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How to Diagnose Google Penalties and Website Traffic Drops

By Mark Warner | Small Business

This can be a business owner’s worst nightmare. You wake up in the morning and someone tells you that your traffic has dropped 50% overnight and your website has fallen out of the top Google rankings for your keywords.

How to Diagnose Google Penalties and Website Traffic Drops image hospital emergency room signHow to Diagnose Google Penalties and Website Traffic Drops

Don’t panic… yet…

The first thing that you should do as a marketer is try to figure out exactly what has happened and why. The proper course of action can be drastically different depending upon what type of SEO diagnosis you give the situation. This could be something simple like an intern doing something silly that Google did not like (ex; the staff at BMW once added ‘no index, no follow’ tags on every page and the website could not be indexed). In a case like that, you would be looking at 2 minutes of work that would completely change your situation.

In other cases, you may have incurred a penalty that will require significant work and several months of time to recover. If this is the case, you had better be sure that you know what you are talking about before you set a long course of action to correct the scenario. If you are wrong about your diagnosis, you may wind up wasting enormous amounts of time and energy.

Here are some steps that you can take in order to diagnose your issues:

1) Look directly at a set of your main keywords to see if any of them have dropped off notably. This will help to tell you whether or not your issue is actually SEO related. If traffic has dropped but your main keywords have not changed positions significantly, you probably were not hit with a manual penalty or the Panda/Penguin algorithms. You can also look in your traffic analytics and look specifically at the organic traffic stats. This will do a better job of telling you the same thing.

2) See if your traffic drop-off was in correlation with any Google updates or algorithm changes. A quick Google search for “Google update calendar” should give you a reliable list of dates when known updates occurred. You should be looking for “significant” drops in traffic that sync up with these dates. If you see an obvious correlation, then you likely have found your culprit.

Below you can see what it looks like when a website gets hit by Google’s Panda algorithm.

How to Diagnose Google Penalties and Website Traffic Drops image panda penalty analyticsHow to Diagnose Google Penalties and Website Traffic Drops

3) Look in Google Webmaster Tools. This is where you may receive notices of unnatural link building or manual penalties that have been given to your website. You should also be looking at crawl rates and errors. These types of things usually are not expected to cause a website to take a steep dive, however, I have seen this before and I do believe that you can find valuable data in your webmaster tools that can be used to diagnose problems.

Not seeing anything yet? Just because your website’s drop in traffic is not directly associated with a known Google update does not mean that the two have nothing to do with each other. However, you are now entering a world that is much less certain and much more speculative. You’ll need to really start looking at everything as a whole and start considering some of the less likely explanations as to why your traffic has been dying.

Websites that have low-quality backlinks are not always hit directly by the Penguin algorithm. A direct hit should result in a drastic drop in traffic that will be obvious to anyone who is looking at the traffic analytics (see above).

Sometimes it may be the websites that are linking to your website that were hit by an algorithm change. This means that your website was indirectly affected because your backlinks have now gotten weaker. This should be expected to cause a drop in traffic; however it should be much less pronounced and obvious to an observer. You should expect to see a more gradual decline in this type of scenario (especially in the weeks following a major update).

Some other questions you can ask yourself:

  • Did you switch your website template recently?
  • Have you done any other major on-site changes recently, especially on a site-wide basis?
  • Have you been playing with your .htaccess file?

These are three very important questions to ask if you are seeing an unexplained drop in traffic.

If you are just a business owner trying your hardest and you can’t seem to figure out what is going on, this may be the time to hire someone else to get you out of your slump. I like to tell people that basic SEO is actually not as complicated as it sometimes seems. Even a basic effort can create great results from a do-it-yourself owner. One of the big differences between a great SEO and a mediocre SEO is their experience in dealing with SEO issues and watching different scenarios unfold. This includes a type of forensic SEO that deals with diagnosing issues.

If your website has been experiencing a decrease in traffic, please give seo4anyone a call to see if we can help you (888) 770-0747. You can also send us an email through our contact page.

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