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  1. #1
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Pages in Google primary index are up, but I've lost top keywords and have no traffic!
    Something very strange is happening, and I'm wondering if I should be concerned. I use no techniques that are even slightly resembling even 'grey hat' (that I know of), so I don't know how to address the problem.

    Recently, my site has seen a big jump in google traffic. This wasn't overnight. A few weeks I averaged about 30 to 50 visits a day. Then I went to 50 to 100 a day, sometimes peaking at 68 - other times getting as high as 142 visitors.

    I've been promoting some of my pages that I feel are presentable on various related blogs and forums. I don't like to promote until I feel a page is as 'finished' as it will ever be, so I don't do this all the time. I linked to my page in blog responses or forum posts probably around 5 or 6 times this week which is not alot, however, (as I said earlier) I don't often promote.

    There were a few pages that I was getting good traffic on recently. These were content-rich articles and I had several phrases that I could expect #1 placement on. One page that did particularly well hadn't even been optimized. It had a lengthy article I wrote, but I can't recall ever 'optimizing' it. I saw the number of my pages in Google's primary index increase from 8 to 10 to 16 to 22 over the course of several days.

    In fact, last night at 11:56pm (when I got my last visitor), I had 20 pages in Google's primary index. As of midnight, I've had 0 visitors from ANYWHERE, which has NEVER happened before. And when I check my site in Google this morning, I have 22 pages in the primary index. I'm still in Yahoo and MSN, and in the top 10 for my previous #1 Google keywords.

    Checking my previously top keywords (where I've been #1 for over a month), I don't show up anywhere. Nor do my other usual companions at the top of the ant hill appear for those words. Instead, the #1 spot is a site a page by 'easywebcreator' that has nothing to do with the topic, I can't find anything about it in the source code or on the seen page.

    Aside from making a half-dozen recommendations to my site on others blogs or forums, I've made a few other changes. A very popular page of mine was over 100k and I thought it was taking a long time to load. I broke it down into two connected pages. I also made use of a new menu bar at the top of my page and put this in an external javascript file, so as to keep my code clean at the top of my page.

    I got a huge amount of updating done yesterday, and cleaned up a lot of outdated pages. I removed several pages that featured an affiliate who recently left LS. I also updated my Google sitemap yesterday to reflect these changes.

    I've got a TON of site scrapers scraping my content. I recently gave up on fighting this battle as there is just more and more of them and nothing I can seem to do to get rid of them. I figured they couldn't hurt me, were just irritating, so concentrated on other things. Can being scraped actually hurt a site? I don't see how, but am really scratching my head on what could've happened!

    I'm still in my first year of this, so should be considered a 'newbie' still. Has anyone else seen this? Should I be concerned or just wait it out?

    Thanks for any input! You guys are really great. Hopefully I'll make it to the point someday where I can give sage advice...

    (BTW - during the writing of this post I got my 1st visitor for today, which was a reload it looks like of someone who'd been sitting on my forum for 23 hours now and originally entered from an MSN search.)
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  2. #2
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    I'm no expert and I don't claim to have either a clue or insider information but I do have an observation.

    Used to be we all sat around holding our breath waiting for the outcome of the monthly Google dance. Well Google doesn't do that anynore. It's constantly cycling through pages and making adjustments. I can gain *and* lose up to half my site traffic (referred by Google) within a week. I don't get excited about it anymore. I wish I knew what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong though.

    Sometimes I think the strength of the oscillation has a lot to do with it. Like if you go WAY up then when you come down you'll come WAY down. If the oscillation has been weaker then the reciprocal oscillation will also be weaker. But really I don't have a clue what I'm talking about. Ask anyone around here. They'll confirm.

  3. #3
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    lschofield - Has anyone else seen this? Should I be concerned or just wait it out?
    That's normal Google "flukes". Your visitors are going to come back after a few days. You should expect that after an update of your sites. It takes years for the traffic to stabilize.

  4. #4
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Thanks Rhea. I'm going to try to not worry about it today and assume the rankings/traffic will come back. I just keep being reminded of something that happened to me about a month or two into this game.

    I discovered SSIs and fell in love with using them. I also had to change my pages from .html to .shtml. Not wanting to lose any inbound links I may have accumulated at that time, I altered my .htaccess.

    I used 301 redirects on all of my pages from the old .html to the new .shtml. This promptly got me removed from Google's index. That one was easy enough to figure out analytically, although anyone will tell you that 301 redirects don't get you punished (I think when you cross a certain ratio of redirected pages you do get penalized). I learned by trial and error there. Removed the 301 redirects, just deleted my old .htmls, and I was back in business with Google.

