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I do link build with those phrases as well as others but they are the 2 main phrases I use, maybe a penalty for to many links with those phrases? I thought this at first but from looking at the competition there are at least 3 others that do this and they are ranking fine, 2 of them buy links all over the place with those same phrases, so it makes me think why me?
I only have the phrases repeated 3-4 times on the homepage, the competition sites are a little older than 2 years mine is just under 2 years so they are a few months older. I basically never change the homepage text (out of fear) but I do add new article at least once a month linked from the homepage so Google knows that I do update. In WMT I did have a lot of duplicate meta descriptions and some titles but not many, however my site had been like this the whole time and I was enjoying good rankings and traffic for at least 6 months. I have now fixed the WMT issues.
What would you do in this situation? I've waited long enough hoping that things would fix itself but it's now after 3 months I've decided to take action and have modified some of the text on the homepage as well as removing backlinks with the phrases that I want to rank for. So my de optimization has begun, let's see how it goes! I guess the thing that puzzles me is why was I penalized when other sites do exactly the same thing (even link buying) yet they still rank.
Oh and there is another site in the top 10 that uses the old free hit counter with a link trick, I thought sites that did that were banned ages ago, Google can't even get rid of that? Makes me feel like trying it on a dummy site!
And for the other phrase I'm ranking #168 also for an inner page which is an article I wrote just a few weeks ago.
i used to rank #3 and #1 for these phrases to my homepage!
i wouldn't mind so much if the other sites were penalized too, it really bugs me!