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The Yo Yo Effect - is it now getting worse?

 11:53 am on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

< continuing Yo-Yo Effect discussions from [webmasterworld.com...] >

Hi all,

We have discussed this many times on other threads, but this effect in various forms is still ongoing and I believe we are seeing far more of it than we used to Ė the yo yo effect, i.e in and out of a prime search keyword terms for a site thatís on topic 100% relevant.

My Overview

Iím of the conclusion that with so many filters at G now in play, either a good site gets caught up in a filter because itís suspected of being over optimized? Or it has too many anchor backlinks on target or some other reason and gets knocked back when all of the filters have finished kicking in.

The recent algo changes also make the situation worse because G tinker with yet more filters and they now struggle to identify whatís quality from spam. Some of the new filters could now be working against quality as are they could be weakening previous filters/adjustments that were more effective at defining quality from junk.

The net result of this is that itís probably good for adwords and helps force good websites into buying more traffic from them because the site has no stability what so ever for its primary keywords.

However the down side is that they G lose relevancy as a result. Why use Google at all if the serps are only good for adwords clicks? Meanwhile bing and yahoo donít have these issues, so the user gets what they expect elsewhere but not from G, and G only maintain market share out of old customer habit - new users coming in, could switch to bing for example because its becoming more relevant than G?

Letís take a real life example

Bluewidgetstoday.co.uk is a site about Blue Widgets and is a few years old, over the time itís attracted a good helping of links some authority, some junk that it canít avoid and itís without doubt packed full of information on blue widgets. Itís a great site and of significant benefit to users.

The site sits in both Bing and Yahoo for the term ďBlue WidgetsĒ Ė itís two in Bing and three in yahoo.

On Google it either doesnít rank anywhere for the term ďBlue widgetsĒ or it yoyos in and out. Yesterday it was 6 for the term, today its 191 for the term. Next week it could 60, 30, 18, back to 6 or 7. Other related terms are not an issue. Its name itself ďblue widgets toadyĒ ranks, it ranks for loads of other terms just not its key primary two word search termď

Now as I see itís the sites either relevant to that term or it isnít.

The site clearly should be listed, heck it should be 1 or 2, it certainly should rank above junk that is listed in Gís top 10 that G thinks is quality- This is where both bing and yahoo prove they have more relevance.

Reasons for this Yo-Yo effect

The site has a number of links from review directory sites like Yahoo, joeant etc so that in my mind used to be an indication sign to Google that a site was less likely to be spam?. Letís say this was perhaps a signal that was used in the algo?. Letís call this old Filter (A)

If in this example G say, put in a new filter to lower values of links from directory sites, perhaps gave more value to on topic sites, more than likely (in other words weakened off topic links) another filter, letís call this filter (B) - the ramifications of this could be to reduce the power of filter (A).

What Iím saying is in laymenís terms, that by constantly adding more filters to tweak results, G has the reverse effect on their serps of making them less relevant. Hence why webmasters think the serps are now less relevant than they were previously Ė thatís because currently they are!

The original filter (A) which helped improve quality is now weakened to such an extent that the junk slips in whilst the quality get filtered out.

Obviously G has a lot more filters of various types running but itís this kind of problem that I believe G now face and the recent algo twist has I believe made their serps worse.

Itís a bit like making the perfect curry, you add a few great tasting ingredients, you perfect it some more, add some more spice, salt, pepper etc. Eventually you get the best curry possible. Then someone new wants to try and improve it further but cant, they add yet more ingredients, more spices and as they continue to do so the worse it tastes Eventually they end up with one great mess that no one wants to eat.

I think G has moved from displaying quality results, to displaying OK results, to now being right on the edge between OK and in some cases unusable serps?

The yo-yo effect is either the result of a combination of filters new and old shifting a sites position that are not working together well, some kind of traffic steaming issue to push more sites into adwords thats gone wrong, or some other reason.

Im on the side of two many filters introduced i think - i feel they are constantly adjusting something that doesnt need to be messed with as much as they do and these are the side effects of what they are doing.


[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 7:29 am (utc) on July 8, 2009]



 7:10 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

I still suspect "unnaturally rapid" backlink growth as at least a factor. It's the only common factor I've been able to see when I study yo-yo rankings. It's almost seems like a test - "when we rank this url well, does it seem to satisfy our users?"

I've seen urls leave the yo-yo behind after a couple months - sometimes on the high side of ranking, and sometimes on the low side as well. This is what makes me lean toward the testing or "probation" idea.


