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It seems if its that easy to manipulate a google ranking that competitors would have no trouble arranging it. Last month this site was at #1 in the plural keyword and #16 in the singular keyword on google and now its way down hundreds of rankings.
Its just gone up to very near the top at MSN and All the Web yet google has dumped it.
widgets!= widget. As much as apples!= oranges. These are TOTALLY different and unrelated to Google. If you want to score well for "apples" on Google, being well optimized for "apple" is 100% worthless.
The change from plural to singular made a very slight improvement on the other search engines so I am thinking that the difference I am seeing right now is something else. I read on another thread that low ranked sites like my pr2 don't always show up in the early stages of a google update - or is that just false hope?
Could this type of duplicate link have caused a penalty somehow?
Not really. Every dmoz link gets duplicated hundred times by all the dmoz-clones, with no adverse effect on ranking. The same happens with links on mirrored sites.
From here it looks like Google algo is smart enough to ignore this type of link duplicity.