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Is Google Using a Position #6 "Penalty"?



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

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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]


12:34 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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.

no that would be something entirely different.


1:14 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"Before anyone runs off and does anything drastic, I'm seeing movement to former positions on certain DC's flickering on and off... "

I do not see that my site has changes on other DCs.
Still solid position 6 across the board for a broad combination of 2 & 3 keyword phrases.


1:28 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Yes, this might well be nothing real, and only a coincidence among sites. Still, going from 1 to 6 is quite a fall, especially for a long established site that has been at #1 for a long period. When someone mentioned it we immediately had an unusual number of people who had just seen the same exact thing this month. That much corroboration for something so exactly described bears a closer look, I think.

For the ranking shifts I've looked at, the previous #2 is what moved to #1 - in fact the rest of the top sites did not shuffle around or see new entries. However, the sample size here is still quite small.

Among those who've recently seen this happen, do any of the ideas I shared hold true for your demoted sites? No recent backlink growth, for instance? Or how about an unusually high number of exact keyword-match anchor text - compared to the website's domain name, which normally would be high in the kind of natural or spontaneous linking that Google likes to see?


1:39 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I can see absolutely no sign of this with any of my sites or the areas I check


2:07 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member


I can confirm that this is occuring on a few phrases I watch for. I am in the process of testing for link volume growth for specific time periods to see if this is a factor -- looking at the 1 through 5 rankings, I can definitely say it is not an on-page manner, nor is it something devaluing paid links/reviews.

If anything, the sites falling have a better link diversity profile than the ones not falling (on the examples I'm aware of) so a volume test seems like the best bet.

The first occurance I noticed was Dec 6th; an influx of links resulted in a rebound within 3 weeks (#6 back to 1 and 2)...unfortunately, whether it was the volume or the simple matter of newly acquired link strength is difficult to say. A follow up test is currently in the works.


2:24 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

This has happened to my site but only for a main 1 word keyword. Only a couple of new links over the last month, all using domain name as anchor.


2:55 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

These were all downgraded to 6 since about 17 Dec for my client's site.

<edit>5 different phrases which have overlapping keywords</edit>

The position changes appeared intermittently until seeming fairly sustained since Dec 24.

The downgrades were predominantly to 6 and these are the most competitive terms.

We remain at one for <edit>one phrase with a different modifier</edit> which was created using that term in anchor text inbound.

The wholesale move to no. 6 seems too much to be a coincidence.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 7:27 pm (utc) on Dec. 27, 2007]
[edit reason] removed specifics [/edit]


3:21 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

We just came off a stretch of about ten months at # 1 for our main two word phrase, and sit today right on the button at # 6. Interior high ranking pages, for slight variations of this key word, are fine, many sitting at # 1 where they have been for a long time.

Tedtster threw out some possible traits, and one we are probably guilty of is no real new back links of any significance. Complacency could be the culprit, but when something’s working you tend to leave it alone. This site also suffered a drop in PR last update, and even then we really began to wonder about age of links. Used to think age of links somehow made them superior to newer ones; but right now we have some doubts about that. Of course we have not changed the content in quite some time, so possible staleness there as well.

They really do seem enamored with these “penalties” or rote, ranking reductions at the plex these days.

cheesy snacks

3:26 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

yep i have fallen to #6 for my 2 word key phrase. still hold #1 for another competitive keyword so dont think is a form of penalty...

Doesnt seem like a coincidence...but very odd.

I will be watching this thread very closely!

One thing I notice is that I do hold alot of supplemental pages in relation to normal 'indexed' pages. ie. similar meta desriptions/title.

In the process of amending these and waiting for results.

cheesy snacks

3:28 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

how many outbound links to people have on their homepage? (which are crawled by google)

Stagnation could be something.internal link structure has noit been amended for a few years...my competitors have been link exchanging like crazy (reciprocal)..in the old days I thought google would have come down on this.

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