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Crazy drops (penalty?), and now ranking for incorrect pages
auraoflight




msg:4413242
 9:22 pm on Feb 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

I experienced a recent near-site-wide drop in all rankings. The keywords in Google now show up in the depths (around ~500-600 for many) but return the incorrect page. For example:

keyword "best red widget" was ranking #1 for "www.website.com/best-red-widget"

Now keyword "best red widget" ranks #550 for "www.website.com/sony-red-widget"

The "best-red-widget" page is nowhere to be found in the top 1000. Completely gone, as though it has been filtered.

In another case, this is happening similarly, but while the wrong page is ranking in the depths, the real and targeted page is still in the serps, but low.

Another keyword sits around #40 but for the completely wrong page. Several other vaguely-related pages sit also in the SERPs, around ~200. The intended page is nowhere to be found in the SERPs.

This isn't the case with EVERY page on the site, but with the vast majority of them. Some pages dropped in rank severely but still display the proper page in the SERPs. Others that weren't ranking well (~80 or so) didn't budge.

Of interest, searching for my brand (brand is domain name) brings up my Facebook page #3, but the actual domain is page 9 and ranking for a subpage and not the main page. The main root domain isn't even in the top 1000. I don't exactly know if this was the case before the drop because I wasn't paying attention. Google searching the full site with TLD gives me my site at #1.

Considering all of the above, I believe I have triggered some kind of automatic filter/penalty.

I've experienced this several times before on different sites, almost always coming out of it, but I have no idea exactly how. Sometimes I just did nothing, and other times I went to extremes and completely changed the theme/layout of the website, but I don't know if that had anything to do with it.

General Timeline:

December 1st: Drop for some targeted pages. From 1st page to about 50th page, now displaying the completely wrong page.

Jan 2: Noticed that many of my pages somehow lost their correct H1, title and meta tags. Fixed this.

Jan 12th: Complete recovery; many pages now on 1st page again. Not sure if it was related to the fix on Jan 2, but it's the only significant thing I had logged in that time. Hesitant to attribute it solely to this.

This happened for some of my site around December 1st, and it seemed to recover again around Jan 12th. The one thing I noted in my log is that around Jan 2, I noticed that many of my site's pages had somehow messed up and were not displaying a proper title/H1 tag, which I fixed.

Then, around Jan 24th it happened site-wide. It has yet to recover or show any sign of improvement.

Does anyone have any suggestions or comments? I'm considering moving the entire site to a new domain, because this is really bothering me.

 

tedster




msg:4413354
 1:57 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Welcome to the forums, auraoflight. Sorry to hear about such a problem, and yes - it does sound like a penalty. The only other possibility I can think of is that you may still have some technical problem going on. Be scrupulous about checking on that - use Fetch as Googlebot, do your own site crawl (at the very least using Xenu), check WebmasterTools for messages, check your DNS settings and so on.

Other than a technical error, the kind of ranking problems you describe are very often tied to backlink programs that stick out to Google as less than natural - have you been engaged in trying to artificially build up your backlink numbers and/or external keyword anchor text?

auraoflight




msg:4413363
 2:56 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Unfortunately, yes, I purchased a gig on a certain "mini jobs" website where the person posted an article on a large number of article sites with matching anchor links. The drop was practically the next day. That seemed rather quick (I didn't think it would index them all that quickly) and I don't want to expressly say that was the cause, but it did happen shortly after.

If that's the cause... how can I reverse the problem?

klark0




msg:4413368
 3:19 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Definitely a penalty. I had something exactly like what you describe a while ago.

The only fix was several reconsideration requests.

I had many redirects to affiliate offers on the pages, so I first thought that was the cause. I fixed that then sent the 1st request. No luck. Then I sent another and another and then another, each time detailing different changes I've made based on my guesstimates of what might have caused the penalty.

And then finally on the fifth try, I suggested that a disgruntled potential buyer may have done "things" deliberately to harm the site after i refused to sell it for what he was offering.

