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Is Google Using a Position #6 "Penalty"?
tedster




msg:3535276
 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




msg:3536376
 2:43 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

just out of interst..my site dropped to #6. ALL the other sites above me now using google analytics.

I haven't started using it yet.

ChiefBottleWasher




msg:3536395
 3:37 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

I suspect that the five sites above me are using Google analytics. They use Google PPC. I'm not.

sandboxsam




msg:3536408
 3:48 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

Could this be a "overoptimization" penalty or a internal linking related penalty?

jimbeetle




msg:3536414
 4:00 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

So, I'm conjecturing here, maybe these new "forced to #6" results are those previous #1 results that haven't been performing as well - on click throughs and click backs - as some expected norm would predict. So no matter what Google's relevance algo says the ranking should be, these urls get time down the ladder to see if there's a better candidate already on the page for making Google's users happier.

That was my first thought as I was reading this thread. We know Google tracks clicks, we know they use re-ranking filters on the fly as they serve SERPs. So why not? As good a theory as any, impossible to prove.

JeremyL brought up other user data being fed into the mix. Again, why not? G has oceans and oceans of user data and can apply anything it can tease out of that data to make the results better for its users. (I always keep that last point in mind when trying to suss out what the good folks at G are up to at any given moment.)

From what I've looked at so far it simply *feels* like a re-ranking filter based on some sort of user data. No proof, just seat of the pants as I can't spot any other trends. Maybe some hints will start coming out over the next few months.

ChiefBottleWasher




msg:3536418
 4:03 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

I've just identified an affected site that uses google analytics and has done for a considerable time.

ChiefBottleWasher




msg:3536429
 4:19 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

If it's user data driven then it's focussed on high traffic phrases, for example my site's been "sixed" for its main phrase but resolutely at the top for its phrase with a qualifier. That same effect was observed back in Nov 2003 with the Florida update. The affected phrases look to be the high traffic ones and that was the case then. It's the highly qualified laser targetted low traffic terms that deliver most cnversions so the business impact may be lower than the raw traffic impact suggests.

If Google really is building user activity data into the mix then it will drive sites offering cheaper goods higher because demand is a function of price.

I still remain of the opinion that there's a re-evaluation of link popularity which is consistent with all I see and what others describe here, with certain legacy link building activities or low quality link sites being purged out. Link counts showed by the link: operator are reduced across the board in the latest update.

I don't think that Google would risk the possible accusatiions of privacy invasion if it used its user data in the way mooted.

cheesy snacks




msg:3536448
 4:40 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

yep i am seeing links down across the board on my site, which has dropped, but checking my competitors they have stayed the same.

Is this just a case of google devaluing links on older, more mature sites, and favouring fresher and newer links?

tedster




msg:3536507
 6:07 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

One thought occurs to me - we can check our own server logs for "one-hit wonder" visits from Google Search to the affected page. Narrow it down to only those visits thast use the problematic keyphrase. We may not have Google's click-back data, but we can check our own server logs to see if the page is not performing as we expect it to.

If there does seem to be a performance problem creating one-page visits, then dig deeper. Look for page load problems and errors, check whether the search phrase is prominent and above the fold for all common browsers, and so on.

Also Google Webmaster Tools shows you the top 20 search terms where your url got impressions as well as the top 20 click-throughs. Any serious discrepancy between the displayed and clicked-on numbers might indicate a need to change the meta description - or possibly the Title element, but be careful here because the Title is part of the relevance scoring.

That left hand column in GWT's Statistics > Top Search Queries gives you data that you have no other way to access - it's one of GWT's best free gifts to a site owner:

Top search queries
The top 20 queries in which your site appeared,
and the percentage of the top20 queries represented
by each search.

whitenight




msg:3536517
 6:17 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

Also Google Webmaster Tools shows you the top 20 search terms where your url got impressions as well as the top 20 click-throughs.

Interestingly enough, the "Data is not available at this time." for the period when this started.

Anyone else getting this error?

CainIV




msg:3536590
 8:04 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

I suspect that the five sites above me are using Google analytics. They use Google PPC. I'm not.

