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August 7, 2007

3 Things You Should Do When Your Search Rankings Suddenly Drop

Anyone who depends on search engines for traffic – which is just about all of us – has a common disorder. It is our preoccupation with our rankings. It only makes sense that this be so widespread. After all, those rankings often ARE our business. At least as far as supplying those prospects we so desperately need.

It’s safe to say that all of us have woken up to see our rankings drop from page 1 to a status that can only be compared to being enrolled in the Federal Witness Relocation Program. You can’t be found. And that’s bad news.

Here’s what you should do when this happens. You may not be able to fix the problem quickly, but you’ll at least be in a much better position to address it and deal with it.

1. DON’T PANIC.

This is very important to remember. Take it seriously, but don’t lose it. There are many reasons why rankings can drop. Sometimes it’s due to one of Google’s famous algorithm shake-ups. This might be a temporary shift that will see your rankings restored in short order. The key here is to avoid the urge to do something that will only hurt your site, its long-term rankings & your business itself.

Many people will jump to work and make large-scale changes in their site. They try to bring it in line with what they think the search engines want now. This can actually hurt their standing in the search engines as they alter the structure and layout of their pages.

It confuses the search engine bots and creates an impression of confusion, a lack of cohesion in the site. That’s bad for rankings. So, remember – Don’t Panic. The drop may be temporary. If it isn’t, an impulsive Bulldoze & Rebuild job is not the way out.

2. Think Back: What Have You Changed Recently?

Sometimes your rankings plummet because of something you did. For example, I’ve had rankings drop because I screwed up the code on some redirects I did in my .htaccess file. Did you add some new pages lately? Check that the links in them, and to them, are pointed correctly. If you write the destination URLs wrong you’re feeding the search engines a bunch of 404 Error pages. They don’t like that.

There are many things that could cause the rankings to slip. Keep in mind that you should look at changes you’ve made as long as 2 weeks ago, just to be safe. Search engine bots vary in how often they come by your site, so they may be reacting to an alteration that is old news to you, but new to them.

3. Keep Going

It’s tempting to turn to the dark side of SEO, become a Black Hat when you see your rankings drop. Especially when you see a weak site, or a totally irrelevant one, outrank yours. We’ve all been there. But you know what the right choice is, even if it’s hard to resist doing a little cloaking. What you must do is continue building a solid site: adding relevant, targeted content, working on your site structure so that all content can be found & indexed by the search engines, working on links to your site. A little boring? Yes, sometimes. But it’s the best choice, especially for those of us looking to be in business for the long-term.

Keep in mind these 3 steps next time you see rankings fall. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to be confused. It’s even okay to be a little angry. Let it out, constructively, and then get back to work. It’s the surest path.

Author:  Jon lives and works in Waikiki/Honolulu, Hawaii. He provides clients with marketing and copywriting services. He relaxes by walking down to the beach with his dog, swimming with his wife and paddling outriggers.

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