Just when life is chugging along at an easy pace, you hit a brick wall. This was the case about two weeks ago when one of my sites went from number one in the search rankings to all but invisible overnight. Needless to say, I was not happy. I was, instead, extremely confused.
Why would a small site that had ranked extremely well for 10 years suddenly up and disappear? I checked every keyphrase I normally ranked for… no Copywriting Course site. I even searched for the actual URL of the home page… nothing.
Then I discovered something. Pages that had been deleted long ago were popping up on the search engine results page (SERP). Weird!
I’ve seen changes come and go. There have been some previously huge changes to Google that have sent my sites into a temporary whirlwind in years past. But this was different. There didn’t seem to be an obvious reason. That’s when I decided to enlist the help of my bud and SEO expert, Jill Whalen of Boston Search Engine Optimization firm HighRankings.com.
The Things Nobody Tells You
After running a command, Jill discovered a lot of duplicate content associated with the site. Huh? There’s no duplicate content on that site. Or so I thought.
Yet there it was in black and white. (Or blue and white, as the case may be.)
When I took a look at the actual file names of the URLs, it dawned on me what was going on.
A week or two earlier, I’d hired someone to move this site from one hosting company to another. Before she did, I wanted to go through the files and clean out some old junk I no longer wanted to keep. When I was done, I told her to go ahead and move the updated list of files.
The things nobody tells you. What I didn’t realize was that moving the entire list of files would make all of them live: including all the test index pages I’d saved over the years. Suddenly, the web was being flooded with about a dozen ever-so-slightly different versions of my index page. Not a good thing!
Of course, once they all got indexed the Googlebot choked. And – just as Google has outlined time and again – one page was allowed through and all others got clipped by the duplicate content filter. They may still have been indexed, but they were filtered out of the rankings. In this case, the only thing that eventually ranked was a YouTube video on one of the test pages. Internal pages from the site showed up in the SERPS, but not the most current index page.
Leaping Into Action
As soon as I discovered what had happened, I deleted the test pages from the server. Then I created a robot.txt file to prevent a few other pages from being indexed.
About a week later… poof! The original index page was back in the rankings at number one for my primary keyphrase and in the top seven for other keyphrases. Phew!
Just goes to show that – even if Google has recently bombarded us with changes – rankings shifts may simply be caused by human error .
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