What should you do if your website traffic falls off a cliff?

“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.

Good luck.


Google penalizes for paid links and promoting yourself

I was going to post this in a comment at Sphinn, but decided to blog it instead.

It related to Google and how they apply penalties to sites who talk about or do things in ways they don’t like. Some people think Google doesn’t penalise for paid links, I disagree, as the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Anyhow, this post isn’t completely about paid links, its more about the whole penalty process and the culture that allows it to happen and how it’s just very dificult to challenge or do anything about even.

Two people recently have seen some kind of negative action from Google.

AndyBeard’s visible toolbar drop and David Aireys ranking penalty.

Davids’ has been reversed, whilst Andys’ might not even be a long term thing, so might be a little early to call.

Both of these got me thinking about the whole power and responsiblity theme. Google have lots of power yet at times seem to behave in ways that aren’t the most responsible. Whether they like it or not we do hold them up to greater standards than most, the reasons behind which I couldn’t really do justice to. That said, there is no harm with at least putting a few ideas out there nd see what others think at least.

Transparency is the way forward?

I’d love to be able to read a ‘process’ document on this whole we are penalizing your arse thing. Google have a process. It’s called the reinclusion process. Basically, you check a little box and admit to being evil, they then read what you have to say and restore you if they agree or ignore you if they don’t.

This clearly sucks arse and I don’t doubt has more than pissed offor frustrated a person or two.

Anyhow, I was wondering. Do all ‘quality’ reviewers have the power to instantly penalise, or do they have to justify their position and have 3 or 4 other people agree on their interpretation. If so, is this process fair, should there be more feedback, perhaps a communication of some form? Or is it really ok to just leave people twisting in the wind?

The rules are the rules are the rules…

I know that it isn’t a legal thing, but it is a rule thing. It’s about breaking the rules ,or in the case of Google ‘the guidelines’ and of course it’s their subjective interpretation too. We all know they are a private for profit company, free to do what they like to people who in their opinion who have crossed one of their lines.

Yet it does need to be said that they do have a massive responsibility, yet seem to pay little public heed or acknowledgment of this fact, at least within the microcosm of dealing with individuals.

They might well run around in their $ fuelled PR mobiles postulating how much of a wonderful company they are, they might well be seen to be the fantastic tax generating, profit generating force for good that they are for so many people, and in lots of way there is no disputing that at all, on balance they do a hell of a lot of good things. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the little guy contributing 0.000000000001% to any bottom line shouldn’t matter or in any way count. Doesn’t he still deserve his day in court? His right to reply, his chance to dig his hole deeper even?

Respecting your roots

Whether we like it or not, thanks to many of us (talking them up in the early years) they are now the defacto gateway to the net, a massive percentage of individuals see google and search as synonymous.

Accepting the aforementioned, is it not fair to suggest that when they take action against sites for transgressions, that these actions should have some kind of universality?

Why is it that sites like Davids’ can be hit hard and quick, yet other sites using similar tactic are not? When no action is taken against the big boys for the self same thing then perhaps its no real surprise when people begin to question the integrity of the processes within.

Are they so surprised that if this perception exists that we then put their processes under a greater degree of scrutiny and question their very right to behave is this way? Some might ask, where is the natural justice!

It’s supposed to be a democratic fair world

In the bricks and mortar world of hyper reality, if you are stopped by an officer of the law and accused of breaking a law then you have an option of arguing your case in an open court of law.

2 possible outcomes – guilty, pay the cost, innocent, walk free.

If you are found guilty then whatever way you look at it you suffer, you pay a price; monetarily you suffer. You can appeal too of course, and where so you get the opportunity to hear the reasoning behind any judgement.

If we apply that analogy to Google then we see it falls down somewhat, simply because their business status allows them too. They can hide behind their ‘right’ to act like any other for profit. It’s funny because microsoft once thought they could do the same, justice caught up with them eventually too.

Think about it though, can you imagine a world where you were pulled off the street, muzzled, dismissed from your job, thrown into some padded cell where very few could hear you? How crap would that be! Yet this is the very thing that Google can do to site owners today, acting like some errant bully able to do what it likes and to whom it likes.

Don’t like what we did? Sue us…, we got more money than you and can hide behind the complexities of our proprietary systems and concepts of free enterprise.

Monoply sucks, especially when you lose

The bottom line is that in law or society there is no recognition of their almost monopolistic status on this search stuff, and no apparent will to really do anything about it either. It’s just too easy to hide behind ideas of algorithms and editorial rights and private enterprise.

Yeah yeah, I know a governmentally controlled SE would probably be as bad if not worse, but hell at least we’d be able to hold individuals up to account, examine the decisions, debate the reasons why.

I don’t think it really washes too well to say things similar to , “oh, you know, we’d love to say more and share more with webmasters when we encounter things that we aren’t too comfortable with as to do so would reveal more about our algorithm and processes than we would be happy to share..”, simply because people should be told more, people should have the right to know why some 800lb Gorilla is slamdunking them in the mush and obliterating their voice.

Hit the are you feeling lucky button

David Airey is a fortunate guy. Very few people receive similar treatment. Most are just ignored to the hinterlands. I don’t wish to appear to be mean to David when I say this, but the fact is that Davids’ good fortune is more related to the collective discussion that ensued around his penalty. A less plugged in blogger, IMO, might have struggled to achieve the same outcome.

People can get knocked out of the SERPs just like that. It happens for all sorts of reasons too you only have to be on the wrong end of a conversation before kaput, your 10 year labour of love is suddenley dying in a ditch with little hope for resuscitation, shouldn’t this all be a little more open?

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