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I'm stuck it's like a 'Minus 30' still exists

     
2:37 pm on Jan 2, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi folks - Haven't posted here in a good while but am wondering if anyone can advise me.

So we've been doing this SEO thing since 2001 for lots of well known international names.
Never come across a situation like this.

We've a well known international brand client in a small European country who was previously top of Google for "Red Widget".
It's a competitive sector.

Client did lots of dodgy links and finally got buried approx 2012-2014. We're not sure when exactly.

We've now got them ranking top 3 for all their 'Widget' terms EXCEPT 'Red Widget'
Problem is they're completely stuck on page 4 for this & aren't budging no matter what we try / test.

(Dodgy links were built for 'Red Widget', 'Cheap Red Widget', 'Red Widget Country' etc)

We've been working with them over the last couple of years to do everything obvious including:
> Disavow for all remotely dodgy links
> All good code, UX, responsive, https, compact site, no thin content, fast etc:
> Great new content created and promoted to get lots of decent links
> At least as clean link profile to top ranking competitors (800 incoming IP's are cleaner / stronger in many cases than comp's)
> Changed the URL & content of the "Red Widget" page. (Instant jump up c 30 places and then straight back to page 4)

We / client don't know if there was ever a message from Google in WMT / GSC re a penalty.
There's no reconsideration request form avail. We/client don't know if there ever was.

There's tonnes of rubbish news articles, tiny sites with crap link profiles above them so page 4 isn't where they "deserve to be" right now - and that's objectively based on a lot of experience.

Here's my guess.
A well-deserved manual penalty was applied c 5 years ago. Think "minus 30 penalty" from c 2006.

That manual penalty is somehow still in force on a narrow range of terms like "Red Widget, Cheap Red Widget" etc despite everything possible done SEO-wise to clean up the mess and build a pure link profile. Nothing has worked.

If the penalty was algorithmic, I'm certain it would have been automatically removed by now (if 'disavow' ever worked as advertised.......)
Of course if disavow hasn't been working for a few years, then the penalty could be just the standard algo?

Our last throw of the dice is to create a 1 page www.red-widget.com and integrate that as part of the corporate brand site (which is a huge undertaking internally and they don't want to do it)

Q - What am I missing?
Q - How does one get an ancient manual(?) penalty reviewed/lifted for a very good / strong site you'd be proud to stand over as being whiter than white SEO-wise?


Thanks a mil
Happy New Year!
J
4:40 am on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Just curious ...a past client (who went in a stuff the meta things after I set things up) fell prey to this ... and when I REMOVED all that the pages did respond in a positive fashion. Sometimes when seeking change one overlooks the obvious where OTHER factors might be involved.
7:11 am on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi Shepherd,
Ok, I had a feeling the issue with johnser had something to do with the content being a long page. johnser hasn't responded, but the following is my observation about long pages (over 800 words) that have difficulty ranking.

There's nothing wrong with long pages. I successfully rank 2,000+ word articles. However, with how Google ranks content today, imo, it's super important to not stray off topic with long content.

There's more to say about this, but I think you can extrapolate everything else I'm saying between the lines.

Good luck!
;)

Roger Montti
9:47 am on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@Roger -
This main red widgets page, does it have 700 words of content or more?

782 words

@Hoople -
Did past SEO's overlook randomizing the links' anchor text (and jacent keywords) they created?

No - There was a bit of randomization done but all very close to the main KW of "Red Widgets"
It was standard 'overseas' dodgy links (article dir links etc)
11:37 am on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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imo, it's super important to not stray off topic


Agree. This 'red widget" page is laser focused, no straying.

Update: page is still ranking top of page 2 this morning after deleting the old site that was redirecting to it.
10:33 pm on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This 'red widget" page is laser focused, no straying.


Laser focused on what? No straying from what?

Not saying this is you, but many people believe their content is focused when in reality it's anything but. This becomes especially difficult with long form content.

Staying focused on a long page of content can become similar to one of those Jenga games.