    I can honestly say though that this has been one of the worst traffic days for me since I started this game. Even worse than when I was in amateur-looking web rings and used a WYSIWYG editor. And I'm utterly perplexed because of the increased pages in Google's primary index!!
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  5. #5
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeus
    That's normal Google "flukes". Your visitors are going to come back after a few days. You should expect that after an update of your sites. It takes years for the traffic to stabilize.
    Thanks. This is what I'm hoping! Maybe I'll take a day off and bake those cookies with my kids like I told them we could do today...
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  6. #6
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    "Should I be concerned or just wait it out?"

    What Zeus was saying. Sometimes is just best to hold tight, wait it out.

  7. #7
    Member blizzard's Avatar
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    You may find it interesting (and alarming) to Google the terms "Google 950 penalty"

    Also search the WMW forums Google section. There is a lot of talk about this right now.

  8. #8
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blizzard
    You may find it interesting (and alarming) to Google the terms "Google 950 penalty"

    Also search the WMW forums Google section. There is a lot of talk about this right now.

    Had a look out of interest (I'd don't want to get paranoid ). One of my 3-word keyword phrases that I've pretty much owned for several months at #1 (and that I have a mailing list for updates to the info where I get about 20 new subscribers a week) IS at the end. There aren't 950 primary index results, only 870. Of that I am result #864. That literally happened at 12:00am this morning.

    What is weird though is that superficial site that held #1 this morning - check out 'easywebcreator.com' and see if you think it would be natural that they get #1 for anything! (Not to pass judgements, they're just not relevant enough for any particular subject to get top placement).

    And weirder still is that my primary indexed pages would jump up (with no changes made to some of them that had been supplementary and I frankly wasn't expecting to see them move out of that trap yet) to include 8 more - but I would be moved to the back pages for nichey keywords that I'm relevant on.

    I'll stay with the thought that its my tidying up of the site - deleting broken links, removing dead info and adding fresh, etc... (I've got loads more of that to do as well) that has confused the Google beast momentarily and all will be well soon.

    Otherwise, I will continue to report on this -863 penalty for documentary purposes.
    Last edited by lschofield; July 15th, 2007 at 03:27 PM. Reason: making more specific - overnight to 'at midnight'
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  9. #9
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Just checked on my other #1 7-word keyword phrase that has owned google #1 for over a month now and found it to be #877 out of 890 results.

    I normally check the top 100 for my optimized keywords. If its not within that, it just needs work - no more explanation. I only would monitor it once it hit, say, the top 30. Reading about this 950 penalty though prompted me to start at the back and go from there, I didn't actually page through all those hundreds of results!

    Whereas SEO is a 'dark art' (my son is going to Harry Potter camp tonight, it appears to be rubbing off on me as well!), algorithms ARE mathematical and thus an exact science. Whether or not this is a penalty or an adjustment phase, it is SO extreme as to warrant documentation methinks...

    Reading some googled articles on the '950', I particularly like the story about the blogger John Chow. I mentioned that I don't normally promote my site, as it has been a huge learning project and I haven't felt comfortable promoting any part of it until the past few months. Even still, there are only about half a dozen pages I would consider 'finished'. Getting half a dozen in-bound links in a week is not huge, but proportionately to the 'no inbound links' I usually get, that is a jump. Maybe I was a little too happy.

    Prime example - I had a listing of some useful US sites and decided to expand the listing to cover Canada. I did this, and posted it with appropriate text on 2 Canadian blogs where other visitors where wondering where to find this information. That brought the page from supplemental to primary index. BINGO! I then did the same technique on a US forum. I'm pretty sure it was just one...

    I have some rather large pages that I thought would certainly benefit by becoming several smaller pages. I've started this project one of my 3 targeted pages, moving 1/5 of it to a new page. BIG project as my site is one tangled web of intertwining links. I wanted to ensure that the addition of this page and subsequent removal of content from another high ranking page (not one of the two noted above) would not cause a problem. I set out to write a unique article for the new page. During research for this article, I happened across a couple of forums requesting a good site to cover the topic. I linked back to my site from those forums in response with appropriate keyword text. This would've been 3 or 4 instances max, perhaps even as little as two.

    I have quite a few pages I set up as 'placeholders' while constructing my navigation. They are spartan, but unique (although I certainly wouldn't call them authoring, they are just unique and spartan placeholders). I intend to flesh them out as soon as I can, and add to them whenever I get the chance. Maybe they could be construed as 'doorway pages', but I haven't optimized them for anything... Thus, they don't really fit the definition of a doorway page.

