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Search Rankings Dropped? Don’t Panic!

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Search engine algorithm changes occur frequently, so often that  search engines like Google rarely announces their algorithmic updates any more unless the update is known to have significant impact and shift in the way web pages are ranked—if announced, you can find it over at Google’s Official Blog. Because ranking high in search engine results is directly related to the amount of traffic your website gets, and ultimately, to conversions (sales, newsletter signups, lead, registration, etc), 99.99% of site owners are obsessed with how high their web pages rank—can you blame them?

Web site owners, companies, and to an extent, SEO agencies, freak out when they see fluctuations in search engine keyword positions. Should you? Most of the time, I’d say don’t worry…make better use of your time. But let’s walk through a few scenarios to calm your nerves and explain why I want you to relax and take a deep breath.

Scenario 1: Website is updated using CSS and loads 10X faster. You wake up the next morning and rankings disappeared!!! OH NOOO!!!

You have a better looking website, faster loading pages, and happier users—you have achieved greatness! But because of all you did, or at least you think, 90% of your keywords have dropped in rankings. Is it your new design that caused it? Don’t be so quick to judge, my friend. Ask yourself a few questions before jumping on the “the sky is falling” bandwagon.

  • Did I forget to unblock the crawlers in robots.txt file?
  • How many pages does your website have? The larger the count, the longer it takes to re-crawl and re-index.
  • Did your competitor’s site ranking drop as well?
  • Did rankings drop across the big three engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing)?
  • Did the redesign leave out critical internal links?

Make sure you do a pre/post audit of your redesign—it always helps if you know where things were before the design and where they are after.

Scenario 1 is based on this post.

Scenario 2: You didn’t do ANYTHING! You receive your weekly/monthly ranking update and you lost 80% of your ranking keywords.

If you’re following search trends, news, and community discussions—and nothing is buzzing, then you should be 95% confident that algorithms had NOTHING to do with your drop in rankings. Usually this scenario is caused by external factors. Ask yourself these questions first and develop an educated hypothesis:
  • Did the competitors you track do something different? If so, analyze and improve your own site.
  • Did new competition appear, causing your displacement? New player in town?
  • Did someone accidentally block search engines in robots.txt file? Happens more frequently than you’d like to think.
  • Are redirects handled properly and not causing endless loops?
  • Checking your incoming links yet? Have you been leap-frogged by your competitors?

When you see such drops, I’ve seen major culprits being errors and/or bugs that were caught but not fixed in time—and all it takes is that split second for search engines to bring the house down, so to speak.

Getting Back to Work

I merely covered the surface of the panic that ensues from following keyword rankings too closely. There are more reasons why you shouldn’t spend your daylight hours on rankings, but that is a deeper discussion.

As long as you are doing your due diligence in optimizing your website you shouldn’t be overly worried about rankings. Because those two scenarios I mention above  SHOULD NOT happen to you…right? Freaking out is your worst enemy—and since most will freak out—it is to your benefit if you take a methodical approach to analyzing your data and making informed decisions.

But don’t we all have better things to do than hit the refresh button on the keyword ranking tool every 15 minutes? I do, so I’m ending this post for now :)

Blog Resources

Yahoo Blog

Bing Blog

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July 9th, 2010 at 12:59 pm