16/02/2011

By Matt Roberts, Linkdex

When you’re promoting your site using SEO most of the time the general trend in rankings and traffic will be up. However, something you learn to live with when working hard on improving your rankings is fluctuations in results.

Negative changes in rankings can happen for many reasons, and when you’re working hard to improve your rankings and they actually go down it can be frustrating and disheartening.

To help you understand why your rankings might have dropped we’ve created this checklist:

Possible Issue # 1 — There Is No Issue

This may sound strange but it’s not uncommon to see fluctuations in SEO results, especially as you begin an SEO campaign. We think the reason for these fluctuations is that the sudden changes in link and content activity trigger security features in search engine algorithms designed to detect possible rank manipulation.

Diagnosis

Apart from knowing whether you’ve been actively promoting your website and knowing what you did and when, you can’t diagnose the precise issue.

Solutions

Typically results that drop like this bounce back in less then a week.

Making SEO an activity where existing page improvement, new page creation and link building happen on an ongoing basis helps smooth the ride.

Possible Issue # 2 — Google, Bing or the others have changed their rules

Search engines rank sites using a complex set of mathematical rules called algorithms. These rules are changing all the time with each search engine’s ongoing pursuit of more relevant results and better protection from people trying to game the system with SEO techniques that break their guidelines. It is therefore highly likely that your rankings will fluctuate.

Diagnosis

Google sometimes tell you when significant updates have happened and hints at what has been changed, but typically you don’t get to hear about algorithmic changes, you just see ranking changes.
Solutions

Create and publish great content on topics that contain the keywords you want to be found for and get as many different websites to link to your content as possible.

Don’t try and game the system or look for short cuts, or the changes being constantly made to stop you may just catch up with you.

Ensure all your content and link building looks natural and normal for your vertical. Read more about link building.

Possible Issue # 3

Search engines may be having a problem accessing your website.

Diagnosis

Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account to diagnose potential server issues.

Solutions

Google Webmaster Tools will advise you on how to solve server issues that range from your server not responding to pages not being available.

If your server has not been responding for a while because you’re working on the site, set your server to respond with a 503 code, this means — “The server is currently unavailable”.

If your server is slow you might want to look at ways of optimizing your site for speed, which normally involves improving your websites code and reducing image size, or improving your server performance via your website host. Yahoo has a great site speed resourcep you may want to give to your developer if it’s too technical for you.

Possible Issue # 4 — Duplicate Content

You have duplicate content where the same page is available on multiple URLs.

Diagnosis

Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account to diagnose potential server issues.

Solutions

Where multiple URLs have the same content, search engines like Google try and work out which of your duplicated pages is the best one.

However they don’t always get it right so ideally you want to be in control of their decision making process.

To do this you should use canonical tags inside the HTML header of your page’s code to point search engines to your best page. It looks like this:

http://www.linkdex.com/blog

This would tell a search engine that the duplicate page they are currently on is a copy of the main page you’d like to appear used in the canonical URL tag — linkdex.com/blog/.

If the issue you have affects all pages on your website, for example, the same content is available with and without the www part of your domain name, the issue can also be corrected with simple commands that exist in files of your server. A job you may need to talk to your developer or systems admin support about.

Read more about fixing canonical issues.

Possible Issue # 5 — You’ve Told Search Engines Not To Index Your Page Or Site

A robot.txt file is a small text file that lives on your server that tells search engines which pages it can and cannot visit. Have you told search engines not to index your page or site?

Diagnosis

Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account to test your robot.txt file.

Solutions

Edit your robot.txt file using a simple text editor and get it uploaded to your server.

Possible Issue # 6 — You’ve Been Penalized

Search engines have very clear guidelines about what you can and cannot do. These are Google’s.

Diagnosis

If you know you’ve been:

* Using hidden text or links on your pages

* Creating low quality pages by stuffing them with keywords

* Creating duplicate or near duplicate content

* Taking part in links intended to manipulate PageRank

* Linking to web spammers or bad neighbourhoods

* Taking part in excessive reciprocal link or link exchange programs (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)

* Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

Or the many other ways you can break their guidelines then you’ll know what to do. If you haven’t it can be much more difficult to find out what the issue is, especially as they won’t tell you directly.

Solutions

If you think you’ve breached Google’s guidelines you’ll need to correct the issue and submit a re-inclusion request via Google Webmaster Tools.

To quote Google:

The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community.

The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: Is this going to be beneficial for my page’s visitors?

It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest


www.linkdex.com

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