In SEO, ranking fluctuations are part of the business. Similarly, extreme ranking drops are also part of the business. However, as professional SEO consultants we realize our response to these occasional setbacks is what sets us apart from lesser SEO practitioners. Further, as professionals, we should have both the processes in place to address rankings problems and the stomachs to handle the stress. For now I’ll spare you the details on the state of my gut. However, I would like to relate to readers a ranking issue we addressed recently, how we responded, the solution we devised, and a process we added moving forward. Hopefully, this exercise will increase communication and influence expectations between SEOs and clients.
Our most recent and difficult ranking issue was a 72 hour period where a client’s site suddenly fell completely out of Google’s index after ranking on the first page for months. During our scramble to understand why, we first spent about half an hour looking at the page and scrutinizing it for major flaws. It looked good. We then asked the client if they had made any changes to their site. They hadn’t. So, with the first steps of our crisis plan already taken, we then spent the next 48 hours calculating link attrition and scrutinizing backlinks. With no Google engineer or supercomputer at our disposal, our heads were in the “link clouds” and nothing made absolute sense. We simply had rankings and then we didn’t.
As an SEO consultant, I spend a lot of time looking at web sites and making recommendations to site administrators that will benefit their rankings. Getting admins to actually enact my recommendations is not always in my control but I do have a vested interest in persuading them to make every effort possible to do so. Why? If their site is perfectly optimized from an on-page perspective, it’s easier to rank. It also makes it so we can rule out on-page ranking factors as problems whenever there is a rankings fluctuation. Further, with these factors out of the way, we can then focus on getting more quality links or, in the case of a severe rankings drop, engage in the much more difficult and often dizzying exercise of analyzing link profiles.
Now, returning to our client’s ranking problem; unbeknownst to us or the site’s upper management, by pure coincidence the site had been inadvertently set up to routinely go down for maintenance and return a 403 error message whenever Google’s search spider visited (which we only discovered after investigating server logs after mention of a denial of service attack). This is bad because a 403 message basically tells search spiders to go away and not come back. To the management that is paying for SEO services and a server admin, it’s bad because clearly there was a communication breakdown that saw an unnecessary amount of revenue to be lost. As professional SEOs, we should have made an effort during our initial site consultation to make sure we understood their site’s maintenance procedure and optimized accordingly. Consider it added to our initial consultation. And while it’s sometimes rewarding to be a hero in a crisis, more robust communication could have saved this client some money and our stomachs the ulcers.
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