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Google drops pages and positions on 22 October 2010

Published on October 27, 2010
Tags: SEO

We noticed that on 22 October one of our clients, who has held top-5 listings on Google for many keywords for many years, suddenly had a random batch of pages removed from Google. Our client's site was carefully not over optimised, had unique content, unique meta data, unbiased website reviews - basically, everything Google looks for in a site. Most of the random batch of pages were completely removed, others lost positions whilst other pages maintained their existing positions without problem. To further complicate things, pages with a lower 'value' to Google started appearing near the top of their rankings in their place.

This left us baffled. Why has Google suddenly dropped pages and positions for a perfectly good site? A bit of research suggests that we're not alone and there are webmasters and SEO specialists around the globe scratching their heads asking exactly the same question having experienced exactly the same problem.

Then we started to look a bit further. Could this be down to another co-incidental issue? An error at Google?

On 22 October, reports started to emerge that Google wasn't indexing brand new content. CNN was one site flagged as an example. On 24 October Matt Cutts of Google reported via Twitter 'Just fyi, the right people on our indexing team are resolving the issue that people have reported', which suggests the problem was still apparent two days later. Which then led us to think that perhaps this is all a bit coincidental; Google admits an indexing problem around 22 October and good web sites around the globe suddenly start losing rankings at the same time.... hmmmmm...

Our theory leads us to believe that what might have happened is that Google's indexers failed (this we know), however not only for new content but also for existing pages being reindexed (this we can't confirm). If that's the case, what could have happened is that the pages went to be re-indexed, the indexers failed, which led Google to 'believe' the pages being reindexed no longer existed so they were pulled from the Google search results. Now, for sites like CNN that are indexed almost in real time we'd expect any missing pages to re-appear pretty quickly after the indexing technology is fixed. But, for those of us with sites that aren't quite that big, that will be indexed perhaps every few weeks, that could mean that it will be a few weeks before those 'missing' pages are reindexed, rediscovered and added back in to the indexes.

To us, this theory backs up with the timing of Google's own admission, as well as the random nature of the page removals our client experienced.

The other theory, of course, is there's been a large-scale algorithm update as happened in May / June 2010. Although, this doesn't seem to follow through quite as well, as we would have expected to see different results to those we saw with our client as well as with other sites we've seen reporting the same type of problem. At this stage, there doesn't seem to be a pattern that would back this up. We might be wrong of course, and if we are time will tell!

So, for webmasters, SEO experts and site owners what's our advice? Don't panic! As with all things Google, first sit tight for a few weeks and see what transpires. If our theory is right, then everything should return to normal in the next few weeks. If the algorithm change theory is right, then in the next few weeks it will become more evident who the winners and losers were, and how you can adjust your site to get back into favour with Google. Either way, action now wouldn't be prudent - hard as it is, take a deep breath, relax, and see what unfolds.

By Chelsey Evans

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James Parsons

Commented on November 17, 2010

Well, its Nov 17th, more than 3 weeks later, and my traffic is still down more than 60% after October 22nd.

Time to get worried?

Craig Sharpe

Commented on November 6, 2010

I have had exactly the same problem with numerous law sites I have, all of them ticked every google box and were ranking great - they have been massacred and no sign of a penalty. The results I can see in the legal sector in the UK are very odd, crappy directories and sites wiuth cleraly sold sub-pages as advertising seem to have gained - what is going on ?!

Trying not to panic but it's now 6th November and my sites have been like this for a week...


Commented on October 31, 2010

Google seems to be losing it. One of my sites that has been very carefully optimised with a very strong backlink profile had been ranking top 5 for about 6 keywords. All of a sudden they dropped heavily.

Now several sites in the same niche with solely links build via automated blackhat tools ( spammy links from forums ect.) are ranking in the top 5
I cannot beleive that this is what google wants.

The hardworking sites simply drop heavy, while sites with low quality backlinks are ranking high. Google is basicly telling us: SPam as much as you can, and we will reward you with a high ranking.

One of my test sites ( on wich i test with shady seo tecniques) has climed to top 3 listings.

Bing does seem to be the better search engine these days, as this does rank sites that desurve to rank.


Commented on October 30, 2010

One of our sites virtually died on the 22nd October. I initially have put it down to sitemap issues causing a problem, but now I'm not so sure.
Just hope it turns round soon!

Colin Hall

Commented on October 27, 2010

So what happens to the Google recorded date stamps when someone reproduces your un-indexed content and then gets it indexed before you can get it indexed by Google? My guess is that your site will get a penalty for being the copier and not credited for being the creator.


Commented on October 27, 2010

I agree to the first part that google stopped indexing new pages. But I havent faced any ranking drops for the existing SERP.

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