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What to Do when Your Google Traffic Disappears

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 digital camera blog 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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Thanks Darren for your explenation.

    Google droped our site a few days ago and there is almost none visitors from it since than. We were in the top 10 for some search querys but now … not even listed (checked with http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/keywords/).

  2. Robb D says:

    I am glad that you posted this because I have been loosing my mind trying figure out why my traffic from Google has dropped of the side of a cliff recently over the last week and a half.

    The sad part is that i was ranked number one or two for many of my keywords and now am on the thrid or fourth page. I sure am glad that I haven’t quit my day job.

  3. Rob Lewis says:

    Wow, great article Darren.

    My site dropped out of the rankings a few months ago, before Jagger started. Like you suggest, my initial reaction was one of panic, but I did decide to just carry on as normal (I was still getting referrals from other search engines, but nowhere near as many).

    After 3 or 4 weeks of bad rankings, things seemed to come back to normal, and now after Jagger I seem to be doing slightly better than before.

    Diversification is the key – this just proves though that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket – how many of us are dependent on Google as a main source of traffic?

    Rob.

  4. John Campea says:

    Thanks for the post Darren,

    A week and a half ago I was getting over 25,000 hits a days… now all of a sudden I’m at about 10,000/day. I’m obviously paniced.

    It’s at least good to hear that others have had this experience also and have come out the other side.

  5. Kunal says:

    Great Article Darren!!! I have a technology news website which got great traffic from google images for 3-4 months. But after October, an image posted was almost 7-8 pages behind. And now I am trying to revive back on Google Search as well as Google Images.

  6. Andy Merrett says:

    Visitors have dropped a little but because my traffic levels are relatively small and I get hits from quite a number of sources, it’s not drastic. I haven’t really been checking my position in Google anyway – I don’t have time! I expect it to bounce back if I carry on doing what I’ve always done – producing worthwhile content and not using trickery.

  7. Matt says:

    I seem to have benefitted from this most recent update. My traffic has increased to heretofore unheard of levels. Which are still pathetic and tiny compared to most, but exciting for me. For the last several days, I have averaged over 100 hits per day, which is just awesome. (to the guy whose traffic dropped to 10,000, I say…. “I should have such problems!” lol)

  8. My Google traffic actually went way up in the past few weeks. This is probably more a function of getting out of the sandbox than anything else, though (the site is ~ 6 months old).

  9. andy_boyd says:

    Google just seems to be a bit of a rollercoaster, that’s the way it appears to work with them. However, it is important that if you have suffered a drop that you keep an open mind and plan for the future. Take on board Darren’s (very helpful) steps. If one blog is having problems, start another. Don’t stop posting, post more high quality articles. Don’t rely on AdSense alone, try Chitika or YPN.

    Recently I posted a short checklist of things you can do to get a new site off the ground on my site ( http://www.boydcreative.net/1/my-new-site-checklist/ ). If you have suffered a drop in rankings, pop over and have a read through. There’s plenty you can do now, so that when you are back in favour with Google you will be stronger than before.

  10. Dave says:

    Your very last point about diversifying your income is the most important one for peace of mind. I learned that one back when I was a contract programmer.

    Too many people see an increase in traffic as an immediate increase in income. I see it as a long-term small pay-raise for the rest of my life.

    Every cent that comes in from my sites after taxes goes directly into my investments. That in turn increases my investment income.

    No, it’s nowhere near as much fun to put $15,000 into an investment as it is to go out and spend it, but every time I do that I give myself the equivalent to a $1/hour pay raise that lasts forever!

    This way, Google doesn’t affect my pay, even if they dump my site completely for a few months. I just don’t get any pay increases during that time.

    Of course, you have to live below your means while you build that nest egg, but it really isn’t all that hard when you set your mind to it.

  11. Dave says:

    Like a lot of people, a couple of my sites bombed during the last update, but have now resurfaced at pretty much their previous rank, with a few increases on some important keyword, so I’m quite pleased.

    However, mid way through the update I get pretty annoyed at the way my site got dropped along way down the rankings, it affected referrals by about a 85% – not good when google drives alot of traffic to your site.

    The plus points – I did some refinements, added some more content, looked at MSN and yahoo referrals and waited it out.

    Its a good opportunity to take alook at what you are doing and do some refinements without totally reworking your site. The keyword here is tweaking – don’t go overboard because you don’t know if the changes you are making will affect the rank, or if google is just levelling out.

    Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as my mum likes to say – don’t rely soley on google, and don’t rely soley on adsense. And don’t commit everything to just one site, try and have a portfolio of sites with diverse topics that means you can cover the loses of one site if it drops and stays dropped.

  12. I’m in the “small to begin with” group, so don’t know if I’d notice. But appreciate the insights you and your community provide on the finer points of Google…

  13. Robert says:

    Looks like the blogs are being moved to Google’s Blog Search. My blog disappeared and shows up only in Google’s Blog Search.

  14. melody says:

    Before the last update – my main site ranked in th etop 5 for a dozen highly competitive terms. Site has been around since 1998 – good content etc – and now i and now it’s ranking on the 4th or 5th page for most of the previous top spots!

    But traffic has been affected only slightly as at the same time it moved up in the rankings for the same terms at Yahoo and MSN….

    I don’t plan to change anything, it’s a solid site with loyal readers – income is still about the same, and I have a feeling that in a few weeks it will be back where it was before the update….it’s happened before and I have finally just decided there is no point in driving myself crazy trying to figure out what to do about it….Google is n control….not me……

  15. Cary says:

    As of about two weeks ago Google is treating me quite nicely :)

    But I will try to remember to take it with a grain of salt (as we say in the States.) Google giveth, and Google taketh away. I’m also seeing a big upsurge in MSN traffic.

    Who knew?

