Last week I got a phone call from a small businessman in a rather niche market. Seems his site was no longer listed in Google. Without giving away his identity I thought I’d share what he was going through and some advice as I understand the frustration when your site completely drops off Google.
Let’s say that this man sells Acme Widgets. He used to be in the top 10 when you searched for “Acme Widgets” on Google. Now he’s not even in the top 200. What went wrong? Google changed its algorithm this past winter. This happened to many sites after the Google shake-up that happened when they changed the way they rank pages. Site that are “spammy” are no longer weighted as highly as they were before, and the information that you provide on your site (visable to the reader) seems to be more imporatant. Most likely people who have “dropped off Google” for specific key phrases do not have enough key-phrase-rich copy on their sites. So I’m offering some advise to people out there that are still dealing with this.
Good news was that Google did have his site in their system and he was NOT blacklisted. You can figure this out yourself simply by putting in a whole swack of text from your site or entering the site’s url. If your site comes up, then you’re not blacklisted. You’re still in their system.
After looking at the Acme Widgets’ site my suspicion that he just didn’t have enough copy/words on his pages seemed to be correct. The general consensus amongst SEO copywriters is that you need at least 250 words on each page and it must be key-phrase-rich. So put your key phrase in there as many times as you can without it sounding repetitive and spammy. Look at your competitors. They probably have much more words/information on their pages. In this case Acme Widgets only had 100 words per page. One of his competitors had 450 words of information on each page. Another had 3000 words! That’s too much for one page. Best to keep it easy to read and short enough so that you only have to scroll 2 times.
Another thing that seemed to have changed is that any links that Acme Widgets had prior to the Google shake-up are no long seen as important by the Googlebot, so it seems. Here’s what I think happened. Like I said before Google changed the way they weight links from certain sites. The reason they did that is because some shadey SEO firms, unfortunately, just list a link to your site on other sites that Google considers “spammy”. They’re considered spammy because their sole purpose is to be a link farm that just lists links rather than give helpful information on a topic. So once Google revamped their algorithm (how they weigh links), the Googlebot no longer considers the link farm sites as a valuable link. You wouldn’t go to someone who was not an authority on Acme Widgets for advice on what sites are best for Acme Widgets information, so why should the Googlebot? Therefore you lose any benefit from being listed on the link farm sites. I don’t believe that they’re harming you (I could be wrong), but they don’t help you at all now.
I compared Acme Widgets’ Google and Yahoo results and this seems to be the case for him. To do this just put in your URL on Yahoo. On Yahoo I could see that his site is listed on certain pages. Using my Google Toolbar, I could see that Google was not counting the link that I saw on Yahoo as a backward link, so it must consider it an non-authorative site. The only link it is counting is from another eCommerce site, which seems to be a valid consumer site and therefore a “good” link. How’d his site get listed on a spammy site? He used a shady SEO company rather than a good SEO company. I’m sure there were other sites that the other SEO company submitted his site to. Before the Google shake-up I’m sure those links on “spammy” sites bolstered his ranking. Without the benefits of those links, his ranking went down, and now unfortunately his ranking is not in the top 200.
If this sounds like your site, good news is that you can work on getting your site back on the first page. Here’s what you should do:
- Add More Words – Like I said before you should have at least 250 key-phrase-rich words on each page. And make sure it reads well to the person visiting your site. Don’t just cram as many key phrases in there as you can because if it sounds “spammy”. It’s the equivalent of a sales person pestering you. In “real life” you would walk away from them in the store. Online, your customer will go on to another site.
- Choose Only 1 or 2 Key Phrases – You should focus on having only 1 or 2 key phrases per page. More than that and you wind up diluting the strength of your copy on the search engine robot. The easiest way to do this is to divide your site into sections by topic. Focus the content on the page on the section and the key phrase associated with it.
- Title Tags – Make sure that for each page the title that appears in the browser’s title bar describes what’s on the page and uses your most important key phrase for that page. Do not jam pack it with key phrases. It dilutes its effectiveness and could be considered spam.
- Image Alt Tags – Check to see if your images have mouseover alt tags. Here’s a definition for them if you do not know what they are: http://www.marketingterms.com/dictionary/alt_tag/ . If your images contain text key phrases, so should your alt tags on these images. Search engine robots read this text, so it gives you the perfect chance to add another key phrase on your page. Do not stuff key phrases in here, because it’s considered spam. The alt tag should describe the image.
- Get Valued Links – You may want to start a reciprocal links page and see if you can get your site listed on pages that are not spammy, but do have something to do with the products you’re selling. Also try to find an appropriate category on http://dmoz.org/ where you can submit your site. DMOZ is run by volunteers and it may take a while to get listed in a category. I believe I’m still waiting to be listed.
- Check if Site has been Down – Talk to whomever is hosting your site and make sure the site hasn’t been experiencing any downtime. If the site is down and a bot comes by, then the search engines can’t see it or log it.
Once you do these changes it can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months to see results. The reason is that it depends on how often the Googlebot comes to your site and when Google does its next in-depth crawl of the web. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. You can submit your site to Google, but rumor is that they don’t even consider it anymore. It just goes into a blackhole. http://www.google.com/addurl.html
In the mean time I highly suggest starting a Google Adwords Campaign, so that you aren’t completely off the radar when people search for your key phrases. It probably won’t cost too much money unless you’re in a highly competitive category. You should check out to https://adwords.google.com/select/ .
Also you should familiarize yourself with the SEO world and check out http://www.highrankings.com/archives.htm . This site is run by Jill Whelan who is considered one of the foremost SEO experts. I read her newsletter every week and have gotten most of my SEO knowledge from it
If you need more content/information/copy for your site and don’t know what to add look at what your competitors have on their site. You might also want to add a news section where you add press releases, industry news, and things that you or the company is doing. The more you update your site the more the Googlebot will visit it. It will consider it an active site and therefore worth visiting more often. That is a good thing. If you’re talking about what is going on within your realm, people may start to see you as an authority on the topic and link to you. These links will be valuable and probably weighted more by Google. Also in addition to having a news page you might want to have a synopsis of the latest news on your homepage so that page is frequently updated as well. One way to easily enable a news section would be to add a blog using software such as MoveableType.
Hopefully by following this advice it puts you in the right direction on getting your site back onto Google. I cannot make any guarantees when it comes to rankings as it is not an exact science. If only we knew exactly what the Googlebot was looking for! But if we did, then the spammers would win.