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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]


3:36 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

As Confuscius asks, who's moving up to take your place? Is there an obvious pattern, such as a type of site or page that's gaining?


3:45 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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.

We personally in the past few years, have not seen any site that is heavily involved in old school link exchanging, or involved in the paid link market, drop in ranking whatsoever. I know a lot of people recently saw some sort of round of knock downs for sites engaged in paid links, but we did not. Especially during these “penalty” threads, it’s important to mention this. The sites, over the past year that we see doing better, relative to other sites, are in fact those sites that are engaging in aggressive link building tactics, through exchanges, purchases and even interlinking between sites.

“Linking”, of any sort seems to help (despite a lot of “talk” to the contrary). Maybe its time to start thinking that a lack of active new linking, just may be more of a risky strategy.

cheesy snacks

4:34 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

yes the sites above me now have been my competitors for a number of years...but have undertaken aggressive link exchange (reciprocal or otherwise) from their homepage.

I have gone the 'old school' route, preferring one way inbounds wherever possible, and having few outbounds on my homepage.

But I have slipped down to 6th. Perhaps heavy reciprocal linking does not now trigger am 'over optimisation' penalty anymore?


4:39 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

To Confucius, efv, and any future doubters -

No offense, but I often study(and keep databases on) my competitors even more than my actual sites. As others stated in the previous thread, I really don't care what it's called - bug/glitch (we hope), penalty, demotion, filter, "whatever".

A jump from #1-#3 to #6 in almost any niche is a huge difference. I can name only a very few (like 10-20) impossibly competitive terms where the top 5 sites are interchangeable. On the 99.99999999% of all other keyword terms, the #1, #2, and/or #3 pages have a huge difference in overall "ranking factors" than the #4-#10 entries.

To even further debunk the "competitors are just gaining" red herring. For some of my clients terms, they are far and away the #1 "site" by any metric possible. And in no possible way would the #3-#5 site be ranking above them by any human or computer standards -- sans penalty/filter.
(I could see where the #2 might surpass us, but certainly not the other 3 pages)
Which again points to the basic facts tedster laid out in the original post.

Hopefully, we won't need to have this particular discussion again. I can and have ruled this out immediately -- which is why I originally posted it as a "-5 penalty" (aka Position #6 penalty) and not "sour grapes" about the algo changing or competitors being "better"

Now, on to solutions....

Can anyone rule out the suggestion about slow-loading pages?
While it seems unlikely Google would be dense enough to apply the penalty for that reason, they've been known to use odder logic.

Overall Link Growth -- while I can't rule this out with any certainty, pages in question do engage in a steady, but natural link-building process.

Paid Links Devaluation -- I agree with tedster. No evidence of this even following sites 3 back.

Has anyone added new pages which point to the penalized pages with similar or new anchor text?

Has anyone added new backlinks with substantially different anchor text to those pages?

Yes, I'm still seeing short burst (about 10 minute periods) of the penalized pages returning to former rankings. (for some terms)


5:19 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

OK, Whitenight, let me put it differently: What are the unaffected sites doing (or not doing) that might be saving them from being bumped to #6 (or #5, or #7, or some other position that's lower than their previous rank)? Can you see any pattern?


6:10 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

My site is most definitely at number six for some big terms from twos and threes and no paid linking going on.

Slow loading is a possibility.

cheesy snacks

6:17 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I dont think slow loading is anything to do with it. I have another completely different website which is unaffected which is hosted on the same servers.


6:19 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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

Focusing on the sites that have moved up is a red herring. For this approach to have any meaning, all five sites which were below yours would have had to have had superior factors --or to have implemented those factors-- which caused them to suddenly outrank your site -- all simultaneously, and all to the same degree (since their order did not change). Even cursory statistical analysis suggest that this is extremely unlikely.

Focus on why the one site dropped -- that is the productive path.



6:28 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Yes, Jim is spot on, the sites above have just overtaken the downgraded one in my case they've gone up by default.


6:36 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Why have we ruled out on-page factors?

Is it vanity? Surely it can't be something that I did!

I've just noticed a competitor page with two keyphrases at the dreaded six, but the same site owner at twos and threes with much less optimized sites. Could it be over-zealous on page optimization being dampened?

My own client site has been the subject of recent heavy WPG driven optimization which is doing wonders on Yahoo and MSN/Live and luckily overall our business objectives look in better shape taking all into consideration.

By the way I've been an SEO 6 years full time.

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