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Google .IE Sudden Ranking Plummet

 12:04 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

We have a sizeable directory that has been running for over a year with good Google rankings and suddenly over the last day or so our rankings for most of our good phrases either disappeared or dropped off the first page. I wouldn't usually worry but it seems to be across the whole site and we haven't changed anything significant. The site has a .co.uk counterpart which is designed the same way and it seems fine in the .co.uk Google.

Any ideas?


[edited by: tedster at 2:21 pm (utc) on Sep. 4, 2008]



 3:03 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Can you find how deep the previously good rankings have gone? Say your best historical keyword (without mentioning what it is), has it gone to near the last page, or down to page 4, or completely vanished.


 3:45 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

It seems very random. We still rank top for a few good phrases, some have only dropped a few places, some original tops searches are now on the second page, some on the very last page. It really is all over the place, although our traffic has halved which suggests that we have been hit hard. It does seem that the partner website that is .co.uk rather than .ie has also suffered, just no-one has noticed yet... That said, we have other websites that operate the same way that have been running for 8 years that seem unaffected.

The sites that have been hit relate both relate to a non-IT industry sector. Can't imagine that matters but just in case.


 4:16 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Yes, it sounds like more than one issue. Going to the last page, or near it, sounds like what we've been calling the -950 penalty [webmasterworld.com]. Very little official word on that from Google. Matt Cutts says it's for over-optimization on that keyword.

Dropping several pages, or even a few positions, could be many things. One might be loss of PageRank for some of your backlinks. Many sites have been losing PR because of paid links that are not coded to stop the passing of PageRank, so Google just penlaizes them. If you're downstream from such a site, then you lose too.

Other reasons for dropping a few pages certainly exist. Most of the time that would show a loss of trust from Google - apparent backlink manipulation is one big cause.

But probably the most important thing you should do immediately is check to see that none of your outbound links point to "bad neighborhoods" - and that includes checking to see if your pages have been hacked and you are now hosting hidden parasite links and you don't know it. Make your backlink check with external software such as Xenu Link Sleuth. Don't trust any back office list of links or visual inspection of your pages.


 5:31 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

It's hard to know where to start. What we operate is a company directory for a non-it related industry. We do charge for enhanced listings but regardless of whether people pay or not we still link to their website if they have one, but don't use nofollow because people are not actually paying for links and we want to show relevance to the industry. I can't image we would be linking to any dodgy sites but we're significantly sized and checking all the links would be an issue. We also don't pay for incoming links so the problem shouldn't be upstream.

This happened to another website we operate a few years ago and if memory serves, after a few weeks it all just went back to normal. Is there any reason that this would happen?

Thanks again


 6:56 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

We also don't pay for incoming links so the problem shouldn't be upstream.

Whether you pay for links or they are natural doesn't matter. If a site that links to you buys links, and if they are penalized or lose PR, then it affects you. Surely your directory must have some inbound links.

If you've noticed this behavior in the past and the rankings returned after a few weeks then maybe it's best to see if this holds true again. How long ago did you notice the first occurrence of a dip in rankings?

In the mean time, tedsters advice on checking outbound links would be a good place to start looking. If you don't regularly check your links, you may be linking to a lot of dead pages or sites making your site look outdated.

One other point, you mention that you have not made any significant changes to your site. Does this mean you did made insignificant changes? What is insignificant to you may be a larger piece of the ranking algo than you think. Review any changes made within the last 2-3 months.


 9:35 pm on Sep 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

If you don't regularly check your links, you may be linking to a lot of dead pages or sites making your site look outdated.

Or even worse - domains that have changed ownership and are nothing like the placve you originally linked to - some may be quite the bad neighborhood now. This happens even to smallish sets of outbound links.


 8:55 am on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

Is there much commonality between the .ie/.co.uk category entries?


 9:05 am on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

Yes, the two websites are the same for categories, only one has Irish companies and the other has UK. There is some crossover for companies that are in both regions. There shouldn't be any duplication between the sites as the companies in each category will be mostly different.


 9:20 am on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

So if you search for a category page on G.ie "web search" does the .co.uk page ever turn up?


 9:28 am on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

Yes sometimes .co.uk turns up on g.ie and sometimes .ie turns up on g.co.uk. It's hard to remember exactly - we don't look for ranking on large popular keyphrases. We get lots of top rankings for less popular phrases like company names.