Chief - my main website does not use ppc or GA, and two of the other websites also do not use GA, but two of them use PPC, so I think that rules those factors out...

rudy102




msg:3536695
 10:40 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

Amazing. Just read through this post to find answers to our push down to #6 for our main keywords on an established site. This site does use GA. Will be watching this thread closely.

espmartin




msg:3536800
 1:50 am on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm checking my SERPs now, and will reply if any are dropped from #2(#3) to #6.

ridgway




msg:3536811
 2:26 am on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Studied this issue on a cluster of four long established sites.

Site #1: 2-word primary term for home page, was #2, down to #6. 2001 site, very few new links, no GA, phrase is in domain (key-phrase-word-word.com), does not use nofollow. 3.48 million competing pages.

Site #2: 2-word primary term for home page, was #1, still #1. 2004 site, very few new links, no GA, phrase is in domain (key-phrase-word-word.com), does not utilize nofollow, on same server as Site #1 above. 460k competing pages.

Site #3: 2-word primary term. had indented #1/#2 listings, now indented at #6/#7, (both pages pr5 TBPR) one of the two words in is domain name (word-keyprase.com), this site gets a steady stream of new links spread around on many pages, but few with targeted anchor to either of the two listed pages recently. does use some nofollow, no GA. This site is on a dedicated server not related to sites #1/#2 above. Note: can't find any other 2-word terms affected on the site. 2001 domain with 3000+ indexed pages. 513k competing pages for this term.

Site #4:2001 domain, 2 and 3 word primary terms, home page for both pushed from top 3 to #6. no new links for over a year. Site is an old ecomm that basically sits. no keyphrases in domain name. (compoundword.com) Low quality shared hosting on server unrelated to above three sites. No nofollow, no GA. 1.6 million competing for two-word phrase and 257k for 3-word phrase.

Data Points:

1. Do not believe it's a slow loading pages issue. Three sites on three separate servers took it at the same time, while a fourth, on one of the same servers, did not.

2. On page factors. Site #2 above changed content recently, and it was quickly spidered and indexed. Did not budge in serps.

3. The effect seems to be targeted phrases, and not specific pages. for site #3 above, the singular of the primary term returns as #1/#2, as well as returning #1/#2 using any of the common modifiers (ie location blue widgets, style blue widgets, outdoor blue widgets, indoor blue widgets)

4. Studying sites above site #2 above, I am seeing many obvious paid links in 4 of the 5 sites.

5. Don't usually pay much attention, but seems G is reporting many fewer pages for competing pages on some searches.

....scratching head....
....quizzical look....

Miamacs




msg:3536816
 2:38 am on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Anyone else getting this error?

I don't see data for some periods either.
I know they *had* it at some point, which makes one wonder.

But no #6 penalty on my end to any of the sites.

...

( But what I can tell of the SERPs I watch is that they have been frozen throughout most of december, some showed irregular changes which eventually reverted to pre-holiday, and those SERPs which did react in the usual way, did much slower than I'd have expected. )

Crush




msg:3536922
 8:55 am on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

No point looking for an answer. Google is testing something and either it is an algo shift or temporary blip. The only thing that is could be IMO is linkage. I saw it happen on one site we have about 10 days ago and lots dropped to 6 or below on page 1.

sandboxsam




msg:3536985
 12:08 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi Crush,

Could you be more specific about “The only thing that it could be IMO is linkage”?

Internal links, incoming links or outgoing links?

ChiefBottleWasher




msg:3537024
 2:33 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

There's a big reduction across the board in displayed links and if there's been a big purge of low value links that were previously rated then many sites would fall precipitously. I would guess simply that Google is rating low page rank links less. What I observe is in line with that and also some other posts here give weight to it.

My theory is that those sites are being held by a transitional "safety net" avoiding a drop past 6 to allow a period of grace in which to take remedial action.

europeforvisitors




msg:3537044
 3:50 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

I would guess simply that Google is rating low page rank links less.

Could "TrustRank" play a role? If Google is trying to devalue low-quality links, wouldn't it make more sense to give more weight to, say, a one-way NEW YORK TIMES link than to a reciprocal link (or even a one-way link) from joes-widget-affiliate-site.com?

