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Strange thing happened with my keywords, they are ranking for different pages

8:35 am on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Hi there all. Am in the process of trying to work out the craziest thing I've seen when building websites. I've built a number over the years (I'm not the greatest, but ..) and I've never seen anything like this.

Started on a new site a couple of weeks back. Everything was going fine. New pages were being indexed and ranking quite high up (20s, 30s .. with 1 in the top 10) in SERPS within a couple of days. I've not got any backlinks coming into the site yet.

Because the pages were ranking quite high more or less after they were indexed, I was regularly checking the ranks (every 6 hours or so when a page was complete) and on Friday night, everything was fine.

Come Saturday, I'd noticed everything had dropped 30 or so in rankings .. ok, no problem .. Google being Google .. but .. Hang on a second.

Every single keyword .. and I mean every single one .. was ranking for a different page.

So - Blue Square Widgets keyword, which had been fine for a couple of weeks, was now ranking for the Orange Round Widgets page.

Orange Round Widgets keyword ranking for Green Triangle Widgets page .. Green Triangle Widgets ranking for Purple Oblong Widgets .. Purple Oblong Widget for Blue Square etc etc etc ..

As I said, this is EVERY keyword and I was tracking about 35 of them.

There are no backlinks yet, as I say.

Internal link structure is fine : "learn about blue round widgets" points to blue round widgets.

Pages are no more or less optimised then any other page I've ever done on many websites previously.

In addition, the snippets in SERPS are messed up .. it seems for many of these pages, Google is displaying - not the meta descriptions - but a menu in the side bar (of the wrong page that is ranking for the KW) which contains the keyword being searched for.

So a Blue Round Widget search, results in the Orange Square Widget page ranking because Orange Square Widget appeared in a "recent post" sidebar menu (checked in the cache for all these pages and that's the case) and this menu is displaying in the snippets. Personally, I've never seen one of my own snippets in SERPS messed up like this.

(And for the diligent, the side bar entry is the only mention on-page of this "wrong" kw on all these incorrect kw / page rankings)

I'm using Wordpress for the site and this side menu is a plug-in which displays random posts by linking a <h3> .. </h3>.

Because this random post menu was appearing in the snippets (and because I wouldn't normally link a header in this way), I basically scrapped it and replaced it with my own as a "clutching at straws" attempt and waiting patiently for the next crawl.

I'm seriously lost here. I can't work out the "why" with this one.

If it was just 1 or 2 keywords doing it, then fine. But as I say, it's every keyword ..

Anybody seen anything like this?
1:37 pm on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Welcome to WebmasterWorld, thunda!

What you describe may indicate that Google is not getting the site structure yet. Perhaps at the beginning when you put the site live and you had fewer pages, Google understood and classified the site in a certain way. Depending on the subject matter the new pages that were added subsequently had, the way the site is seen may not fit with what Google has assessed it as initially.

Also, from what I understood, this site has been live no longer than a few weeks so it is very early days.

How many pages have you put initially live and how many have you added since?

Personally, I prefer to have a site more complete than not before I let Google near it.
1:48 pm on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Hey Aaakk

Yes, site came live on about the 1st or 2nd of this month. Google just picked it up on day 1 and started indexing without any prodding from me.

There was an initial 10 or so posts made by me in the first few days and then I've been adding a couple a day since.

Its just completely bamboozled me .. As I mentioned in the OP - if it was just 1 or 2 of the KWs ranking for the wrong page, then fine .. it's just that it was every single one of them went silly in the space of a few hours.

Some I don't see any relation to the page that they are ranking for other than maybe the "widget" part of Blue Round Widget - with others, as mentioned, the cache displays the KW in a side menu (Google seems to have been putting so much weight onto this menu bar in the SERP snippet and so that's why I replaced it).

I accept that G sometimes does a few weird things at times, certainly at the start of a new website, but in the 20 or 30 sites I've created over the years, nothing quite like this. It's making me question everything I've done so far and I'm trawling through each page looking for anything I might have penalised for.
6:56 pm on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Yes, site came live on about the 1st or 2nd of this month

So the site is less than two weeks old. Therefore it's far too soon to be worrying about rankings and rankings changes. I usually only check rankings once a month on my sites. Instead of checking them every six hours ( as you said), you should be spending that time working on the site, building it for the long term.
7:25 pm on Apr 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I'm not worrying about rankings, I'm checking out of curiosity where new articles I'm adding are appearing as a lot appeared straight off on the first two pages and I'm looking to "beat my record" as I go along for giggles ..

