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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
9:35 pm on Jan 2, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I have a good quality page that for over 10 years was always on page 1 (usually 1 of top 3 spots) for several search terms. Newspapers loved the info and linked to it often.

Then about 2 years ago it dropped and has stayed on page 3 - 4. The page has lots of spam links (not from me) but then a site like mine that is over 15 years old will have them (I did disavow a lot of them at one point).

I've done a number of changes but haven't been able increase its ranking.

The one little blip that happened which I though was interesting is when I switched from http: to https. When I did that the next day for about a week the page went back to Page 1 and top 3. Unfortunately it only lasted a week and went right back to page 3 or 4. None of my other pages really changed at all when switching to https.

My theory is that the page has some sort of automated penalty/ranking factor way back for some reason. With the switch to https, the page went through the ranking process again and for a week didn't have the particular ranking rule applied to it.

Not sure what it could be as the info is really good on it and current.
11:09 pm on Jan 2, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Happy new year Johnser.

Sadly, no answers here. I could have written your post word for word, there's definitely something in the wild causing what you describe.

My thought is it's something that is caused initially by a link issue. We've had no luck shaking it.
2:19 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Perhaps google's algorithm has concluded that you made a special effort to optimize for a particular search term.
2:51 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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And perhaps somewhere in the bloated algorithm there's some overlooked broken code created by an add on punitive action taken 7+ years ago. A ghost in the machine...

Unaffected are the scammers who have churned and burned their way though 100's of domains in the past 7 years.
8:51 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Could it be that g is dumping oldsters and getting cozy with the new kids on the block (even 7 year on kids?)

Making it look like anyone can get rich is one kind of sales promotion... and why the kids on the block now turning gray are having a hard time getting face time.

Think about it. (And save some time and money trying to undo what has been done to you!)
9:24 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Welcome back johnser.

Just so I can understand it, a search term is not working as it did. These "terms" appear on only one page?

The rest of the site ranks well for other terms?

If you have a penalty, the Search Console should indicate issues. If there are no issues, it's not a penalty, but a ranking issue.
Other experiments to undertake include (note, don't do it all at once or you won't know what's worked):-
Noindex the current page that doesn't rank, but leave it in place.
Create a brand new page for that search term and wait for the result.
Consider redirects from old to new page and monitor the result. 301 is permanent and may just move the problem to the new page. 302 is temporary, but, i think that's just give you the same result. It might be worth a test.
If the new page works fine after the first test, consider removing the original page altogether.

It's experimentation, so give it a go and see if it works, but as I said, only make on change at a time so you know what's worked.
11:21 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Random thought, but has the context / intent behind the "red widget" query changed in recent years?

Google's got better at ranking content based on what they think the intent is behind the search. A page that previously ranked for both "red widgets" and "red widget reviews" may only rank for one or the other (depending on what content you are delivering). There's a different commercial intent behind both those terms - e.g. one is about delivering a sale / product, the other is about delivering information / a review. It's not difficult for Google to be able to distinguish between an ecommerce site via a review site (for example).

Boiling down your keyword variants - is your "red widget" really "cheap", is it a good result for "your country" targeting (i.e. do they service the full country, are key players within their market), etc?
11:21 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi everyone - thanks for your comments.

Perhaps google's algorithm has concluded that you made a special effort to optimize for a particular search term.

Absolutely G concluded this 5+ years ago. But why are they still concluding it after massive clean up work & pure link profile?

somewhere in the bloated algorithm there's some overlooked broken code created by an add on punitive action taken 7+ years ago. A ghost in the machine

Yep - that's exactly what I think is happening

Hi Engine!
The rest of the site ranks well for other terms?

Yes

Just so I can understand it, a search term is not working as it did. These "terms" appear on only one page?

The main "Red Widget" terms appear across a few pages but all the focus and the page that always ranks (badly) is their main "Red-Widget.html" money page. We've done lots of Keyword cannibalisation tests as well to check that's not the issue. Doesn't appear to be.

If you have a penalty, the Search Console should indicate issues. If there are no issues, it's not a penalty, but a ranking issue.

Indeed as we'd expect. What if a former employee at the client deleted a manual penalty warning message from GSC to cover their tracks re dodgy links?

Shepherd's comment above re "ghost in machine" could well be the reason that GSC is not telling me anything.
I hear you re "it's not a penalty, but a ranking issue" but again, looking at the tonnes of off-topic random pages & sites above them, that really doesn't seem likely.

Noindex the current page that doesn't rank, but leave it in place.

Interesting - Haven't tried that. What would you be hoping to learn with that?

Create a brand new page for that search term and wait for the result. Consider redirects from old to new page and monitor the result. 301

Tried that - Instant jump up c 30 places and then straight back to page 4.

