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Search ranking for a term dropped from 1st/2nd to 106th in 3 months

     
6:02 pm on Jan 28, 2019 (gmt 0)

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On 4th October for the search term 'exampling' we dropped from number 2 to number 9 on Google searches (this was confirmed in Google Search Console).


We also paid an external SEO consultant to review our site and see why we are dropping on the term 'exampling'.


We've implemented everything and we're still dropping, the consultant thinks we may have been penalised in error (as we are a legitimate business and we're not trying to do anything untoward).


On the term Exampling in the UK we used to rank 1st and 2nd (you could go back 2 or 3 years and still see this).


The thing we do find confusing is that we still rank very highly (if not 1st) for 'exampling uk' and 'exampler'.


Since October last year our ranking has started looking like it's having a heart attack. We're down to position 98 now and it's really starting to impact our business - people just aren't finding us to add projects - which means our revenue is well down on what it should be.



Timeline of events of changes:

2nd October 2018 midday: Added a CTA using something called [snip] over the homepage - this was a full screen CTA [snip] (which may have had render blocking elements on).

4th October: we added a Google MyBusiness page showing our corporate headquarters as being in the UK (we did flag this on the Google MyBusiness forums and both people who responded said adding a MyBusiness page would not affect our drop in rankings).

4th October: dropped from number 2 to number 9 on Google searches (this was confirmed in Google Search Console)

4th October: Removed the [snip] popup

5th November: Server redirect so anything coming in on / was redirected to a page without a /

12th November: Removed around 200 junk pages (so old pages, test cms pages etc that were live and still indexed). Redirects from any 404s resolved

19th November: Updated site maps and video site maps to reflect new content and remove old content. Reviewed the whole site for duplicate meta tags and titles and updated accordingly with unique ones. Fixed issues in Google Search Console for Google search console for 404 and Mobile usability. Removed embedded YouTube video from homepage.

11th December: Removed old content and content seen as not useful from indexing; [snip] 'honey pot' pages, old blog, map pages, user profile pages, project page ‘junk pages which have little SEO value’ (comments, contact project owner, backers, report project) from indexing, added ‘no-follow’ to widgets linking back to us

3rd January 2019: Changed the meta title from "Start Exampling on Exampler UK - Where Ideas Happen" to "Exampler UK - Where Ideas Happen"

7th January: Disavow file updated to refuse Local World sites (these were sites like exampling.citynamepost.co.uk which used to link to us showing projects in local areas - our SEO expert felt may be seen as a ‘link farm’)

11th January: Updated our ‘About us’ page with more relevant content

15th January: Changed homepage title to include 'exampling' again, footer links updated to point to internal pages rather than linking off to [external site], homepage ordering of link elements on homepage changed (so moving [review platform] link further down the page, removing underlines on one item that was not a link, fixed and instance where two h1 tags were used), removed surreyuni. ntu. Subdomains (i.e. https://ntu.exampler.co.uk) from our system (these were old sites we used to run for different clients which has projects in geographical areas displayed)

18th January: Added the word 'exampling' to project pages (from a Keyword project to a Keyword Exampling project)


We're at a loss as to why we are still dropping. Please note that the above changes were implemented after we'd been ranking fine for a couple years on the 'exampling' term - the changes were to try and address the drop in ranking. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

[edited by: phranque at 1:19 am (utc) on Jan 30, 2019]
[edit reason] exemplification/removal of specifics [/edit]

1:28 am on Jan 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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welcome to WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com], owenwallis!
1:53 am on Jan 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Over the years I've seen numerous posts from people who had made a long series of changes to their sites and their google traffic kept dropping during that time. This suggests to me that google's algorithm is wary of sites that keep being changed.
3:45 pm on Jan 31, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Just a guess. You got the great rank for exampling while it was still fresh, on your index page or 1st page of it's category, and probably still getting some social attention.

Over time it moves off the index page, down to page 4-5 of the archives and essentially is losing any prominence it had from links(including internal) and social attention.

Try this - link to the page in question from the index page again and check for improvement in 2-3 weeks afterwards. An improvement from the sub 100 zone can be expected if it doesn't have glaring issues and is actually a helpful page.

ALSO: A #1 ranking for a keyword from any page isn't quite a measure of success anymore. The most successful pages receive traffic from 100's of keywords. I wouldn't put too much weight on any particular keyword anymore.
5:00 pm on Jan 31, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi JS_Harris - thanks for your message. It was actually the homepage of our site which used to rank well for the term in question.

Without going into too much detail the keyword we dropped for is very similar to our brand name and what we do - so for example our site might be called 'runners.co.uk' and the keyword we've stopped ranking for is 'running'. So our site is still about 'running' but its for people wanting to carry out the activity rather than finding out information about the keyword.

We have created some pages around the longtail search terms we see around our niche which we've started putting in our sitemaps - as we're wondering if Google has changed the intent somehow in algorithms.

I hear what you are saying for the keyword not being a total measure of success - we have had a drop of around 30% organic traffic from dropping on this search term though.

aristotle - thanks for your post - most of the changes we made came about a month after our ranking dropped though - in the month our ranking was still dropping like a stone even though we hadn't made any changes at all. Its almost like Google were penalising us somehow.

Thanks for reading!
6:11 pm on Jan 31, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Yes, welcome owenwallis.

I assume you have no message about a penalty in the Console.

There is always the possibility that risky links have been nuked by Google through their own anti spam activity, and nothing to do with your activity.
Can you track back to see if there are any changes?
6:32 pm on Jan 31, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@owenwallis Glad to have you join WW!

