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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]

6:36 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I have noticed the exact opposite. Pages that used to be #1 in SERPS disappeared earlier in the year when Google decided to make them supplemental. They eventually returned to SERPS when Google modified it's index seach, and for a long time were about position 6 or 7. Now Google appears to treat both indexes as one and the pages are back at #1. So could this "#6 Penalty" be due to the re-emergence of supplemental pages at higher positions?
7:01 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Two of the websites I work with showed this phenomenon last night, but now show different positions across most of the DC's.

Tough to know the reasons why, my initial guess was that maybe the index reverted back, but searches for some of the other websites affected still show the "6" position. I have changed nothing on any of my websites including this one that is now in position 3 and 4 (was previously 6 and 6 last night)

I am wondering if this isn't all about Google simply folding more data into the mix. This might explain why Matt may not be aware of the phenomenon as some of the thread members has explained earlier. Maybe folding in of new (supp?) data has caused a reshuffle.

8:02 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Hi Timetraveler,

“For now, my belief is this "filter" has to do with incoming anchor links not having enough naturalness triggering a "maybe" spam but "notsure" google filter.”

I have about 400 unsolicited links coming to me from 3 sites.
I have sent emails to these sites to be removed with no success.

So, if you are right about this “maybe spam filter”, then Google has unleashed a way to take out a competitor by posting links to their site.

Has Google moved away from not penalizing a site for that which they cannot control, incoming links?

So, is this a penalty for “suspected” paid link recipients?

8:46 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



There was a post on this subject some time back by EFV. Has anyone addressed the question he was asking? It was that a no. 6 penalty was a a remote possibility because only one site could ever occupy that position at any one time. If the penalty is as common as this thread suggests, how can the penalty be possible?
8:50 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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



I like the terminology "position #6 ceiling". If we have actually noticed something real, rather than seeing a pattern where none really exists, then those words describe the observations quite well.

I can't imagine this kind of action as an anti-spam play. Why leave those urls on page 1 when the -950 sends suspected spam into oblivion? #6 for suspected spam is a very light touch in the face of -950 being incredibly heavy handed. The two don't mesh for me.

The idea of newly "released" supplementals is interesting, but in the examples I've looked at, the new results at 1-5 were not previously supplemental. They've been on page 1 all along and just moved up.

So, as people share their details for URLs that moved down to #6 in December, we have uncovered, so far, no strong common factors. I'm still digging and keeping these observations in mind - but I'm also frustrated enough to wonder whether this is only some kind of mirage.

8:52 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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It was that a no. 6 penalty was a a remote possibility because only one site could ever occupy that position at any one time.

This phenomenon is occurring on too many websites and follows too strict of a pattern to be occurring randomly.

If the penalty is as common as this thread suggests, how can the penalty be possible?

Well, this is exactly what we are discussing - if it is indeed a filter, penalty and how, if it is, it was triggered.

8:55 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Ted - great observations and thanks for putting this all into a more usable context.

Here is another interesting component of this that may shed some light.

A previous page on one of my websites was ranking on page two in Google searches for its main two word phrases.

The page moved up to page one in the last three weeks - right to position 6. This has also happened with different keyword landing pages on the same site.

So it might also be that those pages were locked at the ceiling as well, from ranking any higher temporarily

8:57 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I hesitate to add weight to the "position six penalty" argument but.. my two longstanding, seemingly bullet proof sites have both dropped to position six at this last update.

These are travel sites and have been static for some months now in terms of development and link building..

9:07 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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



Three of the examples I've looked at have been apparently bullet-proof, too -- more than a year at #1. In those cases, backlink growth is not stagnant and there have been reasonable updates to the urls involved as well as the domain in general, although none in November or December.
10:13 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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



The idea of newly "released" supplementals is interesting, but in the examples I've looked at, the new results at 1-5 were not previously supplemental.

Just trying to put some pieces together here...

We know that Matt is saying he didn't know about this (it was not intentional) and since he would probably know of a penalty, then we might be safe in assuming this is not a penalty of sorts.

Going back to the unintended consequence theory, it's not so much that the results were previously supplemental, it's the fact Google is treating everything as one big index now. So perhaps this tweak in supplementals twisted rankings elsewhere enough to pop some sites into higher positions (again, the unintended consequence theory).

