Rankings back on Google

I lost most of my rankings for really good keywords in October 2008 but today it seems my website is back to normal in Google. Some keywords are ranking better than they used to back then and some are just a few places down in Google. Now i don’t know whether this is a temporary thing, like some algorithm update but if that stays the same, i’ll be a happy bunny.

As far as the rankings themselves are concerned, most of the keywords have now become more competitive and larger companies are trying very hard with their SEO and spending large amounts of money on it. However, optimisation needs to be done very carefully and there’s this very fine line which if crossed gets your site penalised and makes it very hard to recover from (and may take months as well).

So let’s see if this new update lasts for a bit! (fingers crossed, it will)

Couple of problems with my site

I’ve noticed a couple of problems with my site which could be pushing visitors/search engines away from the site in question. Here’s what i found:

Contact Page not working: I changed the url for the contact page about 3-4 months ago and thought it was working correctly but to my amazement it wasn’t. I was checking the 404 stats today and noticed that since Aug last year, i had about 300 requests for this contact page which resulted in 404 error code because the page rewriting was messing things up which means i’ve lost 300 queries!!!

Cananonical problem: This can cause duplicate content penalty/filter if not corrected. However i’ve set my preference to be www.example.com instead of example.com inΒ  Google Webmaster Tools but i still should have done a 301 redirect as i believe this problem could be leaking about PR juice.

Category name changes: I’ve shortened my category names and made them more concise a while back. To ensure the old url did not result in a 404 error, i made 301 redirects for the old urls to the new ones. However i didn’t spend to much time looking at the trailing slash problem caused by certain urls and this resulted in few unexpected 404s. (eg example.com/old-category/title/ –> example.com/new-category/title/ but not example.com/old-catetory/title –> example.com/new-category/title/) Yeh, i know my regex was wrong!

Keeping urls short: It’s good to keep the folders upto 3 levels, so i cleverly changed my urls from 4 levels deep to 3 levels. However i made category name changes at the same time and because i didn’t spend too much time testing everything out, there are occurences where some urls are giving out 404 errors.

Ugly message for bad requests: For urls that don’t exist, the website just says a one-liner to inform the user that the content was not found. This is disgraceful and should really show the user the same layout as the website and give alternate urls for the user to try to enhance the user experience on the site.

Feedback for questions not working: I found it really odd that questions which were asked by visitors were not being followed by either by themselves or other people. I didn’t pay too much attention to it until today and when i tried to insert an answer myself, the page would just refresh without saving the feedback from the visitor. Very bad!! I don’t even want to know how many people tried to send feedback and thought it was sent through when it didn’t make its way to the database πŸ™

Avoiding the Google filter

The keywords that I am targetting are too closely aligned to the anchor texts of internal links on my website. Therefore instead of linking to a particular page with the page title as the anchor text, I will link to it using the subject instead. I remember i used to link to my inner pages with the subject but in an attempt to get better rankings, i switched over to linking with title tags. This had a very nasty consequence for me as i lost most if not all of my good rankings some 6 months ago. But i never really bothered to switch back to the original lest it was too many changes in a short space of time for GoogleBot and i thought i would be penalised further. But now it seems that this is all too much over-optimisation and as the algorithms have now changed in Google, i need to make sure that i am getting the most by under-optimising my web pages.

One other thing, my homepage has got like 137 links and Google recommends to have less than 100 links, so this needs to be rectified as well πŸ™‚

Over optimisation penalty by google

I’ve been badly hit by an over-optimisation penalty (also called OOP) by Google on one of my sites. This affects only certain URLs of my website and not the whole website. The symptoms are as follows:

  • certain pages of the site are not indexed anymore (been deindexed and removed from google index)
  • the affected pages show PR N/A ( PageRank Not/Applicable – grey toolbar) although they have been published and online for a while and witnessed Google PR Update (shame they didn’t get any though)
  • obviously you are no longer ranking for these keywords on those web pages (other sites less relevant but having that keyword shows up but not your site url)

On the 8th of December 2008, I filed a Re-Inclusion Request through Google Webmasters Tools hoping they would sort it out but after 5 weeks of no reply, i’ve made myself realise that there was definitely a problem with my site’s pages. I previously thought they had unfairly banned these pages through undeliberate algorithm problems but now i think it’s something to do with over optimisation.

I don’t do blackhat – but i know what i want to target and how to write good information on that particular topic. However I may have triggered a red flag and have got penalised for it. Here are the things that you need to look for when dealing with OOP:

  • title, url and header tags being too tightly aligned
  • anchor texts of backlinks being unnaturally aligned (internal links count as well)
  • alt tags and other elements that are over optimised
  • keyword stuffing

I’m in the process of tweaking one or two affected pages to see if the ban if automatically lifted now. I’m pretty sure it will though because when GoogleBot will next crawl the penalised page, it will see that it is no longer over-optimised and will re-evaluate its importance and hopefully index and rank it again.

Too many internal links can cause Google penalisation

Probably since September/October last year, I noticed that a particular category on one of my sites has been penalised by Google. The reason for me to believe this is that even after Q3 PR update, most articles in this category remained at PR N/A while more recent articles managed to get PR0 or PR1. Now i have been trying to find out what the possible causes of this might be to no avail.

So far I have concentrated my research on external factors like external links but today my attention was caught by a post on a blog which talks about sitewide links on a new site pointing to an external site. Here’s the link:

The Lucid Blog – Kicked out of google index

This post has made me realised that I could be having the same problem on my site because at the end of each article I’ve got a section for related articles which pulls down all (not a few related ones!) articles from the same category. Now for the category which has been penalised, I’ve got lots of articles written about it and if you look at one article for this category, you can see at least 50 related articles. This is a technical problem which i was meant to address before but delayed it because I was designing a new CMS for the site. But this has been like this for more than 6 months now as i haven’t got much time to finish the CMS until now.

This is just what i think is the problem anyway. If by removing the related article or decreasing the number of related articles to 5 I manage to ditch this penalisation, it would mean too many internal links are bad for SEO. Having said this, when i’ve looked in Google Webmaster Tools, I’ve noticed that pages which have been labeled as PR N/A, not because they are new but because of the penalty on them, are not shown as internal links in Google Webmasters Tools.

New year resolution 2009

Last year, my resolution for 2008 were as follows:

  1. Spend more time with Poum (failed to meet)
  2. Buy a house (done that in November 2008)
  3. Increase my adsense earnings to $1000 (hehe) (achieved for a few months and lost it unfortunately)
  4. Find time to play my guitar (if i played it 3 times, it was a lot!)
  5. Eat more healthy food (been saying the same thing for the past 10 years)
  6. Acquire the microsoft certifications which will help me most in my career (done and dusted

So I managed to do 3 out of the 6 resolutions i set myself for 2008. For the year 2009, I’ve got just 4 resolutions and they are as follows:

  • Spend more time with Poum (holiday, less time on computers etc)
  • Set up a business
  • Exercise
  • Play guitar

We’ll see how many of these I manage to complete this year but I’ve got more determination this time (I know i say this all the time, lol)