What I am worried about is why, after 2 weeks, ALL my keywords in the space of 6 hours suddenly started ranking for a "best" page that they had no relation to whatsoever.

In close to 30 websites I've built in the last 10 year, I've never seen that happen before. One or two keywords, yes - for a brief time period - but not every single one of them at the same time within 6 hours.
8:34 am on Apr 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Sorry for the 'bump' of my own thread but am wondering if this could be some sort of penalty / algo reduction (ie, Panda).

Five days on and still not a single keyword ranking for the most optimal page despite doing so to begin with.

It's almost like G is saying : "Ok, this is the most optimal page for this keyword but ... we're not going to show that .. we'll ignore it and choose a random one instead" (and it does seem random .. a KW will rank for one page on one check and then another page at the next check).

To give a bit more info on the early few days :

Site was set up on the 1st April.

Immediately, Google started indexing before any content was on the site.

I've since noticed that domain existed previously, despite nothing showing in Web Archive. In my WMT, Google shows it had 1000 odd pages indexed last year before I owned the domain. A few sources report there were 800 odd backlinks pointing to the site but now they don't exist.

I started adding content to the website. I'll admit it was a bit 'thin' to begin with whilst I was playing around with the site, working out the look, the structure, how things link together etc etc

While doing this, as mentioned, Google will have been busy indexing this thin content and ranking it (and quite well, surprisingly).

I then went through writing the articles "proper" filling out the thin content.

Then, after maybe 5 days of starting this .. bang .. Keywords suddenly start ranking for non-optimal pages.

The "new articles" are far superior to the thin content previously. Well written, good length (1000+ words), correct spelling / grammer .. etc etc .. all the things to tick Googles boxes.

What I'm wondering is if Google has seen the thin placeholder pages to begin with .. and whacked me with Panda ..

Anybody know if the "keyword ranking for sub-optimal pages" is a symptom of Panda?

Or, could I be being penalised for a poor site existing on the domain previously?
12:08 pm on Apr 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I'm wanting to know whether I could have been Panda whacked in the first week or so of the domain being bought due to thin placeholder text and whether the : "ALL Keywords ranking for incorrect pages" is a symptom of Panda.

Any ideas?
4:14 pm on Apr 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

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"ALL Keywords ranking for incorrect pages" is a symptom of Panda."

Wasn't panda more of a site-wide demotion where every page dropped an equal number (more or less) of places?

what you are describing sounds more like over optimization / keyword spamming than Panda, but that is just a guess.


Also, is this an exact match domain or partial match domain? I have heard (and experienced) this for both types.
6:29 pm on Apr 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I've looked at that, Planet13 and nothing looks OTT to me - no better or worse than any other site I've built before and never had any problems with. Would over optimisation cause a site-wide "penalty" though and not just the page in question?
6:30 pm on Apr 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

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EMD .. although I'm focusing more on the long tails
8:09 am on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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the reason for this i think is meta keywords. Google sometimes misses out a word or 2 which leads to this problem. I am facing similar problem for one of my keywords too. the keyword is <5-word phrase snipped> and the page ranked is <snip> which doesn't have any relation to it.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 8:53 am (utc) on Apr 18, 2014]
[edit reason] removed keywords and url - no specifics please [/edit]

8:31 am on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I think with me it's something a bit more that that .. this is a site-wide thing for me ..

For instance, the blue round widget pages are all ranking for a random widget page .. and this is the case for ALL widget pages.

Likewise, a page titled somewhat-like : "a buyers guide for widgets then you just have to read" is ranking for a page titled : "this page has nothing to do with that W word that other pages talk about"

So I'm torn between something to do with Over-Optimization (which, truthfully, I can't see .. It ain't that bad) .. or something like Panda - which I could somewhat understand due to thin placeholder content when I was setting the site up .. but, to hit me with Panda within 7 days of purchasing a new domain seems a tad unfair ..
8:53 am on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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the reason for this i think is meta keywords.