I know we are seeing a lot more traffic (+45% on Google and 120% increase from AOL) especially on long-tail searches (4 + word phrases) than we were before, so something has changes for us.

[edited by: BillyS at 10:15 pm (utc) on Dec. 30, 2007]

10:35 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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“So perhaps this tweak in supplementals twisted rankings elsewhere enough to pop some sites into higher positions (again, the unintended consequence theory).”

This is not what we are seeing.

Five sites (five different sites for each search phrase) cannot pop up on every page of search results for every search phrase ahead of the affected site.

The other sites are not going up, the affected site is going down, this is very clearly the case.

That being said, I do think this is an unintended consequence since Matt has not heard of it.
But the question is; a consequence of what?

What is triggering this consequence, filter or penalty?

11:08 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Not entirely true, on two websites I have, keywords have moved up from page two to the number 6 spot.

However, it is impossible to know whether they 'would' have ranked higher and then were demoted on the fly, or whether this is some type of bug.

What is interesting is that if this gets clarified somehow in the next couple of weeks, what kind of information can we gather from it?

Many have speculated, as Tedster has alluded to, that there may be a "position #6 ceiling", which might be illustrated with this recent phenomenon.

If so, might it point to an extra set of factors required above and beyond one set of top ten ranking factors that provides your website enough trust to break the top 5 barrier?

11:28 pm on Dec 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I agree, it does not seem to matter how you got to the “position 6 ceiling”. But there is no doubt that some sites are behind it.

“If so, might it point to an extra set of factors required above and beyond one set of top ten ranking factors that provides your website enough trust to break the top 5 barrier?”
Great question.

12:12 am on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

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



And, if this analysis is correct, then something about those criteria may have shifted recently - deposing a number of well-entrenched #1 results to #6.
12:36 am on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



Is anyone seeing this on pages that have been 950ed for other more competitive phrases?
4:37 am on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Is anyone seeing this on pages that have been 950ed for other more competitive phrases?

Yes. My non-English subdomains had a -950 and the affected pages (which came out for 4 months) are showing position #6. The homepage of the subdomains remain unaffected and still rank 1-2 while some pages have gone to #6.

This brings me to one other thing I have noticed. I've seen a DRASTIC increase in google crawl rate. Basically every page on our site, including subdomain pages are having a cache crawl date of maximum 7 days. Prior to the "#6 ceiling rank" pages had cache dates that were months old, and it was very scattered as to which pages were crawled more often. Now it seems all pages are getting recrawled and showing very fresh cache dates continually. I can say this is the biggest thing I have recognized. Has anyone noticed that?

8:45 am on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

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yep seeing definitley some sort of anchor text penalty applied

i see it has happened to my very solid respectable site with long standing (+5yrs) - for multiple terms it is now down to 900+ on what were usually positions #1-#5

can also see big hits on other sites in the same topic area also very good quality sites - seems like they have turned the dial way to the right this time

i hate it when they get carried away like this :(

10:39 am on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

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i think google is loosing its credibility with some very poor SERPS from 2 months i think this is not a # 6 penalty it is some kind of tweak in google algo i dont understand what r they upto now ......
11:30 am on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Although supplementals may not be the complete answer to this issue, I believe they pay some part in it.

Early in 2007 many sites experienced up to 50% of their pages going supplemental, and they just dropped out of the standard SERPS. In my case supplementals could only be found if they were deliberately searched for, e.g., by putting a specific search term in quotes.

Later in 2007, because of the furore this caused, Google began selectively to merge results from the two indexes and the supplementals reappeared, often on the first page. But now Google treats both indexes as one, and supplemental pages that used to be at the top of SERPS in 2006 are now back to their original positions. Only Google knows what proportion of pages is in the supplemental index, but this must be a very large number of pages and it has to influence what is being seen today.

2:04 pm on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

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“Although supplementals may not be the complete answer to this issue, I believe they pay some part in it.”

I see no reason to think supplementals have caused the “Position 6 effect” (or “Position 5 Barrier”).

While the way supplementals are handled will continue to reshape the results we see in Google, there is no cause and effect here that explains what we seeing in the Position 5 Barrier.

So, let’s not just write this off to supplementals. There is something very different going on here.

8:20 pm on Dec 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Don't know if this helps or not but here goes anyway.

