If you take a look at your traffic stats, you’ll likely find that a very large percentage, if not a vast majority, of your new traffic comes from Google.
While this can be a great thing as search traffic is some of the best that you can get in terms of targeting, it is also highly risky. The reason is that it makes all of us subject to the whims of Google, a company that our sites have no direct relationship with and is prone to being fickle with both its algorithms and its index.
Imagine, for a moment, if half of that traffic went away suddenly or, even worse, if it disappeared altogether. This is the reality many sites have faced, and it has proved disastrous for many sites, including established ones that suddenly find the lion’s share of their daily traffic to be gone.
Perhaps worst of all though is that it is a pitfall that can not be completely avoided. Considering that Google makes “over 400” changes per year, it’s almost impossible to be sure your site won’t get eaten in one of them.
Still, there is plenty that you can and should do and most of them are actually quite simple.
Though Google is far and away the most popular search engines, it became as such not by catering to webmasters, but by returning the best results and the best search experience possible. As a result of this, Google is constantly tweaking both its algorithms and its index to ensure that the sites it feels are the best rise to the top of the results.
But while this tweaking may be what helps keep Google on top of the search engine wars, it does create a great deal of unreliability for webmasters who are essentially trying to build a search engine presence on shifting sands.
Google can, without recourse, drop sites from its index, severely degrade their ranking or refuse to index many of their pages.
The results from any of these hits can be catastrophic to one’s traffic, either cutting off or severely restricting the flow of targeted new visitors. For a site’s traffic, this has roughly the same as cutting off a human being from their air supply.
So how can one avoid it? There isn’t much of a way to. But there are things you can do to reduce the possibility of a Google “spank” and mitigate any damage it may cause.
How to Avoid It
The problem is that, since we are at the whims of Google as to where it ranks us or if it indexes us at all, there’s not much we can do and most of what we can do comes down to simply doing what Google wants and hoping it doesn’t change with the next update.
Still, there are several pieces of good advice one can give, even if it has been said many times before. Those steps include:
- Join Google Webmaster Tools: If you’re serious about how well you do in Google, joining Google Webmaster Tools is a requirement. Not only will you have a variety of features to help you track and understand how Google is indexing your site, but you will get notification of problems that can hurt your ranking.
- Get a Good Host: Downtime and sluggish site performance can be deadly for your site in Google. Though site performance by itself is only a minor factor, if too many users click back to the results quickly after visiting your site, Google will likely assume your site is of low quality and either drop it or lower its ranking.
- Avoid Duplicate Content: Google doesn’t like duplicate content and moves duplicates to the supplementary index – if it doesn’t just discard them as spam. Don’t post your work in multiple places on the Web, ensure that others who do use your work link back to the original and make sure you aren’t creating duplicate content within your site. In some cases, you may also have to deal with content theft and plagiarism of your work, to avoid these issues.
- Focus on Security: If your site is hacked, especially if it is used to distribute malicious code, you may find your site booted out of Google on security grounds. The same goes for hacked sites that display spam links or adult content on a non-adult site. Use strong passwords and keep your software current to avoid this from happening.
- Look for Other Traffic Sources: Don’t just rely on Google for your traffic, also spend energy on link building, social media and other traffic sources. This can both soften the blow of a negative Google shift and, if done well, actually encourages Google to rank you higher, making it a win-win.
Still, the best thing that you can do for your site is produce good, high-quality content that people enjoy, link to and want to see higher up in the search results. Even if you do have a slip up with Google, as long as you have strong content and aren’t doing anything too spammy, you can likely recover given enough time and energy.
If you don’t have that, then you probably didn’t belong high up in the results to begin with, making the loss of ranking less of a tragedy and more of a rebalancing of authority.
The sad, simple truth is this: We, as bloggers, are largely living at the whim of Google. What Google gives, it can take away and without any warning or repercussions.
The most we can do is try to create the best sites we can and stay within Google’s guidelines when promoting it. Considering that Google’s goal is to create the best search results possible, having sites that belong at the top of the results is the only way to remotely ensure that they appear there or will some day.
While it’s nerve-wracking living in the shadow of Google, wondering when and if the search giant will turn off the flow of new traffic, it’s the nature of the Web right now and all that we can do.
The good news is that very few sites get booted from Google unfairly and those that do usually find their way back in, either through appeal or through a later correction.
Still, one has to be aware of the dangers of having so much for their new traffic coming from one source and do what they can both to mitigate against the potential for disaster and try to ensure that it never happens at all.