That worked! The 5th request was approved and the site returned to it's exact rankings before the penalty and then started moving up the following week like nothing happened. It's now #1 for over 40 keywords with 10,000 visits per day from Google alone. Needless to say I'm glad I didn't sell.

And yes I did build some questionable links which is probably what led to the penalty. But I really did a have a pissed off buyer who thought I was asking for too much. So technically, I didn't lie to google :P

tedster




msg:4413376
 4:36 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Here's a very helpful video from Google with tips on requesting reconsideration [googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com]. The key is owning up to whatever you've done and letting them know that such actions have anded and will stay ended.

If you do request reconsideration, know that your entire online presence may get a human inspection - so you don't really want to try to sneak anything past. The inspection will come from people and not an algorithm.

Planet13




msg:4413379
 4:52 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just my two cents here...

I had a somewhat similar situation when i accidentally noindexed my home page back in late February of 2011. Some of my pages behaved the way you described.

So before going the reconsideration route, I really recommend having someone out there (not me) take a look at your site for technical errors.

auraoflight




msg:4413383
 6:08 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Unfortunately, I don't think it's a technical error. I keep an almost obsessive log of everything I change on my site.

I did, however, just notice that my main page had somehow lost its meta description, keywords and also the H1 tag due to some kind of Wordpress error. I don't know how long it's been that way, though. I would be surprised if something simple as that would cause side-wide penalty.

dirkji




msg:4413397
 8:23 am on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I had exactly the same thing after the first Panda update. I have since then recovered, but Google ranks the wrong pages, "best red widget" goes to sony-red-widget.html. My traffic levels are pre-panda though...

jsherloc




msg:4413606
 6:12 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Should we take this as a worrying sign that instead of simply devaluing certain link types/schemes/programs as the years go on, Google will punish you JUST for offsite factors like incoming anchored links?

How many incoming anchored links (these were contextual as well, meaning article/in content links?) were blasted at your site auraoflight?

That scares me that Google would punish a site SOLELY based on offsite factors. What is stopping people from performing negative SEO on their competition in this sense? If this is the case, I would imagine there are thousands of folks experimenting with this by ordering a bunch of mini gigs and freelance SEO jobs full of crap links and blasting their competitors directly with them. I'm actually fairly certain THIS is already happening across the board, what I was NOT certain on was that THIS ALONE could tank your site.

How new is your website? I would imagine domain age plays a role in how much certain types of links can actually harm you, so the older guys probably benefit in the long run from would-be sabotages...but newer websites/webmasters might now have to be concerned not only with Google, but the mass quantity of anchored backlinks anyone can send at their website?

I understand triggering certain filters and what not due to sudden bursts of incoming kw-anchored links appearing unnatural, but I would hope there has to be something majorly "screwy/shady/deception" going on "on-page" in addition to triggering a red flag with for example "unnatural" incoming anchor link distribution to have your whole site go down drastically.

I really feel for you in this type of situation auraoflight, and I just don't know how Google could actually assign a negative value to something a webmaster has ZERO control over in the longrun. Why not simply devalue that specific type of link to 0?

Did Google have a habit of changing your titles/metas in the SERPs at all? How about sitelinks in the SERPs before all of this happening?

How unrelated are the pages currently ranking for the "wrong" pages? Is there any connection you can think of, offsite/onsite that would make google start to gauge context/relevance/anchored links/traffic patterns before and after all of this happened? Are they just showing up for completely the wrong/un-optimized search terms now?

auraoflight




msg:4413619
 7:21 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

How unrelated are the pages currently ranking for the "wrong" pages? Is there any connection you can think of, offsite/onsite that would make google start to gauge context/relevance/anchored links/traffic patterns before and after all of this happened? Are they just showing up for completely the wrong/un-optimized search terms now?

It looks to me like Google is completely discrediting the intended targeted page and showing the page that is 2nd most relevant, which is usually vaguely related to the term and therefore shows up in the depths.

