Step-By-Step: SEO Troubleshooting for Google Newbs
By Marcus Howling, Web Talent Marketing
The ever-changing world of search engine optimization can be difficult to navigate, especially for businesses that have been satisfied to simply maintain the status quo.
In an effort to provide users with the best answers to their queries, search engine algorithms are constantly changing, and the digital marketing tactics that once helped sites rank may actually have a negative effect on rankings today.
Companies that do not adapt to updated “best practices” should expect to see their rankings drop, along with traffic volume and conversions. It is likely that these companies have already experienced such negative effects and are now looking for solutions. To evaluate the search health of a website and take action to reverse a downward trend in rankings and traffic volume, consider the following steps:
1. Check To Make Sure A Site Is Indexed
To determine whether a site is indexed by Google, simply enter a site search query into Google for the domain in question (e.g. “site:www.yourwebsite.com”), see image below.
If the website is indexed, it will appear in the search results (of course). Companies whose sites appear for this search query can continue to step three, those who do not should continue to step two.
+ Check out a list of other essential Google search commands for ‘Net professionals at wsm.co/scommands
2. Discover Why the Site Is Not Indexed
There are many reasons why a website would not appear in search engine result pages (SERPs) but one of the most common is a problem with the robots.txt file, which provides instructions to search engines on how to crawl (and index) a website. While it is easily corrected, disallowing bots from crawling pages is is one common reason for a website not to be indexed.
+ For a list of best practices related to the proper development of robots.txt files, visit wsm.co/crashcoursetxt
3. Determine Which Penalty Hit the Site
If the website in question is indexed but is under-performing, it is likely experiencing some type of penalty from Google. Before trying to solve the problem, it is necessary to determine the penalty type: a manual action or an algorithmic-based penalty. Manual actions are an easier penalty to identify as Google typically posts a message in Webmaster Tools alerting website owners that there is an issue (or several issues) with their domain. Manual actions are typically levied as a result of “black hat” on-site or off-site practices, like cloaking (hiding text to appear more relevant) or hiding navigation (to force users to stay on a site), both of which deceive users and the search engine.
If a website has not been slammed by a manual action, then it was probably one of Google’s Penguin or Panda updates – an “algorithmic penalty.” These are automatically by the algorithms themselves, and not seen or individually selected by the Google Web spam team. Companies providing low quality, thin or duplicated content or poor user experiences have Panda to thank for their SEO troubles. Similarly, businesses engaging in spammy backlink tactics and flooding their site with keyword-specific anchor text have Penguin algorithm to blame for decreased traffic and poor rankings.
Quick Check for a Spammed Site
Discover several tools to run a quick diagnostic scan on your website at wsm.co/spamsite
4. Resolving Panda and Penguin Penalties
After determining which penalty is impacting a site, webmasters and marketers can then make adjustments and get their rankings headed back in the right direction.
If it is determined that Penguin is to blame, use tools like LinkResearchTools.com’s Link Detox offering to run link diagnostics on websites and view their link toxicity levels. The tool provides an extensive report on all links and points out which ones are toxic to the target domain. Assemble all the low-quality links and go through Google’s link disavow process (which is addressed in more detail at wsm.co/penglinks). Once documented, webmasters should upload their spreadsheet to Google and cross their fingers. If the previous steps have been conducted properly, the penalty should be lifted. However, those spammy links that were once boosting rankings and traffic will be gone forever. As a result, new links will need to be built in order to help the site recover. This time around, it is vital to pursue valuable, relevant links.
Depending on how artificially inflated rankings were, it can take months or even years to recover from Penguin. Often, penalties are not lifted due to inadequate information or insufficient effort from the site owner. When that occurs, a company will have to repeat Google’s reconsideration process.
If the company has a strong backlink profile, the problem is likely Panda, an update that punished websites with low-quality content, poor grammar, horrible ad-to- content ratio, huge amounts of broken (404) links, missing or poor meta information, duplicate content and other site-quality problems.
To recover from Panda, site owners should focus their attention on enhancing content throughout the website. If using scraped content, webmasters should remove it entirely or try to rewrite it. Any removed content should either be de-indexed or 301 redirected to save any link equity built to the given page. Next, clean up all 404s with proper 301s, rewrite meta descriptions and title tags and continue to add fresh content to the site.
It is never easy to bounce back from Panda, but it is possible. It requires a focus on improving and adding good, quality content for users. Utilizing the power of social media can also help businesses promote their high-quality content to target audiences.
Often, Panda penalties are the most difficult to get out from underneath. It can take years and be very frustrating for website owners. While using an agency to address on-site issues can be expensive, it is sometimes more cost effective than troubleshooting alone, as it is important that the site continues to produce quality content well after a penalty has been lifted.
5. Going Mobile
Google officially announced that as of April 21, 2015 it will be expanding its use of mobile-friendly factors in its search algorithm. Webmaster need to focus on providing a relevant experience to mobile users to ensure they don’t miss out on valuable traffic.
Recovering from any penalty (be it Panda, Penguin or manual) is never easy but it is possible. Take the time to examine why a website’s SEO initiatives may be falling short and you will quickly find you are back on the fast track to ‘Net success.
Marcus Howling is a SEO specialist at Web Talent Marketing, where he excels at on-page optimization, natural link building, and keyword research and analysis.