My theory is that those sites are being held by a transitional "safety net" avoiding a drop past 6 to allow a period of grace in which to take remedial action.

Any "remedial action" would be artificial by definition. Why would Google want to encourage and support inorganic SEO efforts such as the solicitation or purchase of higher-quality links (which it would be doing if it provided a "safety net" or grace period for sites that have been ranked well because of brute-force inbound links)?

Rlilly




msg:3537047
 4:04 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Google Webmaster Tools - Just a tought! Since they now showing "Content analysis", could the #6 mean that you should "Fix" the issues with you site?

tedster




msg:3537068
 6:23 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Comment from Matt Cutts about our thread:

Hmm. I'm not aware of anything that would exhibit that sort of behavior.

[seroundtable.com...]

This could mean:

1. There is no underlying cause that connects these reports. We might be looking at a handful of incidents and forcing a "causal pattern" where none exists. That's one challenge of having a small data sample, plus the natural tendency of the human mind to project pattern onto randomness.

2. There is an underlying cause that connects these reports, but Matt isn't aware of it. Google Search has a very big team these days, and Matt is focused in a specific area.

3. Or, we're seeing the unintended result of several combined factors. That's what happened at first with the "sandbox" phenomenon: webmasters noticed it before Google engineers could understand what we were seeing.

whitenight




msg:3537109
 7:40 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Are you(MC) saying I created a mass hysteria of "internet hypocrondia" (trademark pending)?
Ha, i wish i was the powerful.

I'm still going with the blip/bad data push/testing theory,
but this example adds to the loooooong list of things MC isn't "aware" of.
So that's nothing surprising.

I still note (thank miamacs) that WBT is inexplicably not reporting Search Queries/Click Queries that were available a few days ago.

CainIV




msg:3537111
 7:42 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

My theory is that those sites are being held by a transitional "safety net" avoiding a drop past 6 to allow a period of grace in which to take remedial action.

I am not sure this model fits well. In some cases we are referring to authority websites who are not actively pursuing and are not actively acquiring links.

In other cases such as mine, keywords where the keyword was heavily promoted are at #1 while others have dropped to position 6.

whitenight




msg:3537116
 7:52 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Just a tought! Since they now showing "Content analysis", could the #6 mean that you should "Fix" the issues with you site

One of my first thoughts was this, but at least in my WBT, content analysis for the affected site is "A-ok"

King_Fisher




msg:3537137
 8:47 pm on Dec 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Maybe Google is just messing with us!

Could be a way of getting us to go back and re-look at our sites
To get us to refresh our sites that have been so long in the top 1-3
and to give other equal sites a chance to rise to the top.

In baseball its called shaking up the line up!...KF

(this is just a non-tech way of looking at the problem.)

ChiefBottleWasher




msg:3537229
 2:06 am on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

All promotion activity is pretty much artificial by definition. Google and SEOs live in the real world. High quality links can be solicited from quality blogs, relevant sites, places that give meaningful votes. I would imagine it's possible that outbound irrelevant links are being turned off. To me looking at the new backlink lists there is a discernible quality and relevance upgrade.

BillyS




msg:3537241
 2:38 am on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

Or, we're seeing the unintended result of several combined factors. That's what happened at first with the "sandbox" phenomenon: webmasters noticed it before Google engineers could understand what we were seeing.

This is my guess. While I can subscribe to a -950 penalty of sorts (basically being pushed to the end of results), I don't think Google would do anything specific to move sites down exactly five positions.

Based on a recent increase in my own traffic think that Google is tweaking something in their algo that might be displacing some long-time position holders for certain phrases. The consequence of that tweak is that long-time holders of a #1 position are suddenly moving down several positions. As mentioned in another thread, this could be related to this quote:

Now we're coming to the next major milestone in the elimination of the artificial difference between indices: rather than searching some part of our index in more depth for obscure queries, we're now searching the whole index for every query.

CainIV




msg:3537286
 6:00 am on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

To me looking at the new backlink lists there is a discernible quality and relevance upgrade.

This might be true, and could very well be the way they are going, however, one website I suffer this phenomenon has about 95% on topic related links, natural, one way (ie the website liked mine and linked to me)

That change would not account for this website.

