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Pages that refuse to rank even though they should

12:00 pm on Aug 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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This is a behaviour I've been observing for a while, well before Panda, where pages optimised for a particular keyphrase simply don't rank but other pages very loosely related to the keyphrase rank instead (and not very well).

While the rest of the site behaves as expected (similar level of on-page optimisation, similar internal linking, similar quantity and quality of content, similar level of keyword competition) and most pages rank consistently in the top 10 for their main keyphrase, a small number of pages simply behave abnormally.

The best way I can describe it is that it's almost as if Google is refusing to rank THOSE pages and ranks other far less relevant pages on my site instead. It's as if something about these pages offends Google and I don't know what as they don't really stand out when compared to the rest of the site.

Has anyone observed this? Any ideas what to look at? How do you determine WHAT Google might find offensive about a particular page?
2:24 pm on Aug 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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There are a couple scenarios that come to mind for me.

1) The pages are similarly optimized, but some of the seemingly small differences may be strong(er) ranking signals for a specific keyword - such as actual link profile (inbound external) and/or the way the site is structured (internal linking and anchor text).

2) Competition may be "around" the same, but again here there are differences. The keywords where you are not ranking - do the same competitors rank for the keyword where you also perform well? If the competition is different and other sites come into the mix you will see different ranking signals come into play, such as anchor text in external inbound links.

3) You've over-optimized. This can definitely happen on a page level - done it myself. In that case your site would be in the index, but rank way, way back in the index. Growing better inbound external links with diversified anchor text is the best fix.
1:35 pm on Aug 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I can think of other reasons why this might be but its probably a simple case of over optimization.
1:57 pm on Aug 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Has anyone observed this?

I've observed this with Google for years even for low search quantity subjects. I very much doubt it is over optimisation when all my pages are constructed precisely the same and only the critical subject matter is changed.

BingHoo/DDG/Yandex rank them all normally...it's a G thing! You've got to hit the G spot:-)
4:08 pm on Aug 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I had this problem when I was trying to rank a page called widget-photos.html for the keyword widget photos, but it wouldn't rank at all. Instead, widget-images.html ranked for the keyword widget photos.

It turns out I had accidentally metta noindexed my HOMEPAGE and for some reason the effect was that the widget-photos.html page did not rank anywhere.

So check to see that your code and structure are ok, and that you don't have broken links or canonical problems or anything like that.
9:00 pm on Aug 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Interestingly, I had a page just like this that absolutely, steadyfastly refused to rank. Over as year ago, I decided to break split out two 'statuses' that had only really been combined for speed/ my convenience. It wasn' t that helpful combining them for visitors, since the two camps were seeking something different. I spun off one half into a new section. This was some 6 years after the original combined section was created!

For a year that spin off section refused to rank, for anything. Now, eventhough the site is heavily pandalised, that section ranks for a 92m result search. It's only at #8, but strip out the panda penalty at it's a top 3.

What changed? I wrote a longer, more descriptive title and rewrote the content to be short and sweet but worthwhile. I also linked to out to Verisign and McAfee Secure etc, placing their seals on the page.

Go figure - a positive in amongst the pain of Panda!
11:43 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Thanks all for your thoughts. It's funny as this is the only new page I've added to the site in the last 3-4 years (it's been up for about 10 months now) and no, none of the other pages have been regularly updated.

Upon closer investigation it looks like Google's cache is Aug 2nd whereas all of the other pages on the site are Aug 13-14th.

This page is equally well linked to internally so this to me suggests that SOMETHING about this page offends Google to the point that it refuses to crawl it regularly like it does most of my site. There is no coding error that could explain this behaviour.