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Linking the unlinked page causes rank drop! Is this normal?

     
7:10 am on Apr 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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There was a page in an eCommerce site that ranked in the second page for a competitive keyword. The homepage was ranking for it not a long while ago, but replaced the inner page, apparently because that is a more relevant page for that keyword.

Now, that internal page didn't have any IBL to it, except the internal links. The natural thought that came to mind is getting a few links to point to it, and the rank might move to the first page. Few links were achieved (all above board, from the sites that themselves ranked quite well in Google and from similar niche) without any keyword rich anchor text.

What we see after a few weeks is that the rank dropped a few positions and the drop continues. It doesn't explain Penguin behavior, nor there could be any issue with OOP. What might be causing this rank drop?
8:38 am on Apr 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Have you seen a drop for any other pages/keywords?

Who moves above your page in the rankings? New sites or existing sites? Has there been a lot of movement on the first page?
10:36 am on Apr 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Adder, other pages/keywords are stable (+/- one or two positions) and also traffic is stable. There is no shuffle in the ranks, just the target page is dropping.
11:11 pm on Apr 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Questions... How long has the page been online, unlinked?... and how closely spaced in time were the links that you got?

Conceivably, Google saw the links to the inner page as manipulative, probably because the timing of the links might have looked unnatural. Perhaps traffic patterns that Google saw didn't justify the links.

Note that Google has a rank modifying patent for spam detection, and may have dropped the ranking to see what you'd do next. Follow-up "corrective" action by the site would be an indicator of spam. This is speculation on my part, as we don't know for sure whether this algorithm has been implemented, but my own sense is that Google has been doing this kind of spam detection for a long time.

Our discussion about the patent from a few years back is here...

Google's Rank Modifying Patent for Spam Detection
Aug 18, 2012
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4486158.htm [webmasterworld.com]

The question now is what looks most "natural"... leaving it completely alone, or continuing to get some links to make the recent burst of links appear natural? (You definitely should not remove the links.) ;)

Or, this may have been something else entirely.
1:35 am on Apr 14, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Robert, the page was unlinked since the website was launched, about 2 years now. About 6-7 links in 1 month time.

I think your assessment of why the ranks dropped may be right. If Google were asking, is there anything different in the page that it got those links, there is none. Does the page rank high enough that those links could have naturally occurred, it doesn't (but this hypothesis assumes that Google makes use of analytics, to see there is no traffic from other sources such as social media that the links could have naturally occurred).

Now, what would be a natural corrective action? Changing the page content significantly? Keep getting more links as if nothing happened? Or stop everything and wait to see what happens next?

Thanks
1:37 pm on Apr 14, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I know some webmasters are making significant on-page changes BEFORE an expected ('natural' ahem ahem) link spike to justify the influx but I haven't got enough evidence to say how well it works, besides it's in hindsight now anyway. I would certainly avoid making any on-page changes at this particular moment.

other pages/keywords are stable (+/- one or two positions) and also traffic is stable. There is no shuffle in the ranks, just the target page is dropping.

I would speculate this is link-related then.

As for the course of action, depends on how much risk you're willing to take and how developed the social media environment is within your niche.

If I didn't rely on a website for livelihood, I'd be tempted to share this page on various social media channels: G+, Twitter and wherever else the target audience is looking for answers. I think I'd even throw a modest budget at Twitter ads IF there were enough influencers sharing your type of content. You can basically make a list of 10 such influencers and create an ad campaign targeting followers similar to those influencers. Mind you, it won't work if your industry's influencers are 'stingy linkers'

Then if you manage to stir up some interest you'll probably get a traffic spike and you may attempt to 'build' a few more links on that basis.

But as I said, take it with a pinch of salt. It's easy for me to offer a risky experiment because I don't own that website :D
3:40 pm on Apr 14, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I'm going to guess it's most likely a coincidence.
6:50 pm on Apr 14, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Adder, some nice thoughts and yes, building traffic prior to getting links is a good idea. But, if Google were looking for my reaction to the Transition Rank as suggested by Robert, then I am not sure if I am bound to get new links to legitimize the links gotten before rank tanked. In which case, traffic or no traffic, continuing with link building effort may be a natural reaction to the Transition Rank, that is if Transition Rank is what got the page in Google's cross hairs!
4:39 am on Apr 15, 2015 (gmt 0)

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But, if Google were looking for my reaction to the Transition Rank as suggested by Robert, then I am not sure if I am bound to get new links to legitimize the links gotten before rank tanked.

McMohan - Yes, you are wondering about the correct things to wonder about... and that is exactly why I posted the winking smiley. In a way, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I really don't know how much they factor in what I would call "link momentum", and whether link growth needs to continue to preserve the pattern you've established... but you are running a risk there of digging yourself in deeper. I really don't know how you built your links, but if they were in any way "arranged", as opposed to just socially motivated, then chances are you've left too many fingerprints on them.

Assuming that you just said, 'hey, look at my site and see if you feel it's worth linking to', you've probably got nothing to worry about. As soon as you get into something as specific as a page that's an old page that hasn't really been promoted, not a new one people are currently visiting, you become statistically suspect.

The Historical Data Patent, btw, talks about "spikiness" as an indication of coordination, and coordinated behavior is what gets you in trouble.

A lot might depend on whether you've raised any flags in the past. If so, I'm thinking, your burst of links is much more likely to have set off some alarms. Some good points were raised in our Rank Modifying discussion.

