“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.
SEO is not the wysiwyg thing we’d all like to believe
SEO – the process of search engine optimisation as we’ve all come to know and love may appear to be about cause and effect but is it really so?
Whilst it’s nice to think that our seo efforts are a simple case of do action x, wait, montitor record, rinse repeat/reduce the reality is very often, much, much further from the truth.
Do not believe the lie of the algorithm
SERP’s are a monitored thing – do not believe that it’s an algorithmic thing. It is not true, it really is not.
Whilst it may be kinda cool to think that there’s this cool algorithm that sorts out bits and bytes and densities and semantic relationships and link structure and magically puts them all together to create a list of relevant sites for your inputted keyword, the reality is that this is only part of the equation.
Some SERPs are editorially controlled
This is especially true when the space in which you play just happens to be a touch more competitive than the rest. Be it ‘Hotels in $place’ or ‘$service in $place’ or ‘$product $common_search_string’ you can be pretty sure that SERP positions like those will be looked at both by your competitors vieing for the same and by the search engine that monitors them. If you happen to be ranking for a term and a competitor finds something to report you on then, you might just find yourself thrust into the unwelcome gaze of the search engine death squads.
If what you produce that lands in these pages isn’t up to some loosely defined subjective opinion of a search engine rep using some ‘vote based opinion scoring system designed to weed out anyone who doesn’t happen to fit the criteria of the day’ then you can be pretty sure that an action affecting how your page performs in the SERP will be levied against you. The only notification you will receive will be your inability to rank where you once were accomapnied by significant drops in income.
The reality is that if you are doing things that in the view of the search rep are ‘designed to manipulate the outcome of a SERP’ , then you may find that your efforts have been in vain.
Search engine guidelines are a site zappers charter
There is an certain irony in that whilst we are told not to do things for the benefit of the search engine, to not even try and push the boundries would dictate that we would simply not rank for most of the words we would like to. Humans like to figure things out. If a person knew that putting a hidden pink fairy on their web page would help boost them to page one, then they’d be a fool not to do it, especially if everyone else was doing the same.This one of the many idiocies that exist within search engine guidelines.
The facts are that in order to keep up with our competitors we must do similar things to them and hope that our content or profile allows us to be teflon too. We are damned if we do and damned if we dont, by taking these actions, we give the search reps a green light to downgrade or reduce our ability to rank, if we choose not to then we’ll never rank for jack. An example could be a series of site wide navigational links that link through to various pages, do they exist to help manipulate the search bots, or do they exist to help our visitors under some BS view of usability?
Link juice is vital to SERP performance
SEO’s learnt a long time ago that by pointing a variance of differing keywords from differing places in sufficient numbers will have the effect of boosting our target pages’ SERP performance. They do so because in their view they happen to believe that the page that they want to get there is the best page for this particular term. It’s laser focused and relevant to the theme or set of words they wish to rank for. Just go look at any keyword SERP and you’ll see evidence of this in effect.
Yet to do so, could be interpreted as highly manipulative and could get you kicked out of a SERP overnight. Should this happen then you can forget about tweaking title tags or going out and getting more links, or playing with keyword densities or disallowing duplicate content or insert_any_other_number_of_random_suggested_groovy_moves as you will be basically wasting your time. The only way to repair such an action is to get the manually applied sanction lifted. You could try de-optimising or scaling down your seo efforts, yet what is the point in doing that? Who really wants to rank on page 6 for their natural efforts?!
The SEO is a waste of money message
So it would seem that taking the SEO route is a risky business. It would seem that a subtext of the ‘we want the best pages for our users’ mantra gievn to us from search engine mouthpieces is really about don’t employ SEO, advertise with us instead and if you can’t afford to then maybe you should consider why you are here in the 1st place.
The message we are being sent is that whilst SEO can be immensley profitable, it can also be taken away in a heartbeat too. Don’t spend money on SEO, spend it on our search engine advertising programs.
SEO is honest versus Search engine penalties are not
SEO is Honest – Every single thing an SEO does is open and available for public scrutiny.Can the same be said for a search engineer?
Via the use of a combination of the various reporting tools of Y!, Msn Live, Ask, Google, GigaBlast, search caches, user agent switchers etc you can pretty much determine the reasons why a page ranks well. It’s there for all to see, nothing is hidden. All you then do is either replicate those aspects or do it better.
Don’t buy the whole blackhat vs whitehat argument as it’s simply not true.
Silent search engine penalties are dishonest -If you happen to come under the scrutiny of a search engineer in a bad mood then the reality is that you can find yourself pretty much blown out of the water overnight.
Your site or page will no longer be adjudged on the basis of its content, its link structure, its html composition, its popularity, its age, its relevance. It will be adjudged on one factor and one factor only, that factor being the opinion and mood of some random stranger hiding in the shadows deciding that you’ve breached some loosely defined guideline. They are too cowardly to say hey dude we didn’t like that so we did that.Unless it’s otherwise politically expedient to do so, you can be pretty sure that he (or she) won’t afford you the courtesy of letting you know as christ, that’ll just make your life easy, and easy isn’t what they want your life to be. You are after all, playing in the playground of SEO, you are daring to purposely manipulate the output of their SERP’s and worse still you know how to too, you dastardly SEO you.
SEO IS worth it
The upside is, that it really isn’t so difficult to look at any site in any serp these days and see what terms a site is targetting. If you have the requisite site authority score then you can pretty quickly attain good serps for a good number of keywords. It’s just a matter of generating the right inlinks from the right places with the right content.
Fly below the radar and you’ll do ok, alert the attention of a SERP cop and you could find yourself sunk, especially if you aren’t an important brand. The view is, there are 100’s of other equally relevant pages waiting to take your place. You can’t insulate yourself completely, and it’s probably best to just plug along and forget that search engines exist, at least from a monetisation perspective.
Risk versus reward and a long term view
As mantric as it sounds, you are far better served building something that you have a genuine passion for, or products for, and promoting it without search engines in mind as ultimately the resultant loss of any business accrued via some kind of hit, will then be much easier to cope with.
Yet of course too to say such a thing would be to ignore the massive competitive advantages that your competitors taking more aggressive stances could be acquiring and leave you well behind in the race.
I can recall a site that used to perform well for some pretty big hitting keyword terms using all manner of tactics that for their time, were pretty off the scale as manipulative SEO went. I watched them stay in their position for 3 years, whereby every other week I’d see them still there and think, hmmn their days are numbered.
I’ve no idea how much money they earnt whilst in those positions but can say with confidence that it was considerably more than the already considerable sum of money a site I ran was attaining for just a fraction of their targetted market. Had I acted like them and replicated their tactic then I too could have done as well as they did. By refusing to compete as they did, by taking the choice to play it safe in the mistaken belief that being a ‘good’ boy would serve me well, I lost out. I may have stayed in the game longer than they, yet ultimately my fate was the same as theirs. The search guidelines we’re changed, my competing site become a thin affiliate, and the rest as they say is history.
Moral of the story – make hay whilst the sun shines as there are plenty a raincloud on the horizon