Meta keywords have been disregarded by major search engines for year, because relying on them or using them as a factor is too easy to manipulate - IMO, there's something totally different going on here.

-- I haven't drawn any conclusions yet, except meta keywords don't have anything to do with it - Great thread and "food for thought." I wish I had some conclusive information/advice about the situation, but I can't find a definite parallel right now - Based on what I've read in this thread, it's really interesting to me.

I wish I had more to offer.
9:23 am on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Yep, got me stumped JD ..

Things I've done so far :

1 - Replaced any placeholder text on the site with original, good quality content as was the intention once happy with the layout / feel of the site. Deleted articles that I'll leave for later when this gets sorted.

2 - Though nothing showed in the Web Archive, I wasn't aware that the domain had been owned previously. Any old links to the site had all been deleted but a couple of sources stated there were 800 odd links from 17 domains. These domains have since been disavowed by me.

3 - Replaced a recent post widget that was producing a <h3><link>Keyword</link></h3> list within a sidebar menu. Changed it to just <link>keyword</link>

4 - Reduced keyword density in articles. Took it down from 3% to 2%.

5 - Reduced Ads above the fold (they were there initially when I was messing about trying to find a "best" place).

These changes have took place over the last week. All pages have been re-crawled and re-cached over the last couple of days by G .. now just waiting for any refresh of the index to kick in.

As a side question (having never been hit by it previously) - anybody know how often Panda refreshes? I've read it was "every few months" previously and then changed to "once a month" ... but then have read things from last year with Matt Cutts stating they are trying to get it real-time - but nothing since.
5:20 am on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Panda refreshes roughly monthly now AFAIK.

Something I would check into rather than keyword density is co-occurring phrases, meaning what "phrases" [a phrase can be as short as one word] often appear surrounding your specific topic, and could your pages be missing one or including too many relative to the "norm" of the topic(s) you're covering.

One post I remember the point of better than most [I can't find it right now, but definitely remember it] was by tedster [RIP] and he noted [to the best of my recollection] a page of a site he worked on went from 30 or so to the top 5 with the addition of a single co-occurring phrase even though the addition of one phrase that was missing was to the last paragraph on the page.

I'd definitely look into co-occurring phrases in your situation.
8:16 am on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Thinking more on it over night I think what's happening is something like a site-wide penalty on specific keyword / page relationships - maybe a -950 on where Google considered me naughtiest when I was setting the pages up and a lesser -50 or somesuch on the the more general keyword / page relationships.

For instance .. Sometimes on the more general keywords .. for instance, Widgets .. they are showing the right page, yet 10 or 20 ranks below where they first showed when the pages were first created (when things were ok).

Yet when I search for Blue Round Widgets, it seems like Google is determining the right page for it and then demoting it massively due to a keyword / ranking page relationship it's discovered and deemed it to be naughty..

And so in my "Check Keyword Ranking" software, its providing the 2nd best page as my best page because Google isn't penalising Blue Round Widgets in its relationship with a completely off-topic page and the RIGHT keyword / page relationship has been demoted ..

If that makes sense .. ;) ..

Basically, if currently, Blue Round Widgets is ranking for a best page about Red Square Widgets on page 3 of the SERPS, that keyword would STILL rank for that page in that position .. but a Blue Round Widgets search would see the right page higher in the SERPS as the keyword / page relationship hadn't been penalised.

Nope. Still doesn't make sense .. :) .. it does in my head though!

That's the only thing I can't think that's going on. Keyword / page relationship is being slapped by Google.
8:42 am on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I've just done a manual search through the SERPS for Blue Round Widgets ..

My page for Red Square Widgets was ranking at number 28 in SERPS for the Blue Round Widgets keyword.

Orange Triangle Widgets was 35 and Purple People Widgets was 42 ..

The only relationship these pages had with Blue Round Widgets was "Widgets" generally and the mention of Blue Round Widgets in the side menu.

Onward I went through SERPS .. and got to the Dead Men Index (ie, the supplemental) .. And so still I went .. Other completely irrelevant pages of mine showed up.

