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What to Do When Your Search Rankings Drop

Posted By Darren Rowse 1st of December 2009 Search Engine Optimization 0 Comments

“I just lost all my Google traffic – help!”

This request hits my inbox every week or two from a distraught blogger who has logged into the blog’s statistics one morning only to discover that most of their traffic has completely disappeared due to the all powerful Google making some kind of change in their algorithm and how they rank sites which resulted in that particular blog either disappearing from search results or at least being buried many pages down in the rankings.

The feeling associated with this discovery of a loss of traffic can be sickening.

I still remember the first time it happened to me (back in 2004) as if it were yesterday – it was like someone had sucker punched me in the gut – really took the wind out of my sails.

Up until the day it happened traffic had been healthy on my blog – healthy enough to just make a full time living from. Then when the traffic from Google disappeared I was down to 30% of what I’d come to see as ‘normal’ traffic and suddenly my dreams of being a full time blogger seemed over.

What to do when your Google Traffic Disappears

OK – so the question that I’m asked each time this happens to a ProBlogger reader is – what should I do?

It’s a tough question to answer – partly because I’m not Google and don’t have any insight into your particular situation and partly because each time it happens it is different. I’m also not an SEO expert am won’t give you any technical advice – but let me give you some general advice to start with:

1. Don’t Panic

I’ve had this happen to me at least 5 times over the last 7 years of blogging and most successful bloggers I know can recall a similar number of Google fluctuations that have brought decreases (and increases) in traffic in their blogging history. It happens to us all – sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways. In chatting with one Google employee recently he told me that they are making daily (and more) changes to the way that they rank sites (mainly small tweaks) so over time we’ll all notice changes.

The key is not to make massive big changes to your site’s SEO too quickly or as a gut reaction to a change in your ranking.

For me the first time that this happened (when I lost 70% of my traffic) I was very tempted to make big changes to my site to try to fix things. I was advised by a few wise and experienced web masters to wait. I did and a few weeks later almost all of the traffic returned. Google fixed itself (phew).

If the traffic doesn’t come back after an extended period you might want to get some expert SEO advice and make some larger changes – but I personally am glad that I’d seen out the dips in traffic rather than doing anything to hurt my long term rankings.

Of course there are times when you might need to make some changes…. such as….

2. Have You Done Anything Black Hat?

Google has guidelines in place for webmasters. If you want to rank well in their search engine you need to play by their rules. Of course there’s a whole industry around ‘bending’ and ‘manipulating’ the rules and many web masters make a living by doing it – however if you are caught breaking the rules by Google you’re likely to be penalized.

If this is the case for you you have two choice:

I know of numerous bloggers who’ve asked for reconsideration and have been reinstated back into the index. It can take a little while (the last one said it took a couple of weeks for them) but in the long run it can be well worthwhile.

3. Build Other Sources of Traffic

The biggest lesson that I learned back in 2004 when I lost most of my traffic as a result of a Google algorithm change was that I needed to diversify my approach to building traffic to my blogs.

Up until that time I was almost exclusively working on driving traffic via Google. It was like a drug that I’d become dependent upon in some ways and much of my day was spent writing content for Google and attempting to ‘get links’ to that content from other sites. I was not really writing for regular readers or trying to build community on my blog – I just wanted traffic that I hoped would click my ads and affiliate programs.

This approach had worked for me – however when my Google traffic disappeared I was left with little and realized how short sighted I’d been. I began to change my focus and started working on other sources of traffic.

I still love the traffic that Google sends me but today if it all disappeared it would hurt – but it wouldn’t be the end for my business. Next week I want to followup this post with another one looking at some of the ways to become less reliant upon Google traffic and to build traffic from other sources – stay tuned for more.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Thank you for your post!
    My only concern with “Black Hat” is that sometimes it is so cleverly hidden that certain software is actually black hat. I wish there was a toolbar I could have showing at all times indicating whether or not a certain site is legit, shady or just “wrong”… lol ! good luck with that one, yes?
    For the most part, I can usually tell if a site is cheesy and has malicious items contained in it but for the newbie, I can see where they might get lured into the abyss of instant gratification.



  2. Very good article. I’ve only been doing this for two years but ths Google thing has happened to me twice, thankfully each time it sorted itself out about a week later.

  3. I experienced the same problem on one of my blog, even some URL get disappeared from the Google Search, I submitted sitemap of my blog again in Google Webmaster tools and found it indexed back within few days.

