SEO Crisis Management: First Steps to Take if Your Site Loses Visibility

By Tim Marco

You’ve been working on SEO for your site for months. You’ve done your research, and your site is perfectly optimized for high-volume, highly-relevant keyphrases. You’ve gone out of your way to make sure that everything you’re doing is ethical and your site should be firmly in Google’s good graces. After a few months of diligent promotion, you’ve greatly improved your visibility, and your site’s traffic and conversions have been exploding. And then one day, without warning, it’s all gone. For reasons you can’t fathom, your site has dropped off from Google results like a rock. Your traffic disappears.

If you care about SEO, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of. But if you’ve been working in internet marketing long enough, and you’ve been around enough sites, chances are that you might have seen a similar situation. But there are plenty of causes for this terrifying prospect, so the most important thing is to take a deep breath, relax, and figure out the cause of the problem. While it is always possible that something bad has happened (such as your site being hacked), most of the time the problem will be much more innocuous. The truth is that, unless you’ve been doing something egregiously unethical, there’s usually going to be an easy fix for your woes. Diagnosing the problem shouldn’t be too difficult if you take a few easy steps.

Review Your Site’s Title Tags and Content

It might seem obvious, but the most common cause of a drop in rankings and visibility is simply the opposite cause of ranking improvements. And as we’ve said on this blog before, there are a few core SEO basics that can change relatively easily. Most importantly, if the title tags or content on a site change, ranking positions can dissolve in a hurry. This issue often comes up when multiple different parties are involved in the creation and curation of a site. If your site has multiple editors, the first thing to check after a drop in the rankings is the title tags, especially for your most common key phrases. If these tags were recently changed, reverting them to their natural, keyword-rich state should help out.

Review Your Site’s Code

A more complicated and technical cause of this type of problem has to do with the code that defines your site. Issues like sitemap.xml, robots.txt, and meta robots tags can all cause significant problems if improperly implemented. The inner workings of these elements go far beyond the scope of this post, so if you’re unfamiliar with them, you’ll probably need the help of a developer to review your code. Again, though, the good news here is that if these are the cause of your site’s troubles, you should be looking at an easy fix.

Check Out Your Site’s Google Cache

Let’s suppose that your site looks perfect right now, but you’ve still got new visibility problems. You might conclude that something beyond the code is having a negative effect, which is a totally reasonable explanation. However, it’s possible that a temporary change occurred in the recent past, and search engines just haven’t caught up to your site yet. To see if this is the case, you can type ‘cache:[]’ into any Google search, to see what Google’s most recent snapshot of your site looks like. Try checking out the elements mentioned earlier in this post (title tags, meta robots tags, etc.) on the cached version of the page. If the problems exist in Google’s cache, you’ll simply have to wait for search engines to check out your page again.

If These Steps Don’t Help…

If after running these quick diagnostic checks you still haven’t found any obvious culprits for your drop, it’s probably time to call in the experts. Again, the reason for your decreased visibility will most likely be easy to fix. But there are simply too many potential root causes for this to be solved by people other than experts.