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Something very subtle was changed in Google's algo overnight.
The balance between on page and off page factors and the quality of those off page factors changed.
First a bit of background so that you know where I am coming from, Iím using a page and SERP of mine that I watch very closely to illustrate what I think happened.
I have a page which was at #1 for the most important two word term in my niche for a couple of years prior to the Florida update. It then disappeared for 3 months and came back to #1 in February 2003 (from memory) and has stuck there until BD started to kick in. The page dropped to #3 with two pages from a competitor appearing above. I think that I have worked out why this happened.
Then this morning 4/12/2006 another competitor has appeared as if from nowhere and has pushed me down to #4.
I think that Florida was primarily focused on on page factors, word stems and symantics. Google implemented a solution which was able to factor in symantics and stems into its algorithm and did so. In effect this was a new additional factor involved in ranking pages. It made on page factors more important and since these are in direct control of the webmaster it is relatively easy to play the game and make your pages fit what Google wants. Out links to relevant pages with the target keywords as anchor text also became more important.
What happened last night is all about off page factors.
In my opinion and in very simple terms previously Google appeared to weigh back links from major sites such as DMOZ, its own directory and on topic pages higher than those from lesser and off topic sites and pages. This meant that if you were listed in a relevant section of DMOZ and on some relevant quality pages you had the core of your back link strategy sorted. Quality was somewhat more important than quantity. Iím not saying that quantity is unimportant and I do understand how Pagerank works Iím just trying to keep things simple to illustrate what I think happened.
The page that slotted in above mine last night has almost 500 links from none relevant archive pages of a small regional UK newspaper and a few from general directories that are vaguely associated with our industry. The regional newspaper uses static html pages for its archive. The link which appears on these pages is in a block of 24 others and has the search term as its visible link text. None of the sample of archive pages that I viewed were in any way relevant to the page linked to.
It seems to me that the balance in importance between quality and quantity of back links has changed. If this is not switched back the example Iíve detailed above illustrates I can buy my rank rather than having to earn it.
Am I off my trolley or do others agree with this assessment?
I'm in a fairly uncompetitive niche and the results for the two-word phrases that I monitor hardly change at all for months at a time. However, yesterday I moved up one-or two places for some terms and down a few places for others. It's too early to say whether it is having any effect on traffic, but I'd expect it to be fairly neutral.
I have some relevant observations to share. One of my sites is very sensitive to even minor changes in algo as I observed within the last 8 months. I call it "my indicator" site.
It enjoyed #2 for months starting with the Jagger, and all of a sudden (yesterday), it dropped down to 51. So something happened, I thought.
As I said elsvere in WW, what I see seems more like a rollback rather than a tweak in the algo, since I see the same old ranking sites again in the SERPs.
What strikes me in current SERPs is the total absence of on-page factors. An example:
One of the top 10 sites in my niche ranks high solely by wirtue of anchor links. (kw1+kw2). KW1 is located on the upper right of the page (a language name), and kw2 is located elswhere down the page. The only relevance is the keywords in all links pointing to the page.
But there should be other factors that play a role also, since my site appears at #2 with an allinanchor: query.
I had become complacent with the consistently high placement in the SERPs of a long time client's site. After reading your post I checked that site and found it has been bumped down significantly for all the keywords I looked at.
What also caught my eye was the replacement of page specific snippets with a single snippet for all pages. The snippet is old, very out of date. Haven't seen it since the site was new (eight years ago). It was the DMOZ description that G was using then, if I recall.
For most pages, the site has dropped from #3 of the first page down to the bottom of the first page, and worse.
Overall, (after only 15 minutes of looking at the wreckage), I see no pattern or logic to the changes in the SERPs on these pages. Seems very odd to have such radical changes of sites listed, in SERPs that have included the same basic group of sites for the past five years. Even during the big revisions like Florida, there was not such a wholesale change of familiar faces.
Joking apart - i would agree with seeing the adjustment (and still believe Google is updating and not finished anyway, so could change) but im not certain that its to do with backlinks in the way mentioned.
For example, one of our dynamic pages rich in content, with good backlinks from other PR7 authority sites should be in the top five position for a two keyword search term.
On looking at the SERPS i see the site listed in position 6 for that two keyword search term (a bit lower than expected) yet Google has selected another page from the site (still relevent) about the keyword but this page has no backlinks to it at all other than a few internal ones.
My conclusion is that Google is now taking into account links to site pages overall and then looking at delivering what it thinks is the most relevent and current page, or something along these lines.
So if your site is widgets.com and you have say 20 backlinks to the home page saying "Blue Widgets" it will rank your most relevent intenal page on blue widgets in its serps rather than your home page.
In closing, i do think this update is far from over so anything could change yet.
And, thanks for the due diligence prior to posting.