Nothing lasts forever. More importantly many "ings" fade in an out over time, some trends as long as decades, others in spans of a month or less.

The "audience" is also in constant flux by age and education. Insert changes to geographical reach (adds or reductions) and the mix becomes more complex.

If your "ing" is close, or covers, a niche g is interested in things can get even more worrisome!

As others noted above, placing all hopes on a single keyword, or very narrow group of keywords, may not be as effective as it once was.

Meanwhile, has there been any attempt to create interest in the site via other marketing methods (radio, tv, msm)? If you can get others to take notice that can also drive more interest.
1:20 am on Feb 1, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi owenwallis .. welcome to WebmasterWorld

You do realise Google's SERPs is totally borked and heavily weighted towards US companies regardless of their accuracy and value, therefore you may have done everything right yet G's algo can screw you over in milliseconds.

Learn to live with the fact that Google is for many sites totally and utterly useless since, and let's get this correct, all those supposedly over-inflated G "brains" haven't a clue how the real world works!

I ain't even ducking, G is HOPELESS and getting worse by the day!
3:55 am on Feb 1, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Is the search intent for 'example' and 'exampling' the same.

When search manually are the results the same, are your competitors ranking for 'exampling'

What is the search volume between 'example', and 'exampling'?

What do the SERPs look like for these two terms in other key regions in your country and internationally.

If you haven't done so already, I'd be starting with that.
5:40 am on Feb 1, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Do remember that personalized search is also interfering with results ... and for that there's not a lot you can do.

(Note: I see the web differently than most folks since I surf with blockers and js turned OFF) Site has to be compelling for me to allow scripting of any kind. Because of that I keep sites I manage a "clean" as possible.
11:40 am on Feb 1, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the responses, much appreciated!

@mbassos - the search intent did used to be the same. So someone searching for that term would be able to carry out the activity via our site (although we are UK focused rather than worldwide). We do have multiple competitors still ahead of us on the 'exampling' term.

@tangor - the way our site works is people upload information and then link people back to it. In the last couple months for example we've had links back from BuzzFeed, HuffPost, BBC, Guardian, Sky - so most of the major UK newspapers and worldwide sites also. I just did a quick scan and we have 28million backlinks from 15k referring domains.

@redbar - thanks for the feedback also. We're just trying to understand why on one term we've dropped off a cliff, but for the other terms we are fine. Our concern is if we fell off a cliff for the other terms we'd be in trouble. Over the same time period our overall position for all search terms have gone up - but our impressions and CTR have gone right down.

@engine - no we've got no messages. The drop happened before we starting disavowing what looked like the dodgy links to us.
12:14 pm on Feb 1, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Have to word this carefully ... the list of linkers suggested above is one sided. Obviously there's another half of the world that is left out (or as avoided "you"). Broad appeal will always result in better numbers.
12:09 pm on Feb 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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"We have created some pages around the longtail search terms we see around our niche"

Since I can't see the page in question I just wanted to add that I've seen the above become very counter-productive over time unless done very deliberately with solid data. A very popular web page will rank for a wide range of keywords naturally where a lesser page tends to receive traffic for a much narrower range of keywords. Adding sub-pages is a good idea when there is enough topic separation between the main topic of a page and some of the sub-topics discussed on that page.

Thankfully your Google console will tell you about content separation over time.

In practice here is how that would work:
- All-star comprehensive article, such as the index page you mention, has been published for a long time and thoroughly indexed and reported on in your search console. A minimum of 3 months of data is required but idealy a year or more of being published without edits makes this next step more reliable.

- Examine the list of keywords a page receives traffic for along with the average position of said keywords

- Take note of groupings. You will typically see keywords ranked across the top 10-15 for which the index page is tightly about. You will then notice that another group of keywords may be languishing in the 30-40 range. Scroll further and you probably have more groupings, some in the 80-95 range are typical as well.

- The groupings suggest content separation. The page is tightly about the top 10 but less ideal for the second grouping and even less targeted to subsequent groupings the further down the ranks they go. Google is giving up what it considers related here, based on your actual content.

- With that information in hand it's acceptable to create a sub page about a sub-grouping of keywords. These new pages will canibalize the impressions of the index page but can be made much more specific to their grouping and so instead of the index page ranking 30(example) for a sub-grouping of keywords the new page can rank #1(given that it's more tightly targeted to it's topic).

The above is using what Google is telling you. You don't need to remove content from the primary page if you discuss aspects of its content on new pages, you just need to make the new page comprehensive enough that the index page will no longer receive the impressions for the topic of the new pages. In short you do not want multiple pages splitting impressions for the same subject. When that happens you may pick up impressions for low ranked pages and entirely miss visitors to your better pages.

Caveat - some crossover is natural and expected, don't be too draconic about creating new pages, think about the human aspect, it has to make sense to a reader as well.

Caveat - Over time Google may change their weightings and then some of your new articles may not be as well defined anymore, you'll see this when a page splits impressions a great deal for any given keyword.

I stick with my gut on your original description and add that creating new pages likely made the index page a little less relevant overall for it's subject. New pages mean a re-evaluation by google. Trust factors, page rankings and even internal link structure get re-evaluated. You've made changes but Google will make changes based on your changes too, round and round you go.

Lastly, having multiple pages tightly about any given subject is not entirely problematic, it can lead to multiple entries in serps. Sites with many pages talking about a subject often receive "more from example.com" links. It will mean, however, that any one of these extra pages may not rank very well on its own.
 

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