Troubleshooting common SEO problems & how to fix them.
Dealing with Google can be massively frustrating at times. Customer support barely exists, and trying to understand why your site isn’t playing well with Google can spiral into a wild goose chase.
Don’t let Google’s lack of customer support or the horror stories dishearten you. Most of the time, if a site is experiencing Google problems, it is only temporary. SEO problems are rarely irrecoverable.
Usually it’s simply a matter of finding out the underlying cause of the problem—more often than not, the cause isn’t what the popular blog posts are saying it might be. This sometimes means fixing several items. Once all fixed, you have stacked the deck in your favor and you are more likely to make a speedy recovery.
This chapter outlines common SEO problems that plague web site owners.
If you are not at all technically inclined, I urge you to read the section on getting additional advice, or even consider getting professional help if your site is experiencing serious SEO issues.
What to do when your site is not listed in Google at all.
This is a common problem among webmasters and business owners alike.
If you have just launched a brand new site, it is possible Google has not crawled your site yet. You can do a quick spot check by typing ‘site:yoursiteaddress.com’ into the Google search bar and checking to see if your site comes up at all. If it doesn’t, it’s possible Google’s spider hasn’t crawled your site and doesn’t know it exists.
Typically all that’s required for Google to pick up your site is to generate a handful of links to your site, and some social activity.
Tweeting a link to your site is a quick way to ensure your site is indexed by Google’s software, typically within 24-hours. Try to share your site from a handful of social networks for faster results.
Check Google again in 24 hours with the ‘site:www.yoursite…’ search query and see if any pages from your site comes up. If you do see pages, this means Google has indexed your site.
If this doesn’t work, ask your web designer to setup Google Webmaster Tools for you, login, and see if there are any errors. If there are errors, Google will outline the steps to fix them, so Google can see your site.
What to do when your business is not ranking for your own business name.
A business not coming up in the top position in Google for searches for the official business name is a surprisingly common issue among brand new sites. Google is smart, but sometimes you need to give Google a nudge to associate your new site with the name of your brand.
This solution is easily fixed by building links to your site, with some of the links with your brand name as the anchor text. This can take up to a couple of weeks for Google to see these links, connect the dots and realize your site is the real deal.
The fast way to get the ball rolling is to do a quick search for the business directories used in your country—Whitepages, Yellow Pages, Yelp, and so on—fill out a listing for your business on each site and include a link back to your web site. The more links the better, but you should be aiming for a minimum of 50 links. In 95% of cases, this will solve the problem of a site not coming up in the top results of searches for the business name.
If this doesn’t work, setup Facebook and Twitter accounts for your business, filling out as much information about your business as possible in the profile. Then do a post a day for about two weeks, mixing in links to your site in the posts.
If you still can’t get your site ranking high enough, use Open Site Explorer to spy on competing sites ranking higher for the brand name. Do their pages have more backlinks than the total amount of links to your site? If this is the case, you are going to need to build more links.
What to do when your rankings have dropped off.
Here’s a sad truth about SEO: if you achieve a top ranking, it may not keep its position forever. There are billions of web pages competing for top positions in Google. New sites are being created every day. It requires an ongoing effort to keep pages ranking high.
If your rankings have dropped off from the top position, and are slowly moving their way down the search results, it’s likely your competitors have simply acquired more links or more social activity. Use Open Site Explorer to spy on competitors, find out how many backlinks they have, how much social media activity they have, and set these amounts as your target to build your rankings back up.
Next, it’s time to start a link building campaign with the targeted keywords as outlined in the chapter on link building.
If you are worried that you may have been penalized by the recent updates to Google, such as the Penguin update or the Panda update, read the next section for common recovery steps.
What to do when your site has been penalized by a Penguin update.
The recent updates to Google have many site owners worried. The media circus are partly to blame for this, but the controversy surrounding the Panda and Penguin updates created the misconception that most traffic issues are caused by these updates.
The real truth—these updates have affected a fraction of sites and these site owners are a very loud minority.
In most cases, if your rankings have dropped off, your competitors have simply acquired more ‘SEO Juice’ to their pages, and it’s time to pick up your game. If your pages have moved down a few positions, refer to the above section on the steps to recovery.
If your rankings have completely disappeared from Google’s top-30, and they were previously ranking in the top-10, then it is possible you may have been penalized from Google’s Penguin update. Follow the below steps to confirm if this was the case and follow the recommended steps to make a recovery.
Read on with caution. Penalties from the Panda and Penguin updates are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to heal. If you are out of your depth, you may need to seek professional help to make a speedy recovery.
1. Check Google Webmaster Tools.
Any site owners that have had a manual penalty imposed on Google will receive a notice like the one below. Log in to your Google Webmaster Tools account to see if you have received a notice like one of the examples below:
‘Google Webmaster tools notice of detected unnatural links to….’
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines….’
If you have witnessed the above message in Google Webmaster tools, Google has placed a manual penalty on your site as a result of the new Google updates. If you do not see the above message, then it is unlikely you have received a manual penalty from Google.
