Earlier this week we found a curious effect on a client site. The site was ranking very well for its primary search terms, then all of a sudden over last weekend it dropped like a stone to page two of Google, and the once healthy cache had also disappeared.
It is usual, when a web site loses ranking and cache in this way, to suspect some sort of duplication issue. This is where the search engine has crawled another page, seeing the exact or near exact content on another URL.
The site concerned was in the process of being redeveloped by developers in South America. Unfortunately the beta site hadn't been put behind a login, but it had been live and on the test server for around a month.
However, on the Friday afternoon the Google Analytics (GA) code had been placed on the beta version of the site. On the Monday morning once it was identified that the code had been implemented, it was removed again. By Tuesday morning the site had returned in its rankings, as had the page cache.
It is worth saying at this point that the beta remained in its test location; it wasn't removed, given a new hosting or placed behind a login.
In my opinion this implies that Google is using its analytics code to assist it to identify the existence of a web page. Remove the GA code and unless there is another reason for Google to know about the page/site then it will disappear also.
To any developer or SEO company there are some significant rules that can be deduced from this finding.
- When publishing new sites, beta them behind logins.
- Take care managing the GA code, if there is a page you don't want to be identified by Google, use an active technique to ensure it is not indexed
- If you want your site indexing, with everything else equal, GA appears to assist in getting pages read.
- Despite Google's efforts, page duplication can still hurt rankings.