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Why have my search engine rankings dropped?

SEO RequiresYou’re on top of your SEO and attracting links to your site and linking to others and yet your rankings have just dropped. What’s the problem? John Straw has the diagnosis

When you’re promoting your site using SEO, the general trend in rankings and traffic will be up. However, something you have to learn to live is fluctuations in results.

Negative changes in rankings can happen for many reasons, and when you’re working hard to improve your rankings and they actually go down it can be frustrating and disheartening.

To help you understand why your rankings might have dropped we’ve created this checklist:

SEO issue no. 1 — there is no issue

This may sound strange but it’s not uncommon to see fluctuations in SEO results, especially as you begin an SEO campaign. The reason for this may be that the sudden changes in link and content activity trigger security features in search engine algorithms designed to detect possible rank manipulation.

Diagnosis: Apart from knowing whether you’ve been actively promoting your website and knowing what you did and when, you can’t diagnose the precise issue.

Solutions: Typically results that drop like this bounce back in less then a week. Making SEO an activity where existing page improvement, new page creation and link building happen on an on-going basis helps smooth the ride.

SEO issue no. 2 — Google, Bing or others have changed their rules

Search engines rank sites using a complex set of mathematical rules called algorithms which change all the time as search engines attempt to provide more relevant results and better protection from people trying to buck the system. It is therefore highly likely that your rankings will fluctuate.

Diagnosis: Google sometimes tells you when significant updates have happened and hints at what has been changed, but typically you don’t get to hear about algorithmic changes, you just see ranking changes.

Solutions: Create and publish great content on topics that contain the keywords you want to be found for and that other websites will want to link to. Don’t try to buck the system or look for short cuts. The algorithm changes will eventually catch up with you. Ensure your content and link building is natural and normal for your sector.

SEO issue no. 3 — Search engines may be having a problem accessing your website

Diagnosis: Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account to diagnose potential server issues.

Solutions: Google Webmaster Tools will advise you on how to solve server issues affecting your site. If your server is not responding because you’re working on the site, set your server to respond with a 503 code, this means “the server is currently unavailable”.

If your server is slow, look at ways of optimising your site for speed. This might include improving your website’s code, reducing image size, or improving your server performance.

SEO issue no. 4 — duplicate content

You have duplicate content where the same page is available on multiple URLs.

Diagnosis: Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account to diagnose potential server issues.

Solutions: Where multiple URLs have the same content, search engines will try to work out which of your duplicated pages is the best. However, they don’t always get it right so ideally you want to be in control of their decision-making process. To do this, use canonical tags inside the HTML header of your page’s code to point search engines to your best page. It looks like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.linkdex.com/blog/” />

This tells the search engine that the page they are on is a copy of the page you’d like to appear used in the canonical URL tag – linkdex.com/blog/.

If the issue you have affects all pages on your website, the issue can also be corrected with simple commands that exist in files of your server. It’s a job you may need to talk to your developer or systems admin support about.

SEO issue no. 5 — you’ve told search engines not to index your page or site

A robot.txt file is a small text file that lives on your server that tells search engines which pages it can and cannot visit.  Have you told search engines not to index your page or site?

Diagnosis: Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account to test your robot.txt file.

Solutions: Edit your robot.txt file using a simple text editor and get it uploaded to your server.

SEO issue no. 6 — you’ve been penalised

Search engines have very clear guidelines about what you can and cannot do.

Diagnosis: Have you:

  • used hidden text or links on your pages
  • created low quality pages stuffed with keywords
  • created duplicate or very similar content
  • taken part in links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • linked to web spammers
  • taken part in excessive reciprocal link or link exchange programs (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
  • buying or selling links that pass PageRank

If you have broken their guidelines, you’ll know what to do. If you haven’t, it can be much more difficult to find out what the issue is, especially as they won’t tell you directly.

Solutions: If you think you’ve breached Google’s guidelines you’ll need to correct the issue and submit a re-inclusion request via Google Webmaster Tools.

To quote Google:

 “The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the internet community.

“The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: Is this going to be beneficial for my page’s visitors?

“It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest.”

John Straw is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the founder and VP of Business Development at SEO specialist, Linkdex.

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