A colleague of mine gave me a call yesterday morning with some rather upsetting news. Apparently, one of his websites took a plunge in its Google Ranking. He wanted to know what could cause such a sudden drop in Google Ranking like this.
I really didn’t have an answer for him. The site has been alive (but in the Google Sandbox) for about four years. It always struck me as strange that the site was sandboxed for such a long time. It literally took four years to come from page 30 in the Google Rankings to page one. Suddenly, last month, the website appeared on page one for its most prime keywords. Now, this wasn’t a gradual change in ranking, it was a huge jump.
The website doesn’t appear to have anything wrong with it. I gave the entire site a once over. I checked the typical meta information and linking structure and found nothing wrong. The website really hasn’t changed in months, besides the content, so it led me to believe there are outside forces at work.
The question I have is, “Why would a website, with a poor ranking, suddenly rank number five on Google one month and then fall back to page 24 the next month?”
I tried to get some information out of my friend. The only thing major he did in the past few weeks is to add a custom 404 or Not Found error message. I checked the 404 page to make sure the headers were correct and not giving 200 results. They error 404 pages were fine.
Then, I went over to Copyscape to see if there were any copies of his homepage. I have heard this can cause a sudden drop in Google rankings. I did find a proxy website that had almost his entire website cached and was trying to pull it off as its own. This wasn’t a typical proxy server trying to speed up the internet. This was something else…more like an intercept proxy.
I looked in the log files to find the IP address of this proxy website. I found it and blocked the IP address in his .htaccess file and then checked the proxy website again. His website no longer showed and was replaced by the Red Hat error page instead.
We will have to give this a few weeks to see if anything changes. I am now thinking that is something does change (for the better), this may have been what was causing the extremely long Google Sandbox issue as well.
If you have any further suggestions, please let me know via comment.