 7:26 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

I've seen urls leave the yo-yo behind after a couple months - sometimes on the high side of ranking, and sometimes on the low side as well. This is what makes me lean toward the testing or "probation" idea.

Makes since for newer a site, but I've also seen this on established sites of 2 or 3 years. If it's a probation period, it's sure a looooooooooong period.

I think the original poster makes a valid point. At present, Google is trying to use to many filters and it appears to be messing with previous filters that were working thus resulting in more junk.


 7:27 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Tedster, I think you are spot on. The only thing that makes sense for google to PURPOSELY move an on target website in and out of top ten is to see if that website is satisfying the people who are visiting it.

Example, website ranks #5 for "free widgets", if visitors go to this site for an average of 1 minute then go back to the SERP's for "free widgets" where result #6,7,8,9,10 are getting an average 2.5 minutes from this keyword then it tells google that it is not a higher quality then those sites therefore it needs to be pushed down in the serps regardless of how many backlinks or unique content it has.


 8:29 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

A classic sign of a yo-yo in search engine rankings means that they are making changes to the algorithm and not every result has been scored yet do to the sheer volume. Imagine that you make one small change in the algorithm and Google has to rescore and rank billions of pages. Also imagine the change in the algorithm is designed to change the link weight, all the links have to be rescored as well. Thus you see some chaos. To top it off, all those changes needs to filter through all the data centers and you will see instability. We all know that Google has made some changes to the way they look at links recently, now the question of the day is how long does that change take to filter through the web and datacenters and was Google happy with the changes they did make or are they changing the algorithm again.

Robert Charlton

 8:42 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

It's almost seems like a test - "when we rank this url well, does it seem to satisfy our users?"

I'd felt the same thing... that there had to be some measure of user satisfaction involved. The question is: what signals might Google be using?

For this reason, many of us have ruled out Toolbar data as most likely too noisy (and Matt Cutts has confirmed this), as well as Google Analytics data (not all sites have it). Bounce rate by itself is also open to a wide range of interpretations.

One promising thought that came up was tedster's suggestion that the Yo-Yo effect might be tied somehow to reports we were hearing of traffic throttling. Throttling traffic might be a way of normalizing at least one variable (ie, traffic) for testing purposes, but I can't connect the dots here.

Possibly it could be seen that bounce rate, Toolbar data, Google Co-Op and Subscribed links, Searchwiki data, etc, all combined with measurements made in various positions with traffic normalized might be more dependable than measurements made in fixed positions. It's likely that statistical analysis of acknowledged noisy signals can be clearer than the signals by themselves.

Another possible factor in the Yo-Yo effect that we're seeing is just the constant updating of algo computations, some of which can be factored in quickly, and some of which probably take a long time to calculate.

And/or all of the above?


 9:47 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

...they are making changes to the algorithm and not every result has been scored yet do to the sheer volume.

That might account for some short term yo-yoing, but in many cases the phenomenon goes on for months.


 9:56 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ahh, but lets say that algo change hits pages that used t be considered "supplemental" or pages that only get crawled once every 1-3 months. That right there can cause a delay.


 10:05 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Sure, but how often does a supplemental page ever rank near the top for a query of any importance? And besides that, an algo change will affect even previously indexed versions of a url. A new crawl is not needed to rescore the page. And even then, a delay in rescoring is not a yo-yo, is it? It's just a delay.

Not to say your idea may not sometimes create a yo-yo, especially across different data centers. But there is something bigger going on, and it has been happening for over a year. It can affect even high PR home pages for big international brands - especially when they begin to rank for a query term that they never ranked well on before.


 10:08 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

it can look like a yo-yo affect because people still think of ranking as a linear process, but these days slots are reserved for sites fitting certain criteria. So your site may drop only slightly in the algo but end up several pages down. You will also see your slot rotate through different websites all of which drop just as much on rotation. But this is one scenario, i agree that there are many filters at play.


 11:35 pm on Jul 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Supplemental pages might not rank, but their links sure can count and can have weight. A change in an algo today might not fully work through in such a timely fashion as we all think. Add to it, if they make a change, do not like it, roll it back, then roll it out at a later time with minor changes. If that happens we would see some sort of yo-yo.


 12:16 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have a few alternative theories ..

