I have had something interesting happen fairly recently to a keyword which I've ranked tops on for six years. While investigating why I was receiving 30% less traffic I found the following
- Images, four of them rank above me now with a link to view more. - An exact match domain for the specific term ranks just ahead of me now. - A pdf with an exact match title ranks above the exact match domain but bellow the pdf file.
While not surprised about those three(images, pdfs, EMDs), they have occasionally plagued me at least temporarily on many keywords before, it's what is now ranked above those which has me scratching my head.
Just below the ads, and above the images, are two new entries from sites not related to the subject at all. Both wrote an article in passing that mentioned the keywords but was focused on the industry in general and both were off topic as to the exact keyword meaning.
- These are two of the most widely followed general blogs online!
Neither article is the best for the keywords, in fact the first article may actually confuse people looking up this term, but there they are... in the #1 and #2 slot respectively and no I don't have customized search results on(not logged in + using parameters in search url to turn them off).
Is this possibly the beginning of the social rankings trend of the future? These two sites own perhaps two of the largest social followings online. One in technology and the other in fashion (yeah, neither are related to my niche!).
Note: one of the articles was written in 2010 and the other in 2009 and neither have a huge amount of backlinks, I have twice and three times as many, respectively but none from the biggest sites they do (NY Times etc). They seem to have jumped from not in the top 1000 to #1 and #2 in one go despite not being new articles.
From time to time I also notice some blogs have a rankings jump. When I took the time to reverse engineer those anomalies, I found legitimate factors at play, like a recent spike in twitter mentions, links or trackbacks from related blog posts. I found this even for older blog posts albeit less often.
Overall I wouldn't say that bigger sites or blogs have a free pass in search. After actually analyzing the anomalies that I have come across I would say that certain sites are better at generating the quality signals that Google is looking for.
For new webmasters having trouble ranking I would suggest they spend more time reverse engineering and testing new strategies. Once you figure out what Google prefers to see, its alot easier to give it to them.