    No plagiarism or hidden text. I did add a top menu as an external javascript file. Maybe that looks shady?

    Hopefully this is of interest to others out there and we can treat it as the experiment that it is at this point!

    Another big traffic generator (not ever a #1, sometimes a #11) I'm at #385 out of 390 results.
    Last edited by lschofield; July 15th, 2007 at 04:17 PM. Reason: additional info about 3rd page
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  10. #10
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    I discovered SSIs and fell in love with using them. I also had to change my pages from .html to .shtml. Not wanting to lose any inbound links I may have accumulated at that time, I altered my .htaccess.
    It's too late now, but you didn't have to change the URLs. You can just tell the server in .htaccess to parse .html pages for SSI or php includes and the URLs can stay exactly the same.

    I used 301 redirects on all of my pages from the old .html to the new .shtml. This promptly got me removed from Google's index. That one was easy enough to figure out analytically, although anyone will tell you that 301 redirects don't get you punished (I think when you cross a certain ratio of redirected pages you do get penalized). I learned by trial and error there. Removed the 301 redirects, just deleted my old .htmls, and I was back in business with Google.
    Frankly, I think this is at the root of the problem, not that 950+ penalty.

  11. #11
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by webworker
    It's too late now, but you didn't have to change the URLs. You can just tell the server in .htaccess to parse .html pages for SSI or php includes and the URLs can stay exactly the same.

    Frankly, I think this is at the root of the problem, not that 950+ penalty.

    Yes, that was a problem. I learned the hard way on that one. That happened in January though, and the site rebounded really well after the 301 redirects were removed. Not a single redirect. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. That or it'll just sort itself out in a day or two (fingers crossed!).
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  12. #12
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    I've been thinking, and what really gets me is that if the site is being penalized, why am I still in the index, let alone gaining pages in the index? The 301 redirect scandal actually got me out - when I typed my address in the google search, no results came up. Now I'm doing the site: search and counting the ones before "supplemental" appears, no problems.

    Monitoring the rank, I am slowly moving up. Like from 864 out of 870 to 878 out of 896. Or 864 out of 870 to 878 out of 896. I have also had some traffic. Some from links, some direct type-in, some from my mailing list. Some from ask, msn, yahoo, etc... 1 google result actually where someone was looking for my forum.

    My theory at this
    I think Google might flag a domain for suspicious activity (through algorithm obviously) such as sudden increase in incoming links, particularly if those inbound links contain keywords. They managed to stop the G-bomb for 'miserable failure' so we know they can and do monitor these.

    The 'John Chow' story proves that a sudden increase in links can damage your rank (IF that story is true and not just a marketing ploy in itself, I'd never heard of John Chow before today but now I've mentioned him by name several times in this post, and googled his name! Clever trick?

    Obviously, a webmaster doesn't have power over ALL incoming links, and a site can just get a lot of them by being a good site - maybe even all in a short time span. Thus Google would have to figure this in.

    I think they're using a 'sink or swim' approach to sites with a sudden influx of links. If those links are legit, and people like the site at the anchor destination, it would be safe to say the links are actual product testimonials. If your bounce rate from the links increases, you can write them off as spam (one would think.) Sounds like a fair method of assessing the quality of those links to me! However, if your page views and average time per site visit maintain or increase, I think you can rest assured of returning to your position.

    I would also say this would be done gradually, with different factors counting as votes in an almost simulated Digg.

    If I'm correct, this would be nothing mysterious. Just separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak. If they can take away their support and you still get some visitors (from that link influx presumably), you've just learned to swim. Sick of my bad analogies yet?

    This may account for the occasionaol flux as well: it may not be as dramatic as mine due to factors Rhea mentioned, such as yahoo, msn, customer base, links, etc... which could be significant for a more well-established site.

    Thankfully my weekly newsletter is due to come out today - so hopefully that'll put me back in google's good graces. I better make it a good one this week, hunh?

    All in all, this would be another argument for quality. If your site is worth looking at - you should have nothing to worry about.

    I'll let you know what happens.
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  13. #13
    ABW Ambassador Sam Bay's Avatar
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    Google is able to differentiate legitimate "sudden increase in incoming links" from illegitimate ones, quite easily.

