One of the biggest problems for web site owners that rely heavily on search traffic for new business is a sudden ‘unexplained’ drop in search engine rankings. Some webmasters are experiencing this very situation at the moment as a result of a recent update by Google.
You will be pleased to hear that in most cases, it takes a lot for an established web site to really mess up its search visibility. There are a few situations however where it doesn’t take much at all!
You do not need ‘rocket science’ to avoid some of the common mistakes that can result in exclusion, penalties and more often than not ‘confusion’ for search engines. In this post we will give you a few tips to help you make sure you don’t score any Search Engine Optimisation ‘own goals’:
1. Website Redesign
This is probably one of the most common reasons that can cause a dip in your website’s search ranking.
To explain, the Search Engines effectively ‘take a copy’ of your website and the internal link structure between the pages. Think of it as them taking a snapshot of your website – if you change your site from what the search engine has a picture of, the new look might not include the same content, keywords or crawl-able links.
The worst case scenario is when a company decides to completely redesign the website and over write all previous Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) work. Upon finding that search visibility has gone pear-shaped, the business owner calls up their SEO agency in a panic and demands an explanation.
Recommendation: When planning any significant change to the company website, make sure you work with your SEO supplier to identify how the new design will impact on your search visibility. Have them map out and prioritise the likely implications of page layout changes, content changes and keyword usage as well as navigation, links and page redirects.
2. New Content Management System (CMS)
Similar to issues that may arise with a new website design, changing content management systems can create much confusion for search engines. Many companies have had websites where the original CMS used to launch the site is no longer fit for purpose. Large corporates may find that the hodgepodge of CMS used by different business units and acquired companies is inefficient and a common content management system would better serve the organisation.
A change in the CMS usually means a change in the templates that format the web pages, navigation and sometimes even the URL structure of pages. It is quite common for major changes in content to be rolled out at the same time as new website software and that can cause confusion for search engines. URLs that change can also create confusion. For example, web page file names that previously ended with .asp and now end with .aspx are perceived by the search engines as being completely different.
Recommendation: While your IT department or web developer will understand the importance of redirecting old URLs to their new counterparts, execution in a search engine friendly manner is another thing entirely. To get technical for a moment, 302 vs. 301 redirects and mapping URLs when there is no logical page in the new system is essential.
Identifying the top sources of inbound link traffic to pages and conducting an outreach program to get them to change the URLs other sites use to link to your site is a specialty area for link building SEOs more so than IT. Simply put, make sure you have a SEO strategy in place and a competent SEO professional managing it.
3. Loss of Inbound Links
In any SEO strategy ‘content is King’ and ‘links are the Queen’. Or content is the Yin and Links are the Yang. Whatever metaphor you prefer, links are an essential mechanism for search engines to discover pages and provide a strong signal for them to rank them. Companies that proactively acquire links organically, or that earn as opposed to buy the links, will have very little problem in this area.
The longer established the other websites link to your site is the better. But some sites may go offline temporarily or permanently. A blog can decide to remove it’s ‘blog-roll’ or a site may simply decide to remove links to your site. If you change your CMS as noted above, any other sites that don’t know this will continue to link to your old URL format (.asp vs .aspx) and that will appear as a loss of links, as well as generating a ‘Page Not Found error’ for the person who clicked on the link…. which can have ‘brand reputation’ issues. The person who clicks on the old link may think you are no longer in business!
Recommendation: The active creation of good quality relevant content, promotion and participation in Social Media are absolutely essential for building a significant and relevant inbound link footprint on the web.
Those links will drive traffic and serve as a signal to search engines to rank your content in their search results. The key is to monitor your link footprint on an ongoing basis to identify major fluctuations in inbound link counts. Then you can drill down to see where the link loss has occurred and see if you can do something about it. The best defence is offence, so make sure you have an active link building strategy in place and minor to moderate fluctuations in links will have little, if any effect.
4. Duplicate Content
Serving up duplicate content using different URLs is guaranteed to confuse the search engines! This can happen when sites use queries on a database to display lists of products in a category that can be reached via multiple routes. Printer friendly versions of pages, other English language versions of pages or the outright pilfering of content from one website to another can all cause duplicate content issues.
When a search engine discovers multiple versions of the same content, they have to decide which is the original (or canonical) version of the content. The search engines will not want to show the exact same thing to users in the search results. Anything your website does to make that process confusing or inefficient can result in your website content being ranked ‘second best’.
Recommendation: A Professional SEO provider working with the people responsible for the content on your website can help manage any duplicate content issues both for the main company website and any micro sites you may have publishing the same information.
With press releases, RSS feeds or articles that are syndicated, it’s a best practice to make sure the original is published on your own website first, then to have any duplicates clearly link back your original. Ongoing monitoring can also help with unintentional duplicate content issues caused by other sites using the content on your website without permission.