I ran two, 2-word phrases which have been very good to me through Bourbon, Jagger -- even Big Daddy liked us for them. Results: high up in SERPS and Google Analytics keyword conversions on 10Apr06, all but gone in both on 11Apr06 -- nowhere on 12Apr06.
Researching the new SERPs leaders, I didn't see so much of a backlinks correlation, as I did a strong Google Directory/ODP dependence and somewhat of a commercial-over-informational preference.
Small sample and early days, of course, but something
is definitely afoot.
Yes..some subtle changes here as well...I have a two word phrase that I work with in a very competitive niche...the site I work with has a very strong balance of on page / off page factors and has been very stable through all the recent carnage...(and, if you don't mind me correcting you...I believe you mean February 2004 .. as the infamous Florida update was on November 16, 2003 ... from what I remember...this was when Google integrated the word stemming algo from Applied Semantics)...
"..The balance between on page and off page factors and the quality of those off page factors changed.."
Yes...there has been a shift...but seeing some of the other sites that have come into the mix recently for this one sector I watch closely and work with daily...(well known price comparison sites)...I would say that "some of the algo dials" have been tweaked back to some historical setting (florida-esk)...and I would say that for them to arrive and settle in now would point to "off-page" factors...which they have very deep pockets with....
SO I am watching this evolution very closely as well....and certainly feel for the folks who are being heavily affected by recent changes...
(oh .. to sit in the Goolge war room and see the traffic flow ... even for a few minutes..)
I'm sure that would not be what Google is hoping to achieve, but that's the shift I'm seeing. There is something "brute force" involved in the change -- the sheer number of pages in a domain and the sheer number of backlinks is winning over more precise relevance. It's as if the semantic and content-related factors are dialed down and the mechanics are dialed up -- if that makes any sense.
Said another way, in the past, people have often wondered how a PR0 page could trump a PR7 page. I'm wondering if such examples are currently fewer after this bit of flux.
After Florida (which seems a lot closer than I remember ;) ) one theory I went with was that Google didn't like dead end pages ie those with no external relevant links and so put some links to very relevant sites. For some terms I found that this put a page with a particular term in the visible link text on page one for that term even though the page only contained that term once. Clearly this was very useful.
I also put links using my main target two word term and aimed these at leading directory pages that contained links back to my page. Thereby ensuring that Googlebot knew that I was on authority pages outside.
The page that has popped in above me is a dead end page, it is only on the topic of the two word term and so is relevant but the key reason that I can identify for it being placed so highly are hundreds of links to it, with the two word term visible in link text, but from none relevant pages.
I hope that they roll this back!
The SERPs for the keywords I mentioned above, have changed some more. Happily for me, the client's money keyword is back up to above the fold on page one again. The snippet is still old DMOZ. Other keywords bring up SERP's with client pages having recovered a few positions/pages since yesterday. Many of these are now showing the "proper" page-specific snippet, replacing that old DMOZ stuff that had recently appeared.
The pages that appear to be recovering are very tightly defined pages, including the index and one click deeper. (These probably have the "best" inbound links) Pages that are still AWOL include mostly directory style content, deeper in the site that carry lots of very on-topic outbound links, and few inbound links.
Duh...I used to feel like I had some control...
This really is an entertaining sport we play here.
I particularly like the way the goalposts keep moving and how the rules change without any announcements.
It's a spring cleaning day, so no worries, your SERPs and your indexed pages will be back pretty soon ;)
BD has been an unmitigated disaster and Google has yet to produce a decent index out of it.
The only thing keeping this from causing real damage to their reputation and being a financial disaster for Google is - while the webmaster community is aware of it and its becoming a topic on industry blogs, mailings, etc. - the general media hasn't picked it up.
I see that in spadefuls on [220.127.116.11...] for some queries. In fact, some of the results look more like those you might get if you had hit the "related" button somewhere, except the function had been changed to be "vaguely related".
BD has been an unmitigated disaster and Google has yet to produce a decent index out of it.
For the keyphrases and keywords that I watch, Big Daddy's index looks about the same as its predecessors did. I used to see more day-to-day variations in the pre-BD days than I've observed since Big Daddy was rolled out.
After seeing Google's updates for a a few years, I am pretty much clear that quite a few problems with Google's index will remain always.
I would like to trust the more experienced members here - and if one goes by what they say, at any given point in time, there have been those who suffered but didnt deserve it and those who came back from hell and thankful for that. It is always good and bad.
What disappoints me is that at any given point of time, there are those who didn't deserve to be hit.
Big Daddy's index looks about the same as its predecessors did
Thatís been our experience, just havenít seen much difference at all (and I thought that was the plan?)
As to April 11th, a definite, albeit subtle change for many of our sites. Generally sites that are well established and have been around for a while, most down a few notches unfortunately!
The "small BD index" is extremely limited.
Isn't that a disaster?
And I am not talking about me or anyone else doing well, doing badly. Its the quality of the index and results.