It’s a fair question, and one that will get different responses from different companies.
Ultimately, your SEO will be looking to identify and unblock any bottlenecks and help return your domains search engine visibility for queries that are important to your business.
In this post, we are going to look at some of the typical aspects that a reputable SEO company should be looking at if you experience a sudden stop or gradual drop off in traffic to your website from search engines.
Where has my search engine traffic disappeared to?
Businesses that turn to SEO companies for help will often do so on the back of a crisis.
They may have seen a gradual decline in search engine traffic or a sudden drop in traffic that has a huge impact on sales or enquiries that matter to their bottom line. Such events are of course worrying and require investigation to see what is the problem and how best we can identify and present solutions.
You’ll need to give your SEO as much information as you can. They’ll need access to your analytics package to view past traffic performance and your Google and Bing webmaster
tools accounts search consoles to see if there are additional direct clues.
You should also be candid with them and tell them of anything that you know that has been done to help them identify things for you. If you bought a tranche of links from a link seller or signed up for a dubious website promotion strategy then tell them.
Lack of transparency will not help you and will cost you more money in the long run and the SEO will likely find out anyway through their investigations.
Using the webmaster search console to help identify problems
The webmaster search consoles may tell your SEO professional if there’s a specific issue relating to the domain due to a manual penalty or an onsite performance issue.
The webmaster search console contains specific information about your domain, generated through the search crawl and the responses received. It will also show search traffic numbers and limited information around keywords, volumes, positions and click through rates.
Manual Penalties – Maybe you have a manual search penalty
Search engines will (but not always) notify webmasters if a manual penalty has been applied. A manual penalty is applied for egregious abuse of search engine guidelines. These might be for link buying for example, hidden text or other spammy type activities that have been identified as unacceptable.
Where you have a manually applied penalty, you’ll need to file a reinclusion request from within the console. You’ll need to outline what you have done to correct any transgressions and politely beg for mercy, promising that you’ll never do what you’ve been penalised for again.
Generally, manual penalties are rare and there are often other reasons why a sites traffic has been impacted. Crawl errors are often responsible.
Let’s look at those.
Identification of Crawl Errors – Is your site generating debilitating site errors?
When a search engine visits a website, it effectively ‘crawls’ the pages using its search engine spider or robot. These spiders or bots as they are known are simple fetch and grab programs that read the content of the pages and then store and classify them in their databases. The codes returned by your web server are recorded and the outputs are then shown to you for analysis.
The crawl aspect of the search console will provide insights into how the search engine is evaluating the domain and will provide clues to any issues. Crawl errors are very useful as they help us see what may be going wrong onsite and contributing to poor performance.
Poor Robots.Txt File
An example of this might be a poorly formatted robots.txt file. The robots.txt file is a means of telling the search engines what should and what should not be indexed. It resides on your root domain and is accessed periodically by the search bots and spiders. Mistakes in these can often block an entire domain from being indexed, leading to very poor performance in search. A review of this file will help identify a problem.
Server Error Status Codes
The error code section of the search console is a great means of identifying on-site performance errors.
Server error status codes are generated by web servers, are numbered and have different meanings. Dependant upon the error, an SEO would advise and explain what each meant and how they were impacting your traffic. The worst type to have would be 401 or 403 as these are effectively saying to the search bots “go away, you’re forbidden or not authorised” If the bots can’t read your content, then your content cannot be ranked or indexed in search.
More common search status errors are so-called 404 errors. These occur when a page that is requested cannot be found. The web server will often (subject to config) return a generic page that says page not found. The better ones are useful to users giving supplemental help in enabling people to find alternatives.
Server error codes are a useful means of gaining insight into poor scripting or server performance generally so should always be considered as an early part of the investigation process.
DNS errors are often transient and can occur where the host server has issues relating to configuration or routing or hardware, DNS errors will restrict access for people looking to read your content. This includes search bots. Persistent DNS errors will prevent your site being seen in search so it’s important to get on top of the issue should it occur.
Server Connectivity and Performance
Sometimes, your web server will struggle to perform and might have connection issues that impact upon page speed and content delivery. Where this occurs, it’s important that you address the causes and return the site to peak performance. An SEO should look at performance factors as part of their investigation as ultimately, search engines would prefer any pages that they return to their users to be fast loading and functional. A poorly configured web server or script will drain server resources and switch users off to your site. If this happens with too much regularity, then search engines will lose confidence and trust in your site as a resource and your rankings may be impacted.