    John Chow is completely banned from Google index. In your case it seems you were "penalized", not necessarily banned. And John Chow's main fault, in additon to excessive and bribe-based link exchange, was selling paid link ads (text-link-ads), which is clearly stated in Google's quality guideline to be prohibited.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Bay
    Google is able to differentiate legitimate "sudden increase in incoming links" from illegitimate ones, quite easily.
    I would have to disagree. Part of the problem Google faces is the speed with which spammers operate. If a spammer can successfully game the rankings to earn #1 for a top search term even for just a day, that's going to make them a lot of revenue.

    Algorithm-based detecting is thus always one step late in dealing with the problem.

    On the other hand, if your (legitimate) site is suddenly penalized by Google, it can take weeks or months to recover. Your only hope, really, is either a favorable algorithm shift, rewriting your site to hopefully undo whatever looked suspicious in the first place, or getting a human review from Google.

    This last strategy is probably going to become more and more important, from Google's point of view.

    A human can easily, instantly identify a spam site. The only problem with human site reviews is the enormous scale of the web. And, of course, subjectivity between individual reviewers.

  15. #15
    Affiliate Manager Howard Gottlieb's Avatar
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    Google presents a moving target. Our main site lost a lot of placement when we updated our site. The lessons we learned were to make sure your linking strategy does not seriously dilute your home page and that you also spend some time getting links to internal pages, not just your home page.

    I will say, though, that if you get relevant links from relevant sites and keep adding relevant content you always win in the end. AND be careful of over reacting. Make little changes whose results can be quantified not draconian steps that make it difficult to know what exactly affected results.

  16. #16
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Well, something very strange is up. I'm not AS upset, as I got 85% of my average site visits yesterday WITHOUT google, but I just imagine what it would be if I still had them.

    All my html and css is valid, I've not paid for any links, participated in link farms, all links in fact are on related sites and go to interior, relevant pages. No hidden text or other blackhat.

    I think its got something to do with my navigation - I've seen that sometimes multiple links within a site pointing to the same page are counted as duplicate content. I'm not sure what you meant visitourmall by 'diluting' the home page? My homepage is much of a muchness, doesn't have alot to it at all. I personally use the site map when wanting to quickly navigate around (prominently placed in the universal header).

    I tidied up my navigation prior to this, making sure everything was all linked together the way I wanted it (to allow for easy comparison). This very well could be the culprit.

    Only other idea would be that my 'placeholder' pages are seen as too similar, or maybe even as doorway pages (although I doubt it, as I haven't optimized them). I need to speed up on fleshing them out.

    I know something is wrong though, because:

    1) I have a page devoted to test driving cars (kinda nichey)

    2) I owned google's #1 for months on a related 3 word search

    3) My newsletter on this topic has over 60 members, with a click-through rate on newsletter links as 150%. Guess they refer to the newsletter throughout the week when they check for updates on the page. I've actually received emails from people thanking me for the information and newsletter. There is an original article I wrote on that topic. (All this would point to the page in question having quality content.) It is also one of my pages with minimal affiliate links - I have three at the bottom (selling your car on eBay and at Yahoo, and weekend rentals from Enterprise).

    4) When you do an intitle search for my 3 word phrase, my site is the only one that comes up (still primary index, not supplemental).

    5)Take away the intitle parameter but leave the quotes around the phrase and there are now 12 results. My page is #11 and #12. Result #2 and 6 - 9 refer to my site, and don't necessarily link to it (in fact, #2 is a post by myself here at abestweb - talking about how I get alot of traffic for my test drive info at my forum, but no one was contributing at the time and I was trying to think of ways to energize the forum)

    6)Take away the quotes from the search query and you get 854 results. My page is #846.

    7)The site that replaced me as #1 the other day (easywebcreator.com) is now #3 (#1 is an article by the NYTimes on test driving tax preparation software). Easywebcreator.com had no information on test drives, however it billed itself as having a directory on the subject.

    8)Easywebcreator.com's page is not there today, I get a "page cannot be found" error. In fact, if you type in easywebcreator.com you get a "page cannot be found" error for the whole site! But they're still #3 in the results!

    I'm wondering if they had something to do with it as they breezed in and out so quickly. I was reading about hijacking that had been going on a few years ago with the base href tag, and that this was a known google bug. When I moused over my results though, they pointed at my domain. One would presume Google got that taken care of as well?
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  17. #17
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    You know sometimes it just happens. I have a site I haven't updated in years, kind of hoped it would die out but then a couple of months ago, Google started sending it traffic again. There have been times where my site would get good traffic, then next to nothing. I sit tight and it comes back again. It could be something you're doing or it could be that's just how search engines are sometimes.

  18. #18
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blizzard
    I would have to disagree. Part of the problem Google faces is the speed with which spammers operate. If a spammer can successfully game the rankings to earn #1 for a top search term even for just a day, that's going to make them a lot of revenue.

