What to Do When It Rains on Your Search Engine Rankings

What to Do When It Rains on Your Search Engine RankingsOwn a website long enough, and it’s bound to happen — maybe Google alters their search algorithm, the links you’ve gained take a hit in authority, or a beefy competitor comes along — your sunny days of ranking at the top of search results drastically turn gray. Now you’re suddenly bailing the ship as rapidly as possible, trying to keep from darker days ahead. What’s an honest website owner to do?

While thunder and lightning showering down on your web rankings will definitely put clouds in your day, the sky’s not falling. These proven, white-hat SEO techniques will help you weather the storm, and prepare you for sunnier days ahead.

1. Take a hard look at your website. Does your website have a leaky roof? Take a look at all the core SEO elements of your site and be sure they are properly implemented and use target key phrases, without tipping the scales towards spam (what makes it spam? well, you should “know it when you see it“)

In particular, make sure:

  • All pages have unique content! No hard rules here but 400 words is a good minimum for a homepage and key supporting pages, and at least 250 for most everywhere else. Thinner pages can be acceptable, but don’t expect lots of rankings for them.
  • All pages have unique titles reinforcing targeted keywords related to their content
  • All pages have unique META descriptions reflecting their content and pitching the website. Though Google has said they don’t use META tags to directly influence rankings, they are sometimes used as the description of your site in search rankings and may be used to differentiate your pages from each other.
  • Maximize your use of semantic markup. It’s hard to tell how much, but search experts will agree that heading tags are indicators of content structure and importance. The best guide I’ve come across is this one by Pearsonified — it’s written with blogs in mind, but is equally valid for standard web sites.
  • Your images have suitable ALT attributes. Again, be careful not to spam, but put descriptive alternate text in image tags to reinforce your site’s content while boosting your site’s accessibility.

2. Take control of your site’s linking. Use the Yahoo Site Explorer to see the backlink profile for your site, and maybe compare it to competitors in your sector. Do you have as many or fewer links? Who links to you? Are they from reputable and related sites? Links play a major part in your site’s performance, and a poor link profile can pour misery down on a site, even one with bountiful content.

Link building is a discipline in and of itself, but some of the things you can do are:

  • Swap links with businesses you partner with or with which you have a good rapport. This can also apply to client’s sites.
  • Make sure you’re in reputable directories like Yahoo! and Aviva. Free and paid directories should be just the beginning of your strategy, but they provide a good foundation.
  • Write a genuinely informative press release and market it on a reputable service like PRWeb.
  • Build linkable worthy content and market it. Use Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, relevant forums, your MySpace account, and anything else at your disposal to promote your site once you get juicy things worth going to it on there! How do you come up with those ideas? Well, keep reading…

3. Fight back! The best defense to a rainy day is to be proactive. If your roof’s solid, no rain should get in! And even your site’s close to the high water mark, the proactive measures you should have taken will help turn the tide. What should you do? In a word: content.

Many businesses struggle with writer’s block, frustration with the task of writing, and coming to grips with what web users expect to get out of their website. While no blog post will destroy this cloud, we do have some ideas for you:

  • Take advantage of offline content. Newsletters? Magazine articles? Newspaper stories? Get them, or links to them, or links from them, on your website!
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What are the questions you get all the time? Do you address them or answer them on your site? If not, you’re missing out on a rich opportunity for content that simultaneously qualifies your company as the solution to your customer’s biggest problems.
  • Keep up to date. This may be the hardest of all, but no one wants to see “news” from last July or a blog updated every quarter. Even if your updates are cursory — new employees, tradeshows you’re going to attend, updates to the software that you carry — it’s worth making note of that on your site to keep things a little fresh. As a caveat, things like your new favorite tv show, pet and appearance at 80’s night are not newsworthy.

While storms are inevitable, and frustrating, what you do in response is even more important. A proactive, measured, strategic approach is always, best, and will likely keep you drier next time the search world shakes up. And remember, it can’t rain all the time.