Algorithmic filters due to Panda or Penguin
Other reasons why your site’s traffic may have been impacted relate to so called algorithmic filters. There are many types of algorithm and they are rolled out periodically or generated upon the fly. The two we’ll look at here are called Panda and Penguin.
The search console with regard to these, isn’t that useful as the data ranges we like to use to review such things are limited to 90 days. To take a good look at these we need to see historical traffic data over a longer timeframe as this enables us to look at traffic patterns and discount things like seasonality or general growth over time.
Using Your Analytics Package to Identify Algorithmic Filters
The Panda algorithm is aimed at low quality or thin content and seeks to demote pages that are considered to trigger these signals. Panda has had a number of iterations over the years and SEO’s have identified the dates which can then be referenced against website traffic patterns. The general theory being that if your traffic plummets coincide with the published release dates of these, then it’s pretty easy to conclude what the issue is through looking at your traffic within your analytics package.
It may of course also be very obvious anyway and a good SEO should be frank enough with you to say that actually, your site is appalling and you need to reevaluate your content generation model…
Sites that were built in 1999 may not necessarily meet the expectations of 2015 perhaps. A good SEO company will at least discuss this with you and help you appreciate the needs of today’s web users. If you are answering a web query in 2015, then you need to be going above and beyond.
The penguin algorithm relates to your link graph. Some websites have unnatural inbound link patterns or have too many links that are considered to be from low quality sites. Where this is the case, a good SEO will help you identify what these are and will be able to help with a plan that will disavow any low quality links.
Again, the use of your analytics package will help the SEO align your traffic with known penguin release and refresh dates so that they can confirm whether or not your traffic fall off is penguin related.
You may have recently undergone a site redesign, your developer may have used a new technology or url structure that impacted your site in a negative way. Poor metadata, duplicate page titles, non existent page titles, poor keyword selection are just a handful of issues that may be present on site. A good seo company will help identify what these are and show you the way forward.
Wrapping things up
As we can see, there are many things that can contribute to poor performance of websites in search engines; manual penalties, algorithmic filters, poor content, poor site structure and architecture, poor hardware and each of these can pull your site down for the queries you aspire to. A thorough examination of these issues will help you take the steps that will eventually return your site to where you’d like it to be. It’s a good idea to have an seo site audit before issues occur as this can save many thousands of pounds in fixing subsequent issues arising.
Ps For the marketing DIY enthusiasts we have a range of products that can help you drive your business forward – maybe you need a manual link report to identify potential problems with your link profile , or an seo site review to unify your thinking and know you’re on the right track , or a content marketing module to give your creativity a kickstart and finally there’s a full audit and strategy report to give you that full on perspective.
“OMG Our Search Engine Rankings Have Died!!”
First off, it isn’t funny, at all. It’s totally traumatic.
If you’ve enjoyed months or years of traffic for keywords relevant to your business and it’s switched off overnight, then it’s truly going to impact you and your business. You have bills to pay, staff salaries to maintain and the loss of traffic is often truly devastating.
Second, they were never really yours anyway. They were always going to be subject to the actions and whims of another for profit entity.
Unfortunately, when it comes to dumb algorithms, there’s little kindness involved. If your website hits the thresholds that say rank this domain lower then you need to take action to reverse those aspects that may be contributing to your misfortune.
The search engine guidelines set out what is and what isn’t acceptable. Hidden text, spammy links, keyword stuffing being 3 top level well known no no’s. There are however a myriad of other no no’s which are often fuzzy and hard to pin down. We need to understand that ultimately, search engines (generally) don’t earn money from sites that use effective SEO so it’s no surprise that they’d make it all a little bit of a minefield. It’s easy to say “Make the best site for your users” but with only 10 spots available to have for each query, it’s understandable that companies and site owners will push the envelop a little to get ahead. It’s this process that often trips folks up which can often lead to ranking catastrophes. FUD is a powerful tool in dissuading the allocation of marketing budget
It’s important to differentiate between penalties and algorithmic shifts of course. Penalties are manually applied whereas algorithmic shifts like Penguin and Panda are changes to the way pages are scored.
What to do if your search rankings have disappeared overnight?
If you know what you are doing then it’s pretty academic. Why are you even here reading this?