    Algorithm-based detecting is thus always one step late in dealing with the problem.

    On the other hand, if your (legitimate) site is suddenly penalized by Google, it can take weeks or months to recover. Your only hope, really, is either a favorable algorithm shift, rewriting your site to hopefully undo whatever looked suspicious in the first place, or getting a human review from Google.

    This last strategy is probably going to become more and more important, from Google's point of view.

    A human can easily, instantly identify a spam site. The only problem with human site reviews is the enormous scale of the web. And, of course, subjectivity between individual reviewers.

    Like DMOZ supplying Google's index? I've applied to them (not for my main site though) with a smaller, content-based site (only affiliate linking was in the sidebar or with Google AdWords). DMOZ listed sites have linked to my content-based site, and I've gotten plenty of traffic from that. But DMOZ itself never replied. I hear that their turnaround is long and even nonexistant for some categories. They are another topic though....
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  19. #19
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trust
    You know sometimes it just happens. I have a site I haven't updated in years, kind of hoped it would die out but then a couple of months ago, Google started sending it traffic again. There have been times where my site would get good traffic, then next to nothing. I sit tight and it comes back again. It could be something you're doing or it could be that's just how search engines are sometimes.
    Yeah, I've put so much into this and its so near completion. I'm just going to plug on and keep building the site and assume I'll get back in the good graces.

    I've always been a sucker for these types of mysteries though...
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  20. #20
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Just checked the site: search function and I'm back down to 9 primary index pages with the rest supplemental. I don't dispute (most) of that as I'm still building my site, but I was certainly happy when they gave me 22 primary index pages!

    We'll see now if the ones that they've kept as primary index regain their footing. They haven't as of yet.
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  21. #21
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Back to #1 on google for my phrases. I got rid of some new internal links that I had made prior to the penalty, and made my title tags and descriptions more unique. And maybe it just took a few days to sort out. 'Spose I learned not to rely on Google, and actively promote alternative traffic.
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  22. #22
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    How many repetitions of a main keyword did you have in global navigation, either by itself or part of phrases?

  23. #23
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by webworker
    How many repetitions of a main keyword did you have in global navigation, either by itself or part of phrases?
    These were the types of links I removed. These appeared on each of my around 100 pages each devoted to a single store. I've replaced my site's name with "mysite" in the links here.

    <div class=\"legend\"></div><!-- wolfgangs vault -->
    <div class=\"outer\"><div class=\"fieldset\">
    <br>
    <ul>
    <li><a href=\"http://mysite/online-coupon-code.shtml#wolfgang\">Find online coupon codes for Wolfgang&#39;s Vault</a></li>
    <li><a href=\"http://mysite/deals.shtml#wolfgang\">Check hot deals at Wolfgang&#39;s Vault</a></li>
    <li><a href=\"http://mysite/shipping.shtml#wolfgang\">Browse promotional shipping offers at Wolfgang&#39;s Vault</a></li></ul>
    </div></div><br>
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  24. #24
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    I have sort-of the reverse situation - Google does not like me in that 'site:xxxxxx' returns no pages in Google, period - but Google site stats shows a whole bunch of high ranking search words and phrases???

    I don't get much of my search engine traffic from Google - most is from Yahoo.

    According to my logs - Yahoo and Google 'bots' are the main traffic my server sees

    Charles

  25. #25
    Member lschofield's Avatar
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    I don't get much of my search engine traffic from Google - most is from Yahoo.
    Charles, I did pretty well in MSN before Google and then Yahoo picked me up. Just give it time.

    Back to the original problem though, it happened again. Although this time only to one page and not the whole site. The same one that had been overtaken by easywebcreator, and again, they maintain #3 with no justifiable content to keep them there!

    I was showing a friend of mine how I've come to "own" a few phrases, showed her an example phrase in google, and boom, I wasn't there! I then said, "Oh wait, this'll be too weird if I'm 9 or 8 places from the last result". Guess where I was? 9 places above the last result. Today I'm 8 above it. And I haven't changed a thing on that page since the last fiasco got corrected!

    I recently read about 'google bowling' and am wondering if this might be the culprit? I'm completely white hat. Someone even searched for me by googling my site's name followed by the key word phrase I've lost - you would think this would be an indication that my site is legitimately what it says it is. I have tattled on a scraper before (not easywebcreator though), I wonder if I'm seeing the effects of 'google bowling'.
    [IMG]http://www.centsible.net/images/centsible28x196.bmp[/IMG]
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