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Google's new position 6 penalty

A discussion in an online webmaster forum indicates that Google might have invented a new ranking penalty for websites that rank well for popular search terms.

What has happened?

During the last few weeks, some webmasters noticed that some of their long term position 1 or position 2 rankings in Google suddenly ranked at position 6.

The problem affected well established websites with a long history. The dropped web pages had long time rankings for popular search terms, usually on position 1.

Why has Google done this?

It is not exactly clear yet which factors cause that ranking drop in Google's results. There are two theories:

  1. Google now considers usage data when calculating the rankings.
  2. Google now has a better understanding of word and phrase relationships.

If different usage data is the reason for the change then web pages with a higher click-through rate would get higher positions. However, some webmasters reported that even web pages with high click through rates have been downranked.

The penalty also seems to affect web pages that are listed with an appealing title and a description that is very relevant to the search term so it might be that the click-rate is not taken into account.

We think that it's more likely that the word and phrase relationships are the reason for the ranking drops. It seems that web pages with too many inbound links using exactly the searched keyword as the anchor text were affected by the filter.

If the link to a special web page always uses exactly the same anchor text then the word variety is probably extremely low compared to the competing websites in the top results. That indicates a manipulation of the anchor texts and Google applies the filter.

What can you do to avoid that filter?

When you build links to your website, make sure that you use different but related keywords for the links to your site. If you overuse the same link text, Google might discover a manipulation.

If you use different but related keywords, then ranking algorithms will consider your web page relevant to a special topic. Use IBP's inbound link analyzer to get further information about the inbound link structure that leads to top 10 rankings.

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January 2008 search engine articles