If you don’t know what you are doing then don’t waste your time trying to figure it out.
You. Will. Drive. Yourself. Mad.
Employ an experienced seo specialist to look at the situation for you.
Algorithmic Search Engine Penalties
They should know if there has been a recent major algorithm change and will look at your website analytics to see if your traffic fall coincides with an algorithm change. If it does, then it’s usually either due to a Penguin or a Panda update.
If your website has been affected by Panda, then it is perceived to have a page quality issue. These might be due to spammy or thin content issues, or machine generated content that is considered to be of low quality.
Your appointed specialist should be able to honestly appraise your site and be frank enough to tell you that it’s lacking in quality.
If your website has been affected by Penguin, then you have a so called back link quality issue.
A backlink quality issue relates to the quantity and quality of the number of links to your website.
Sites that have acquired many links at once for example might be seen to be manipulating their link profile. Sites with lots of so called ‘money’ keywords in their anchor text might be another.
In the circumstances outlined; you’ll need to begin the process of fixing your sites on and off site issues.
The good news is that your appointed specialist will be able to help identify these and help you with a way forward, the bad news is that you’ll often have to wait until the algo has updated or refreshed before your site reappears for your keywords. Even then, there are no guarantees as with penguin for example, the link cleaning process may even remove links that offered value whilst retaining those that hamper. It’s critical therefore, to ensure that you use someone who has experience with these and the tools that help identify them
Manual Search Engine Penalties
In some cases, websites receive so called ‘Manual‘ penalties. These are applied by search engineers for what would be in their view egregious manipulation of the algorithm. There have been many cases of these over the years for all manner of organisations. They are a good PR tool for search engines as they send out the message that they are watching for exploitation of their resource and will punish those who try it on.
The good news is that you can clean things up and submit a re-inclusion requests whereby a search engine will review what you’ve done and reinstate your domain in search. The not so good news is that they may refuse it and ask you to try harder.
A friendly suggestion on the way forward
Finally, regardless of whether you have or have not had an issue; perhaps it’s time to take a long hard look at what you do and really ask yourself some honest questions around your content marketing efforts.
The web is only going to get more competitive, to rely on big profit driven corporations for non paid for sustenance is a little bit mad really.
The proliferation of platforms that are taking market share will only continue to grow. People are using an ever increasing level of device and apps to access information. Desktop PC’s, Laptops, Phones, Tablets, Phablets, Watches, TV’s – Search engines are cannibalising content to keep users on site, social media platforms are doing the same pulling folks away from search engines in the process, maybe it’s time to act like search engines didn’t exist even; become the destination for your niche, be the best.
Content marketing. It’s been a bit of a buzz phrase now for a time.
I’m going to write about what people should consider when creating new content and how and where they should distribute it.
If you don’t have the time to read all this. Here’s the TL;DR version. Give people what they need, answer their questions and be found where they hang out. Do it with originality and be the best.
A lot of content produced these days falls flat on its face. Chris highlights some great reasons why too.
Unless you’re some leading luminary in your field or A list celeb that gets watched like a hawk day in day out or are some big news organisation with a loyal following then the reality is that you can’t create a piece of content on a whim and expect it to fly; you have to have a strategy with well thought out aims and objectives and goals in mind with what you’re looking to achieve.
Too many people start with “Me”. They sit there and fire up a word doc and begin to rabbit on about how amazing their latest product is or how cool their service is highlighting its sheen and competitive price or retrospect about their recent corporate event posting lots of pics showing stuff that no one really gives a stuff about and then wonder why it doesn’t get shared, or ranked, or linked to or exited after 18 seconds of yawn.
The best content is the content that gets shared and gets referenced and linked to and ranked and visited, again and again and again. If we can understand why that happens and then embed that knowledge at the planning stage, then we really can create something that’ll stand the test of time and win in the game.
Content Marketing Winning Formula
So, what’s the formula? What are the ingredients that’ll make your content fly? That’s of course a multifaceted answer which very much depends on your audience.
How sophisticated are they, what are they looking for, what do they expect from you but above all how useful will you be to their needs.
Need is a big word for four letters. In our day to to day lives we all have needs (oh wait that’s five).
Content marketing to Emotional Needs
The need to laugh or cry, the need to feel loved, appreciated, needed, to be recognised, cared for.