    Relying on Google is not too much smart phenomenon but its the fact that more than 60% of traffic from any normal blog came from Google. I can understand the meaning of Darren’s word, don’t rely on Google only, try to be potential user of one of any social bookmarking site i.e. Digg, Stumbleupon, Delecious.

  4. I still have not done anything about my SEO but this post just reminded me that if I should do something ASAP in order to gain some new traffic methods.

    Up until now, the 500 unique visitors coming to my blog are through my promotion on twitter, facebook, forums related to my niche and fans spreading the word. About to purchase your e-book and take my 31 day challenge ;)

  5. Great Post, I’m a newbie blogger and am dealing with the Google Shuffle every weekend that kinda hurts.,.lol

    But like you said things did work them selves out after a few days.

    Google is a luv hate relationship, i luv the traffic I can get, but hate that everytime I feel like my SEO is pretty good, Google changes the game plan again. It’s hard to keep up

  6. Thanks for the advice. I’ve been blogging for about 5 months now and still haven’t fully embraced the SEO part of my blog.

    That’s my next area of discovery as I want to really get my blog up and going. I would eventually like to make this a full time business.

    Thanks again,

  7. My five year old site used to rank well and lost some Google ranking this fall. Along with it traffic dropped by almost 50%. Ad revenues (in total) down by about 30%. After a couple of months of this I knew it was time to change things up.

    The big things I’ve done are to finally roll out a new theme I’ve had in the works for months; and to test different ad placements and formats on the new theme. So far my AdSense revenue is holding steady (at its lower level) but I’ve tripled my Chitika income.

    The other thing I’ve done is to publish more frequently and to start pulling in some content from people who want to increase their own exposure. This got me noticed by an A-lister in my niche who quoted extensively from one of my posts, sending me well over 10,000 visitors and over $200 in Amazon affiliate commissions from that one post.

    So even with revenues way down, things are looking up.

    I’d say if this happens to you, UNDO any changes you made in the previous month. Then start experimenting from there. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

  8. Hi guys

    I was also thinking of the same thing regarding my SEO, I always thought that my technique to optimize my site is good enough to go with the flow of the competition.

    I agree that Google Shuffle hurts because we need to catch up with the new way to optimize our site. We always need a new technique to gain traffic on our site.

    Kind Regards


  9. It’s always a good idea to diversify. I am fairly new at this game as well and I think google is my least profitable traffic generator. I have tried to focus on building a community of dedicated readers who return. This seems to be working out okay for me so far.

    Google is a tough one to crack because you never know what they are going to do. I would have definitely considered doing some changes to get myself back up to the top of the goolge list I am glad you mentioned to wait it out.

    Great post Darren

  10. Hey Darren,

    Just like with income, the more you diversify and have multiple streams of traffic, the less risky and more stable your site will be.

    Guest posting, writing high-quality comments, forum activity, search engine results, AdWords… the point is to not rely on just one traffic source, because if something happens to it, you can say bye bye to new visitors.

    And also, with your Google example, it seems like something like that is a blessing in disguise. A site owner doesn’t write for search bots as much, and focuses on writing for human readers. So the quality of the writing goes up when you’re not reliant on writing for your traffic source (and instead focus on your readers).

    I know I suffered from writing for search engines on a previous site, and how wildly the traffic fluctuated (and wasn’t of the highest quality) – and how I almost completely disregard ranking in search engines when I write (and have focused on guest posts and quality comments), and the stability and quality of my early readership has been great.

    Thanks for the reminder to not become reliant on one source of traffic (or anything), and to strive for multiple streams of it instead,

  11. And where do you get those other sources of traffic? I am also currently, more like testing, than really attempting to get traffic from Google to my ebooks blog, and I start seeing some positive changes, getting like 5, 10 sometimes 20 visitors a day, and slowly building my adsense balance. Where are other quality traffic sources???

  12. As the saying goes, “Never put all your eggs in one basket!” This holds true for your traffic sources as well. In fact, if anyone were trying to build a business, never allow any one aspect of your business to be dependent on a single source or be largely dependent on a single source.

    For example, if your revenue is largely generated through one source (e.g affiliate marketing), diversify. Go develop more income sources. Or if your revenue is largely dependent on a single client, then find more clients. The gist is, never allow anyone to hold you hostage in business or in life. This is also the reason why we need to create multiple streams of income so that we’re not dependent on our job to feed our families and fund our retirement.

    Happy diversifying!