It wasn't until I got to Page 66 that I found the page for Blue Round Widgets.

Interestingly, on the previous 30 pages we'd got into the territory of the SERPS showing any random page it could come up (some never even had anything to do with Widgets) .. Yet on page 66 there were half a dozen pages that were about Blue Round Widgets - mine included.

Looking at these other pages, they were unbelievably thin affiliate pages. Picture of a Blue Round Widgets, a copy of the first couple of sentences of the product description from Google and then affiliate links. And that was it.

And my page on Blue Round Widgets was among them with it's 1000 word plus page content ..

So. It kind of proves my theory above. Blue Round Widgets has had a -xxx penalty applied to the keyword / page relationship and it's appearing where other pages that have probably had the same penalty applied to them are appearing.

Yet a further search for Red Square Widgets shows the Blue Round Widgets page on page 3 of SERPS.

The pages are now spot on .. full of content and add value and shouldn't be appearing in Dead Mans world.

Its now a matter of waiting for Google to refresh whatever it used to penalise them such as Panda.
5:42 pm on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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It can take a very long time for Google to digest your new site. The fact that they began crawling/indexing instantly does not mean that they in any way "understand" that it is not the old site and once they crawl pages they never seem to stop looking for them so I would expect there to be large numbers of 404s in your logs.

2 - Though nothing showed in the Web Archive, I wasn't aware that the domain had been owned previously. Any old links to the site had all been deleted but a couple of sources stated there were 800 odd links from 17 domains. These domains have since been disavowed by me.

This says that the previous owner may have suffered a penalty and decided to get rid of the domain, maybe after trying to undo whatever might have caused their issues, and without success. I have no idea how long it can take Google to completely digest new ownership given their "never forget an old URL" feature. I would do what you are doing to try to improve the site in every way. When your site is ready to stand up on its own, also do whatever you can to try to bring attention to your new content. Submit new sitemaps when you have new content, Use Fetch as Google in GWT, address 404s in GWT, and expect that a rewrite of Google's "opinion" of your site may take longer than your work on a never used domain name.

I am not saying that this is the cause and forget about it, but that the information points to this being a possibility.
6:42 pm on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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What was the exact date the issues started occurring? I've been dealing with the exact same issue on one of my sites.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 7:39 pm (utc) on Apr 19, 2014]
[edit reason] please read forum Charter [/edit]

7:05 pm on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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not2easy ... that's my alternative theory. Although, with the site ranking in the first week or so perfectly fine, I'm kinda leaning away from it. I disavowed those links - even though I'd seen they'd been deleted anyway - just to be on the safe side.

I'm pretty certain - knowing what was on the site for the first week or so (thin, placeholder content) - that it's a Panda issue of some sort.

And moreso due to what I'm going to say next to Kappa ..

Kappa - Everything was fine from the 1st / 2nd of April and then BANG! on the 11th of April.

I read through the "Google Update and SERP Changes - April 2014" thread yesterday and a number of people have said, along the lines of "OMFG! What happened on the 11th April?" .. So I'm pretty certain what did happen (Panda?) is what whacked me at the same time.

Which - as I've said above - is a tad unfair, if true, given I'd only had the domain for about 10 days and only worked on it for a hour a day mostly just setting up pages and post templates .. yes, I had thin content on there (some Copy and Paste too) whilst I was working out my page layouts which was going to get replaced by proper content when I was happy. and then .. bang ..

Google : Shoot first, ask questions later .. which, sadly, doesn't seem to have done me any favours at all.
8:26 pm on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google : Shoot first, ask questions later

thunda, I'm sorry to say so, but it sounds like shooting first and asking questions later is what you have done. We're now trying to sort out what questions you should have asked.

For one, the entire site should have been blocked from spidering until you had it thought out, well structured, with good content, etc. This has always been true. IMO, it's been even more true since Panda and Penguin.

As for the initial rankings, Google has tended to give new sites a honeymoon period. In the past, Google has done this to give new sites a shot at establishing themselves. I'm sure that the mechanisms for this have varied over time, but, since the Caffeine infrastructure, Google has pushed freshness. So, you got indexed, and during this time you tripped some filters.

