Knowing that your rankings have dropped in Google is normally pretty obvious, either when you manually check them or you notice traffic is starting to drop in your analytics, but knowing why they have dropped and how you can get them back (if you can get them back) is a totally different matter, as when it comes to the loss of rankings, there is no “one fit” solution for getting to the bottom of what has happened.
From the businesses and people I speak to, the first time they notice a rankings change is when their traffic begins to change in Google Analytics. Maybe some don’t even notice it this way, more when their sales start to fall and this continues for a period of time, which is when they will dig a little further into what has gone on. Some will rush onto Google and check if their keywords are still in the place they remember from many moons ago, or some will look at the graph in Analytics heading downwards, whilst wiping away a tear and wondering just what to do next.
It is important that rather than panic and start hitting your laptop, desk, wall or even your colleague, you take a step back and take some time to analyse what has happened and more importantly, what you need to do about your problem. Oh, by the way, sitting and hoping things will get better is generally not a solution.
The two tools you need to make sure you have working for you, as I have mentioned a million times before, are:
With the aid of these two free, but immensely powerful tools, you can start to piece together the jigsaw and work out what happened, and what you need to do to fix the issues and start riding high again.
This article covers the reasons your rankings might drop, as it is important to identify the specific (or as close as you can) reason why the change has taken place, because generally, something has caused this to happen.
Manual Google Penalties
The first thing you need to rule out is a manual penalty issued from Google, because more and more sites are now taking a hit for doing the wrong thing in the eyes of the Google web spam team.
There are many reasons why you might get a Google Manual Penalty, but the main ones are:
- Unnatural Links To A Site – This is pretty much the biggest indicator that Google is not massively fond of your link building practices and therefore has hit you hard. Within this penalty there are two aspects – 1) Site wide penalty which is where you are in the major puddle of poo and your whole site has been hit 2) Partial penalty, where only some of the links have been targeted and the pages they are linking to penalised.
- Unnatural Links From A Site – Normally when Google thinks you are part of a link scheme or are selling links from your site to others. Simple answer to this is generally nofollow your outbound links or delete them for a quick fix.
- Cloaking / Redirects – Where Google thinks your site is sending users to another site, normally a site serious enough to raise alarm bells at the Web spam HQ.
- Hacked Site – Google has detected that your site has been hacked and is either redirecting people, hosting malware or simply causing a bit of nuisance and they require you to fix it, and fix it fast. You UNLUCKY!
- Keyword Stuffing / Hidden Text – This is where Google believes you are dabbling in the Black Hat world of SEO, and you are using illegal techniques, like hiding keywords, text or links to manipulate Google rankings. You BAD!
- Thin Content With No Value – Basically, Google thinks your site is of no use to anyone and therefore is probably not going to rank it. This is usually due to program generated content, poor content or content that offers nothing of value to any visitor. You LAZY!
Going back to why I insist everyone should have Google Webmaster Tools installed is because if any of these apply to you, you will be told, which makes solving the issue so much easier than if you fail to have any message and are therefore left hunting around in the dark.
To check if you have any manual penalties applied to your site, login into Webmaster Tools, on the left hand side click on Search Traffic and then Manual Actions and you will either see a message telling you “No manual web spam actions found.” Or you will have a message relating to something I mention above, or another penalty that I have not covered in the above list.
No matter what you find, this is the first step when it comes to finding out why your rankings have dropped.
The good news is that if you have a message, not only do you know the probable cause but you can then work to fix the issues and then proceed with a reconsideration request or review to get your site free of the penalty. With some of those penalties listed above, your rankings will probably not bounce back to where they were even when the penalty is lifted, but with some of them if you act quickly you have a decent chance of regaining your ground. The reconsideration request is basically where you tell Google you are sorry, have fixed the issues, will never do it again and that you love them and love them more than your own family at Christmas. Or something along those lines anyway.
If you find that you have no penalties in place, then you can safely assume that there are no manual penalties, so then we move on to:
To be quite honest, these can be a complete nightmare to get to the bottom of, but with the aid of the tools I have mentioned, now a million and two times, you can find what has gone wrong and start fixing it. The nice thing about this type of penalty is that when you fix the issue, the returns can be really quite imminent, whereas with the manual penalties it can take much longer to return if you ever do.
Let me just explain what these are.
This type of penalty is an automatic penalty based on the Google search algorithm. For example, say it found you had a few dodgy links, then it could lay an algorithmic penalty on your site or specific page without the need for it to become a manual (human) penalty. This often happens when you have a load of crappy links out there, but none that could be considered to be you really manipulating the rankings. This is often for low quality links, directory links etc, or other spammy types of links that you may or may not have control over.
There are others of course, ranging from duplicate content through to site errors, but fear not, you can start to piece together your problems and start to deal with them. Generally Panda Update hits site issues and Penguin Update hits your bad inbound links, so it is good to know what basis you should be starting from to get the issues fixed. You can do this by finding out the latest updates on Moz and try matching any dates to your drop in Analytics.
Always check that whether there was a Google update, either Penguin or Panda at the time you notice the traffic / rankings drop,
I would always run this process if you think you have an algorithm layered penalty:
- Carry out a link audit. This generally doesn’t hurt to often consider and you can disavow or remove any links that you feel are of very low quality or contain heavy anchor text for the rankings you have dropped for. For example, say you lose a keyword ranking for “blue cars” and your anchor text for your link building was 90% centred around “blue cars”, it is a safe bet to assume this might be at the bottom of the issue and you can start to deal with this.
- Check for duplicate content. Use a site like CopyScape to run your site through and see if there are any duplicate pages, articles, blogs etc that are elsewhere on the internet. On this note, make sure you “Rel Author” your own content on your site anyway, but if you do find duplicate content online, get it removed either through requesting or in the worst case, you can you submit a DMCA request to Google if you feel a sneaky thief has stolen your words.
- In Google Webmaster Tools, check your Crawl errors as quite often, this can be a major cause of your problem. If Google crawls your site and get hits with a ton of 404, server errors and script issues, you will be hit for it. I do not care for the people that say 404’s can never hurt your site as I have seen otherwise, but generally, a few here and there are ok but loads and loads of them will cause you issues. Download all the errors you can and start to fix them, as this should in your control and you should be able to solve this quickly enough.
- Look at your site. Is it slow? Does it contain loads of Ads? Do you have loads of spelling and grammar errors? Basically, are the issues you have under your own nose yet you don’t really know it. Google wants less adverts on the page, more quality content, regularly updated content and sites that are easy to navigate, so check your site is the best it can be, and if it is not, work like hell to make it so. Adverts and having too many of them is a major issue these days, so limit yourself to two at the most and make sure they are not the first thing the user sees, because if your visitor sees them first, so does Google.
There are so many elements of an algorithm penalty that it is generally a good idea to fix all you can, not just assume it is due to one thing, fix that and hope for the best.
My advice is always take a step back, work out the most rational cause of the problem and take it from there. If you have built some dodgy links, then assume that you need to get rid of these, but also assume that you need to look at your site and just make sure that you offer the best experience for the user and also comply with Google guidelines that if not followed can lead to issues.