I just read an article over at http://www.problogger.com from Darren Rowse about what to do when your Google traffic disappears. Darren made some good points, as he always does, but I thought there were some more details to add to the discussion. Here is my view on the actions you should take when you wake up one morning to discover you traffic is gone.
1. Review Google Webmaster Guidelines. Google is great. They tell you in no uncertain terms what their recommendations are. Take a few minutes to review the latest version of Google Webmaster Guidelines. Google sets the rules. You need to play by them.
2. Install Necessary Tools. In order to fully analyze/diagnose what is going on with your site, you NEED to be using Google Webmaster Tools. Installation is free and easy. Just do it. I will mention in a moment what to do with Webmaster Tools. You also need an industrial strength web traffic analysis package. Google Analytics is the obvious choice, but there are many others out there to do the job. The main point, is to move beyond gut feelings about what is gong on with your site and wild theories about what might have caused your demise. You need to be working with some hard, cold numbers.
3. Do Competitive Analysis. Create a list of your top ten phrases and look closely at the other sites that are coming up ahead of you. It is important to determine whether you have completely disappeared from Google or if you have just dropped off your previously stellar listings. If you have completely disappeared you need to start looking at whether you have been penalized or banned. Maybe Google has been unable to reach your site. But, the other, more likely situation is that your competitors have gotten better at SEO and you have done nothing in the five years since you gained #1 status for your coveted terms. You might need to do some work to regain your mojo!
4. Analyze Traffic and Indexing Patterns. Now it is time to jump into Google Webmaster Tools. Under the Diagnostics area you can see how often GoogleBot (Google’s indexing spider) is visiting your site. Ideally, it should be every few days. You can also see what errors Google is reporting and how many pages are being indexed. These valuable statistics give you a baseline for taking action.
If you have been banned, it will be clear that Google is not indexing any of your pages. Time to jump back to the Webmaster Guidelines and learn about the steps you need to take.
5. Evaluate your Incoming Links. More so than ever, Google rankings are about the link authority that your site has. In other words, who is linking to you, how they are linking, and the trust that Google puts in those sites are all important factors. If you have done nothing over time to fortify your incoming links you will start to suffer (because you have competitors out there who are working hard). It is possible that Google has done a recent update that devalued your site because your incoming links are on the decline.
6. Look at a Broad Range of Keywords. Is your conclusion that Google has dumped you in the dog house due to a drop-off on one term or is there an across-the-board decline? Before you panic, take a look at a range of phrases. If you are suffering with just a few terms, some focused work on your home page could get you back in the game. If your whole site is suffering, it is back to Webmaster Guidelines to do a point-by-point review of where you falling short of Google’s expectations, or, where your competitors are trumping you.
7. Assess All Changes. This recommendation is huge! Make sure you review whether you, your web designer, or your CMS (if you have a hosted CMS) have made any recent changes. It is possible that significant changes have happened on your site that you are unaware of. As an example: we worked with someone who unwittingly turned off their SEO-friendly urls in WordPress, which completely changed their internal linking on the their website. Or, it is possible your Ecommerce provider has done a major update that has changed all your page titles. Talk to the people you are working with and see if they can give you any insights. You can also look at Google’s cache to compare your current page with a recent version, or, possibly use a service like http://www.archive.org to do some comparison of the current version of your site with past versions to see if the html has changed.
8. See If You Are Alone. Here is another pre-panic step: do some Googling to find out if your case is an isolated issue or if many others are reporting issues. Your change in rankings could be a result of a sea-change on Google’s end. This doesn’t mean you need to sit idly by and fret, but your approach will be significantly different than if your ranking drop-off is isolated.
9. Set up Google Analytics Intelligence. Google Analytics has a brand new feature (as of 11/09) that is awesome. Analytics Intelligence lets you set up custom alarms so you can receive an email notification if there are anomalies in your traffic. Although this tool won’t help you go back in time and address past problems, it will be a great aid as you move forward with a more scientific approach to controlling your rankings and traffic.
10. Be Systematic. Our overarching recommendation is to be systematic in tackling your SEO decline. You need to identify the list of factors and then analyze and address them one-by-one.
There are no shortcuts to working with Google, but if you play by their rules and pay attention to every detail, you can likely be successful in regaining your Google rankings and traffic.