Search Engine Recovery

How fast can your website recover from an SEO problem?

It depends on the problem. We’ve seen several cases of hacking this year (not, I have to say, among clients with professional hosting or our regular website management services) and the trajectory for recovery in those cases is excellent. The site owners have generally contacted us when they see something alarming in the SERPs, and often it has been a problem for a while by the time they notice. We usually see improvement as soon as the malware is cleaned out, and full recovery of search traffic within a few weeks.

If Google thinks you’re at fault, though, it can take years to recover. We’ve seen clients who have sailed too near the wind with their linkbuilding or SEO practices who have seen organic search from some particular keyword rise — and then plummet like a cartoon rocket.

I had the honor of spending some time with some folks from Google a while back, and one of the things that impressed me most was how much they love and respect data. Since it’s also their stock in trade, it makes sense that Google won’t tolerate messing with their information. They can’t turn a blind eye to attempts to game their system, and they’d rather make a mistake by being too strict than by being too lenient. It’s tough on people who’ve simply taken bad advice, but we can understand the reasoning.

Then there are the SEO problems that result from another cause, such as an algorithm update or an aggressive campaign by a competitor. Since those don’t show a decision about your website by Google, they don’t show the same kind of pattern. They may give you a roller coaster rankings ride or they may be permanent.

Advice for a quick recovery:

  • If you have clean up to do, do it. Maybe it’s duplicate content that needs to be removed. Maybe it’s a website redesign that wasn’t worth doing till your competitor did one. Now is the time to take the steps you need to take to communicate as well as possible with the search engines. Give up any tricks you’ve been playing, update your code and your design, increase your usability, and optimize that website.
  • If you have a good explanation, tell Google. Your Webmaster tools allow you to see any manual penalties and to ask for reconsideration. You can send a message to Google. If you make your case well, they’ll begin showing your queries again quickly, and you should see a fast rise where you saw a fast fall.
  • If you’ve lost a keyword, replace it. Often, when an algorithm update catches you napping or another website honestly is a better choice for a keyword you had snagged from under the competitor’s nose, you won’t get that keyword traffic back. What’s more, with the new Not Provided reporting, it can be hard to tell just how you’re doing for individual keywords. Especially with Google’s new Hummingbird update, it doesn’t make sense to focus too strongly on just one keyword anyway.
  • Watch conversions, not just traffic. We saw one client increase sales by 600% with no real increase in traffic — the traffic was just better targeted. If you get more traffic, you will probably have more conversions. But if you increase your conversion rate, then you will certainly do even better once your traffic increases.

Organic search is usually the top traffic source for most websites, but if you’re having some SEO issues and they’re affecting your traffic, you can balance that loss with social media, paid search, email marketing, or strong referrals.

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