Content marketing to Intellectual Need
The need to have our curiosity sated, our minds stimulated, our questions explored and answered.
Content marketing to Physical Need
The need to get materials or sustenance to sustain and clothe ourselves, build and obtain what we need to run and fulfil aspects of our lives.
Many of us often look to the web to satisfy these of course and there are many different types of platform that do these very well:
The social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Twitter for instance encourage repeat visits (stickiness) through enabling us to create our little networks of friends and influencers where we can learn from each other, keep tabs, rub shoulders with the cool or just laugh at stupid picture or stories.
The research answer platforms of Google and Bing again encourage repeat visits through giving us hints and tips around where we should go to find the answers to our intellectual or physical needs.
So what do the platforms referenced above have in common? The simple fact is that they’re all great examples of content marketing platforms in action, and they all succeed because of what they produce. At the very top level they accommodate people’s human needs and people use them to gain satisfaction.
The satisfaction word is super important. How many of us really enjoy being frustrated!? How many of us would use Google daily if we never found what we needed?
I’m reminded of an excellent little book I read a while back start with why. If we ask ourselves what it is we are doing and why, then it becomes a whole lot easier to crystalise our vision and focus upon where we think it is we need to be going.
Why are we here? To promote our cool content!
What would we like to achieve? Get lots of sales and visitors and earn a squillion pounds so we can go live on a paradise island and drink coconut water.
Well maybe, but in order to do that we’ve got to apply a principle or two and reeeeaally get inside the heads of our
readers and or potential customers and give them what they need
So how do we do that?
Starting with Why and Assessing Where To Go
Lets go back to starting with why. We want to get more visitors to our site and we want them to stick around and come back again and again and share our stuff.
Ok great, that’s simple. Let’s assess what needs we are going to meet and be mindful too that the more needs we try to meet the more difficult it’s going to be to get the piece to fly.
Why? Oh ok, well in short; generally speaking if we spread ourselves too thinly and try to be all things to all men then the reality is we are likely to fail. Agree? Good.
Having assessed the needs and our ability to sate it, where to next?
In short, we go everywhere. That is, everywhere online that we think that is currently answering the need that we’d like to address.
We’ll take copious notes and ask ourselves if we can do what they are doing as well or better. If we believe that we can, then off we go, if we can’t and know our efforts are going to fall short then seriously, why even bother? Should you really try to be Gucci when you’re nothing better than the Kwikimart?
You of course are nothing like a Kwikimart, you believe that you are the Gucci of your field and you know you can go above and beyond and kick this competitors arse or at least run him close.
You’re in a bit of a quandary though as the piece seems so big and you don’t quite know where to start. Well, that’s probably because you aren’t really Gucci yet but hats off for confidence and aspiration, you’re up and coming in your sector and people are already buzzing about what you do and you know you have a winning product and you’d really like to rank for that single vanity keyword with lots of volume but are a realist too and know that for today at least that’s a little bit ambitious.
Being an expert in your field, you know however that people have a lot of questions around your sector, not singular one word phrases but questions that start with “What is” “How can” “Help me to” “Show me the best” plus a whole bunch of other variants. You’ve already done your broader keyword research and you know where the volume is generally – you understand that there are so called head terms (one and often two word search terms that generally convert rather poorly) and the longer tail terms (search phrases of three words or more that are more specific and varied). You know all about buying cycles and research modes and understand that through being a part of this process you’ll help convert visitors to paying customers through injecting yourself into that cycle.
A Holiday in The Canaries
At this point it’s probably good to use a real world mock up example to illustrate the point.
In this scenario, you are a holiday company; a travel agent, and you provide people with a means of booking holidays all over the world.
You’re not the biggest travel agent out there but you’re pretty hot and love what you do and really go above and beyond in sourcing your holidays for potential customers. You care about quality and have a USP that sets you apart from the competition, you have a great app that allows people to enter a set of criteria and your technology stack notifies them the moment a cancellation happens so they get a chance to book at a low price last minute say.
Your website is relatively new and has a big mountain to climb for those high end location type holiday keywords, but you’ve made a good start and you’re gaining momentum and think you’re on to a winner.
You’re a bit like a hunter in some respects. You know where your prey hangs out, you know where all the watering holes are, the little niches in the forest that they congregate in. You know how to bait a trap and you know what kind of food lures them in.