Roger Montti
11:48 pm on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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That's a good question. Admittedly, laser is a bit of hyperbole. The page is focused on meeting the needs of the visitor.
10:40 am on Jan 5, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I immediately saw this:
>>> Changed the URL & content of the "Red Widget" page. (Instant jump up c 30 places and then straight back to page 4) <<

And guessed that you 301’d the old url to the bew url. Take off the 301 and for now. Rely on internal links to surface that page. I see Engine had the same comment. I didn’t read the others, but that is certainly where I would go now. The links to the old url are also very interesting. Maybe be you cannot see the one that is the poison pill. It may be blocked from the link tools, but as soon as Google checks it again, it poisons every page it links to.
4:06 pm on Jan 7, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi Dixon - hope all well with you in Brexitland :)

Thx for taking the time. Yep. Will look at the 301 as per yourself & Engine.
11:26 am on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I've been wanting to get to this for a while, as johnser's description rings some bells. He wrote...
A well-deserved manual penalty was applied c 5 years ago. Think "minus 30 penalty" from c 2006.

That manual penalty is somehow still in force on a narrow range of terms like "Red Widget, Cheap Red Widget" etc despite everything possible done SEO-wise to clean up the mess and build a pure link profile. Nothing has worked.

I remember encountering pretty much the same pattern on several sites, one in particular, around 2006, where the target terms were "Cheap Widgets", "Cheap Red Widgets," and "Red Widgets". What Google was doing in those days, as I remember, was cycling through various keywords, doing comparison scans, and in this particular series they went first to the most competivive (and for us, most desirable "Cheap Widgets" which was almost a holy grail for SEO)... then "Red Widgets"... and then "Cheap Red Widgets". Sometimes we survived the winnowing... sometimes we dropped. We wanted all three phrases, of course, and via a combination of tweaking content, repurposing some pages, and focusing some internal links, we had the two easier phrases in the top 2 or 3, and then "Cheap Widgets" on and off the first page, I think as high as #4 or #7 for a while.

This was a low budget site, and we were competing against very well-funded exact match domains. The owner was for building more exact-match anchor text links into the site... and I was opposed to the exact matches, to the speed he wanted to build the links, and to several links that obviously weren't natural.

I bring these pressures up because the more we fiddled, the more volatile some of the rankings became. I had my hunches, but it wasn't until six years later that they were confirmed. Google, IMO, had been setting traps to gauge user intent. The patent was widely discussed in this thread, which I recommend...

Google's Rank Modifying Patent for Spam Detection
Aug 18, 2012
[webmasterworld.com...]

When Google suspected manipulation, the page expected to rise might move down a page or two, effectively to check intent. I've seen the pattern enough now that I strongly believe the patent is in use. As I remember, the patent even suggests at one point that the motivation for manipulation was owner pressure on the SEO. I've assumed this was a Matt Cutts contribution to the patent.

In our situation, for six months, the owner took the site over to build low budget links offshore; but they were incredibly obvious and tanked the desired terms. The client eventually cashed in on what was left of the site. What I've observed since then is essentially speculation and hearsay, but nothing was done with the site, and certain penalties apparently wore off in six months, and others in a year... and "Cheap Widgets" page-one rankings never came back.

I mention all this to suggest that the problem you've been experiencing may not be what you haven't been doing, but rather what you have been doing. I would think that the optimization efforts focused on a few closely related pages must be obvious to Google, and because of earlier spammy attempts that you describe, Google may be assuming that this is a continuation of the manipulation of what had been done before. .

12:33 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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What if a former employee at the client deleted a manual penalty warning message from GSC to cover their tracks re dodgy links?

It would still show up on the Manual Actions page. You can't delete those.
3:57 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I thought i'd chip in with my own experience.

i've never had any penalties reported in google search console, going back six or seven years ago when i started. unfortunately i did hire an SEO company about three years ago who gave me some very spammy backlinks (it was spun content, very spammy). i spotted it very quickly, within weeks, and got them to delete the majority of them, and i disavowed the rest.
my traffic never dipped, and I was okay after that until I got hit by the Fred update. it may or may not have been related to the links, i haven't got a clue because they've never reported any penalties.
after that i spruced up the site getting rid of all the duplicate content, pruning loads of short pages, changing over to https... this was all completely finished a year ago.
but i've never recovered my key search terms. it seems that no matter what I do google will never give them back to me.

and these are competitive search terms which have always appeared in the top 3-5 for bing and duckduckgo — and still do!
so the other search engines continue to like them... just not google.

i've almost given up trying to please them, to be honest. it seems to me that their algo has an extremely long memory for specific search terms on your site, or specific URLs.
5:45 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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....until I got hit by the Fred update.


