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Problems that might be hurting homepage rankings?

10:30 pm on Apr 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

The site I am working on is relatively strong and has good ranks except for its homepage. My job, or nightmare if you want to call it, is to take care of all the duplicate meta description tags. About 8% of this site's meta description tags are exact duplicates of what their homepage uses. Considering the size of the site, we are talking about 200 pages I have to modify or delete if its thin content. Could the large number of duplicate meta tags be the reason why the homepage does not rank? Also the owner's WMT account only reports 2 duplicate meta descriptions for the homepage when I found almost 200 on indexed pages. Why Google lowballs the count in WMT I do not know.

Some history...

The site did receive an unnatural link warning over six months ago. I got to see the report and Google noted they took action against those links instead of the site as a whole. As vague as this is, the owner claims he did not do anything wrong. A possibility is below.

The site's homepage gets copied by a lot of people. On average the owner is submitting 3-5 DMCA takedown notices each week. They are not just copying text, but the whole page (logo, pictures, sidebars, even the copyright notice at the bottom of the page, etc.). This is unnatural in my eyes, but may or may not be what Google sees as unnatural. Not that it is a big concern for the owner since Google claimed they took action against just the links and not the site.

I would not say the homepage is over optimized at 2-4% for its main keywords. Other pages on the site have a higher density and rank really well.

This site's strength is definitely its interior pages. The owner has a lot of unique content that is not shallow IMO. Daily updates occur and the site gets a good amount of traffic from repeat visitors (8,000 daily with over 50% being direct visitors).

Although my job here is to do the grunt work of fixing the meta tags, I'd really like to see this site perform better - with my help and the possibility of getting a long term client of course. Do you think the large number of duplicate homepage meta description tags are the reason why this site does not rank anywhere for its homepage?
10:51 pm on Apr 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Hi turbocharged - I doubt that the meta descriptions are your problem. There's a current discussion about meta descriptions as a ranking factor that you might want to look at.

Does Google Index Meta Descriptions?

IMO, the meta description is not used for ranking, but some years back there was some opinion in the forum that on very thin sites... having many very similar pages... you were probably better off with no description (and leaving it for Google to generate one) rather than having the same description on every page. Apparently, some felt, the identical descriptions only further reinforced the lack of differentiation among pages.

This was some years back, and it's likely that Google has many other signals to look at. I should say that I never felt that the descriptions were a factor... that it had more to do with the amount of templated content, and with weak inbound linking.

How bad are the homepage rankings? Is it an exact match domain? How were the links acquired?

My guess is that the link warning is more behind the ranking problems than the descriptions. On what date did traffic drops occur?... this might be something you could check against with Penguin dates.
12:44 am on Apr 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

I would not say the homepage is over optimized at 2-4% for its main keywords. Other pages on the site have a higher density and rank really well.

4:28 am on Apr 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

Robert, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Below is some more information.

According to the owner, the homepage ranked page one a few years ago and dropped off the map to never return. That's part of the reason I got this small but time intensive assignment to correct the meta tags. Since the exact date of the loss can't be determined, or the influence of algorithm updates since then, the problem is even more perplexing.

The domain is branded and contains nothing related to the keywords he should be ranking for. Maybe that's part of the problem? I'm not finding his homepage anywhere in the top 1000, though WMT indicated an average position of 210. There's a lot of host crowding going on deeper in the serps.

Ahrefs shows 5 million links to the homepage coming from 2 thousand domains. Most are sitewide image links. Below are the main link breakdowns.

85% image (mostly his branded image)
3% abbreviated brand name
2% full brand name
2% partial keyword match
2% domain
1% keyphrase for interior content
1% keyphrase for interior content
1% brand + primary keyphrase
1% brand + irrelevant keyword
1% abbreviated brand + irrelevant keyword

The large number of image links pointing to the domain are not helping I'm sure. But they are legit - he did not pay for them and does not own the domains they are on. Is this the problem?

@ TheOptimizationIdiot

Thanks for sharing the video link. I did compare this site to others that are ranking, and his density is in line with others (possibly a little light). I know he is reluctant to make changes to the homepage text because he is caught in a cycle of continually filing DMCA takedown notices. If he changes his homepage text, some of the takedown notices he sent will fail.
4:48 am on Apr 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Just have your client rewrite his home page content so its once again completely original.
I bet it will return to rankings.
5:14 am on Apr 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

cabbie, he claimed that he tried changing the homepage text twice over the last few years with no success. That's part of the reason why I thought his meta descriptions may be harming him. Though he changed the homepage text, he never resolved the meta description issues he had going on.

The copied homepage text is an ongoing problem. I could see the time/date stamps on the copied content and someone definitely has it in for this guy. Even if he changes his text on the homepage, I would gather it would only be a day or two before someone copied that and started competing with him. Where they are placing the copied content is on high authority blogs (mostly Google owned). Maybe a news feed/dynamic content on his homepage would help in this situation?