Speaking of tips, I want to tip my hat to David Harry, writing for Searchmetrics, for explaining this issue. If you’re facing some kind of Google-related penalty, there are some things you can do to narrow down what happened. I can’t be exhaustive in a short piece like this, but I can help you start to figure out what happened.
Okay, the first thing you should do when you see your traffic is down is check Google Webmaster Tools for your website. You need to find out if Google gave it a manual penalty or otherwise took some kind of manual action against your site. If so, you’ll see a message from Google saying that some of your pages may be using techniques that are outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you have received such a message, guess what? Your traffic drop-off isn’t due only to algorithm changes. Read the message and clean up your act.
Say, however, that you don’t have one of those messages. Then what? Well, Google runs a couple of algorithm filters called Panda and Penguin. Panda dislikes thin content, while Penguin devalues spammy links. These filters get run and tweaked periodically; they’re called “updates.” If your traffic dropped around the time Google ran one of these updates, you can assume that it might have caused your traffic to drop.
How do you determine this? First, you need to find out when, exactly, your traffic dropped off. Harry recommends that you pop open your favorite analytic program and track the number of visitors you’ve received on a daily basis. If you’re using a graph, you’ll see what he calls a tell-tale “hockey stick” – a deep drop-off followed by a relatively straight line, indicating the new low. (It might not be that obvious if the update affected only a few of your keywords). Take down the date of that drop-off; you need it for the next step of this analysis.
The SEO community watches Google very closely, tracking updates of Panda and Penguin. Some sites even provide a list of known refresh dates. Harry recommends the one over at SEO Dojo. Compare the date that your website’s traffic dropped with the dates on that list. If you get a match, you know that the update and your site’s drop in traffic might be connected.
Now, at least, you have a lead as to the cause. Putting a solution in place may be a little trickier. If you’ve been hit by Penguin, you need to start building good links rather than the kinds that Google just devalued. I plan to address that in future articles. Good luck!