That was highly likely Google tightening up relevancy of search query intent to the content it is matching with.

At the time there was a lot of bad advice that it was a "quality" update, aka Phantom. I (apart from Gary Illyes) was among the very few challenging those false Phantom narratives.

But since Danny Sullivan started at Google, we now know as a certainty that most updates are about relevancy, as I'd been saying: Google updates are more often about improving relevance than they are about catching spam.

The fact that all three, you the OP and Shepherd have non-spam sites that lost rankings is indicative that these kinds of ranking problems are not a "quality issue. " They are a relevance issue.

You might feel that your content is laser focused, but if that's true, and it's not your links or your outbounds, you really have to circle back and acknowledge that maybe there's something about the content that you are missing.

Shepherd's content may not have been as laser focused as he had indicated in this discussion. Unfocused content is likely one of several issues with his content.

In general there are three indicators of why a site loses rankings in these kinds of updates. Unfocused content is one of them.

Hope that helps to bring some clarity!

;)

Roger Montti
6:31 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Unfocused OR not focused in the direction of google.

Content can be focused on "orange" and not show up for a search for "orange" because the theme of the content is based on the "color orange" and the theme of the search results is based on the "fruit orange".

It's good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
6:45 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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i don't think your example applies in my particular case, martinibuster, because like the OP my penalty seems to be laser-focused on and very specific search terms and specific URLs

it doesn't matter how many changes I make to those pages, those search terms are forever dead (in google only)
7:25 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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...very specific search terms and specific URLs...


Those are exactly the symptoms of what I'm describing.

Content can be focused on "orange" and not show up for a search for "orange" because the theme of the content is based on the "color orange" and the theme of the search results is based on the "fruit orange".


Yes, semantics, that's a good way to describe this. And semantics is only one part of it. There are other parts.

Unfocused OR not focused in the direction of google.


Well...

A little more clarity:
It's not an editorial decision by Google itself that is determining those SERPs. In my experience, a common problem is the site owner using their own editorial judgment of what is laser focused content or relevance at the expense of stepping back and seeing other factors that impact what it really means to be relevant.

And it has nothing to do with synonyms and other easy to understand shortcuts that white hats are fond of fabricating.
7:47 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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in your example you would be able to change the page to make it rank. you could change the text, the headings, images, add content, remove content, add internal links... do all of those kind of things... and assuming you knew what you were doing you would see an improvement.

but you can't.
it's forever dead. i think that is what johnser is describing.

it will be interesting to see what happens with his new URL minus the 301 experiment
8:21 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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not an editorial decision by Google itself that is determining those SERPs. In my experience, a common problem is the site owner using their own editorial judgment of what is laser focused content or relevancy...


Agreed and guilty ;) Relevancy (overall, big picture) can change, and/or one can be wrong about it all along.

change the page to make it rank

It's probably a bigger idea than just some factors on a page/site. Changing a leopard's spots change does not change their innate nature.
8:30 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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It's probably a bigger idea than just some factors on a page/site.


True, true. Thanks for the reminder. On page factors are important. And so are off page factors.

I know it's fashionable to minimize links because they don't seen to work in the same way as they have in the past.

But in my opinion it's not that the effect of links has been minimized. It's just that they are working in a way that's different from how "canonical SEO" expects them to work.

Just like the meaning of relevance has changed, in my experience, and judging by the link related research and patents of recent years, the way links are evaluated has changed dramatically as well.
10:43 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Trying to write "laser-focused" articles can be a disservice to your readers. A skillful writer with an expert knowledge may sometimes make brief excursions into peripheral aspects of the subject. If done properly, this will improve the article.
1:34 am on Jan 9, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Laser focused usually means strict adherence to "WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE, and HOW". G wants answers, not "articles". :)

Some time last year an experiment on breaking content into declared sections, asides and captions had an unexpected side benefit ... the pages consistently ranked slightly higher than previous. I suppose this side effect was from defining "content" in smaller chunks and which parts were "important".

Then again it just might have been Tuesday. :)
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