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Ranking Problem Gone - after title and meta description changes

     
11:37 am on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am not sure if I should call it a penalty or geo-targeting by Google, but all the same it deals with ranks coming back post META tag changes.

The story goes thus -

About 3 long years ago, a US based site domain.com was having its jolly days with ranks to envy for in Google. All of a sudden all that changed and the ranks came crashing down. With it the business. It was only surviving by the thread in the form of few dozens of longtail keywords sending some traffic. With recession it came to such a passe that the business was contemplating whether to go on or wind up.

Now the interesting part while all these were happening. The ranks plummeted only on Google.com while searching in the US. I am based in India and searching in India on google.com, ranks were down only a few positions. As a result Google search traffic from India was more than that in the US and it was definitely a queer position for the business as it did not cater to the Indian market.

First thought that came to my mind was, if Google was assuming the site to be an Indian site. I reconsidered the facts, namely -
Whois - US address
Hosted - US host
tld - a .com
backlinks - majority US sites
US address in all the pages, with phone/fax number.
Google Map on contact-us page

and searching in Google.co.in, with "pages from India" option selected, the site was nowhere to be seen.

So, apparently the site couldn't be considered "Indian" by Google. But there was one more thing that was intriguing me - The site was dealing with "Indian made" widgets, with fair bit of "India" phrases in the content and Title. Could Google have deduced from the content/Title that the site should have been an Indian afterall?

We now fast forward to a fortnight back, after 3 long years of wait. The business decided if they couldn't target nationwide market, at least target the city they are located in. So came the changes to the META tags, including the city/state name in Title of all the pages, description and in page headings.

We were waiting for Google to index the changes and to see if keyword+city/state combination ranks well. Rank well they did and to my astonishment they were ranking well for top-tier 2 word keywords as well. This was something we didn't bargain for, nevertheless much too happy at the turn of events :-) Now the burning question came up. What turned the fortune around?

It is much too to expect a happy coincidence, considering the amount time it was in the basement. It must be then something we did with the site while targeting the city/state that pulled it out. The only thing that comes to my mind that adding the city/state in Title and page headings told Google in no unclear terms to stop assuming the site to be Indian.

Any theories friends?

2:30 pm on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I should have previewed before posting. It is rather too long a post, thanks for your patience.
5:28 pm on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Thanks very much for this report, McMohan. I have seen all kinds of ranking trouble go away following intelligent improvements in title elements and the meta descriptions - but this is the first time I heard of a geo-location issue of this nature.

Yes - these areas of title and meta description are critical for success in many cases - Google uses them for top-level "tagging" of the url and apparently when too many urls don't get top-level tagged all kinds of ranking problems can follow. I find your report in particular quite intriguing!

7:09 pm on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Interesting account. It will be interesting to see if anyone else has seen the same or something similar. The devil is in the details.
7:16 pm on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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how long was it from the time you changed the tags til the return of rankings?
7:25 pm on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

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how long was it from the time you changed the tags til the return of rankings?

The moment the changes in META tags were indexed.

11:55 pm on Apr 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I am working currently on a similar situation (but not quite). There is this Greek widget site which also wants to have widgets sold to the US. So it has a .gr and .com site, with the .gr being the prime site linked.

It is very hard to make the .com rank high. It only ranks for certain keywords not so competitive. I've been trying to built a web of related sites and get links from US widget sites to help it out but failed miserably...

Not sure what else to do, is a new job for me and the CMS of the site is 8 years old with tons of duplicate errors and strange urls.

Fixed most duplicate issues with robots.txt and some 301 redirection, added canonical tags, but traffic seems to have not increased and only has about 200 visitors a day.

This is an 8 years old pr5 site (both .gr .com).

It may be dupes which I haven't discovered yet, but GWT reports no duplicate errors after my changes.

Yet for "blue widgets" I am nowhere to be seen and for "blue widgets with greek color" I am getting good rankings. Also the homepage only ranks for some obscure keywords.

On the other hand, the .gr with tons of duplicates is getting rankings for generic keywords and is a top site in its category with very unique content etc. Is hard to believe it is not ranking high for US google searchers.

The site has the same include with same duplicated meta tags on all pages... from frontpage to widget and widget category pages, which I find intriguing.

Also that site has a dropdown select for navigating, which google managed to read and find the links just fine, something even more interesting.

3:19 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I've long believed that the Meta Title tag has had much more weight on it then others have placed, and I think this may very well help confirm that, but it is quite odd to see such a dramatic shift Geo-location wise..
I think this may very well splinter into the threads that talk about the order of words in the Title tag, Blue widgets - City
City - Blue widgets
Blue widgets - domain name
domain name - blue widgets

Should be interesting to see what others say here about it..

