Title changes can wreak havoc on rankings

by Donna Fontenot August 25th, 2005 

A little more than a month ago, I posted about the unique situation that I find myself where I get to have a peek at what a large SEO firm is doing with a former (semi-current) client of mine. A summary of that post is:

I am in an interesting position in that a client of mine is trying out another SEO company – a very very large one – but the client is keeping me on in a double-check capacity. In other words, I get to see all correspondence between the company and the client, and have access to everything to see what is being done, so that I can report back to the client if I see anything amiss.

Back to the present: The only on-page optimization that has been done has been to the Title, Meta Description, and Meta Keywords tags on each of the pages. They say they are working on content, but so far no content has been changed, deleted or added to the site. I think they may have obtained some backlinks to the site, but that is more of a guess on my part, as they have not produced any kind of report to show that.

A bit of history on the site's historical rankings…The site has ranked Number 1 to Number 3 for several years for its main (very competitive) keyword phrase. In addition, it has done well with many secondary keyword phrases, but those have been a bit more volatile than the main one. The hope for the client, was to use the new SEO firm to boost the main keyword phrase back to its Number 1 status (from Number 3). (Note that the site is old, established, and has a competitive number of backlinks).

Yesterday, the main keyword completely tanked. On some datacenters, it can be found on the 5th page of results, and on others, it is nowhere to be found. In addition, almost all of the secondary phrases took substantial dives, while a few tertiary phrases rose a bit. If these results stay this way, the client will lose thousands of visitors per day, and a LOT of money.

Obviously, if I were in control of the site, I would immediately revert to the old tags. Well, actually, I would probably only revert back to the old Titles, as I think that is the biggest problem now. The old title for the home page was about half the length of the new one. It was tightly focused on the main keyword phrase. The new title is twice as long and includes several of the secondary keyword phrases in it now.

Unless the SEO company has done something that I am unaware of, I have to assume that the changes to the Titles and Metas have caused the problem. Obviously, it may be a temporary drop, and I may wake up tomorrow morning to find everything ranking well again. But if the poor rankings continue for any length of time, we can make some fairly basic assumptions. First and foremost, Title is IMPORTANT. A recent thread at SEO Chat calls the importance of the Title tag into question. I argued that it was important, and am even more confident in my answer now. I don't think the changes made to the meta description and keywords tags were all that influential in this case, but I don't discount the possibility. Secondly, even very minor on-page changes can cause substantial rankings changes. Finally, watch the results of changes you make very closely, and be prepared to revert back if necessary.

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