value reciprocal links.

Therefore as part of their algorithm they included a "safety net" which actually catches top five ranking sites at 6. Those sites now have a period of grace in which to either slowly and gradually slide off the radar giving their owners a bit of grace, or to use their resources to find out what occurred and focus on getting some genuine, really worthewhile quality links.

Comments please!


 9:57 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Why can't this be just a simple glitch which will correct itself. One thing I do notice is when I was no 1, there were only appox out of 40000 pages, now no 6 out of 145 million pages.


 10:04 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

Rlilly my post 9:46 pm on Dec 27, 2007 deals with that.

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And their like
It's better than yours,
Damn right it's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge

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