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The sites are similar, all hotel-related. However, most sites are focused on a different city (NYC, Atlanta, Gatlinburg, etc.) while the main site is worldwide. All together 10 sites are linked together. Five sites have PR5 while five have PR4 and all have had this PR for a long time, although all were PR5 last year.
This cross linking worked well last year and I was ranked #1 for most of the year for my targeted search terms. Then everything went south and has not returned in 7 months so it is time for an overhaul.
My question: Which is better, 301 'ing 9 of the sites to the main site or saving the PR4 and PR5 sites but changing them away from the hotel theme and still linking them to the main site, but not linking the main site to the remaining 9 sites? Or is there an even better alternative?
I first thought it was a duplicate content penalty since outside programmers put up a development mirror site without keeping G out. G found the dev site and indexed it. But since duplicate content penalties supposedly last 3-6 months that likelihood is getting less likely because it has been 7+ months now.
Here is the background. My serps fell 30 places on December 13 and have not improved at all although I have improved content, refreshed content, and worked non stop to get back in G's good graces. Absolutely nothing has worked.
Before December 13, I was ranking #1 for my numerous targeted searches for almost all of 2005. Now I get no better than #31-32.
Another tidbit. On March 9, my results in BD was comprised totally of cached pages from July & August 2005 although a completely new hotels page was put up in late December. Supposedly G likes new content, well I gave them a much-improved product and they didn't even crawl it.
That day I wrote G a letter advising them of the above facts. Within 3 hours I received a reply from Google telling me that they were forwarding my email to their engineering team. Within days, G was crawling heavily and the index was filled with fresh pages and the number of pages went up dramatically.
However, the serps remain the same (#31-45) regardless of what I do.
I think you should keep relevant links between your sites and concentrate on gaining external links. What's most important, try to get links to your sites separately - if you buy a link from a site, buy it just to one of your sites, not to all ten! So the sites will look less related.
Of course, the best it would be to avoid sharing the same IP by all your sites, but gaining external links from totally separated sites helps - this my guess of the criteria in Google to decide if some sites sharing the IP are really separate sites - how many inbound links to these sites come from the same sites!
It's ok to link some sites with others, but stay away from linking all of your sites with all. Most of all, only link for a reason (such as in an article or sales letter) and not from the footer of every adside or footer.
But since duplicate content penalties supposedly last 3-6 months that likelihood is getting less likely because it has been 7+ months now.
Where have you hear this information? Are you referring to index page penalties due to other page duplicate content, or duplicate indexes on those various sites.
Most pages of mine that inevitably got dropped or supplmental due to duplicate content never got their rankings back.
However, that post was from November 2004 so Big Daddy may have changed things.
Additionally, lesser know authorities discussed the 6 month term at another post of mine:
FYI, all 10 sites are hosted on a dedicated server and have unique IP addresses albeit on the same IP block.
Corss linking results in at worst, no benefit, but unless ONE of the sites has a penalty for some other reason, no penalty for cross linking that I am aware of.
In any case, if it WAS a pently, you have dropped far further.
You need better analysis of your site vs the compeition.
Therefore, after much analysis over the past 7 months, I think it is one of these two problems. The first is a duplicate penalty assessed to my primary site because of the development mirror site put up by programmers last Fall which Google crawled and indexed. The dev site is still in G's index now but I just 301'd it. This is sounds likely because I fell 30 spots in the serps initially and have stayed there. This dup penalty has been my belief since day one but it should have expired by now.
The second reason is a lack of quality IBL's. I didn't work on developing links too much because I was doing so well. But now that the well has gone dry, I am busting my butt to get great IBL's.
Question for you: How many sites do you have crosslinked?
What is an anchor text spam penalty? This is a new one on me.
When you interlink your sites...are you targeting only one or two of your main phrases? (you call them your money phrases)...in your "anchor link text" ... the text used in the clickable link
If so, then G may have simply devalued you for that phrase (or phrases) .. because of the close relationship of your small cluster of sites...
But if they figured out your network...then you will have to keep all your sites...separate out their relationships...and work each one for new independent inbound links from different sources...(and don't point a new link from one independent source to all of your sites)