5:30 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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After reading this post, I realize that I might have got good rankings for one of the site due to addition of Country name in the title.

This site had good meta tags, however, when I took up this project I thought in place of Blue widget appearing as the 3th word, I should start the title with it as it was the targeted keyword for the page. Along the way I ended the Titles with Company name, UK. This was done for most of the pages of the site.

The result was that the site started to rank well for Blue widget and other keywords in google.co.uk.

All this time I was only thinking that the change in position of Blue widget from 3th word to 1st word made it rank well, however, now I have a completely new angle to it as it might be a combined effort of the keyword position and the the country name.

8:45 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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A lot of sites put the company's location in the title, so I can see why Google might use title tags to define the location. But that's such a noisy signal. I think it's just bad engineering. There are many other streams of data to test the one title signal.

p/g

11:42 am on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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The original Title of this thread was "Penalty Gone - after title..." I guess ted changed it to "Ranking problem gone..." He is right in assessing this was not apparently a penalty, rather geo-targeting issue while changing the Title. But I am afraid, the real gist of the thread got diluted a bit, since Meta tags help address ranking issues anyway.

The singular point of this experience was, wholesale change of Meta tags addressed something they wouldn't otherwise address in the normal course. It is something like I change my hairstyle of some 10 years and not only do I look better, but also my confidence improves.

So, is it as plain as we are seeing, that is, adding city/state in Title helping geo-targeting, or if there is more to it? Say, site looked just the same for sometime now, and there was some wholesale change in some of the vital parameters (META tags, page heading) and Google assessed the site anew and while doing so, some bug there was, got cleared. Can we use this strategy when we exhaust all our conventional knowledge in dealing with ranking issues, or am I going too far?

[edited by: McMohan at 11:45 am (utc) on April 29, 2009]

1:27 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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McMohan thanks for waking me up to a small problem I have on my ecommerce site. I am doing ok in rankings but the most important rankings the product pages are not doing as well as I feel they could. After reading the post I got an idea.
I build my site as most of us do through a database and use my product name as the title this may tend to be ok but my thought is to add another field pull from that field and rewrite all 1000 product titles on the site with more verbage added to inhance the description of the page.
Tested it last night on a couple products works great so will begin the process of do a rewrite of 20-30 products a night and upload as I go.
I will let all know if there is any improvment in product page rankings as I work on the changes.
1:31 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Can we use this strategy when we exhaust all our conventional knowledge in dealing with ranking issues, or am I going too far?

There are so many different situations that could come up. Suggesting that updating meta tags and title tags will fix all ranking problems seems like a pretty big stretch to me. However, for your particular situation, it did seem to work. This was a very interesting case that you described, thanks for sharing:)

4:15 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I don't think its a quick fix, far from it, and would advise against change all the Title tags just on the hopes of ranking higher, as it may end up biting you in the butt, BUT, it may very well be something to account for in the initial planning stages, and used almost as a last resort on a handful of pages if the site is already live and indexed..
4:35 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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youfoundjake
I don't think its a quick fix
I don't either but what I do see by changing them is providing a much better title than the one I am using plus I plan on adding key terms that I know are used in search terms for this product.

This won't be a stuffing the title tag by any means just a much better title for the product.

Been really wanting to do this for some time this post just got the fire lit again and I plan on starting the changes tonight. I can see were all 1000 were changed at one swoop may be cause for some concern but doing 20-30 a night is something I am really not worried over.

As i said I will post back after the changes have been completed or during the process if Google, Yahoo, or MSN make adjustments one way or the other in the search rankings.

11:09 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

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bwnbwn - don't forget a field for meta description as well. We provide this on our normal pages but are now adding it to products as well, where the site has products.

The problem is: the site owners are often not too clever at adding the right stuff into ANY field, so after our initial setting up everything goes down-hill. :(

1:00 am on Apr 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

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site owners are often not too clever at adding the right stuff into ANY field...

That's a common problem, for even some of the biggest businesses on the planet. Page titles, meta descriptions, headlines and subheads are somehow seen as a burden rather than an opportunity. They are looked at something like reading legalese before you check the "yes" box.

I find that client training and follow-up review with feedback, followed by more cycles of training and review, is essential in getting this right. Sometimes it takes a web team years to appreciate and seize the opportunity - and appreciate the pitfalls. Publicizing big wins in-house can make a huge difference.