1. in the sites I have run I don't think the rapid evolution of backlinks comes into play much. So long as the links are in line with the profile of the overall website - i.e. new website gains a lot of press, gains a lot of backlinks = aok. I have seen this happen to at least 4 websites and seen no adverse affects, minimal (if any) yo-yo effect - certainly not #20-#3-#20. Of course quality of inbound links + quantity, count to completely bypass any link-sandboxing imho.

2. if things continued the way they have been then the top results would be stagnant with sites managed by the best SEO players. People searching would get no variety and nothing else to choose from unless Google introduced new things into the SERPs (which they have done) - like blogs, news, video and other extras - I think fluctuations in organic results are just an extension of this variety shake up and a better expression of Google's core search values.

3. quality of the actual site. I firmly believe that links and content will only get you so high - a manual review is required in most cases to lift your site into the top few. That group of manual reviewers look at the site to assess if it is deserving of being ranked among the best - best quality design, layout, content, topic etc. This covers off user experience, user desire - quality from a user perspective - one of Google's goals. If this level of quality is not achieved then the standard algo moves you up, the manual review (or results from the manual review) might bounce you back down.

4. I don't think spots are reserved, or held for sites any more. I think Google have moved to a more dynamic fluctuating top set of results. You might be in the top 3 grouping, but your #1 spot is no longer fixed, it changes within the top 3 often. You might be in the 4-8 group and fluctuate in that grouping, or the 9-12 grouping, 13-20, 21-40 etc .. something like that. Of course you can graduate upwards but this requires the algorithm to indicate that worthiness and also a manual review to indicate that also.


 12:25 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

So we can have a precise discussion we probably should probably be clear what kind of yo-yo we're talking about in any particular case. I'd say there are several things that members have described as a yo-yo and if we want to dissect this thing and learn something about it, we should probably discriminate between them. As the OP mentioned, we may well be seeing the interaction of many filters. I would sort out at least 2 types:

One type may be more of a long term roller-coaster - ranking well one week, then far down the next, and perhaps back somethat after another while. But there is no regular "period" to that, and I usually call it a "roller coaster", because a toy "yo-yo" shows a relatively regular period, and so do some rankings.

The most regular period I've seen was a very dependable first page result beginning at 10am Eastern Time - then back to page 2 at 1pm until the next day at 10am. Now that's intense, and the pattern went on for 3 to 4 months, finally stablizing on page #2.

At that point, late last fall, the rankings gradually improved, step-wise, over the next several months, with no yo-yo at all. Today it's at #3, stably. This was the domain root for a well recognized brand, and it only showed this yo-yo for two semantically related keyword searches, and never any others.

The interesting factor here was that the company involved just "woke up" one day to realize that they didn't rank for the generic keyword of one of their key products. They began an SEO project, complete with internal and external linking, to rectify that situation. But instead of just popping up to page 1, they went through the adventure I outlined above.


 1:14 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

#1 Roller Coaster - I think this one has been discussed a lot. I think that typically if the keyword density is within bounds, then the solution is to get solid, on-topic links from related authorities - or big power house links.

#2 It sounds like it could relate to link profile. A company with minimal link growth to then be seen to get links needs to have done something in order to obtain them. In this situation were there other things implemented at the same time? - like a redesign or big content changes on the linked pages, tweets, facebook, youtube, and other general web traffic talking about the site .. this might show a broader interest in the site - more natural when blended in with link building. Just thoughts.


 1:16 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)


Traffic volume throttling sounds like a real possibility here.

We only started seeing the yo yo effect about 12 months ago and didnít have the issue prior to that meanwhile shareholders have looked for increases in adwords revenues quarter on quarter and G has delivered. One way to increase revenues would be to push more sites into adwords.

If an old established site ranks 1 for a major expensive keyword term and that keyword term drives high volumes then G may move it up and down a small amount i.e between say 3 places Ė Iíve seen this often for a lot of sites.

On less expensive lower volume terms the serps have been more stable especially where volume is low. By doing this the established site tends to buys some adwords traffic to top up to maintain the status quo.

Meanwhile, if itís a site thatís not as established for that keyword term, Gs free traffic level for that site could be set lower hence one moment it ranks for a few days or whatever until it reaches its target then itís gone! So the falls in position would be far more dramatic as we are seeing in some cases Hence, higher volumes Search terms would see more movement than low volume ones - The site in this example would have to buy a lot more adwords traffic to keep up.

Probationary period idea, also sounds possible however, you would think that if this was the case once the site is out the yo yo that would be the end of it, but some of these sites have been in the yo yo effect for 12 months. Currently more sites are joining the club for various prime keywords, imo more terms are giving sites yo yo issues than were previously in play.