  13. Thank you; this will put a lot of anxiety to rest. It is still distressing but expecting it to happen and knowing how to deal with it takes a big load off.
    It’s when you don’t know how to deal with it that it drives you crazy.
    I’m very interested in the alternative sources of traffic that you touch on, and look forward to next week’s post.
    I’m not one for putting all my eggs in one basket because heavy reliance on just one thing can sometimes get the rug under me shaken bad, so bring on the baskets Darren.

  14. great post Darren especially the idea of creating alternate sources of traffic. I guess most bloggers these blog for search engines and that is why many have the fear of falling out of google

  15. Thanks for the post, usually this is the main problem that all blogger faces. Your post has opened my eyes about it.

  16. It is really easy to get all worried when your rankings drop. Do not worry about it though. It really isn’t that big a deal. At the warrior forum they just recommend to keep commenting on Blogs to get some easy backlinks. It is definitely not the end of the world. A lot of people’s rankings will be dropped soon because of Google caffeine.

  17. I keep suspecting so many “free” wordpress plugins if they do not send traffic data, and just don’t have the patience to sit and decipher the php code. The fact is one of my sites is still climbing alexa rank but has been dropping seriously on US traffic – a miracle.

  18. Very helpful post! So far only about 10% of my traffic is from search engines. I hear most big blogs get MOST of their traffic from places like Google and Yahoo…so I know that this is an area I am going to need to work on. Thanks!

  19. I blog for sharing and I enjoy that. For SE ranking drop I think because of my domain extension.

  20. I’ve already experienced this a short while ago and I just stuck on my knee, not doing anything, and leave it all behind (for a while). Suddenly, when I came back and try to start all over again, my index is coming back. Phew, I just thinking what if I was so responsive and hence I changed my site night and day just to see it was indexed again.

    Thanks, nice article!

  21. Diversification is important in any business. It’s no different in ours.

  22. Wow, talk about timing! This just happened to me for the first time. Two weeks ago my Google traffic dried up. Gulp! I can’t figure out why this happened. Your post is awesome, and I can’t wait for the follow-up post.

    And, the suggestion to rely on several different sources for traffic is priceless. Thanks!

  23. Basically, you are telling us alternatives to Google. You have failed to point out what can be done to get back the “Google” traffic.

  24. Google does change algorithms but the foundation of a site should be able to help maintain a decent SERP.

    Core values like quality content, regular updates, decent traffic, and not violating any Google no-no’s can keep most sites pretty safe at their respective positions.

  25. As you mention this happens to most of us at some point and the first time it happens can really knock the wind out of you. I remember clearly the first time it happened to me and I seriously considered quitting. Thankfully the traffic slowly began to creep back up over a few weeks. The lesson is not to rely on Google, take it as bonus traffic because it can disappear so easily, and work on gaining other sources more sustainable sources of traffic.

  26. Great posts. I haven’t reached the point where I can notice if google is sending or taking away traffic.

    I am looking forward to the followup posts on how to build traffic from alternative sources.

  27. Yeah SE traffic is nice, but you can’t make it your only point of focus. There’s a saying about eggs and baskets that seems apt.

  28. It’s kinda scary sometimes when you think about the amount of power Google has in is industry. If they decide they want to change the way SEO operates or if they want to push a particular method, everyone basically has to capitulate. Very scary!

  29. Many online business (blog) is over when google penalize them because do not prepare other source for traffic.

  30. Hey this was totally insightful, I am relatively new at the Blog world and this post confirms that I am on the right track. I have chosen to implement various traffic driving strategies and although this specific incident has not happen to me I am doing something right. Looking forward to your next post.

  31. Good tips – I’ve been there and it is no fun when you lose a big chunk of your traffic. That being said I always feel that it is these challenges that make you stronger so there is a silver-lining to an experience like this!

  32. Nice title, to bad it didn’t deliver.

    Instead you should have gone with “Why you should diversify your traffic sources” – since there really aren’t any tips/remedies you can sink your teeth into listed to help fix the traffic problem. Would be great if you could expand on item #3 a bit more in another post.

    Don’t get me wrong Darren, I’m a big fan and avid reader but this post if the first one that I didn’t care for in almost 2 years so please don’t take offense.

  33. Google is a tough one to crack because you never know what they are going to do. I would have definitely considered doing some changes to get myself back up to the top of the goolge list I am glad you mentioned to wait it out.

  34. I agree! patience is all you need with google

  35. This is where diversification comes in.. There are lot of rules out there especially on sites that can give us a lot of traffic and we can break those things easily without our awareness so it is really better to have traffic in multiple sources.

