Search marketing can help small businesses improve website traffic and the overall visibility of their companies online. But you knew that already. (In case you didn’t, 89 percent of Americans do their shopping research through search – so a search strategy should be a cornerstone of your online marketing campaign.) SEO has helped companies of every size in countless industries own their web presence and find new prospects.
However, the web isn’t a stagnant thing. It changes, frequently – and one of these changes comes in the form of the search algorithm updates.
Sometimes, small business owners have the unfortunate experience of finding that their campaigns that seemed to be catching search clicks and bringing buyers to their site take a turn, and their traffic suddenly falls. Have you ever found yourself realizing that Google has stopped delivering prospects to your website? It’s never easy to find the exact cause and several issues may be behind traffic dips. But to keep your site safe and continuously bring convertible visitors, you need to know why you lost traffic and how to fix your problem.
Even one problem with your site that might seem simple can lead to massive losses of traffic. Some organizations have found that these changes have stripped them of all of their search traffic. Recovering from these losses can be easy or difficult depending on the cause. But what exactly was the cause?
Here are some of the most frequent culprits, along with insights on how you can work to adjust your content marketing efforts to make SEO work for you again.
Problem 1: Did you pay for links?
One of the most central principles of SEO is developing content organically builds inbound links. Some organizations have frequently tried to game the system by paying for links. There’s a good chance doing this will result in a quick lift to your website, so we understand the appeal of buying links – but Google will catch you in the long run!
Google has seen the practice abused since the dawn of the web, resulting in low-quality websites shooting up its search rankings. This has compelled Google to take action against companies that use the tactic. Google wants to bring users high-quality content developed to inform and engage. If any practice you engage in is aimed solely at improving search standing, it’s likely that you’ll lose search traffic at some point. So if you are buying links and see a major traffic drop, this could be the cause.
Obviously, you want to build good content so that people who come to your site and are impressed enough to make purchases or otherwise convert. But the SEO side of good content is that you’ll receive links from colleagues or others simply interested in the content you created. Stop buying links and start thinking about what linkbait you can add to your website.
Google’s Maile Ohye says the best way to “engage more users and potentially increase merit-based inbound links” is by “Create unique and compelling content on your site and the web in general.”
Content marketing is a positive way to cultivate inbound links, and it can help your small business move up search rankings.
Problem 2: Are you using boilerplate or duplicate content?
As part of its Panda algorithm, which was first launched in February 2011, Google targeted sites that scraped content from other places on the web or use the same content on multiple pages throughout their website. Ask yourself if the landing pages on your website contain mostly the same content as each other, or if you pulled them from another site (which is common among retailers or vendors that pull product descriptions from manufacturer pages).
If your content isn’t unique and exclusive to your site and you’ve seen a traffic loss, duplicate content may be the reason. Developing high-quality website content for these pages is the easiest way to amend a sudden loss of traffic.
You should start by getting rid of the boilerplate content. Even if you go on to build great pages, a bad page can pull the rest of your site’s ranking authority down. Once you’ve gotten the duplicate content off your site, focus on creating original content that really shows off your company’s unique value propositions, or builds your brand as an industry thought leader.
Google offers a number of content guidelines business owners should consider when creating new website content to engage readers and boost SEO.
Problem 3: Are low-quality or spammy websites linking to you?
In April, Google rolled out another search algorithm – Penguin – aimed at detecting webspam practices throughout the web. Naturally, the sites targeted by Penguin saw drops in traffic shortly after the initial launch, and much of this related to paid link schemes. While SMBs buying links may have arguably deserved Penuin penalization, sites that had spammy backlinks by no fault of their own were also hit.
It happens. The web is tricky place, and it requires small business owners to be constantly vigilant. If you see spammy links pointing to your site, you might have been targeted because of link schemes.
Tracking the sites you’re receiving traffic from is an important element of any SEO campaign. You can use tools like Majestic SEO to monitor your links. When you detect a link from a spammy website, it’s important to act. Create a template email explaining that you are a business owner trying to recover from a Google penalty and asking webmasters to remove unwanted backlinks. In each email you send, be sure to include a list of the URLs linked on the particular site you are contacting that you want the webmaster to take down.
If owners of low-quality sites are unresponsive to these requests and you firmly believe your site was a traffic loss victim because of unsolicited low-quality backlinks, filing a reconsideration request with Google can be a way to fix your search visibility.
For those sites that get traffic from Bing, the search engine recently released a link disavowing tool that allows SMBs and others to remove any undesirable backlinks from their search status. While this will only impact your Bing search ranking (and your Bing traffic), Google, which fields more than two-thirds of all search queries, is rumored to be rolling out a similar tool soon.
Problem 3: Are you engaging webspam?
The hallmark of high-quality content marketing is relevant content written naturally and designed solely to inform users. Since SEO is often a goal of this content, keywords are equally important – but some site owners take this too far and practice keyword stuffing.
Forcing terms into sentences that don’t belong or any other excessive keyword practice will be frowned upon by Google. It may help your site drive search visibility and site traffic for a while, but it’s not sustainable. Be honest with yourself when evaluating your site pages – are you keyword stuffing? Google’s Matt Cutts has openly said keyword density is something SEOs worry too much about, and they run the risk overcompensating.
Worse, some sites may be creating content entirely irrelevant to their businesses in hopes of catching traffic from popular search terms.
These unethical practices have been the focus of Google updates and will continue to be targeted by quality algorithms. Much like it punished sites with paid links, the Penguin algorithm is heavily focused on this practice.
Your content should include certain terms your prospects are searching for. However, keyword use should be natural. You need to find the best content writers to work with your brand so you can keep your website content search-friendly without alienating readers or going overboard on keywords. Also, find a balance between writing about your own business and writing about your industry: By balancing product and service pages with news pages where your keywords are the leading topics, use should be natural (and naturally frequent).
Problem 4: Are you unable to find the cause of traffic loss?
You haven’t bought links, nor are you using boilerplate content. No bad websites are linking to you, and your content is high-quality and written naturally. Hmm.. time to become a detective.
Measure your traffic volumes against specific algorithm updates. Do losses coincide with any of them? If so, maybe you need to bring a more critical eye to your site evaluation process – or ask for an expert’s help.
If you don’t see a strong correlation between updates and traffic loss, or you really can’t find a reason regardless of when your traffic dipped, you can submit a reconsideration request. There’s no guarantee that this will work, but if you believe your site is being unfairly targeted then be sure to file one.
Like everything else, Google’s algorithms aren’t perfect. That’s why the company is constantly updating and developing algorithms to improve the quality of its results.
Content marketing campaigns that focus on the user as much as SEO are proven to increase traffic to your site and drive web conversions. Avoid bad practices or correct them, and invest in sustainable content strategies to see more traffic to your site and more sales for your small business.