[edited by: CainIV at 6:45 am (utc) on Dec. 30, 2007]

OnlyToday




msg:3537449
 5:14 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

...the unintended result of several combined factors.

I am sure that this accounts for much of what happens. It is amazing that there are not more user-created feedback loops and interacting Google changes causing unintended results.

But that's not what I'm posting about. Over the past years I have noticed indexing changes occurring on a nine day cycle. I am curious to know if anyone else has noticed this or if it is just a coincidental because of my small sampling.

sandboxsam




msg:3537479
 6:22 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

Lets try to keep this forum on topic.

The position 6 penalty looks more like a position 6 ceiling, as in stuck below Position 5 or not allowing in the top 5 results.

Here are some facts for my website:
1) My site was affected on at least 20 search phrases.
2) For each search phrase there were different competing websites.
3) No WMT Content analysis, problems.
4) Ranking before penalty ranges from #1 to #5 for key word phrases. All ended up in position 6.
5) This site is well established and had ranked well for these terms for years.
6) Footer internal links on almost every page (between 6-18)
7) Website has over 300 pages
8) PR ranges from 4-0 most are 2 and 3. Homepage is 4
9) Used the same anchor text for many links to the home page, as many as 60 times for one keyword phrase, all on different pages. Also did this to a lesser extent for key word phrases from other pages.

Timetraveler




msg:3537482
 6:32 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thank you Tedster for making this it's own thread. It's hit my site, and hit it hard with just about every keyword going to 6th position. I've mulled over it for the past weeks combing through every possibility with no avail.

I'll go through some of the culprits that you and others have mentioned and show you what I've seen thus far. For now, my belief is this "filter" has to do with incoming anchor links not having enough naturalness triggering a "maybe" spam but "notsure" google filter.

1. Well established site with a long history.
2. Long time good rankings for a big search term - usually #1

  • 1-2My site is not necessarily an authoritive site but ranked well for niche keywords. The root wasn't ranking #1 but instead, 3. Is had moved to six along with most of the other pages for "title" searches.

    3. Other searches that returned the same url at #1 may also be sent to #6, but not all of them

  • 3. Yes, not all of the pages have gone to 6th. The only page to stay atop #1 had lots of in content natural blog links, only a few but very high quality rec. linking. This page also engaged in link purchasing, like I do with the entire site. This page, while #1 for its primary keywords doesn't seem to rank as well for longtail keywords. It is the only page that still ranks decently.

    4. Some reports of a #2 result going to #6.

  • 4. Yes, 2nd and 3rd positions have also gone #6.

    -- What we can identify so far --

    A-B. It's search term specific (usually the biggest and best converting phrase) Thus not a sitewide penalty.

  • Not really. It's hit the entire site. Old, new, stagnant, non-stagnant pages....all the same.

    C. A little testing on one site seems to show it's not an on-page problem.

  • I'd agree. Although I also agree it could have something with Google testing out a filter which applies visitor behaviorial data more affectively.

    D. That leaves off-page but on-site, or off-site, or posibly backlink issues

  • Yes. This is the only conclusion I have come to after two weeks. I have been seeking relevant, on-topic links and will be seeking out a more natural, varied anchor text to see if this helps.

    Bizarrely my competitors purchase links like crazy and don't vary anchor text all that much so to be honest, I'm at a loss as to what to think. Also, competitor pages that haven't gotten new links or update their site regulary haven't received this penalty in my niche and instead are flourishing.

    Anyways, thanks again to everyone who has helped in this thread and not thrown this out as a "Just another conspiracy -n penalty".

  • HarryM




    msg:3537485
     6:36 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

    I have noticed the exact opposite. Pages that used to be #1 in SERPS disappeared earlier in the year when Google decided to make them supplemental. They eventually returned to SERPS when Google modified it's index seach, and for a long time were about position 6 or 7. Now Google appears to treat both indexes as one and the pages are back at #1. So could this "#6 Penalty" be due to the re-emergence of supplemental pages at higher positions?

    This 164 message thread spans 6 pages: < < 164 ( 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 > >
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