    Like 1 Million a day from 100 sources is better than 1million a day from 1 source.

  36. Having a good variety of traffic sources is key. You don’t know when your rankings will drop in Google, but rather than take the risk, build out your brand.

    Even though you might have a site ranking first out of 100 million sites, this doesn’t mean your site will stay there. I’ve seen a site drop from first to third, and then move back within a matter of two days. Was there any drop in traffic? Not really.

    Your goal is to captivate your visitors to ensure that they will continue to return, rather than relying on mostly “random” searches.

  37. This happened to me about a week ago because I was ranked #11 for the rem “network marketing business” and know I am not ranked at all. Even though I am in fact ranked pretty high for a couple smaller keywords, My traffic has dramatically taken a hit

  38. I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that rankings don’t matter, just that you have to look at the big picture. Too many people are still fixated on 1-2 keywords and are missing the boat, not only in terms of things that might be going wrong but in areas they could improve and compete on.

    I do find one interesting change has happened over time, though. In the old days, if you ranked #1 for a single-word keyword (let’s say “computers”), you had a good chance of ranking well for other keyphrases that had “computer” in them. Not only was the long-tail shorter (people weren’t used to typing 3+ word queries), but the algos were much less sophisticated. These days, ranking for that single-word keyword is far from a guarantee of ranking for other phrases that include that term. Each phrase is often a separate battle.

  39. Just something to add to this. Sometimes people make changes to their site and there can be broken links or missing content. This can sometimes affect rankings as well. If the big G or the loud Bing or the Yahoo sees all these broken links or missing content, it can hurt ya.

  40. It has happened to me too. Your first impulse is to try to make big changes, but I have learned to wait it out and to be steady. Do not build up links to quickly.

  41. Hey Darren

    Thanks for all the great content – you really keep this blogging thing ‘down to earth’ so to speak.

    It is very important to diversify and not develop ‘tunnel-vision’ when you are trying to get traffic. I always build for the longterm.


  42. I think this is key:

    “3. Build Other Sources of Traffic

    …when I lost most of my traffic as a result of a Google algorithm change was that I needed to diversify my approach to building traffic to my blogs.”

    You never really know when you’ll be hit by an algorithm change, but obviously from you 5+ times, anyone in this business for the long-haul is sure to run into it too.

    I’ve had one of my websites in the “Sandbox” for quite awhile now.

  43. Yeah, really it is, Change in the Google algorithm suffers people a lot but you have to equip yourself with the changing technology and apply all the updated techniques of SEO as well as SMO.

  44. You have raised a very good point Darren.

    If you rely too much on Google, and they pull the plug, you are basically stuffed.

    I think you touched on a good point, that is
    building a community to support your blog.

    But how do you build a good community
    , though, that supports your blog?

  45. This is interesting. I liked the link to the recommendations from Google on things that they don’t like.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  46. “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”, I find the point 3 is the best solution.

  47. On point No. 2 Have you done anything blackhat?
    Every blogger should be aware a hacker might have placed hidden links inside their blogger.
    You might have done nothing wrong but a hacker might have messed up your site behind your back. It happened to me this year, a hacker hacked into my site and placed hidden links. It was google that sent me an email informing me my site was scheduled for delisting from their index because they had found hidden links. I was shocked to find 700 hidden links on my homepage!

    Google makes an effort to inform bloggers when they find hidden links but most blogger don’t get the email because it gets into their spam folder. So, never empty the spam folder before going through the messages. You might miss a very important message

  48. i have got bad experience with few of my big sites i have built and now its been a year but still those sites are not gaining back their rankings in Google. no blackhat methods i had tried but still i am not getting any way out.

    anyways i started few new sites after those penalisation but still i hope to get those sites back in rankings someday soon

    Google traffic is the main thing, it really hurts if our sites are not being loved by Big G

  49. This happened to me two months ago and it was devastating. I too was told to sit back and wait but that’s just not easy to do. I made some house cleaning changes, asked for reconsideration and things came roaring back to life 3 weeks later.

    This is the downside to the power of google and how dependent we are on their search traffic. Unfortunately, until other search engines figure out a way to break into the market we’ll all be at the mercy of Google.

  50. I have dropped 70% in google traffic since Dec 2008 and I have no idea why. Lost minty fresh, lost any sort of stickiness on newly indexed posts, and fell off the face of the earth for my main keywords. From 1.2 mil page views in 12/08 to about 400k in 11/08. Still have yet to find out why it dropped and no tips from Google groups have gotten the traffic back. Sucks.

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