I'm seeing something unusual on a site and wondered if anyone had seen something similar.
One of the site's main terms (two words, non-geographic) seemed to be hit in mid-December, and rankings dropped immediately about 9 pages.
As far as checking ranks in Google by searching (logged out, in browsers that are never used to surf or click results) is concerned, it has recovered about 4-5 pages. However:
(a) WMT ranking data says it has more or less COMPLETELY recovered; and
(b) the site still gets lots of referrals on long-tail phrases that include this main term - in fact, most months, more than ever.
This is the first thing I've seen that smells like a penalty on a site in years so I'd welcome other recent experiences, specifically:
1) Does WMT data differ from 'real' data?
I'm wondering if WMT is showing what the ranking would be were the site not filtered for that term.
2) Do specific keyword penalties affect only that term and not variants of that term i.e. 'green widget' is affected but 'big green widget' is not?