From my brief reading of this thread, I'd say that your initial drafts contained a bunch of old timey, manipulate-style SEO tricks, and those, together with thin content and various structural issues, got you dropped way down.

One of the mistakes I see that might have confused Google quite a bit was your random post menu. With or without the <h3>s, randomness can only lead to confusion.

I bring some of this up because to Google it may have looked like you were a potential spammer who tried to change things that weren't working. Google does have a mechanism to detect that and to apply further penalties/filters to confuse those trying to game the engine. See discussion here...

Google's Rank Modifying Patent for Spam Detection
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4486158.htm [webmasterworld.com]

I don't know whether this is part of your problem, but the more you fiddle with your site online, the more it's likely to be seen as attempts at manipulation.

The history of the domain you bought (perhaps the first thing you should have checked), probably isn't helping matters. I'm sure it was one of the flags that set off some alarms. Possibly some of the old links are still alive, which maybe is how you got indexed so quickly.

I'm wondering also about potential issues like whether you're interlinking with your other sites, or how else you've built your inbound links, which I'm guessing would go along with this scenario.
9:35 pm on Apr 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I checked into the domain before buying - it never showed up in Web Archive where I would have expected it to be .. I also did a quick check for any back links and it showed 0 .. true, I never checked the "historic index" from Majestic just the fresh ..

What raised an eyebrow was after I bought the domain, I was expecting the usual 48 hour or so DNS propagation period and so had bought the domain at night just before I went to bed .. however, the site came online almost immediately and by next night when I got round to it again and was messing with the page layouts and such on a couple of pages, Google had already started to index without me realising.

There were no old style manipulative SEO tricks .. (none that I'm aware of, anyways) .. I was just playing around with the layout .. Yes, I'd set half a dozen pages up with correct titles and such, but that was it. The thin content I spoke of was a quick 100 word summary about what the page was going to be about, and so it was relevant to the keyword that the page was for.

Admittedly, I did use some product descriptions from Amazon when I needed a bit more text than just a 100 words or so, so I could check how various block sections worked around a decent bit of content and I figure it's this that triggered whatever penalty kicked in.

I'd not built any inbound links at all. I figured I'd get the site setup before going down that path.

I fully accept that I might have inadvertently triggered a filter or penalty and if so, then fair enough - my initial query in this thread was just trying to work out which and why .. and, now that the site is set up properly with original, good / high quality content is that if it is Panda - when can I expect the next refresh.

I've never experienced Panda before (or any penalty) in the close to 30 websites I've set up over the years and have never took much notice of it (or penguin) - I have rough idea what they are about, but having always created real, genuine, original, decent quality websites without any dodgy shenanigans going on in the background, I've never had any need to know the details.

So if it is Panda (which I suspect given the bits I've read about it in the last few days) - my question is now : Any idea when / how often it refreshes?
7:23 am on Apr 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Just a quick update :

Exactly 2 weeks to the day (.. and during the same overnight period), after the changes made above, everything has clicked back into place and I'm out of the penalty box.

Over the last couple of days, I'd read that that Panda refreshes your data every couple of weeks, so I had this morning marked down as a " .. let's see, then .." .. and as I say, during the night - like 2 weeks back - everything has gone back to how it should be.

Thanks to everybody who put their thoughts and ideas forward ..
9:24 am on Apr 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

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thunda - Great news, and thank you for getting back with the update. Please keep us posted if there are more bounces.

The two-week figure is interesting, though it's hard to say whether that's how long a Panda refresh takes... or whether that's where you happened to be in the combination of indexing and evaluation cycles at Google that affect this kind of ranking change.

We also don't know for sure that this was Panda. It could be that Google needed the time simply to recheck your site after the series of changes.

For future reference re buying a previously owned domain... and apparently that wasn't your problem... Matt Cutts released a video on the topic several days ago. It might still be of interest to you....

How can I research a domain that I may want to purchase?
Matt Cutts - trt 3:36
Apr 21, 2014

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-EdhaMDXho [youtube.com]

How can we check to see if a domain (bought from a registrar) was previously in trouble with Google?

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