Thanks again everyone for your help.
11:23 am on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi MarketingGuy
has the context / intent behind the "red widget" query changed in recent years?

No. It's never changed. (All the top ranking competitors have the exact same approach / intent too)
1:05 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Curious, is the #1 organic result returned for your "Red Widget" search Wikipedia?
1:26 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Wikipedia is 22nd
1:36 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Also, meant to say...
When you search for "Brand + Red Widget", the "Red Widget" page doesn't appear at all which is odd

But just searching for "Brand" shows the "Red Widget" page in the sitelinks
1:37 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Your Red Widget niche must be more competitive than my Red Widget niche.

Mine is probably 80% informational and 20% transactional. Wikipedia tops the organic results.
1:40 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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"Brand + Red Widget" we have #1 organic spot
"Brand" shows "Red Widget" in sitelinks

*caveat - our "Brand" is the domain name.
2:04 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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-30 absolutely exists.

I have a website that was page 1 for all its terms and received a manual penalty 2yrs ago. The penalty was removed with a re-inclusion request on the first try after 1 month. Since then the website has been glued to page 3 for all its terms but this is the funny part....

In GWT the website has always been reported as ranking on the 1st page for all its KW's and STILL is to this day. That's how I know for a fact -30 exists. GMT says the website is ranking on page 1 for hundreds of KWs but they (the algo) has a -30 filter on the website.
2:05 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hmmm - Our niche is 100% commercial (also has brand as domain name)
3:06 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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add on punitive action taken 7+ years ago

Perhaps the algorithm gave that punitive action a duration of 10 years before it expires. It would be like a prison sentence that depends on how serious the crime was.
3:23 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Speaking for myself, it was a serious link building offense, a 10 year penalty would not be out of the realm of possibility.

That said, such a penalty would be counter productive regarding quality organic results. It would only affect sites with longevity, those worthy of such a penalty churn and burn.
4:06 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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10 years would seem a bit nuts for anything?

Interesting imbckagn - that confirms my thinking that there's a disjoint between GSC and live SERPs when it comes to penalties.
>>>Manual penalty got removed but still -30?
How's that work? (maybe just effect of spammy links just depreciated?)
4:24 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Indeed as we'd expect. What if a former employee at the client deleted a manual penalty warning message from GSC to cover their tracks re dodgy links?

That's always possible.

Does the Search Console show anything in external sites that indicates an issue?

Interesting - Haven't tried that. What would you be hoping to learn with that?

To establish whether the page itself is dragging the site down.

You will have to monitor it closely for the impact.

Create a brand new page for that search term and wait for the result. Consider redirects from old to new page and monitor the result. 301



Tried that - Instant jump up c 30 places and then straight back to page 4.

What did you do with the original page, was it still there? This test would follow the noidexing of the other (original) page.
If it jumped back down in the previous test it suggests Google's system knows something about the page/site and once reindexed it drops back.

The thing to remember is that keywords on their own are dead. It's all about Google's understanding of the site, and if you can't establish specifics over the toxicity of the page and the site, you can't do much but to stab at it.

Experiment, and experiment again, and then keep experimenting.
4:36 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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disjoint between GSC and live SERPs

too many variables there, GSC representation of average pos and live, filtered, personalized, whatever-elsed results never going to jive.
4:53 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@engine - we created a new page of content, put it on a new URL, 301'd the old page to it.
Saw immediate bounce but then fall back.

@Shepherd re "results never going to jive."
True but I'd have thought any warnings / penalties should be syncing up - approximately anyway!
5:09 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Saw immediate bounce but then fall back.

I would not have 301'd it because all you've done is tell Google the's a new page from the old one, and all "link juice" would be reassigned, too.
As i mentioned, i'd noindex the page and monitor it closely, after all, if it's not ranking, it may not be driving traffic. I'd then put an entirely new page up with new url - no 301s

I'd certainly go back to your original theory of links, inbound and outbound. You'll need to find what might be pulling it down, and it could be anything. Get digging using all the tools at your disposal.
5:11 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@engine - thanks a lot for that. We might just try that one again.
10:22 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Let us know how it goes.
10:26 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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So just to see what would happen I deleted an old site, "redwidgets com" that was redirected to our main site "widgets com/red-widgets/". Few hours later "red widgets" page on main site jumped up to top of page 2 from page 4 for the first time in a few years.

Could be anything of course, just thought it was interesting.

If it sticks maybe I should redirect the old site to some other website...
11:01 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This main red widgets page, does it have 700 words of content or more?
11:05 pm on Jan 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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MB, I literally just had to paste the page into Word to get a word count, that's how little I pay attention to it...

1692 words.
3:45 am on Jan 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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IIRC the minus 30 penalty was related to the 'sameness' of external links pointing to a page.

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