Safest thing to do, I'm guessing, is just to freeze for a while... perhaps longer than you'd like... and work on the rest of your site. Social promotion for the whole site might be good, but I would not specifically promote this page, or make changes to it.

I'm going to guess it's most likely a coincidence.

That's one of the things I had in mind when I said that it might be something else entirely.

I think I've seen the Rank Modifying algo at work, though, in a similar situation, and I suspect Google used it when a specific page was boosted, a page with little prior history of popularity, because that pattern of inbound linking wasn't statistically likely enough to be natural.
9:20 am on Apr 15, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Robert.
you're damned if you do and damned if you don't
That pretty much sums up my dilemma.

and work on the rest of your site

This is what I intend to do. Stopping any activity altogether might again be a sign of preventive action. Under the circumstances, what would be the safest thing to do? Continue making your site better. Add content that is useful to users. No conceivable algorithm can ever penalize it.

I am planning to add a section of pages that compares our product to a host of other similar generic products in the market (not brands) as a pros and cons type. Haven't seen a site in our niche doing it in a single place. Available information is scattered. As the content gets ready, promote it through available channels and hope to pick up a few links in the process. Needless to say the pages will be interlinked contextually, target page that is dropping included.

As Adder hinted above
I know some webmasters are making significant on-page changes BEFORE an expected link spike to justify the influx.
If Google is practicing such an approach (which makes sense to me), it will be a case study to see if adding really useful pages of content, promoting and link baiting looks to Google as a natural part of a site's evolution and passes the residual benefit to the target page that tanked.
12:53 am on Apr 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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McMohan, you're welcome.
Needless to say the pages will be interlinked contextually, target page that is dropping included.

I was afraid you'd say something like that. I'd be extremely careful to avoid any appearance that these new pages you're working on will be doorway pages. Note that there's a doorway page algo in the wings [webmasterworld.com...] and one of the things that Google has said explicitly in their guidelines is that if you go outside your "browseable hierarchy", they may frown upon you.

In your case... and this is also conjecture... that may mean that if you have a site that's, say, strongly siloed, and if you depart radically from that silo structure to link to this page, that may raise flags. Not in all cases, but we're guessing that they're now watching you.

I'd certainly wait to see how deeply the algo cuts... because, candidly, any well-designed site that's intending to produce conversions is funneling traffic. I think I know the type of page they intend to eliminate, but the wording about the algo is so general that it's making everybody uneasy.

My guess is the contextual linking might be something they'll watch here, as it's been the darling of SEOs for a while now, and I think it's often misused.
10:06 am on Apr 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Robert, thanks for reminding about the Doorway page algo. I do not think the structure that I have in mind may leave footprints of doorway pages, as I intend to make them part of the regular navigation structure. A microsite that is linked from the main navigation bar, with its own navigation to pages that are part of this microsite. I hope that, along with unique content that doesn't funnel users to another page/site, qualifies them as regular webpages of the site and not doorway pages, if I am not mistaken.

I believe contextually linking pages is manipulative if the context the pages are linked are not what a reader would expect to find linked and the text used for linking is keyword rich, not a meaningful phrase?

But I am grateful to you that you brought up this subject. It made me associate a few pages on the site (about 10% of the pages) that are not part of the regular navigation structure, but only linked from within the content to throw more information about important attributes of some of the the products that the website sells, with doorway page update announcement. These pages are explanatory for detailed information and don't have any CTA , funneling or redirects. Though Google's announcement on Doorway pages doesn't really explain it in as many terms, could these pages in someway be seen by Google as doorway pages?
5:46 pm on Apr 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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A microsite that is linked from the main navigation bar, with its own navigation to pages that are part of this microsite.

Is this microsite a separate domain?
1:14 am on Apr 17, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Is this microsite a separate domain?

No, planning it as a sub directory.
10:29 am on Apr 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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No, planning it as a sub directory.

Hmmmm. At least it's not a subdomain. Is this a subdirectory that's going to be funneling link juce into your target page? Any other subdirectories? Is your target page touching on a core topic of the site? I'm assuming that, deep down, this is intended to be doorway-ish, even though that's not a good thing right now. If I'm wrong, please advise.

The question is, at the least, how to give this enough reason in the context of existing pages to avoid a feeling that this is a manipulative doorway. Is it of value to your user. Why is the target page not simply a part of the new subdirectory?

Other questions... is there vocabulary beyond keywords in the anchor text leading to subdirectory?

The page that you're funneling everything into... is it part of the subdirectory too? Are the nav keywords leading to it obvious matches? Etc etc. My point is that anything too obvious is going to be too obvious.

I'm thinking about how not-good options are going to play out against each other..

Good luck.
12:23 pm on Apr 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Is this a subdirectory that's going to be funneling link juce into your target page? Any other subdirectories? Is your target page touching on a core topic of the site?
Robert, the target page is just another product page of the site. The new subdirectory will not be funneling traffic to this target page. The articles in that subdirectory will have contextual links to many other pages of the site along with the target page. The target page will not be treated any differently than other pages of the site. If there is a context within an article, if linked to a page users will benefit from, then that page will be linked contextually.

The page that you're funneling everything into... is it part of the subdirectory too? Are the nav keywords leading to it obvious matches?
As I mentioned, the traffic will not be funneled into the target page alone, but to any page of the site the context demands. The target page being a product page that people can buy, is not a part of the subdirectory, which will only host informative articles in it. Yes, vocabulary of contextual links is the context that people can understand, not a keyword-rich anchor text that is quite pre-penguin.

Thanks again Robert!
 

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