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Action plan: what to do when your Google rankings have dropped

Has your website lost its rankings in Google? Did your rankings drop or did your website vanish completely from Google? In that case, your website might have received a Google penalty and you might have to file a reinclusion request.

Three reasons why your Google rankings might have dropped

There are several reasons that can cause a ranking drop:

  1. You changed your web pages. After a web page change, Google temporarily downranks web pages. This process has been described in a Google patent. In that case, you don't have to worry about the ranking drop and you'll get your old (or better) rankings back after some time.

  2. Other web pages are better than yours. No web page can keep its rankings forever. Your competitors might have built better web pages with better content and better inbound links. In that case, optimize your web page content for your keywords and try to get better inbound links.

  3. Google thinks that you use spam elements on your web pages and applied a penalty to your website. In that case, you have to file a reinclusion request.

How to find out if your website has been penalized

Search for your domain name on Google. If your website does not come as the first result, it's likely that it has been penalized.

If Google cannot find any page of your website if you search for "site:yourdomain.com" (replace yourdomain.com with your own domain name) then it's nearly sure that your website has been penalized.

Action plan: what you can do to get your rankings back

Before you ask Google to reconsider your website, you should make sure that everything is okay with your site:

  1. Fix all on-site issues that might have caused the problem.

    If you use hidden text or nearly hidden text on your website then remove it. Reconsider any use of display:none and visibility:hidden that you use in the CSS code of your website.

    If you use keyword lists or any other form of keyword stuffing on your web pages, then remove these elements. Check your web page titles, the meta tags and even HTML comments.

    Remove any unnecessary redirects, unrelated links and all duplicate pages. If you use cloaking or bot blocking scripts on your server, disable these scripts. Make sure that your HTML code is clean and that your web pages look nice. Don't use any automatically created doorway pages.

  2. Fix all off-site issues.

    Off-site issues are often the reason for ranking penalties. If you participated in automated link exchange systems of if you paid a cheap overseas link building service to get links to your website then it's likely that these links have been flagged as spam links by Google.

    Google does not like automated link systems at all. Remove all automated link systems from your website and try to make sure that these linking systems do not link anymore to your site.

    If you purchased links to improve your rankings, try to get rid of these links. Google has officially stated that they consider paid links spam. Do not buy links.

How to file a reinclusion request

When you have removed all on-site and off-site elements that could have been flagged by Google, you can file a reinclusion request.

Keep your reinclusion request short and to the point. Be friendly and explain what exactly you have done to clean up your website.

Ranking drops can cost your business a lot of money. For that reason, you shouldn't use any search engine optimization services that promise quick-fix solutions. If something looks too good, too inexpensive or too easy to be true then it probably isn't true.

If you use ethical search engine optimization methods to optimize your web pages then you can be sure that your website gets high rankings without offending Google. It can take longer to get high rankings with ethical methods but you will also keep your high rankings much longer.

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December 2008 search engine articles