  16. One of my main sources of Google traffic is actually through Google image searches and I’ve only just learned the value of tagging my images properly (with descriptive titles rather than the jpeg code from the camera). If you use a lot of images on your site as I do (people like to look at cars) then this can lead to a marked increase in traffic.

  17. Here’s an additional tip which I’ve discovered: Google isn’t the only search engine! MSN and Yahoo are equally valid, so go after them too!

    We launched a Reality TV website back in August. Google didn’t pick it up then at all, but we found that after a bedding down period, MSN search was sending quite a bit of traffic our way. It turned out that we were ranking exceptionally well for the names of popular tv show contestants.

    Despite gaining page rank in Google, the results are still pretty poor.

    On the flip side, MSN ran an article at the weekend about the X-Factor show which linked names to MSN searches. People clicking through on the names got our site as top result in MSN and visited the site. Traffic skyrocketted!

    So, maybe don’t put all your eggs in one search engine either….

  18. hatem says:

    I didn’t face this problem, but anyway google is refering about 15 % of all traffic to my site so if I loose it temporarely it won’t be a big problem.

    And anyway I don’t see any reasons that this traffic stop from google, probably you’re in sandbox again !

  19. Miho says:

    It’s happend to me, too. My main keywords were in top 3 ranking in google unitl April , and in May , suddenly my site down to 135 and some keywords are around 600.
    I tried to get it back again in July, but now it often up and down.
    One of the reason I found was bad links which I exchanged link in automated link exchange service.
    Google is very important for me , because number of visitors was much different from yahoo and MSN im my case.

  20. My Google traffic increased by about 300% two weeks ago and has just new leveled off. I had to migrate my site from a blogger hosted site back on August 1st, which meant basically starting from scratch. But in 3 months, I’ve more than doubled the traffic level from my old site and through effective use of pings and technorati tags, I believe that has given my greater exposure in Google’s new algorhythm.

    Of course, my blog covers a wide range of subjects, each of which has its own RSS feed, so I tend to get a widely varied audience of information seekers (some of the search terms I get are horrendous as you might imagine with my blogs being named what it is.

    I believe that Google’s algorhythm is a pendulum which will swing back the other way soon enough, so your advice of chilling out, making your site more user-friendly, and continuing to develop quality content is sound and much appreciated, Darren.

  21. L says:

    Hey, Darren and folks.

    This has just recently within weeks happened to my blog: Pursed Lips .net.

    We used to do okay, then for a while we were on page 3 of results. Now, I can’t find myself, although we’re supposed to be PR 5. In the last 100 visitors, we’ve gotten many Yahoo! hits, 2 MSN, and 1 Google Images.

    It’s odd because we are getting somewhat fewer visitors daily than our highest, but what’s worse is that we’re in a rut. We (Pursed Lips) just never did well with Google.

    So I read your steps, and I did the Spring Clean. WOW, it needed that. It looks somehow 10 x more professional from the smallest spruces.

    That’s all I can really do for tonight. I’m also really wondering if I’m even on Google at all. I search for myself and don’t get it. If I search for my URL what is supposed to appear? It seems it’s the same thing from before the domain was really indexed. And was there a recent Google update in the beginning of June 2006? (It’s odd, one other blog started doing extremely well at the end of May.)

    It’s strange, but I never freaked out!

  22. L says:

    What should I do when my site went down for a while, then Google dropped it, it’s been back and I’ve waited a loong time. Do I re-submit to Google?

  23. Darren, I’m so glad to find your post on this topic. Even though it was written back in 2005, it’s of immense comfort to me in 2008! :-)

    My site went down for a while recently and my Google traffic disappeared–in fact, I can’t find any evidence of my site in Google at all. Previously I had been getting a significant portion of my traffic from search, and now I’m down to just a hundred or so hits a day (from folks who are directly typing in my URL–none from Google).

    I just re-submitted my site to Google and I hope that that speeds things along, but your post re-affirms what I was thinking–don’t panic, just be patient and things will be restored in time. Just keep on working to improve the site and work on cultivating the community. Then when my site does get indexed again, I’ll be ready for the influx of traffic!

    This is why it’s a good thing to write a blog that you’re passionate about–even when the audience semi-disappears, you’re still motivated to keep on plugging along.

    Anyway, thanks for this post–it’s very re-assuring! :-)

  24. Darren, your post is back from 2005, but I guess it is still very up to date in terms of the topic you are refering to. I’m currently going through this “phase” of having google traffic disappearing for my site. Right now I’m having about two weeks of low traffic from google, something happened and I was not quite sure what it was. All of a sudden I’m not receiving the usual traffic I was getting from google. I tried a few searches from google to see what was going on and I wonder why my site was not appearing anymore in the search results. A few weeks ago this was not a problem, so I asked myself what’s wrong?

    After reading your post I feel very familiar with the situations you describe. You are absolutely right when you say that one of the first reactions is going into “panic mode”, you definitely get to the point to feel very bad about losing traffic from google and not knowing the reasons is very sad…

    Well, I guess I’ll have to wait in the next few days and hope that my site gets back to normal.

  25. I recently had top 10 rankings for hundreds of keywords related to acai berries. With two affiliate marketing posts about the Extreme Acai product, I was capitalizing to the tune of $100-200 a day. All of a sudden my pageviews drop from 200 to 17 and my revenue drops to $0 a day.

    The only reason I had ranked so well was because of my application of SEO techniques. My blog is about exercise and nutrition, so the acai posts fit the niche. I don’t spam. Therefore I have no idea why I was penalize so severely. This is a real pain in the neck.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Looks like a big coincidence, doesn’t it? After I mentioned my drastic drop in hits from Google in my gaming blog, Darren from ProBlogger makes a brilliant post called “What to do when your Google traffic disappears. [...]

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