Most people trying to make money online rely at least partly on ranking well in relevant search terms. The site that has the top spot usually gets about 40% of the traffic relating to that specific search term, and if you’re not on page one or at least page two, you probably won’t get much traffic from it. Ideally other visitors should arrive through social media, paid advertising (optional!), links from other sites, and even directly when they’ve learned about your brand offline, but organic search is still the biggest source of income for many bloggers and online shops.
SEO is the process that will help a site rank well for relevant, valuable search terms. There are thousands of details to consider but the basic idea is that if you build a great site, fill it with relevant, interesting, and useful content, and build links with other quality websites, your authority will go up, you’ll rise through the ranks towards the top of the first page on Google, Bing, and the other search engines, get more visitors and make more money.
So far, so good. But it doesn’t always work that way. SEO experts and pro bloggers usually keep a close eye on their rankings, and sometimes what they find isn’t a reward for all that hard work. Rankings can go down as well as up.
Google Dance & your Competitors
There are many reasons a website could lose ground in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). In most cases, it’s a temporary blip and nothing to worry about. Google makes about 400 algorithmic changes a year, some small and some colossal. The resulting pattern of shifting rankings is called the ‘Google dance’, and it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Unless a site completely dominates a particular search term, a little bit of up and down is quite normal. If you lose a position or two on your favorite search keyword, don’t worry about it. Keep working and you’ll probably go back up soon enough.
Your competitors may be looking at SEO too. Even if they aren’t, they’ll be adding new content, building the occasional new link, and making changes to their websites. All those things can shift their ranking up and push yours down. If someone else is suddenly doing very well and pushing your pages off the top spots, take a good look at them. What changes have they made recently? They might be using a strategy you could adopt too.
Most blogs and commercial websites will go through their whole lifespan without a serious and sudden drop in search rankings, but they do sometimes happen. The most recent major shakeup saw thousands of affiliate marketers suffer huge losses- one of my sites was among the losers.
Google’s Farmer/Panda Update
Google’s Farmer/Panda update completely changed the playing field for plenty of legitimate websites as well as the content farms it was meant to target. A lot of people lost rankings, traffic, and income, and the true impact of this algorithm change hasn’t really been explored yet.
However, Farmer/Panda only affected a relatively small number of sites operating in a fairly specific way. Usually, if a site experiences a sudden and severe drop it’s a private problem, not a global policy change. The first thing to do if your rankings crash is to find out. Ask friends and colleagues with similar sites what they’re seeing, keeping in mind that algorithm changes roll out gradually, so sites in the US and the UK may not see them at the same time. Check out the SEO forums for news of major updates and see if the official Google Blog has anything to say. It usually doesn’t take long for bloggers both at Google and elsewhere to respond to an algorithm shift.
If it looks like you’re on your own, it’s time to think back over recent action. Have you been involved in less-than-ethical SEO or bought a bunch of links? If so, you could be finding yourself in JC Penney’s position, being punished for black hat activities. In this case, the best thing to do is own up, get rid of the links or shady on-site tricks, and keep to legitimate SEO in the future. If you think you’re innocent and can’t find evidence for an algorithm change, contact Google and say so.
In most cases, drops in rankings are small and perfectly natural- nothing but bumps on the road. Even if they’re not so small, don’t panic. There is always plenty you can do to lift your site back up and start gaining ground again.
This article is written by Jess Spate. She is an SEO professional, a mathematician, and an online entrepreneur. Among others, she represents Marriott timeshare points resale consultants and companies that buy Wyndham timeshare units. If you wish to write for us, kindly check this.