2. Check your link profile.
Use Open Site Explorer, and Majestic SEO and look at the links pointing to the page you suspect may have been penalized. Do the same for the competing pages that are currently ranking in the top position for your keywords.
Look for the indicators below to confirm if your site has been penalized by the Google updates.
1. Your site has a much larger quantity of links than competitors, but isn’t ranking in the top-50 for the same keyword.
If you have a significantly larger amount of links pointing to your page than competing sites, and your site is nowhere to be seen in the top-50 (but it was before), then you may have been penalized by the Penguin update.
2. Your site has a very large quantity of links from shoddy looking sites, e.g. sites that look like the following, seolinksdirectory.com, addurlsfree.com, freelinkdirectory.com, and so on.
3. Your page has anchor text pointing to the page for your targeted keyword greater than 20% as a general rule. Example: if 90% of the links pointing to the page have a targeted keyword as the anchor text, it is possible you may have been penalized by the Penguin update.
4. Use the Panguin tool to see if you have any sudden traffic declines around the times of the Google updates. If your traffic has not recovered, then it is possible your site has been penalized by Penguin.
Google Penguin recovery steps
The following list walks you through the process required to heal a site penalized by Google Penguin. Please note, before you do any of these items, you must be absolutely confident your site has been affected by these updates. If your site has not been penalized by these updates, the below steps could do more harm than good to your site. If you are certain, it is highly recommended you seek professional advice.
1. Export all the backlinks to the page that has been penalized, using your Google Webmaster tools account, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO. Compile all of the links together into an Excel spreadsheet.
Go through and group together the links on spammy domains (e.g. freelinks.tv, seolinksdirectory.com, freeseolinks.com, bizlinks.biz and so on).
2. Visit each of these spammy sites and look for a link removal page. If there is no link removal page, find a contact page and request the site administrator to remove your link from their site. Provide a link to the page in your message to make it easier for the webmaster.
If you cannot locate any contact information for the site, use Domain Whois to find the site owner’s contact details and contact the owner directly.
Document all of these efforts in a spreadsheet with a date, time and outcome.
3. After you have allowed one-to-two weeks for the webmasters to remove the links to your site, find the spammy links for the sites you have not been able to remove and put each of these bad links into a plain text file, with each link placed on a new line.
Log into Google Webmaster Tools and submit these links using the ‘Remove URLs’ page in the ‘Optimization’ section. Again, if you are uncertain about what you are doing, consult a professional SEO otherwise you could risk doing more harm than good.
4. File a reconsideration request in Google Webmaster tools. This should only occur after you have made a very thorough effort to remove your links manually and then disavowed the links through the disavow link tool.
You must submit a request to Google to let them know you believe you have been blocked by the Penguin update, and have gone to great efforts to clean up the link spam.
To do this, visit the following URL after logging into your webmaster tools account:
File a reconsideration request
5. Await response and monitor rankings changes.
As mentioned, recovering from a Google Penguin penalty is not something anybody should do without a base level of professional SEO experience and complete confidence the site has been penalized by the Penguin update.
These steps have been included for those with SEO experience, and to illustrate the steps required to recover from a Penguin penalty.
It is highly recommended you speak with an expert before doing any of the above to attempt to recover from a penalty.
How to seek professional help for free.
Finding the right SEO help can be frustrating for site owners. There is a lot of information to navigate, with varying levels of quality and accuracy. It’s difficult to get in touch with SEO practitioners at the top of their field.
That said, there are sites that can put your questions in front of world-leading experts of almost any topic for free. Use the below sites for highly technical responses, and you can create an army of Internet experts to try to solve your problem for you.
The key to success with the below resources is to be specific. The more specific you are, and the more information you provide, you increase your chances you will receive a detailed answer that will point you in the right direction.
For greater results, post your question on all of the sites below, and sit back and wait for the answers to come in. You will get more answers and will be in a better position to consider which solution is best.
MOZ’s Q&A forums used to be private, but eventually recently released this feature open to the public. Here you can speak with a large number of SEO professionals directly and attract high quality answers to your questions. Great for SEO specific problems.
The Pro Webmasters Q&A board can have your questions answered by webmasters of high-performing sites.
Quora is an all-round Q&A posting board, where you can get a question answered on almost anything. On Quora, questions are often answered by high-profile experts. Marketers, business owners, you name it, there are many leading industry authorities posting answers to questions on Quora.
Created by the founders of Pro Webmasters, Stack Overflow is a community of web developers answering web development related questions. If you have a very technical question related to your site, or if you just want to keep your web developer honest by getting a second opinion, Stack Overflow is a great resource for getting highly technical questions answered.
If your site is built on WordPress, it’s inevitable you will eventually encounter some kind of technical hurdle. The WordPress Answers Q&A board is a great resource to seek out help.
Indexing & SERP Display Problems and Questions
High Rankings Forum
This discussion board on the High Rankings forum is specifically related to users having trouble getting their site to rank in Google. Here you will find answers for tough questions with a fast turnaround time. As is the case with all discussion boards, you can have a lively discussion about any topic, but you should always cross-reference and verify any information you receive.