One of the most challenging (read: exciting) parts of my job is dealing with change. Professionals working in the Digital Marketing industry need to come to terms with change in order to be relevant, effective and deliver great results for their clients not only now, but for years to come. To work within a framework that constantly changes means that sometimes historical work done, may be called into question and needs to be improved upon to consistently provide users with better results for their searches by making your client more relevant in the eyes of search engines. Once announcements are made, it’s easy to blame the most recent marauder from the wild bestiary of algorithm updates, and when panic sets in it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the issues you face.
Loss of rankings, which often consequently leads to loss in traffic to your site, can occur from numerous factors. In a similar fashion that when something appears normal it can bypass any inspection, but once flagged an agent can find multiple faults upon a closer view. If the changes in volumes in changes are not simply seasonal (traffic to a blanket store in summer), or industry related (developments in technology making previous models less desirable), you may have been affected by the changes in the search algorithm or by a manual penalty from the search engine. In the case of a manual penalty, this would be communicated to you from the search engine through the webmaster tools interface. These will communicate clear instructions, usually in relation to an unnatural link profile, either by an overzealous SEO campaign with spammy/blackhat tactics or even possibly a negative SEO campaign targeted by a competitor. Algorithm changes are not directly communicated but can affect your site performance dramatically.
With many of these instances, there are no quick fixes, and careful consideration of your entire site activity over the last few years should be analysed in your rehabilitation. Understanding the major search engine changes, such as the difference between Panda and Penguin, as well as what the Page Layout algorithm changes really focus on is a very important place to start for you to understand the drop in performance. Many site drops are resulting from reaching the tipping point and not only fixing one aspect of the site will result in your website performing back to its previous peaks.
- Fix factors under your control: Checking webmaster tools will notify you of any server issues you need to correct, where Googlebot has been unable to crawl your pages, or that you have 500 (server errors) which can affect your sites listings. Check and correct all the basic site optimisations, ensuring your meta data is not duplicated and fits within the guidelines set by search engines. Check your internal linking for broken pages, your page layouts (how many ads above the fold) as well as making sure your pages have sufficient content that is unique and relevant. Fixing your technical onsite factors for bots to crawl can significantly increase your chances of improving your dropping rankings.
- Remain calm and work with what you know: Search engines never fully reveal their cards, so that their algorithm can avoid being manipulated with great efficiency by marketing companies. It’s important that when you start with an issue that you work through the data that you have available to you and not panic and jump to massive conclusions and make changes that aren’t necessary. Removing or using the disavow tool on all your links may not solve the problem so isolate issue by issue, methodically in optimising your site.
- There is no such thing as instant recovery: If your site has got a number of questionable links pointing towards it and you notify Google of these and clean them up, still remember that you are REMOVING links. You aren’t adding anything, but simply getting rid of an element damaging your site. Therefore “recovery” can only come from creating strong natural links to your site to replace those that you have lost. Valuable linking building doesn’t simply happen overnight. In a similar vein, while there are some easier “wins” with onsite changes, don’t expect the miraculous as you could be waiting a couple of months for noticeable changes.
- Look back further than “the incident” and examine your history of previous search work. Chances are that your woes with poor practice began long before things took a plummet. Go back a couple of years through your analytics and history of site changes with a fine tooth comb to correct and fix anything you suspect may be slightly “suspect”. While x may be the reason that you have been notified, it doesn’t mean that y and z aren’t having an impact on the site. If YOU are in indecision as to whether something could damage your site, don’t take the chance. Remember that search engines have a long memory of your site, and may forgive some indiscretions, but never forgets everything you’ve done.
- Document what you are doing: When making multiple changes, it’s important to log all that you do for a variety of reasons. Firstly, you can check cause and effect with your efforts, possibly to keep practices for future reference or simply as a fall back if you need to provide detailed reports of efforts to correct issues to search engines. While this should be standard practice (penalised or not) many professionals forget to document their work.
The road to recovery is not a once off action that allows you to go back to the way you used to market your business online through SEO. It’s an acknowledgement of an issue and a learning experience that enables you to evolve your online strategy and actions to those that will bring about long term benefits to your website, rather than “magic bullet” moments of the next quick and easy fix.