 11:49 am on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

One thing I did do (which I thought was to appease Google) was to change the titles in our news stories - probably 3,000 on each site (ie and .co.uk). I did this because WMT was telling me I had duplicate titles. Originally the title was "[region] [industry sector] news" and "[region] national news". I changed this to have the headline inserted before so that the titles would never be duplicated.

Could this be the problem and would changing them back solve it?
Also, is there still the occasional Google Dance and if there is could that be the issue?

Thanks again, I'm sweating bricks here..


 4:30 pm on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

.ie showing in .co.uk, vice-versa, and switching between the two is usually a sign of dupe filters not being sure which version is the authority.

May be that your boilerplate is too similar, and the content on the pages tripping the filter is quite thin?

One other thing - .co.uk pages on google.ie seems also to be some sort of issue Google is having with geotargeting.

Last idea no one has floated - have you had any outages recently?


 5:20 pm on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

The .ie / .co.uk I think is fine. The right companies tend to show in the right version of the engine depending where they are located.

We did have some outages last week but they were brief and the other websites that run on the same server still appear fine in Google.


 7:07 pm on Sep 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

Originally the title was "[region] [industry sector] news" and "[region] national news". I changed this to have the headline inserted before so that the titles would never be duplicated.

A change of title tags on that scale can cause Google to reevaluate all those urls. I'd suggest you just wait it out for another week or so. It sounds like you did make a good change, but one that is not quickly assimilated.


 8:12 am on Sep 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thing is, the news pages don't see much traffic. Its the entire website that has stalled, not just the news and the rest of the website hasn't had its titles changed.


 1:39 pm on Sep 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

If things don't revert you should get someone with a cynical eye to take a look at the set-up, sounds to me like there's a number of areas that may be worth investigating......


 8:40 am on Sep 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'm still tanking so I wanted to just re-iterate the point about the title changes. (Basically the change to the news titles is all that we have really done recently so if I can determine whether this could have caused the problem it at least gives me a course of action).

We changed only the titles of the news pages because webmaster tools pointed out that they were duplicate content. We went from "[region] [industry sector] news" and "[region] national news" to "[headline] : [region] [industry sector] news" and "[headline] : [region] national news". If memory serves Google listed about 1,700 news page titles as potential dupes but there is actually about 7,000 pages per site (.ie and .co.uk). The total size of the .ie site is probably 40,000 pages and the .co.uk 130,000 with the bulk of pages being company listings. The confusing issue is that the news pages always got very little traffic while the directory got plenty but now our traffic is down probably 70%. So although it was the news titles that changed seems it was the rank from the the entirety of both domains that were affected.

The burning question is could it be only the change of titles in the news that caused both domains to sink even though the news is a minor percentage of all content or could it be purely coincidental, either way, how long should I leave it before I panick and start changing things.

As some background, both domains have been registered for 5+ years, we purchased them 2 years ago and have been operating the websites for around 18 months in their present form. We have several other directories that are presented in a similar fashion (for different industries / regions, neither IT related) that have been running for 5-8 years are are as strong as ever.

Thanks again for all the help, I really appreciate some solace in our dark days :)


 12:17 pm on Sep 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Have you checked your site: listing on AOL.com to see if you have had pages removed from the general listings. compare "Site:www.mysite.com" on Google against the same on AOL. I've spotted a massive drop about 1 week ago for a site of mine - google shows over 1200 pages, yet on AOL only 42 pages available now. I can only think that there is a recalibration occuring at present (No changes, other than normal new pages of unique, self written content) and that if my pages are disappearing from Google 'distribution' index I must wait till dust settles.

I've learned over the past few years not to make knee jerk reactions to my sites when falling down the listings. Google takes far longer to relist site wide changes than it does to relearn old sites. I would let the dust settle first before thinking it's all your fault ... we all think we're cheating to some small degree and quite often Google seem to turn the dial right up and then turn it down bit by bit until the index looks right.

All the Best

Col :-)


 3:19 pm on Sep 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Weird that it should start happening today, my hits are starting to return from AOL and certainly a big increase in Google visitors also. I'm even starting to see some hits from those all important earning pages ... though not many yet. I think that within a few days we will start to see the filter turned down a bit.

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