The results that are showing the wrong pages are vaguely related and in the same category of the website. For example, "best red widget" will now show the "sony red widget" as a Google result. It won't show "panasonic purple monkey" as a result, however.

My first instinct would be that Google is saying "nope, don't try to optimize your SEO" and discrediting every optimized page (optimized both on-page and with anchor text links). But why; to screw with SEOs? Who else is going to notice that "best red widget" is now ranking on page 75 for something vaguely relevant?

Pages that were absolutely unique, with nothing else on the site even remotely related, like "how to baste an ostrich with a garden hose" still show the proper target page in the SERPS, but strongly penalized. Maybe because there is nothing else on the site that's even remotely related to the penalized page; that's my guess. It wouldn't make sense to give a search result for that term listing a page entitled "how to bake a porcupine in a cardboard box", if you know what I mean.

The weird thing is that I've been checking a few keywords daily, and one in particular is showing a different landing page almost every day and jumping wildly up and down the SERPS. Example: "best red widget" shows "sony red widget" one day, then "panasonic red widget" the next day, then "LG red widget" the next day" which is very confusing.

Did Google have a habit of changing your titles/metas in the SERPs at all? How about sitelinks in the SERPs before all of this happening?

I hadn't noticed anything with the titles or metas. No sitelinks yet, either; the site is only about 4 months old.

I'm seriously considering moving everything to a new domain. I've put an absolute ton of work into this site all myself (about 75 articles of 1000+ words) and it's nothing short of painful to have this happen. Or maybe I could try completely breaking my site layout so that every page is at a different location and all of the backlinks just go to a 404 missing page. I'm really at a loss here. It's hard to continue working on quality content for a site when it's going to be seen by virtually nobody and who knows when/if it ever will.

Planet13




msg:4413623
 7:30 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I would be surprised if something simple as that would cause side-wide penalty.


I would be, too.

A competitor of mine has a HORRIBLE canonical link error on their home page. It hasn't seemed to cause any ranking problems at all, though.

On their home page the canonical link points to a page that doesn't exist (ie., a 404 page). that's just about the biggest mistake you can make with a canonical link (aside from pointing it at a competitor's site).

crobb305




msg:4413633
 7:52 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Jan 2: Noticed that many of my pages somehow lost their correct H1, title and meta tags. Fixed this.


I wonder if this is tied to your problem. I also experienced significant drops in January after making tweaks over the holidays, in fact I was going to make a post about it. I suspect there is limited flexibility with how much tweaking we can do to H1/title, particularly adding/removing/adding back, etc?

On a different note, I also see G returning unintended pages for some of my phrases, perhaps the second or third most relevant, as you reported.

auraoflight




msg:4413646
 8:21 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well, I changed up the H1/title/meta tags while I was suffering this weird problem with the penalty and wrong pages showing up, etc.

10 days later, the penalty went away.

Then another 12 days later it came back, even worse than before.

So I can't really say whether or not changing that stuff made a difference.

MikeNoLastName




msg:4413704
 11:17 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

klark0,
The first 4 times you submitted the reconsideration request did they respond at all, and/or insist there was no penalty?

klark0




msg:4413711
 11:45 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

klark0,
The first 4 times you submitted the reconsideration request did they respond at all, and/or insist there was no penalty?


Yup, they responded the first 4 times saying one or more pages still voliated ...blah blah blah.

Planet13




msg:4413751
 2:07 am on Feb 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

auraoflight:

Have you done a reconsideration request yet?

If so, what did they say?

I would either move those pages and let them 404, or move everything to a new domain.

I've heard that a year is a pretty standard length of time to be in the penalty box, but I have also heard of a few sites spending two years in the sin bin.

driller41




msg:4413830
 9:22 am on Feb 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

These link building services are strange, google either ignores them completely or over does things like in this case.

I have got out of similiar situations by building a load of "click here" and "visit us here" type links to dilute the keyword density back to more normal levels.

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