I still regularly get calls from business owners who seemed to have a sudden disappearance from search. This post is to help these people. If you aren’t close to the search industry and living with Google algorithm changes and adjustments every day, often you think that you hit a button or made some change that caused a sudden drop in your rankings or appearance. There are a number of reasons your traffic may have gone away. A good SEO audit will try to tie your drop in traffic to an event so you can figure out how to resolve the issue. There are four major areas that I often see that cause major adjustments to your search presence. Though there are others, I will quickly touch on these three big ones below.
Incorrect Management of Site Redesign
In these days when we need to be overhauling and updating our sites constantly, this is a common problem. When you significantly change a site, you need to be aware of what content was ranking in the past and why? There are a few reasons site redesign can destroy your rankings. This is why it is important to have someone that understands SEO brought in before you do a major redesign, not after. You can find yourself rushing to recover things that you shouldn’t have changed.
- Content: I have run into sites that drastically reduced their content length to be “easier” for their visitors. Google doesn’t like this in many cases, and that nice thorough content they just got rid of was part of the fuel that had them ranking. “Content is King” is the big phrase that drives SEO. If you have important content that is generating rankings, you want to maintain that content in some way. Getting rid of important pages that drive traffic is an obvious, but big cause of decreased SEO traffic that many business owners only realize after the fact.
- Links: Inbound links are still the leading individual factor for your page rank and often when we redesign a site, we will change the URL’s for the new structure. What happens to the old URL’s. Well, in far too many cases, the designer ignores them as they aren’t important to them anymore, but in the world of SEO, any of these pages that had inbound links that were fueling your site and page strength need to be accounted for. Throwing them away is throwing away rankability. There are tactics that need to be put in play such as 301 redirects and even recreating some content to maintain your link strength.
- Indexability: One of the big no-no’s of redesigning a site is to build it in a development environment and putting noindex code on it while you are working on it. This essentially tells Google to stay away until it is done. I have seen on several occasions where that noindex code was still on the site after they decided to “go live” with the new site. The site was telling Google to stay away, which it does, and therefore the rankings disappeared.
Many business owners chase domain names that seem to closely match what they are selling. There was a time when the domain name was a bigger factor and this tactic was much more effective, and there is some value still to keywords in your domain, but there is more value to the equity you have built up on your domain over time with links and Google’s understanding of your site as an entity. Much like the Links piece referenced above, if you switch domains and don’t handle it properly, you are basically throwing away the link strength of your prior site unless you handle the change properly from the technical side. This problem is happening less often than it used to but is still popping up.
Often business owners are not aware that Google typically has a few major algorithm updates each year that can drastically change the search landscape. If you haven’t been bitten by one in the past, you probably don’t have to worry about them too much, but once you have a problem these updates can help tell you what you are doing wrong. Some updates are based on content length, some on the freshness of content, and others on local or link strength. Each major update has some headline issues that need to be addressed, and if you see that your traffic drop coincided with one of these major updates it can often tell you what you need to fix.
It helps to lay out your analytics search traffic over time and line up the drops in traffic with potential Google updates. A major hit by Fred would mean you have content issues, while others may show you need better links, etc. These days there are not as many manual penalties by Google that require begging for forgiveness. Most are algorithmic and if you can address your biggest issues, you can find yourself ranking again.
Sometimes developers or business owners accidentally trigger technical issues like those discussed in the site redesign section. With sites adding more content and getting bigger and bigger, some of these technical indexing issues are becoming more common. I have seen sites that accidentally had hundreds of pages indexed that they didn’t want indexed, forcing important pages to get skipped or downgraded by Google. Sometimes these mistakes are made just by accidentally switching a setting on your back end, which can cause a lot of thin or duplicate content to suddenly be “shown” to Google that wasn’t before. This content is suddenly factored into the overall view of your website. On the other end, sometimes we accidentally get rid of or noindex important content by changing a setting on our sites. Sometimes these issues are the hardest to pin down because they usually come down to owner or developer activity and not a clearly defined map pinpoint like an algorithm update or major site change. When there is no clear answer from the above options, it often comes down to this one.