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What should you do if your Google Ranking Falls and you lose all your traffic?

Posted By Darren Rowse 29th of November 2006 Search Engine Optimization 54

One of the most frightening things that can happen to a blogger making their living from blogging is when the traffic to their blogs dries up for one reason or another.

There are numerous reasons why this might happen ranging from being hacked, to having a server outage, to not backing up a blog and losing data etc

Another common reason for loosing traffic is when Google (or some other Search Engine) tweaks the way that they rank sites and your blog’s position for some (or all) keywords falls (or even disappears).

I’ve had a number of readers write to me in the last few weeks telling me that this has happened to them and in panic asking for advice.

Here is how I usually respond:

Firstly – I feel your pain
Suffering a major fall in traffic as a result of Google changing their ranking algorithm is not a pleasant thing and when you dig around a little you’ll find that most experienced webmasters have experienced it at one time or another. The first time it happened to me my traffic (and income) plummeted to a third of what it was in December of 2004. It hit me hard and almost knocked me out of blogging for money.

The second major hit that I’ve taken happened earlier this month when within the space of a couple of hours the traffic (and income) on my biggest blogs went to one tenth of normal levels and my blogs completely disappeared from Google’s index. Once again it was a fairly frightening experience (although I’d learnt a lot from last time it happened and have diversified my income quite a bit since).

What should you do when you lose your Google traffic?

OK – so you’re not alone – that might be a little comforting – but it doesn’t fix anything. What should you do? Here are a few things I advise out of my own experiences. This advice is written for people who have not being trying to game Google. If you engage in black hat SEO then it might be that you’ve been banned or penalized for doing so – I’m not aware of what you should do in this case. The following is probably more helpful for white hat SEO types who have had some bad luck:

1. Don’t Panic

I’ve seen a number of web masters completely lose it in the days following a loss of Google traffic. While I understand the temptation to panic – it doesn’t solve anything at all.

When I first lost traffic in Google back in 2004 my first reaction was to freak out and want to make big changes to my pages in an attempt to ‘fix’ things. The wise advice I received from experienced web masters was to calm down, take a day or two off and keep in mind that if I hadn’t been trying to game or trick Google that things would probably work out as in many cases traffic returns at some point as Google automatically re-corrects itself.

2. Wait

This is not easy to hear when your income seems to be falling through your fingers, but the main advice I was given two years ago was to not make any major changes to your blog for at least a month (maybe two). You might want to tweak things – but in many instances that I’ve come across Google does seem to reverse the de-indexing of quality sites that fall from their index (they seem to do updates in a series – adjusting things backwards and forwards along the way).

Back in 2004 my traffic returned after 6 nervous weeks. In my most recent experience my traffic began to return after 1 week (not quite as high as it had been previously but still improving). Waiting before making big changes gives Google a chance to correct itself.

Of course by advising bloggers to ‘wait’ I’m not saying ‘stop’ blogging. Keep posting and keep building your blog as if you had decent traffic as stopping can compound your SE traffic by making your blog appear inactive.

3. Analyze/Research

Take some time in the days and weeks following the change in Google to do some analysis and reflection upon your blog. I’m a big believer in learning from the tough times and using them to improve what you do. Check out webmaster forums like Digital Point’s Google Forum and Webmaster World’s Google Forum to see if others are experiencing similar things and to watch what experienced webmasters are advising.

You might also like to take a little time to do some basic SEO research (for example check out my recent post on SEO for for blogs) and see how your blog stacks up. Also take the opportunity to think about the overall direction of your blogging and to ask yourself some tough questions about where it’s going and how you’re doing it? Is it time to diversify your income more? Do you have a backup plan in terms of income? What other opportunities are there available to you if things don’t improve in your Google traffic? While your traffic might come back it’s worth considering what you’ll do if it doesn’t.

As part of this analysis of your blog I’d recommend signing up for Google Webmaster Tools. Get a sitemap installed (this will help Google crawl your blog better) and see if any errors are returned that might give a hint as to what the problem is with your site. Also check out Google’s Webmaster Help Center.

Lastly – don’t believe every SEO theory that people suggest. While I do advise subscribing to some of the above forums you should also be aware that a lot of rubbish gets hypothesized there also. Take your time on researching there and don’t make any major changes based upon that advice too quickly until the community there evaluates what is true and what is just an uneducated guess.

4. Improve Your Site

Once you’ve take a week or so to reflect without making any major changes – I’d suggest using the reindexing of your blog as motivation to improve your blog. Here’s some things I’d work on:

  • Fresh Content – Google loves sites with fresh original content – so instead of spending your time checking your stats and worrying about what might or might not happen – write some new quality posts for your blog. Perhaps start a fresh series of posts that might attract some new readers and income links. It’s very important not to let this setback slow down your posting frequency – keep writing!
  • Design/Backend Spring Clean – freshen up your blog’s design and simplifying it a little. One of the problems that many blogs have is that over time their bloggers add more and more things to sidebars and as they do the back-end code can become quite cluttered and jumbled. The more errors you have in your blog the harder it is for Search Engine bots to navigate it – so freshen things up, get rid of errors and simplify your code and it might help. Also search through your archives looking for and fixing broken links – this helps Google’s bots surf your blog better also.
  • Network – One of the things I did the first time I fell out of Google’s index was to spend more and more time building up relationships with other bloggers and webmasters in my niche. This had many benefits including finding out that others had had similar setbacks at the same time, the opportunity to exchange relevant links (either formally or by highlighting quality posts that you’ve written) and the potential for future joint projects.
  • SEO tweaks – As I say above – I wouldn’t make too many major changes to your blog too quickly but it might be worth looking at a few onsite SEO techniques (as outlined here). Are your title tags optimized? Are you using good keywords in the right positions? etc
  • Build Reader Loyalty – One of the realizations that many webmasters have when their SE traffic disappears is that their readership is quite one dimensional and SE reliant. Rather than getting down about the lack of traffic that you have, use the lull in traffic as an opportunity to work with the traffic that you DO have. Work on strategies to get readers coming back more regularly (I’ve previously written a series on this topic that starts here).

