Massive Enterprise

Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (1)

It’s happened to all SEOs at least once in the beginning, you’re optimizing a website, you’re steadily climbing up the rankings, then one morning you check the SERPs and you find you are nowhere to be found or you’ve lost 3 pages worth of positions.

drop in google rankings

What’s worse is if you know nothing about SEO and you’re paying someone to do it for you.

The natural steps are as follows;

  • You panic
  • You clear your browsing history to see if something is wrong
  • Then you call someone or use a different computer to check whether your internet is glitched
  • You call your SEO and start yelling at him
  • You then go on line and type in something along the lines of “HELP! my Google rankings have dropped!!!”
  • So here is a list of reasons why you could be experiencing a drop in Google rankings

Invisible text – Hiding text in the same colour of the background is one of the oldest tricks in the book and carries a very heavy amount of penalization. People use this trick to spam the keyword in an effort to increase their “keyword density”

Keyword density/Keyword spamming / Keyword stuffing/Web Spam – Certain SEOs abide by the rule that if you want a keyword to rank, it needs to feature in the content between 2-4% of the time. Many well meaning new SEOs fall for this trap unknowingly and make their otherwise well written content look spammy. (Update: This is especially relevant after the Penguin update launched on April 24 2012 specifically targeting overly optimized web sites.)

e.g. Buy headsets online from us and win a free gerbil when you buy headsets. If you buy headsets from now you will not be disappointed. So call now and buy headsets soon!

Poor quality content – This is a big one after the Panda update. Google prohibits sites that exist solely to display advertising. There is nothing wrong with having adverts on your site if you have valuable and useful content for the visitor. However if your site includes a lot of content that you have copied from somewhere else or that is completely useless to your visitors then you will be penalized. Ecommerce websites sometimes copy product descriptions from their supplier. This should be avoided as it leads to duplicate content issues (explained below)

Duplicate content – When Google finds duplicate pages, it tries to select the “best” or “canonical” version and devalues all of the copies. This problem crops up quite often when people have blogs or shopping carts on their sites. Unfortunately there is no way to choose which version of the duplicate content is selected as the source. This could work out terribly for you if someone has stolen your content (scraping) but it will also work against you if you’ve copy and pasted content from your competitors. If, and only IF, you are the source of the content yet you are the one penalized you can file a DMCA to get the scraped content taken down. To find out whether someone has copied your content use CopyScape

Excessive reciprocal links / Excessive link exchanging – As we all know link building is one of the biggest ranking factors to achieve a high position on any search engine. If you haven’t generated any interest in your site you might have been tempted to exchange links with other web masters. Limit your link exchanges to related, good quality sites if you must and don’t over do it.

Linking to “bad-neighbourhood” sites – It needs to be understood that Google is in the business of offering a great user experience to the visitor. If your site is directing your visitors to a site that is irrelevant, spams your visitor with pop-up adverts or takes them to a 404 page then you are not doing them any favours. You should audit your links regularly to make sure none of them are broken or that the content on the landing pages has changed.

Domain Farms – This is generally considered to be a series of websites owned by a company which offer the search engines or users very little in terms of quality. In many cases companies will invest in building multiple websites in order to cross-link back to and from the central website in order to boost it’s ranking. These are called Satellite sites and are absolutely frowned upon by Google. There are situations where this is fine but only in moderation and only if it is necessary.

Buying multiple domain names – This is also related to the duplicate content issue. New webmasters usually believe that having multiple domain names (usually keyword rich domains) will help the site rank when the in reality it will only result in a drop in Google rankings. While this practice doesn’t trigger an actual penalty, the search engines’ methods for filtering out duplicate content can damage your rankings.

Canonicalization Problems - All it takes is someone linking to your site with the wrong version of your URL and you can start experiencing problems. This is mostly a problem for newer websites that haven’t firmly established themselves in Google. Meaning Google has indexed pages from your site with more than one version of your URLs. It can be two versions of your domain name (ie. ‘’ and simply ‘’), or it can be the correct domain name, but using both HTTP and HTTPS. You can also have problems if you set a rel=”canonical” tag to the wrong URL. It’s not hard to fix these issues, check out Matt Cutts’ explanation here

Robots.txt mistakes - Your robots.txt file may be blocking search engines from crawling some or all of your pages. This usually happens to people who are using a new CMS and have done this unwittingly. An easy way to fix this problem is to use Google webmaster tools. It will show you a list of the URLs that are blocked and if you find any that you didn’t mean to prevent Google from crawling you can go back to your site and edit your robots.txt file.

Excessive Anchor text – When building up back links you might be tempted to repeat the same anchor text over and over. This is a very clear indicator that your link profile is not natural i.e. it has been generated manually. Anywhere close to 80% of all the anchor text linking back to one page will get your penalized. Avoid linking back to your site using the same keyword, change it once in a while.

Excessive Affiliate or Adsense adverts – Google has announced that it will penalize sites with pages that are dominated by ads. This is especially accurate if the first instance of your page is top-heavy in ads. It’s fine having 1 advert at the top but your content should be immediately visible as opposed to the user having to scroll down to find what they are looking for.

Paid for do follow advertising – Adverts are not an endorsement of your site and should not be offered with a follow link. It’s a clear sign of cheating, and while this may have given your site a boost in the SERPs this will eventually be corrected or get you penalized.

Site speed – As of April 2010 Google has included the loading time of a site as a ranking factor in their search ranking algorithm. This is not a massive factor but should be looked into if your site is bloated with images and embedded videos. Ironically the code for Google analytics and Google adsense will slow your site down slightly. You can find out whether you are having these issues with your Google webmaster tools or Page Speed.

Since some or all of these issues can be fixed directly by yourself or whoever is doing the optimization on your site it’s worth mentioning that some factors are outside your control:

Loss of link juice – This can be caused by a number of external linking factors. If the source of your inbound links that was giving you a large amount of PageRank has been either removed, moved to an unranked page or the PageRank of the original site has dropped then you will, by default experience a loss of PageRank and link popularity.

Head start – If your site is less than 6 months old, you would have been experiencing an artificial boost in your rankings from Google to help your site be found by users. This does not last forever and you will eventually suffer a drop in Google rankings if your site is idle. This is also caused by a lack of link popularity and your best defence against this is to capitalize early on in your SEO efforts by link building from day one.

Google has changed their Algorithm, again – Search engines are constantly trying to improve the delivery of the best content possible to the visitors, that is their business model after all. The goal is to filter out sites that are resorting to unacceptable methods of boosting their rankings (Black Hat SEO) and outdated resources.

Finally, if you’ve gone through this checklist and you can’t seem to find what’s wrong then…

Your competition is doing it better – Hard as this might be to hear, if you’ve suddenly been overtaken by your competitors and none of the other factors above seem to apply then it might be down to the fact that your competitors are either investing more time and effort into their optimization, are providing better content and visitors are flocking to their site or that you have not kept up to date with the latest SEO techniques and standards and you are now suffering for it.

It goes without saying that suffering a drop in Google rankings is frustrating to say the least and potential devastating to your business if you depend on it as your main source of enquiries. It is always recommended to pay close attention to Google’s guidelines for webmasters and to stay active in the SEO community.

If you site has been completely removed then you should first go through this list and correct any issues that might have cropped up and then submit your site to the reconsideration request page for Google to list your site again.

Feel free to leave us a comment about your experience or if you need any help.