This week we had a call from a local business who were concerned that their Google rankings had decreased dramatically over the last few months. We love calls like this, because in most cases it’s a relatively easy thing to diagnose and find out why.
The first thing we did was to check for duplicate content. Google isn’t that keen on duplicate content, and can penalise websites which copy and paste content from other sources.
Thankfully this is quite an easy one to check for yourself, and there’s a quick way to test it out if you are a business owner. Simply copy some of the text from your homepage, perhaps a sentence, wrap it with speech marks, and then paste it back into a Google search and see what you see.
Sometimes that can throw up any instances where perhaps there are duplicate versions or your website indexed in Google. As an example, we’ve had one client recently where their developers had a dev version of the website still live that was in Google as an exact mirror of the main client website.
We had another recent example where a client’s host had helped the client move to a new domain name, but the whole old domain had not had a 301 re-direct placed on it, so was still indexed in Google as a mirror.
Whilst this is just one thing you can do yourself, it isn’t the most important thing you should be doing if you are concerned about ranking drops.
My Rankings Have Dropped! Have You Got a Webmaster Tools Account?
The most important thing, bar none, is to ensure that you have your website linked into a Google Webmaster Tools account. It’s free to do, and by doing so you can receive messages direct from Google should they have any concerns or issues with your website.
Signing-up for a Google Webmaster Tools account is straight-forward enough, but you might need some help in verifying your website with Google. To do this you will need to either upload a file to your website, or use alternative methods such as sync’ing Webmaster Tools with your Google Analytics account.
Once your website is verified in Google Webmaster Tools you will see a section called Messages on the left hand side navigation. In there you will see messages from Google regarding your website.
In most cases the messages will be positive ones, such as tips on how to improve your search engine visibility, but in more serious cases can be messages regarding your website having some form of penalty.
The most serious message your website might have would be regarding a manual spam penalty. To check for one of these (as it could be the reason why your Google rankings have dropped) you will need to click the Search Traffic option and then the Manual Action section.
I hope you never get a message in this section, but if you do it might look something like this:
Google is very good at telling you exactly what the issue is and how to resolve it. In the example above, the client’s website had been hacked, with spammers placing links to their websites hidden in the client’s website HTML code.
This probably occurred to do a security issue with the hosting provider, FTP, or content management system. Thankfully though, they were able to work with their hosting provider to remove the spammy links from their website, improve security, and then place a reconsideration and review request back to Google, using the red button you see above.
By doing this, your website should recover the lost rankings over-time, but without having a Google Webmaster Tools account you might have never known why your website was not ranking as well as it used to. Below is a video from Google themselves offering an introduction to the tool.
If you are local business in Southampton and Hampshire and your website rankings have dropped or disappeared from Google then call us up and we can take you through processes like the ones listed above, plus more, in order to diagnose what the problem might be.