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Has my site been hit by an algorithm update, or have my rankings dropped due to something else?

05/11/2014

Here at Results First, we often speak with prospective clients who suspect or know that their site has been hit by an algorithm update or a search engine penalty of some kind. The latest Penguin roll-out will certainly have business owners that are witnessing the slightest ranking drops on their toes.

The number one answer SEO providers give clients to explain rankings or organic traffic drops is algorithm updates and/or past penalties. As many business owners do not understand the technicalities of SEO, it is hard to determine whether their site has really been hit or if the drops are due to other factors.

Some easy ways to check if you have been hit by a Search Engine algorithm or penalty

A great tool to give you an indication of whether or not your site has been hit is trusty-old Google Analytics. If you’re seeing a large decrease in traffic, the first step is to check that this is organic traffic. From there, drill down to see which search engine the traffic has dropped from. If traffic has dropped from all engines, it’s a good indication that an algorithm is not the culprit. An update would usually affect the traffic on only one specific engine.

Don’t forget to look at the other sources of traffic coming to the site to see if traffic drops have come from there. Turning off an AdWords campaign and drops in referral traffic from social media and other sites can cause drops that aren’t always obvious to see from the Analytics dashboard.

To match rankings drops with algorithm updates, check out the Google Algorithm Update History on MOZ to see if any traffic drops coincide with these.

The other good tool to look at is Google Web Master Tools. Ensure you check the site messages section regularly for notifications from Google about spammy link detection or manual penalties.

Other reasons to explain organic traffic and rankings drops

After speaking with many clients, we’ve discovered one of the main causes of traffic or ranking drops is launching a new site without redirecting old page URLs to the new ones. 301 redirects are very important to ensure that the authority of pages is passed to the new pages, and that Google doesn’t see a lot of errors when crawling the site.

Check your Web Master Tools in the URL Errors part in the Site Errors section and ensure 301 redirects are put in place.

Hosting faults is another cause of decreased traffic and rankings. If your site is always going down, Google can’t cache it and users can’t visit it. To check this variable, see if there are any Server Errors in the Site Errors section of Web Master Tools.

Lastly, market and seasonal changes can also have a surprising impact on traffic. Think about the time of year and, using analytics, change the dates of the report to the same time period the year prior. You could do month-on-month or quarterly season-on-season.

If there were drops around the same time periods prior then seasonal factors are a reasonable explanation.
Changes in market can also have an influence. Are there any extraneous factors in your sector that could be causing ripples? For example, the latest election created some market instability for businesses looking to start online marketing ventures.

Food for thought

It’s important to look at all of the factors surrounding your website before jumping to conclusions on whether or not it has been hit by an algorithmic update or penalty. While there are hundreds of factors that can contribute the success of your website in search engines, the above checklist is the most common issues that we encounter.

Like most things, it’s important to understand and digest the real challenges that the site may be experiencing before ‘pointing the finger’ at Panda or Penguin. By doing some research and delving into the data, you’re more likely to come up with a solution to gain back any lost ground.

If you are experiencing difficulties, or would like to speak with an expert about any other SEO related issues, please call us on 0800 878 833.