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[edited by: tedster at 2:21 pm (utc) on Sep. 4, 2008]
The sites that have been hit relate both relate to a non-IT industry sector. Can't imagine that matters but just in case.
Dropping several pages, or even a few positions, could be many things. One might be loss of PageRank for some of your backlinks. Many sites have been losing PR because of paid links that are not coded to stop the passing of PageRank, so Google just penlaizes them. If you're downstream from such a site, then you lose too.
Other reasons for dropping a few pages certainly exist. Most of the time that would show a loss of trust from Google - apparent backlink manipulation is one big cause.
But probably the most important thing you should do immediately is check to see that none of your outbound links point to "bad neighborhoods" - and that includes checking to see if your pages have been hacked and you are now hosting hidden parasite links and you don't know it. Make your backlink check with external software such as Xenu Link Sleuth. Don't trust any back office list of links or visual inspection of your pages.
This happened to another website we operate a few years ago and if memory serves, after a few weeks it all just went back to normal. Is there any reason that this would happen?
We also don't pay for incoming links so the problem shouldn't be upstream.
Whether you pay for links or they are natural doesn't matter. If a site that links to you buys links, and if they are penalized or lose PR, then it affects you. Surely your directory must have some inbound links.
If you've noticed this behavior in the past and the rankings returned after a few weeks then maybe it's best to see if this holds true again. How long ago did you notice the first occurrence of a dip in rankings?
In the mean time, tedsters advice on checking outbound links would be a good place to start looking. If you don't regularly check your links, you may be linking to a lot of dead pages or sites making your site look outdated.
One other point, you mention that you have not made any significant changes to your site. Does this mean you did made insignificant changes? What is insignificant to you may be a larger piece of the ranking algo than you think. Review any changes made within the last 2-3 months.
If you don't regularly check your links, you may be linking to a lot of dead pages or sites making your site look outdated.
Or even worse - domains that have changed ownership and are nothing like the placve you originally linked to - some may be quite the bad neighborhood now. This happens even to smallish sets of outbound links.
Could this be the problem and would changing them back solve it?
Also, is there still the occasional Google Dance and if there is could that be the issue?
Thanks again, I'm sweating bricks here..
May be that your boilerplate is too similar, and the content on the pages tripping the filter is quite thin?
One other thing - .co.uk pages on google.ie seems also to be some sort of issue Google is having with geotargeting.
Last idea no one has floated - have you had any outages recently?
We did have some outages last week but they were brief and the other websites that run on the same server still appear fine in Google.
Originally the title was "[region] [industry sector] news" and "[region] national news". I changed this to have the headline inserted before so that the titles would never be duplicated.
A change of title tags on that scale can cause Google to reevaluate all those urls. I'd suggest you just wait it out for another week or so. It sounds like you did make a good change, but one that is not quickly assimilated.
We changed only the titles of the news pages because webmaster tools pointed out that they were duplicate content. We went from "[region] [industry sector] news" and "[region] national news" to "[headline] : [region] [industry sector] news" and "[headline] : [region] national news". If memory serves Google listed about 1,700 news page titles as potential dupes but there is actually about 7,000 pages per site (.ie and .co.uk). The total size of the .ie site is probably 40,000 pages and the .co.uk 130,000 with the bulk of pages being company listings. The confusing issue is that the news pages always got very little traffic while the directory got plenty but now our traffic is down probably 70%. So although it was the news titles that changed seems it was the rank from the the entirety of both domains that were affected.
The burning question is could it be only the change of titles in the news that caused both domains to sink even though the news is a minor percentage of all content or could it be purely coincidental, either way, how long should I leave it before I panick and start changing things.
As some background, both domains have been registered for 5+ years, we purchased them 2 years ago and have been operating the websites for around 18 months in their present form. We have several other directories that are presented in a similar fashion (for different industries / regions, neither IT related) that have been running for 5-8 years are are as strong as ever.
Thanks again for all the help, I really appreciate some solace in our dark days :)
I've learned over the past few years not to make knee jerk reactions to my sites when falling down the listings. Google takes far longer to relist site wide changes than it does to relearn old sites. I would let the dust settle first before thinking it's all your fault ... we all think we're cheating to some small degree and quite often Google seem to turn the dial right up and then turn it down bit by bit until the index looks right.
All the Best