To many filters at play with the side effect that some contra the effects of the old good filters that sorted the quality from the spam, was my original thought on this however, on reflection you would expect to see at least some periods of calm once the algo has been run in. Time will tell on this, maybe what we see currently is a ďGoogle danceĒ like we used to have years ago but the more I think about this the less likely I think it is, I canít believe G would be this stupid.

History has taught us one thing with G and that is that they have always wanted to make it look like there is some sort of chaos or confusion going on, a PR machine that feeds webmasters what they want us to believe meanwhile, they are 100% in control of exactly what they roll out and what traffic they send to sites.

A move towards traffic throttling a year ago and a recent tightening of the algo to shift a few more key terms into a volume controlled environment during this update COULD be the prime reason for this yo yo effect. I certainly donít think this reason can be fully discounted yet?



 1:40 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

wouldn't "traffic volume throttling" with a view to pushing people into Adwords, be against Google's core value #6 - "You can make money without doing evil".

Not saying you are wrong but if it is true, then it would be against their published corporate philosophy.


 1:49 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)


One type may be more of a long term roller-coaster - ranking well one week, then far down the next, and perhaps back somethat after another while. But there is no regular "period" to that, and I usually call it a "roller coaster", because a toy "yo-yo" shows a relatively regular period, and so do some rankings.

The most regular period I've seen was a very dependable first page result beginning at 10am Eastern Time - then back to page 2 at 1pm until the next day at 10am. Now that's intense, and the pattern went on for 3 to 4 months, finally stablizing on page #2.

Would 100% concur that is exactly what ive also seen at numerious times.

#1 Roller Coaster - is typical of sites stuck here. The question has to be "is the site relevent or not to the key term" Traffic volume control could play a part, but if it isnt control, i have to say its dam cruel for sites hit with this. Movements ive seen are drastic, 6-14-30-60-200-30-12-5-30-60-8-22 wild swings!

#2 YoYo- smaller movements of between 1-15 places i think are more typical on prime keyword terms where perhaps the site just needs a bit more authority / trust rank to secure its position. In time i would agree these sites with some work often come out ok in the end but i cant help feel that its like G showing you what traffic you could get if you purchased it!



 1:58 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)


Google's core value #6 - "You can make money without doing evil".
Not saying you are wrong but if it is true, then it would be against their published corporate philosophy.

Hmmmm, see im not sure i buy into this, after all this is a public listed media company now that has to show returns to shareholders.

It wouldnt be doing evil as such, i would expect it would class making improvements to increase profitability as a standard core part of its business now.

If it didnt look at profitability you wouldnt invest in it?.

fact is we dont know the reasons for these effects - all we know is we are seeing more of it and we can only summise the cause by thrashing out a few ideas.



 2:08 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Tedster - which category would you put a result that constantly Yo Yo's between position 41 and 71 , that was previously a top 3 result , site wide? [ btw ] this is over 1 year old now.

Is this pure penalisation ? If so, why not wipe the site out completely ?


 2:11 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)


It's good to thrash out a few ideas .. I guess I just find it hard to believe that they would jeopardise their public image, the public trust in their brand and their core values through the manipulation of organic rankings to force people into buying Adwords. If they did do this then their reputation would be shot, market share would decline, their share price would dive and their profitability would be gone.

I wholeheatedly buy into their core corporate philosophy .. probably a very good reason for some people to buy their shares. "To make money without doing evil" It's a great core value to have and not something many companies can lay claim to.

Not saying you are wrong but you can see my points ..


 2:14 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Our sites have had the yo-yo effect for quite a while now (6 months plus). Different keywords, but we are still experiencing it. The sites have not changed much at all in the past year (With the exception of new products on the ecommerce portion)

We have not messed with titles, no linking, no SEO, etc...

One strange thing though is the sites that experience it have a 92.5% bookmark rate though and people do come back often.

So with that being said, since there is no SEO on our sites I have a feeling it has little to do with SEO and a lot to do with Algo changes and the way Google is constantly playing with link weight.


 2:47 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Let's look at the bigger picture:

For any major search term, isn't it likely that there are many pages that could be equally relevant, depending on who's doing the judging? If I search on "doughnuts" and the top three sites are Krispy Creme, Dunkin' Donuts, and Tim Horton, who's to say that any one of those businesses deserves the #1 position any more than the others do? For that matter, might not a Wikipedia article on "doughnuts" be just as relevant, depending on whether I'm researching doughnuts or trying to figure out the nearest store where I can buy a dozen? And wouldn't even the slightest daily, weekly, or unscheduled tweak of the search engine's algorithm (a little nudge to inbound links, another little nudge to site freshness, a soupcon of filtering for too much on-the-nose anchor text) be expected to have a "yo-yo" effect in the situation I've jusd described?

