I’ve had emails from a number of ProBlogger readers in the past week who have each told me that at some point in the last month they’ve seen drastic falls in their Google SERPs and as a result their referral traffic from Google. In each case their page rank has remained at the same level but they’ve plummeted from ranking in the top 10 for their keywords to almost disappearing (or being the 320th ranked site). In each email there is a little panic, desperation and the question ‘what do I do?’ This post is an attempt to give some advice on this topic.
What’s going on?
Without getting into all the technicalities (something I’m not really capable of anyway) Google have just completed (or are getting close to finishing) the 3rd phase of their latest series of updates. This latest round of updates was informally called ‘Jagger’ by SEO experts.
Google employee, Matt Cutts, has been writing about Jagger on his blog (you can see them in his Google/SEO category).
Much of how Google determines who ranks how in their index is kept secret by Google but periodically they do an update like this that gives some sites a real shake up – for some it brings drastic improvements in where they rank and for others it unfortunately sees them seemingly fall out of the rankings completely.
This is what happened to me a week out from Christmas last year when I lost two thirds of my sites traffic (and daily income) to my in the period of an hour or two. Ouch.
What should you do when you lose your Google ranking?
The following advice is not official Google advice – it’s my advice which I gleaned from more experienced online entrepreneurs when it happened to me last year and I went into panic mode and started emailing people. Don’t take it as gospel – I’m not pretending to understand Google or how it works (people who I know work there say they don’t even understand it) – rather this is simply what I did and learned.
1. Don’t panic – while I totally understand this reaction it is not going to help anyone for you to get panicky and depressed. One of the first things I realized when I started asking around about this last year was that it happens to every online entrepreneur at some point or another. Almost everyone I spoke with who had been in this game for longer than a year or two had a story to tell about when they’d fallen out of Google. The reassuring thing was that in most cases they also had a story of when Google re-ranked them as high as they were previously (or close to it).
2. Wait – The main advice I was given by my more experienced colleagues was to take a deep breath and wait. Google tends to do updates every couple of months (give or take a month) and many of the people who I spoke to said that they returned to their previous rankings after a fall in the very next update when Google made adjustments to their previous changes.
3. Don’t give up – a couple of the bloggers who have emailed me are talking about throwing in the towel. My advice is to take a day or two off to think about this before you delete your blogs and disconnect your broadband. Give yourself a little time to put things in perspective.
4. Don’t make major changes – The temptation when you fall badly in your Google ranking is to completely rework your site. A lot of theories fly around discussion forums and blogs on what Google’s updates mean and how to ‘fix’ your site. Some of these theories might have some validity, others do not. The thing to remember is that no-one outside of Google (and many inside it) ‘know’ what changes were made in an update and how to ‘fix’ your site. I would recommend you leave making any major changes in your blog until you see what happens in the next Google update. If at this point you still rank low it might be worth considering a few changes.
The only exception to this advice of not making big changes is if you know you are doing something spammy or outside of Google’s rules or regulations. If you are doing something dodgy then you probably deserve to loose your Google ranking and I suggest you get your act together and develop a decent and honest site.
5. Work on improving your site – Probably the best advice I was given by a couple of wise experienced friends was to take the opportunity to work hard at lifting my blogs to the next level. I actually took the six weeks that my blogs fell out of the Google rankings to do a number of things to my blog. I decided that I wanted to come out the other side of the experience of being de-ranked in Google with a better quality blog. The things I did included:
- tweaking design – while I didn’t do any major changes to design I did a spring clean of my blogs and freshened things up a bit in terms of both how they looked and what their back end code looked like. Over time it’s easy to add lots of little features to your blog (buttons, pictures etc) – these can clutter the look of your site and slow it down a bit. Every now and again it’s worth getting ride of some of the clutter.
- writing a series of fresh and link worthy posts – I admit I wallowed in a little depression for a few days but once I pulled myself together, got some perspective and decided to move through it I decided to knuckle down and write some quality content. As I wrote it I let a few other key sites in my niche know what I’d written in the hope that some would link up (remember inbound links to your site are very powerful in terms of search engine ranking).
- developing relationships with other relevant sites – in addition to letting other sites know about some of my key posts I also decided to get to know a few other bloggers and web masters in my niche. This brought some interesting opportunities for collaboration and a few more inbound links which would not have hurt my SEO.
- working on SEO – again, I didn’t make major changes, but there were a few things that I did in terms of basic Search Engine Optimization – all of which can be found in my SEO for bloggers series.
- develop loyal readership – while I did lose a significant level of traffic from Google I also realized that I had quite a few regular readers who were coming to my blog through bookmarks, RSS and from other sites. I came to the realization that perhaps I’d been taking this traffic for granted previously and that I should put some effort into it. I increased the numbers of newsletters I was sending to subscribed readers and did a few meme type things that helped build community in this group.
6. Diversify – Another big lesson from the whole experience was that I had too many eggs in one basket. From this point I vowed that if I ever was de-ranked from Google again that I would have other income streams to sustain me through the low times. I began a process of diversification that has included:
- new blogs on different domains – up until this point I’d only ever had a very small number of blogs, all sharing the one domain. The Google update impacted the whole domain and I realized that in future it would either be feast or famine for me. The result was since this time I’ve started a variety of new blogs on a number of domains.
- new collaborations – out of building relationships with other bloggers and webmasters came a number of opportunities to start new projects and work together on existing ones. b5media is probably one example of this – a whole new collection of blogs that emerged out of collaboration.
- new revenue streams – up until this experience I’d not really experimented with too many other income streams than Adsense. While Adsense is a wonderful system – I decided to branch out and find what else I could find.
- other search engine optimization – I’d never really thought much about optimizing my blogs for anything other than Google before – the past year has seen me looking at MSN and Yahoo a little more as traffic sources. Similarly I’ve worked harder on finding traffic from other sources such as RSS, other sites and loyal readers.
- non blogging income – I took on a part time ‘real job’ this year for six months simply as a back up plan to get us through the decline in income in the short term. I also developed the six figure blogging course as an income that didn’t directly come out of my blogging and took on some consulting work.
I hope that that helps those who have suffered in the latest Google Update. I’m really sorry to hear of it and hope that something in my above experiences gives some comfort or help in getting things back on track.