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Diagnosing a possible penalty

     
3:59 pm on May 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

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A site I've worked on (for 2 years +) has just lost SERPS positions across the board, dropping from top positions to the 50s and 60s for everything except for the URL. It has the look of a penalty but the usual diagnostics aren't supporting this.

site: shows all the pages indexed
WMT reports no problems
PR hasn't changed
Reported IBLs haven't changed

My questions are does this suggest a penalty and if so does it look more manual or algorithmic?

I want to be more certain about possible penalties before making any changes, onsite or offsite.

Views appreciated.

7:10 pm on July 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Quick update on my previous post.

It wasn't a back links problem for us, it was internal links.

The affected pages all had one thing in common, their menu link text had competitive two word terms. We changed the link text to just one word in each case and within 48 hours our rankings are being restored on all the affected terms......and some other positions we thought were unaffected have improved as well !

So it was a simple fix, just change the words in the menu to be more generic and traffic comes storming back.

8:07 pm on July 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

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@claarky
Can you be more specific about the "changed the link text to just one word"

Are you referring to the sitewide menu navs or the internal linking you have on individual pages that leads from one page to the other?

9:53 pm on July 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

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love2blog, it's the sitewide menu navigation that gave us the problem.

I just checked and we're now 7th for the two word term we went down to about 80th for around the start of June. That's actually better than we've ever ranked for that term. Be interesting to see how far we could go!

Our other terms are also improving every few hours and some three word terms including the affected phrase that we already ranked well for are also improving. Quite amazing to see.

Now I'm wondering how many phrases we might be under performing for just because our internal linking has gone over the top. I think I have a week of experimentation ahead!

3:47 am on July 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Claarky,
Thanks, I just did the same on two of my sites where that might be an issue will cross my fingers!

One more question that anchor was it also the same that you consistently used for your external backlinks as well?

6:18 am on July 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

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love2blog,
The anchor text was the same in our backlinks as well, yes. That was what made me think it could be a backlinks problem originally. Quite a relief really because changing backlinks is a lot harder than changing my menu!

Interestingly, on one of the affected pages we were also demoted for the three word term we used in our H1 heading, which was basically a longer version of the two word term used in the menu anchor text. That returned to page 1 from page 5 yesterday as well.

I'm also wondering if changing our site wide menu to a more traditional expanding menu might have solved the problem without changing the anchor text. That would also have the effect of descreasing the number of internal links on the terms in the menu. I might test that theory on another, less vital site. We are top for most of the other terms in the menu so I'm not sure I want to risk it. I'll see how the changes I've made pan out over a more extended period first I think!

8:29 am on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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When this happened to a site of mine 2 years ago, I determined that I had stuffed too many keywords in the content. I cut those in half and the page resumed the former ranking withing a few days.

I just tried that. My rankings fell 40 places and have not yet recovered (just over a week now).

I'd like Google to stop giving PENALTIES for various kinds of backlinks.

Ah ... a dreamer ... but then how would I be able to drop the rankings of my competitors? All that time posting them to via-gra website's link exchanges would be wasted. Please don't change how you work Google, it makes my job much easier!

3:42 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Although I would never embark on anything like this for ethical reasons (and I am serious about that), a friend of a friend just torpedoed a competitor site with #*$!ographic backlink exchanges (unrelated to his site subject matter) for several key phrases, and just obliterated a long-standing site that competed with them. I think the PHd's at Google continue to work on making the shoes, and how to put them on, but have forgotten to realize that you have to tie them as well.. Google has some real issues.
7:16 pm on Aug 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

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My Website comes up #1 when search "my domain name" but recently on 7th or 8th August I have lost rank on our best keyword from #2 to -80. this keyword use to bring us 80% of traffic :(

Any suggestions

7:48 pm on Aug 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

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It sounds like you just got a penalty. That kind of drop is usually related to backlinks that Google considers suspicious in some way. (See Google Updates and SERP Changes - August 2009 [webmasterworld.com])

However, it's most often a -50 drop, rather than a -80. Maybe you've caught something new.

12:45 am on Aug 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

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It sounds like you just got a penalty. That kind of drop is usually related to backlinks that Google considers suspicious in some way.

Absolutely. Most times this particular penalty seems to also move the business name back to around position 50 for the exact business name. It is almost as if Google wants the business to 'see' the effects of the penalty right away, especially for genres with much smaller search volume, where position effects might not be as evident depending on the previous positioning and keyword type.

5:06 am on Aug 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Tedster and CainIV

On that specific page I did some changes two days before the drop. I have updated my affiliate link on it. I always use to have affiliate link on it but I replaced it with link coming from famous "Affiliate Network" the old affiliate link was not from a Affiliate Network but it was direct from merchant. do you think this is the reason for penalty?

5:15 am on Aug 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Not too likely, unless your page is really thin on original content. The timing does make you wonder, though.
6:22 pm on Sept 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

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OK, I admit I have bought one link on a forum and I am POSITIVE it was the reason why my site got "-50/-60/-70/-80" penalty on Google. I only bought this one link ever. The link was there for almost a year.

Now I have a small "dilemma" - I paid for the link for 2 years in advance. I can edit the link myself and change the content myself.

I'm thinking what I could do is to pick one of my competitors and give them the penalty. Or I could even buy a few more links on that forum and eliminate my competition within a year. I think such "reverse link building" is much less time consuming and costs less than building links for my own website.

Comments?

Of course, I'm not malicious and I won't do this to my competition, but there are many people who would and will, especially that it's so easy to do...:(

7:32 pm on Sept 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

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related to backlinks that Google considers suspicious in some way

How do you tell if a backlink might be suspicious or not?
2:58 am on Sept 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

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"I did some changes two days before the drop"

Unlikely, but a good idea is to check the cache date of the previous page in Google.com in the case of changes that you believe may have triggered a drop. This way, if the cache date is not updated (showing the new changes) then it could be other factors that are causing the issue.

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