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Help! I Need to Recover My Google Rankings

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The life of an SEO specialist is never dull or boring, particularly when a client comes on board who has lost all of their rankings.

“I’ve been ranking for years, my phone has stopped ringing – help!” is often the cry our SEO team hears. If you have spent any time in this line of work, whether it be as a marketing professional or a tech savvy webmaster, chances are you have felt this pinch at some stage.

It’s important to understand that the search landscape is constantly changing and SEO professionals must adapt accordingly. Unfortunately, not all those in the industry adapt at the same rate. The result? Potential heartbreak for website owners and webmasters.

Where have I gone wrong?

There are many reasons why your rankings may have fallen. Firstly, Google is constantly making alterations to its algorithm, with hundreds of smaller changes made yearly. Minor ranking fluctuations are normal with any SEO and online marketing efforts, and these can occur almost daily.

The major updates that can send shockwaves through the industry are often referred to as Google Penguin and Panda. If you have spent anytime in the SEO sphere, chances are you have heard of these black and white creatures. I will cover what these friendly animals mean to you and your Google rankings shortly.

Secondly, Google retrospectively ranks websites. In a nutshell, what works today may not work tomorrow. In fact, it may be the very reason your website seems to have vanished from the search results altogether.

When will I get my rankings back?

It doesn’t matter whether you have engaged the services of an SEO company or performed search engine optimisation yourself, recovering your rankings can seem like a daunting and hellish task. We often hear the cry of clients and most definitely feel their pain when their rankings have been decimated by their previous SEO company.

If your rankings have tanked, it’s important to understand, but can be difficult to accept, that not all websites can be recovered quickly. Make no mistake – we often see clients who bounce back extremely quickly but, more often than not, a recovery strategy is required.

This takes high level professionals, testing and more importantly, realistic expectations.

As I mentioned earlier, Google does make changes to its algorithm (how they rank websites) hundreds of times per year. Some have a very minor impact, whilst others send shockwaves through the online marketing community. Recovery from these changes vary, including time to recover results and subsequent changes a webmaster may need to make to their website and online marketing presence.

So what do SEO specialists do to recover rankings?

SEO professionals painstakingly dissect a website and the links pointing to a website. We call these links backlinks, and these are a critical component in Google’s ranking algorithm. Unfortunately, they can easily and quickly get you in trouble. Google has been on the warpath to weed the web and their search results of mediocre websites that rank without merit. We in the industry refer to these sites as “low quality” sites and “spammy” backlinks.

Chances are you have seen these types of sites and links at some stage. Make no mistake, Google hates them as much as the users of their search engine –consequently, those engaging in these techniques are punished.

There are hundreds of ranking factors that Google looks at when ranking a website, and this is very important to remember.

Where do we start?

It takes a considerable amount of work to dissect the problems and issues causing a website to no longer rank. Unfortunately, an SEO specialist can not simply flick a switch and recover rankings, even though it may seem we do with some of our great, quick recoveries. Often the path to recovery requires both the commitment of an SEO company AND the owner of a website to work hand-in-hand, in order to make the necessary adjustment. This can range anywhere from changing their website content, or in some cases, beginning from scratch (the latter always being the last resort).

Google Panda: does Google like your website?

Google Panda was released in February 2011 with the aim to lower the rank of “low quality” or “thin” sites, as they are often referred to. This sent a wave through the industry, with over 12% of all search results being affected. In a nutshell, Panda looks at the quality of your website, with an aim to deliver an overall score on the quality. The list of things it looks for is long, but these include: the quality of content, originality of the content, whether it is free of spam and sneaky over-optimisation techniques, and more importantly, whether it passes “the sniff test”.

Google Panda is a filter that attempts to prevent low quality websites from ranking in search results. Does it always get it right? No. Unfortunately, there is collateral damage and Google is aware of this. The filters threshold is influenced by the team of “Google Quality Raters”, and one question they will often ask is “would I trust using my credit card on this site?”.

Google is on record stating that it only takes a few pages of quality or duplicated content on a website to hurt the rankings and traffic on an otherwise rock-solid one.

Since its initial rollout in early 2011, Google has introduced updates around once a month. In March 2013, Google stated that future updates would be integrated into its algorithm to be continuous and less noticeable.

So that’s Panda – the big creature that looks at your website and makes a judgment call.

Cool, we’ve got that animal out of the way. Now to the little critter, Penguin!

Google Penguin: Who is linking to your website?

A critical ranking factor in the eyes of Google is backlinks. This refers to the websites that link to your own. Google looks at these backlinks as a “vote of confidence” – essentially one webmaster giving the thumbs up to another website owner. Thinking of it as a popularity contest is not quite accurate, as not all “votes” are created equal. This is where Google Penguin comes in.

It wasn’t that long ago that all you needed to do to rank a website was build as many of these links as possible and then watch your website rankings skyrocket. It really didn’t take a lot of work or a big budget to get a site ranking, but it unfortunately meant that very poor websites could do so very quickly. Thankfully, Google was forced to act fast: enter Google Penguin, which was rolled out April 24, 2012.

This process assesses the type of links that are pointing to your website and gives them a ranking. Just as I have referred to in this blog post, “spammy” links are often thrown around as a description of what can be found. These are not hard to spot and Google hates them, but what Google considers “spammy” and “low quality” changes all the time; this is why websites can be affected by Google Penguin during any iteration. This includes “blackhat techniques”, a term that describes techniques used outside Google’s best practice guidelines.

Penguin does have its own collateral damage consequences. This is why Google released a tool to allow webmasters the ability to tell Google to please “remove” these type of links from their backlink profile. This tool is called the Google Disavow Tool.

Penguin has had a heavy impact on the SEO community and those who practiced in these shady techniques have felt the brunt of Google’s power.

Confirmed Penguin Updates:

  • Penguin 1 on April 24, 2012 (impacting around 3.1% of queries)
  • Penguin 2 on May 26, 2012 (impacting less than 0.1%)
  • Penguin 3 on October 5, 2012 (impacting around 0.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 4 (AKA Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on October 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)
  • Penguin 6 (AKA Penguin 3.0) on October 17, 2014 (impacting less than 1% English queries).

Is there anything else I need to watch out for?

It’s important to understand that Google both Penguin and Panda are layers of Google’s algorithm. Their algorithm is a very complex beast, to say the least, and whilst your website may not have been effected by either of these black and white creatures, there are other ranking factors and parameters that are in play. The core components of Google’s algorithm cannot be ignored. There are 100s of ranking factors and, realistically, there is more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

So what does this mean for my website?

So back to the question: how and when do you get your rankings back? An SEO professional will need to dissect your website and your backlinks in order to make that assessment. The range of issues that a SEO team member can face is extremely diverse. I have seen clients recover their rankings in a matter of weeks, others in months. In severe cases, we may recommend starting from scratch.

This is why it’s critical that reputable SEO experts conduct the necessary processes to back your site. There are many underlying reasons why your rankings have been decimated, and whilst I can relate and understand the urgency to recover them, you must engage with a team that acknowledges how to do this both quickly and effectively.

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