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Is your website suffering from a drop in traffic?

Written by Steve Jarvis on Tuesday, 15 October 2013. Posted in SEO

Perhaps it's time to change your approach to SEO

Is your website suffering from a drop in traffic?

Google is taking a tough stance on webmasters who do not adhere to Google’s Quality Guidelines. Whether you have intentionally breached the guidelines, or used an SEO firm who has landed you in trouble, it is only  a matter of time before Google catches up with you...if they haven’t already.

If you have ever set up a Google Adwords campaign then you will know the value of ranking organically for key search terms in your industry (it’s also probably why you are reading this). The efforts that some webmasters and SEO firms have gone to in order to get their sites to rank ‘organically’ has caused Google to take harsh action.

Google claims to use over 200 factors when ranking a site; one of the most powerful factors is the quality and quantity of websites that link to yours. Links count as “votes” and Google places a high emphasis on these. However, it was easy for unscrupulous webmasters and so-called “black hat” SEO firms to game the system by generating links from low-quality article and directory sites.

Google also looks at other factors such as the relative quality of your site within its industry niche.  On-page factors such as over-optimisation, unseen errors, poorly handled 404 (page not found) errors, thin or duplicate content can all contribute to various losses in your sites overall visibility.

Meet Panda, Penguin and Penalties

Google continually enhances their search algorithm to ensure quality results in their SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). But Google also takes measures to counter the efforts of those trying to artificially game the system. Previously, the actions of over-enthusiastic webmasters were ignored; but now, over optimisation or lazy on-page practices can actually get your site penalised.

Google has launched special, targeted “filters” such as Panda (looking at low quality, thin or duplicated content) and Penguin (targeting sites with “over optimised”, artificial looking back links). Whilst many sites have benefited from these changes – many have had a dramatic impact on their organic web traffic. Some sites have even been manually reviewed by Google’s Webspam team and had manual actions applied.

There are many reasons why rankings suddenly drop, and each site needs to be analysed on its own merits. Unseen errors on the site could flag up as ‘low quality’; content copied from other sources such as manufacturer’s product descriptions could cause problems, as could outdated content. However, the biggest culprit that we are seeing lately is the dreaded “unnatural links” penalty.

Can a website recover?

Yes.  A website can recover.  However, there is no quick fix or short cut. The webmaster needs to initiate a 3 stage process for recovery:

Stage 1 – Identify the issues

At SEOLuno we start by analysing the site’s web analytics to identify key dates that traffic dropped off.  Sometimes we see an obvious blip that allows us to hone in on the issue (be it Panda and / or Penguin related).  More often, we see a gradual decline over a longer period. Either way it helps us to direct our efforts.

Secondly, we look at the site's entire back link profile looking for unnatural or poor quality links and build a list of suspicious, toxic or otherwise questionable links. In our experience there is no easy, automated way to do this.  It needs an SEO expert to manually review and assess each link; and yes, it is very time consuming!

Thirdly, we analyse the site itself.  Sources such as Google’s Webmaster Tools can provide insight into crawling issues and third-party website quality checkers can also be used to look for site errors.  We also review the site's structure, content and use of HTML as well as technical hosting configuration and set up.

Stage 2  Implement a recovery plan

Once we have identified the issues, we can initiate a remedial plan. This is tailored to the site in question and looks to correct most, if not all, of the errors that we’ve identified. Where poor quality links are suspected, we contact webmasters to get the links removed and request Google to disavow links that remain. If you would prefer to do this yourself, then we can show you how.

We also look to implement “quick wins”, such as using Google’s rich snippets or adding ways for visitors to share your site's content. We will also explore tactical ways to increase web traffic through use of paid search such as Adwords or social media.

Once your website has had its foundations fixed, we would expect any penalties to eventually be relaxed, however your site is unlikely to fully recover if you stop here. Google wants to reward unique, engaging websites with well researched content; sites viewed as an authority in their industry niche.  Such sites ‘earn’ links naturally. A static website that has no new content is unlikely to attract new links, but beware: static sites that do attract new links will look very suspicious in Google’s eyes.

Stage 3 – Develop a ‘workable’ search marketing and content strategy

So, Google wants to reward authority sites with “great content”. But how do you achieve this? How do you get Google to start ranking your site higher? In our view, there is only one sustainable way to make Google see your site as an authority in its niche.  Have you guessed how yet?  That’s right, by actually becoming an authority site that Google wants to reward.

Chart showing organic traffic increase
There is no one-size-fits-all search marketing strategy. We will work with you to help leverage the natural assets that your business has.  We try to avoid ‘SEO’ becoming a burden, or something that adds extra effort to your business. Sure, content needs to be researched and developed, but we look for ideas to make web content part of your daily business, rather than the job that gets forgotten.

We work with you to develop your own social media strategy too, looking at the most appropriate channels for your business.  We will also help you develop targets, moving away from ‘vanity’ rankings and top 10 positions to measuring increases in traffic and conversions.

So, what next?

If you have experienced a drop in traffic or just need a fresh set of eyes to look at your website and online proposition, contact us for a free website review and assessment. 

About the Author

Steve Jarvis

Steve Jarvis

Steve is a web marketing specialist, PHP developer and SEO addict. When Steve isn't reading webmaster forums and following SEO related industry news, he can be found hacking away at PHP scripts, analysing analytics reports and helping firms improve their organic search engine rankings. 

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