Your keyword research and PPC test campaigns have revealed that your holiday seeking target may often start their journey with a search for ‘holidays’, or they might refine it with other terms and searches ‘Canary Islands’ or ‘Canary islands Holidays’ , ‘Canary Island Hotels’ they might have a wife too or a friend and tell them to take a look too.
You’ll know that they’ll go off and search for similar versions and variants. They might find themselves on a relatively large provider site like Thomson or First Choice. They’ll look for deals or luxury type or budget or starred ratings or hotels with best reviews. They’ll look at pictures, temperatures, facilities, price and compare and contrast with other sites they may have encountered. If they’re smart or overly cautious they’ll want to read independent reviews too so they’ll perhaps seek out tripadvisor. They’ll want to get there easily too so they may well refine further by checking out travel options and flight times and prices. They may find that they’d rather disintermediate and segment the process booking flights and accommodation and transfers separately.
Back to those Needs again…
All of those stages require answers to a variety of need.
The need to feel safe, the need to know they’re not being ripped off and getting value for money. The need to be reassured that it’s going to be a lovely sunny destination and they’re going to have a great time. The need to know that they won’t have to leave at 3am to get a flight maybe and on and on…
When we think about it, there’s not a single piece of content that could answer all of those questions in one hit. It looks like a massive task and we’re unlikely to be able to hit them all overnight. But we CAN begin; our understanding of the sector and the NEEDS of our audience will help inform what we do. Our knowledge of the competition, the breadth of the opportunity puts us in a fantastic position to create a series of content pieces that will win out. We’ll assess the core volume like a river and look at all the tributary phrases that run off.
Holidays > Canary Islands > Canary islands holidays > Compare holiday prices canaries > What are the best hotels in the canary islands > What is hotel amazeballs really like? > Reviews Of Hotel Amazeballs > Canary Island resorts > Pictures of Hotel Amazeballs > Canary Island Flight times > Airports serving the canary Islands, Airport name parking, Accommodation near Airport name….
Answering the questions
Ok so we know what the questions are and we are going to answer them. We have a brand style and we our messaging is pretty much sorted generally but what of our audience and more to the point what kinds of content are at our disposal and what will get the best bang for our buck?
We can have the greatest content in the world but if it isn’t being surfaced then it might as well not exist. So we need to consider how our content is likely to be distributed and by whom.
We might find ourselves in a situation whereby we already have some great people talking about us. We’ve a whole community of people who’ve mentioned our app by way of WOM on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs. Great, but probably isn’t really enough by itself. We need to get our content on cool platforms with big communities. It’s why we added those additional buttons on our images that enable content to be shared to Pinterest or Instagram. It’s why we were meticulous in selecting vibrant amazing imagery that people would like and feel positive affinity to.
We also know that certain kinds of content seems to get shared more than others. People like to have fun it would seem, the need to laugh and smile. It’s for that reason why sites like Buzzfeed excel. Easy to digest content that makes people smile. Of course, unlike buzzfeed we aren’t in the “ad impression” game but we are in the add an impression one and so anything we can do that makes an impression on our visitors is worth doing.
Through establishing footholds on domains with big followings we give ourselves that opportunity to raise our brand and draw people in. We need to understand the audiences of our partners and deliver them results. Buzzfeed, Facebook, Reddit all want content that’s great, that fulfills their users needs, that gets shared and generates ad impressions. They don’t want your boring product page that says nothing and in many ways neither does anyone else! Google wants to give its users what they want too.It wants to surface the best content, the content that answers need, the content that will bring them back again and again and again.
We mentioned previously the USP of our make believe holiday company – a nice simple shareable idea that people will share with others. A solution to people’s problems, in this example the problem of paying too much for holidays perhaps.
You’ll need to probably supplement your efforts with some cold hard cash, a bit of Facebook advertising perhaps or a dalliance with Twitter ads or Google and Bing PPC of course. Some of you will be ahead already having done the hard work of creating great engaged networks of followers and friends on your social platforms, a ready army of content amplifiers ready to do your bidding and share your content IF it’s good enough of course.
So it’s simple really isn’t it?
Think about the needs of people, think about how you can help them with their lives and they’ll like you for it and share your stuff with their friends. Bore them silly and they’ll switch off and you’ll get isolated and sent to Coventry.
Ps. We have a product dedicated to this very thing, check out our content marketing module