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Is Google Using a Position #6 "Penalty"?

10:35 pm on Dec 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Something is happening that was mentioned in our December 2007 SERP Changes [webmasterworld.com] thread and deserves a dedicated thread.

What some site owners are reporting is that search rankings that have held for a long time, often at #1, were knocked down begun to #6. These reports happen often enough that it looks like there might be something specific going on. However, there are always ranking shifts, so zeroing in on exactly this one thing can be difficult.

-- Here are the main signs --

1. Well established site with a long history.
2. Long time good rankings for a big search term - usually #1
3. Other searches that returned the same url at #1 may also be sent to #6, but not all of them
4. Some reports of a #2 result going to #6.

-- What we can identify so far --

A. It's search term specific (usually the biggest and best converting phrase)
B. Therefore, not a url or domain-wide penalty on all terms
C. A little testing on one site seems to show it's not an on-page problem
D. That leaves off-page but on-site, or off-site, or posibly backlink issues

-- Some loose guesswork and brainstorming --

i. Backlink profiles are not diverse enough - is this a new algo tweak on that factor?
ii. Backlinks are aging or stagnating, with no new ones being added?
iii. I thought about the possibility of paid link devaluation (even going back two or three steps from the site) but that would not consistently place a url at #6, so I've ruled that out.

Is anyone else seeing this Position #6 problem? Something like this could be hard to separate out from all the other movement that the SERPs show.

However, I've now seen it happen to key terms on three different sites operated by the same person (different WhoIs, no incestuous linking) and two corporate sites. Plus there are several other reports in the Decemeber SERP Changes thread. Every one of these cases seems to be hitting the domain root, and not internal url.

I'm not happy with the current level of analysis, however, and definitely looking for more ideas.

[edited by: tedster at 6:28 pm (utc) on Dec. 29, 2007]

12:42 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Seeing the same thing on two websites I work with, across more than one keyword. Really hard to make what this is about, perhaps some kind of bug or glitch?

Hard to see why only a partial of all keywords would fall to 6, and why that position is the magic number.

I see this for one website affecting inner pages. On the other website it is affecting the root url.

Just to add a few other bits:

One site uses paid links, the other does not.
One website has natural links built (there is no active link building campaign) The other has a small level link campaign going
Both websites get diverse cross section of new links.

[edited by: CainIV at 1:15 am (utc) on Dec. 27, 2007]

1:40 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I've seen similar behavior with high quality pages dropping down after observing a series of rapid-fire/simultaeous requests in the logs from multiple independent IP addresses. Perhaps it was unrelated, but I thought the set of requests was a page test, with subsequent small penalty applied for slow page access under a load, dropping them to mid-serp where they'd still be available just not getting a gatling gun of requests...this made logical sense as a top-listed page would tend to get such a volume of requests that Google's customers could get unhappy with sluggish response.

Optimizing pages for speed seemed to help improve their lot.

3:15 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I am observing this on a few 2-word phrases that I ranked #1 on for quite a while. Now at #6. Looking into this further.
3:24 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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We're seeing this on a few sites....these sites held rankings for years, and now rank at #6.... no patterns found yet.
4:02 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Check out backlinks (and TF) with exact match for the phrases and then look for sites ranking high that have only ONE of the words in the phrase either relevant on the site or in the backlinks.
5:21 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Before anyone runs off and does anything drastic, I'm seeing movement to former positions on certain DC's flickering on and off... much like the "Position #6" (sounds dirty):P started.
11:07 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I see my site struck into 2nd page, I got my listings up for other keywords, but this one keyword is my main keyword and there only my site got struck in the 2nd page.

May be that's also a change.. as I haven't seen much on 6th position but definitely Google is doing some vast changes

11:35 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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You could probably start a thread for a demotion to Position #3, Position #27 and vurtually any position penalty given that people will always be able to find examples that appear to match the apparent behaviour.

If there is such a phenomenen then what would be interesting to know is what is replacing the demoted pages as this may equally be a promotion to Position #1 phenomenon.

So many people clutching at straws these days that Google discussions are becomeing more and more pointless, just IMO.


11:54 am on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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My site too went from #1 to #6 for its main keyword combination.
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