5. Diversify

I’ve come to learn through my issues with Google updates that it is important not to become too reliant upon any one aspect of blogging for an income. Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket because if you do you could be setting yourself up for a fall next time things don’t go your way. Here are a number of ways that you can diversify your blogging:

  1. New Sources of Traffic – Google traffic is a great thing when it works – but it’s easy to become reliant upon it. Consider what other sources of traffic you might attempt to build into your blog including other search engines (each SE has a different array of things that they look for when ranking your site), referral traffic from other sites and loyal readers.
  2. New Blogs – the first time I lost Google traffic I decided to diversify by adding new blogs to my business. I went a little overboard and at one stage was writing 20 of them. I wouldn’t advise going to that extreme (as it takes a lot of work) but consider adding one or two new blogs at a time. If I had my time over again I’d build new blogs that related to my first ones rather than starting completely blogs around completely new topics.
  3. New Income Streams – in a similar way to becoming reliant upon Google traffic it is easy to become reliant upon a single source of income on a blog. For example – in my early days of blogging I almost completely relied upon AdSense as an income source. Since then I’ve added a number of new income streams including other advertising programs, affiliate programs and even e-resources (more on the variety of income streams for bloggers here).
  4. Non Blogging Sources of Income – at different times over the last three or four years I’ve relied upon other income streams outside of blogging. Some have been related to online activities (such as my six figure blogging course), others have been bringing together bloggers in a managerial sort of way (like b5media), others have been consulting work around online entrepreneurship and others have been completely unrelated to blogging (I’ve take a variety of short term jobs on at different times to supplement online incomes). I think most webmasters do take on other work from time to time and in my mind it can be a smart thing to do during the lean times when things don’t quite go according to plan with your blogging.

6. Contact Google?

The first reaction for most webmasters when their Google traffic is to investigate how they can get in touch with Google about it. The problem with this is that Google are indexing many many millions of websites and as a result don’t make it easy for you to contact them regarding your problems (and I don’t blame them).

Perhaps the only suggestion that I can give for getting in touch with Google is to consider posting something in their Webmaster Help Forums and to sign your site up for their Google Webmaster Tools (and use Sitemaps). While this doesn’t give you direct communication with Google I do know that Google people track these forums and follow up links left there and that sitemaps is supposedly a good way to get your site regularly crawled by Google’s bots.

If you do have a contact at Google by all means get in touch with them and dig around looking for a way to get someone to look at your site – but unless you have luck or are pretty well known I’m not confident that this is going to get you far (but it can’t really hurt).

7. Reevaluate

After a month or two and if your blog hasn’t returned to it’s previous level of traffic (or at least improved significantly) I guess it might be time to change tack. It might be that you just have to start a new site or do a complete overhaul of your current one. My approach would probably be to keep a site much the same as it was unless there were glaring reasons for being de-listed in Google and start something new as it might be that you’ll get promoted again in future.

In Conclusion

The above advice comes as a result of a few years of building blogs and a lot of experimentation and talking with other web masters. There is of course a lot of other opinion going around on the topic. As I mention above – the SEO space is one that is filled with a lot of hypothesizing and at times controversy. People get very fired up about it and hold onto their theories strongly.

My approach with SEO is to build quality sites that people find useful, to know some basic SEO principles and to work hard at your sites. I find that in most cases the results of this are that your site will gradually rank better and better in Google and that even when the de-indexing comes from time to time that things generally turn back around.

I’m open to others suggestions and experiences on this topic however – feel free to share your own tips on getting highly ranked in Google again after losing your traffic below in comments.

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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.
Comments
  1. Very insightful article.. I guess if you do everything according to Google’s webmaster guide you will have much less chance of experiencing this problem, given the fact that you have a reliable web hosting service and error-free website.

  2. I have done 3-5 reviews so far and my Google stay at pr4. today it the sixth reviews, my pr then drop to 2? making money through review is much more faster the adsesne, but it seemed very dangerous for blog ‘s PR! i read you post regarding when the pr drop. its make me bit cool. my question is why there are some such review if in the end spoil blog reputation? what is the best to make money with blog? thanks Darren,

  3. my site vanished after being in top 3 for 8 months – cant see it anywhere but google says its not banned , cant find out why either… my traffic is more of less the same as its always been, which is odd, as i dont come up on any searches for what i offer now .

  4. Thanks for the tips. I will try not to panic. My site http://pint.com.au/ recently dropped from a rank of 3 to 1 and the number of pages indexed has dropped to about a third of what it was. Figures crossed that things will improve. In the mean time I will work on improving the content and making the site more search engine friendly. Thanks again for the tips. Ben.

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