“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” AKA Please fix my rankings!

This is the message we sometimes get from desperate prospects who have suddenly realized that their sites are having a ranking issue. It just seems so obvious, doesn’t it? You focus on optimizing your site, performing SEO, improving content, staying on top of web analytics, tweaking landing pages not once every five years when things are falling apart, but every month. Every week. Every day.

Here is an actual email one of us here – let’s call him Scott – received. I’m not making this up. It’s too good to be true and it is true. The names, products and domains have been changed to protect the innocent, otherwise everything else is unaltered:

Hi Scott,
We are in need of your help – or any information you can tell us about the GOOGLE organic ranking. For years now, for the keywords “chair & chairs” – The Chairs and More Shop has ranked in the 1st and 2nd position. Now, all of the sudden we have been bumped to page 2? and barely making the 10 search result? Have you heard of anything or do you know why this might be happening?
Thanks! Hope all is well.
Signed XYZ

So, how did the story end? It did take a bit of poking around but in the end we were able to determine that there was a ton of duplicate content on the site. One of the first steps we take in these cases is to investigate Webmaster Tools. In fact, things were way off. Here is the screen shot of the Google Bot traffic:

Crawl Stats

Something wasn’t right here. This sort of spike doesn’t make a lot of sense for a site where the Google Bot traffic has usually been fairly steady. So, we took a closer look and found duplicate content that had been added to the site very recently, precisely coinciding with the intense bot traffic.

As soon as the duplicate content issue was addressed, the Google Bot traffic normalized and so did the rankings. Whew. So, where did all of this additional content come from? Well, somebody at the company had had the brilliant idea of performing “SEO” by creating localized pages for all of the products offered. I.e. the “rocking chair” section now existed for every major city in every one of the 50 states with basically the same messaging. Not good.

So what can we learn here?

I always like to use the following analogy when it comes to SEO on a site: Approach SEO like you would investing in the stock market. Be thoughtful about your initial strategy, mitigate your risk and stick with that strategy over the long haul. There will be ups and downs but as long as you’re in it as a long-term investment, ultimately your perseverance will pay off and you will be rewarded.

Another point I like to make is that search engine results are not free. Many of us come to expect certain rankings just because we’ve had them for many years. But Google is always reevaluating the ecosystem of where a site comes up for a query. And competition is tough. Even if you are #1 today, don’t forget the nine other sites directly below you. All it takes is two of them working on making their site architecture more transparent, increasing content or attracting inbound-links with a grass-roots social media campaign. Suddenly you are #3. Deservedly so. This is not unfair. This is life.

What is the take away?

Track your analytics carefully. Be on top of Webmaster Tools, notice any abnormalities before they cause permanent damage. If our Chairs & More Shop staff had noted the spike in Google Bot traffic, questions would have been asked and the additional risky content would have been reviewed and probably rejected.

But most importantly: Treat SEO as a daily activity. Just like exercising. Make it part of your company’s daily DNA. After all, if you worked out only once a year i.e. every time your doctor said you needed to, how beneficial would that be in the end? Don’t let the competition catch up to you. Work out every day!