I have a 17+ year old content site, US based. There is only one other competitor in my niche that has been around longer.
We used to rank great for the keyword "widgets" (by great, I mean page 1) but widgets has become a highly competitive term at this point. For the couple of years leading up to the first Panda (2011) the homepage started bouncing around for the main keyword "widgets" - page 3 was the highest but usually we were around page 15 which would fluctuate between not ranking at all and that page. This continued until around Aug 2012 when we suddenly started ranking better for "widgets" for our homepage (between pages 4-6). When the Nov 21 Panda hit, we dropped back down and we have now been off the map completely for "widgets" for our homepage.
If this hadn't been a pre-existing condition I'd obviously suspect Panda, but it was happening before. And no fluctuations in the rankings coincided with any Panda updates prior to Nov 21. We have had plenty of other issues with Panda, however.
We do rank for "brandname" just fine (and thankfully since we've been around long enough we get lots of searches for that!). If you search for our brand, our homepage comes up #1 with sitelinks, authorship, etc. So that seems to me like the homepage isn't completely penalized from all rankings. If you search for "brandname widgets" our secondary landing page comes up #1 with the homepage #2. The secondary page is sort of the gateway to the specific widget sections.
If I do a search using the site operator for "site:example.com widgets" our two most trafficked interior pages come up first in the results (followed by other interior pages I would say in order of their rankings for their own terms), the homepage and the secondary landing page are nowhere to be found. These would be the most likely place a person searching for widgets in general would go to on our site. The ranking interior pages are widget-specific.
The homepage isn't over-optimized as far as I can tell. It reads "normal" and there isn't any keyword stuffing in alt tags or anywhere else. There has been zero link building done. Most of the incoming links we have the anchor text as our brand. There are some with "brand widgets".
At this point, with our other Panda issues, I wouldn't expect to rank on page 1 for "widgets", but I find it hard to believe that we don't rank at all. I've searched all the way to the end of the results and we're just not there. I'm just not sure where else I should be looking to try to improve our situation.
Does this stand out as being indicative of any certain kind of penalty or ranking issue? As I said, since we started having trouble pre-Panda I know it's more than just the Panda problems, but I'm at a loss as to what might be the root of the issue. And I also wonder if whatever the root issue is has made our Panda problems worse than they might have been otherwise.
Any insight, guesses, or magic spells would be greatly appreciated.