My travel site has ranked #2 for about the last 6 months for a 3 word phrase...plural, with an s on the last word.

For the same search phrase in singular, it's fluctuated between 12-16 depending on the day I check.

My site has dropped back from #2 to the #6 position for the plural phrase.

The singular 3 word phrase has jumped from 12-16 to #7.

This all happened over Saturday night.

Also...Thursday & Friday my traffic almost trippled from the norm. As a matter of fact it's never been that high a traffic volume.

I am also on a link building kick so the site is not stagnant as far as link building goes.

Don't know if this will help anyone figure anything out or not. Hope it does.

11:14 pm on Jan 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Hi - the -900+ penalty seems to have been reduced all seems normal again - any change on the -6 penalty?
11:49 pm on Jan 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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"Hi - the -900+ penalty seems to have been reduced all seems normal again - any change on the -6 penalty?"

No, no changes yet.

4:57 am on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member



i think they have turn the dial back a bit as my main site has recovered but i can still see others effected
5:06 am on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

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



Don't know if this helps or not but here goes anyway.

My travel site has ranked #2 for about the last 6 months for a 3 word phrase...plural, with an s on the last word.

For the same search phrase in singular, it's fluctuated between 12-16 depending on the day I check.

My site has dropped back from #2 to the #6 position for the plural phrase.

The singular 3 word phrase has jumped from 12-16 to #7.

This all happened over Saturday night.


Stemming? Phrasing usage different between plural or singular? How about longer phrases containing either the plural or singular? Any difference in the back-link profile of the two forms, with either internal or external sources? How about exact match, in quotes?

Also...Thursday & Friday my traffic almost trippled from the norm. As a matter of fact it's never been that high a traffic volume.

Could that be attributed to an across the board difference in search term traffic volume for a plurality of search terms, between usage of the the singular or the plural?
8:17 am on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

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



Something just dawned on me from looking at the PR of different pages/sections of one of my sites.

For people who are experiencing #6, what are your internal links like? Where (on what parts of pages) are the internal links located, for the pages that fell to #6? And how about your inbound links from other sites? Where on pages are those located?

8:57 am on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Marcia - Our internal page links are located on the left hand navigation, with a couple in the footer. Only 4 1st tier internal pages remain unaffected while the rest have the #6 penalty. The second tier internal pages are located in the body of the pages, usually with bullet points or in charts. The non affected 1st tier pages seem to have non affected 2nd tier pages. Same linking type as affected pages except no inbound links were purchased for these pages (hmmm).

Actual inbound links are varied but mainly from blogs or websites with the text links located in the right, left or footer navigation. Inlinks also consist of blog posts and some paid website content links. So it's pretty varied with somewhat varied anchor text, but it could have more variety.

What were ya thinking?

9:40 am on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

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From my small data set of 1 website that was hit I think this might have something to do with Google getting better at phrase relationships, and/or comparing the anchor text diversity of one page vs the anchor text of other top ranked pages in that space, and then discounting anything that seems too unnatural.
10:07 am on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



I personally think it is a glitch from an engineer testing something based on anchor text. We have one site affected but the others which are pure repetitive anchor text based on the same lines are doing OK.
5:10 pm on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

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awall,

While I would concede that they are getting better in certain areas, this isn't one of them. :)

I pulled down some of the anchor text used on the examples I'm aware of and it doesn't feel quite right. If anything, the current #1-5 has worse natural anchor variance.

To rule out normal ranking flux, I specifically pushed a site ranked at #7 to see what it'd do...it jumped #6 entirely, landing at #5. This in and of itself wouldn't mean a whole lot, but then I did it again for another site (this one wasn't mine though) -- somewhere a pseudo competitor is wondering why his site went from #7 to #5. #6 looks like a locked position for SERPs with this phenomenon.

To bring up to date on the freshness link test...it didn't do anything to the site I tested on. I'm mostly certain that this is either a bug or a below the fold test for CTR (or off first page if you use G mobile).

The couple sites I'm aware of (4) are by and large THE most relevant and authoritative results for the phrase in question; I looked at what I suspect is your example and think it is meeting the same temporarily unfortunate requirements. If it isn't resolved in the next couple weeks then I'll start getting worried that G permanently screwed something up.

Joe

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