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I had a site that ranked in the top 3 positions for one keyword and in the top 6 positions for another.

At the beginning of October, both terms dropped radically from the search results.

I had recently changed the .htaccess file to stop redirecting 404 errors back to the home page.

This resulted in the following:

  1. Some old links to non-SEO optimised pages were being reported as crawl errors in Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Old pages which had been renamed over the last year were being crawled by googlebot because of the redirect removal back to the homepage.

Also, I noticed that the pages containing the keywords were not included in the Internal Links in Google Webmaster Tools anymore.

I have set up 301 redirects for the crawl errors and 301 redirects for the updated file names and I am waiting for Google Webmaster Tools to clear the crawl errors and for googlebot to start crawling the correct pages. However, I am worried that there is more of a problem for the keyword rankings than the pages errors.

Is there any way of determining if the site has been punished for certain keywords?

2

Google only punishes a site if it is caught trying to manipulate the SERPs. If you saw a drop in your rankings immediately after making some big changes, then the odds are that those changes have played a role in the change in rankings you saw. The first thing you should do is undo the changes you have made if possible. If your rankings return, you can start making changes again but do them one at a time so you can see what effect they have on your rankings. That will help you identify which change is affecting you the most.

  • 1
    The changes were made a month ago so I fear it may be too late to revert and need to stick with the changes instead of changing back and upsetting the algorithm further. I'm monitoring the log file to make sure everything is in order and hoping googlebot eventually only crawls the most up to date URLs. If all is not well after this then I will need to do some further SEO analysis but was hoping to start looking at pages that had maybe been punished for being over optimised – Craig Angus Oct 25 '10 at 13:33
  • There is no such thing as "over optimized". There only is "poorly done". "Over optimized" is when the search engines are placed above the users in terms of priority. This almost always results in problems. – John Conde Oct 25 '10 at 13:53
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Google Webmaster Tools is the first place to look - you can see which pages Googlebot expects to see which are now throwing a 404 error.

I wouldn't say that your site is being punished - that would imply that there is an intent behind the change in your rankings; it's really just a matter of showing Googlebot that the links to your bygone content are still relevant to your site.

If possible, I would use 301 redirects to push rank from the content which is no longer there to existing content which has similar relevance (or just back to the homepage) and set up a sitemap to ensure that all valid pages are enumerated for indexing.

This might also be a good time to work at building some new links to your site, as well - couldn't hurt and it may help to get Googlebot through your site sooner (depending upon your present indexing priority).

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Just try to search in Google some "very unique phrase from your site" in quotes and check search results. If you will not find your site in first page of search results - than you are punished by Google.

  • 1
    The questioner wanted to know if it was for some of the keywords, not generally. – paulmorriss Apr 23 '12 at 14:29

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