Just the other day, I was searching for reviews of a new digital camera. The Google results, which were more than satisfactory, gave me a choice of at least half a dozen reviews from major camera-review sites in the first two pages. Maybe those results would have been different if I'd searched a day earlier or a day later. So what? All of the results ere equally relevant, and all were from established, respected sites. Should anyone fault Google for ranking widget-cameras.com's review ahead of whatsit-cameras.com's review on any given day? Are users begging for predictable, stable results? Is stability for stability's sake better than constantly striving (successfully or not) for improvement?


 3:27 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

which category would you put a result that constantly Yo Yo's between position 41 and 71 , that was previously a top 3 result , site wide?

That sounds like one of those combination effects that the OP brought up. Yes, if the page was at the top and then, in one step, fell off the first three pages that sounds like a penalty. On the other hand bouncing up and down may be caused by something other than what triggered the penalty. You said the ranking yo-yos "constantly". Over what kind of period does that happen?

RichTC brings in the idea of traffic throttling - which we recently discussed [webmasterworld.com].

In that previous discussion, some members were reporting a search traffic graph that was literally flatlined at a certain level. It seems to me that in order to trigger that kind of effect, the yo-yo would actually need to be triggered by the number of clicks, rather than just the time of day or the day of the week.

Is anyone seeing that kind of thing happening?


 4:18 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Over what kind of period does that happen?

It's quite random through the course of any day and varies on the global search of different Google TLD's. The position may stick around from hours to days.

I can accept that a penalty may be applied , but why not wipe out the entire site rather than let it do this. btw - No traffic is coming to the site from Google - so the traffic has been truly throttled.


 5:38 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Have you tracked whether the high and low rankings are coming from the same Google IP address?

Robert Charlton

 6:35 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

...The most regular period I've seen was a very dependable first page result beginning at 10am Eastern Time - then back to page 2 at 1pm until the next day at 10am....

Have you observed any corresponding periodicity in search volume for those same terms?

The volume of some search queries is closely related to time of day. While throttling based on time of day wouldn't produce the flatline search traffic graph some members describe, I think it is a possibility worth examining.


 6:36 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

No i haven't .... that's a good point.

But then again , what's the difference in throttling at position 51 or 71 , they are both non traffic producers.

[edited by: Whitey at 6:38 am (utc) on July 8, 2009]


 6:59 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

A site that's been page one for the two main phrases, kw1+k2 and kw1+[synonym for kw2] - on the homepage for many years has just started yoyo-ing.

There are other possible causes for a penalty, but the main thing I'm noticing is that the homepage is being 100% filtered out - with what I call the "similarity filter" - for every single search for every phrase on the homepage, for phrases up to around 10-11 words. The site makes heavy usage of boilerplate text, which includes major keywords, that I'm 100% positive is being looked at and is part of it.

Anyone else have a boilerplate issue with a yoyo-ing site or page?

Both phrases have been down to around page 3 for a few weeks. One stays on the 3rd page, the other one yo-yos back up to around #7 or #8 about every 5-6 days.

It would be easier to deal with if they both stayed on the 3rd page; I know the reasons for a possible penalty. It's the bouncing back up for one phrase that's got me puzzled.

[edited by: Marcia at 7:32 am (utc) on July 8, 2009]


 11:52 am on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)


That is exacty what happened to one of our sites about 6 months ago. It yo-yo's a bit, then settles where it was, then yo-yo's about a month later, then settles. We do have the "similarity" for keywords on the home page, but not so much a boilerplate.

Either way, the yo-yo does subside rankings always go back to what they were. On a side note, traffic remains constant for the most part.

As far as traffic throttling goes, I would say that Google would not do that unless Google knows there is some sort of server issue where the site could not handle heavy webtraffic.


 3:15 pm on Jul 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Gandhalf made this observation in the previous discussion [webmasterworld.com]:

I'm not sure if this has already been said but I am now convinced that the yoyo is due to the changes on the page that yoyos. No content update = no yoyo. At least that rules for me

How does this line up with other people's observations? I know that the page's I saw yo-yo did have content changes. Anyone have a ranking start to yo-yo without making content changes?

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