A significant or sudden drop in search rankings is the worst nightmare scenario for most website owners, and can be a frightening thing – particularly if your site relies heavily on organic rankings for traffic and sales.
If you have inadvertently (or intentionally) used some “optimisation” techniques on your website that are outside the Search Engine Guidelines, there is a real chance that your site may be penalised – and this could result in significant drops in your rankings, or your pages may be dropped from search results completely.
If you carry out regular rank reporting on your site, this rankings drop should show up fairly quickly. But a significant drop in the number of visitors to your site – and ultimately, a drop in inquiries or sales – are all symptoms of search penalties being applied.
If you have your site listed with Google Webmaster Tools they may (but will not always) notify that there is an issue with your site. A Webmaster tools notification will also usually give yiou an indication on what the problem is.
It is very important that you do something about it as soon you become aware of an issue. The longer you delay – the more significant the impact is likely to be on your site and online business.
What Can I do?
The first step is to identify why your site was penalised in the first place, and this is not always easy. If Google has indicated an issue in Webmaster Tools – they are usually pretty good at explaining what the problem is. The issue may not necessarily be related to recent changes to your site, it could actually be caused as a result of changes applied quite some time ago, – and only just discovered by the search engines – or as a result of a recent change in the Search Engine Ranking algorithms.
If you are not sure what the problem is – consulting the relevant Search Engine Guidelines is a good place to start. Whilst these guidelines don’t necessarily list everything that could be penalised – they do cover many of the most common issues.
Once you’ve identified the problem – fix it, update your site – and submit a reinclusion request.
What is a Reinclusion request – and how do I submit one?
These days, (according to Matt Cutts) Google likes to refer to a reinclusion request, as a “reconsideration request”. A reinclusion request asks Google to review your site and consider removing any potential spam penalty.
The official Google documentation on how to file a reconsideration request is here: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35843.
When submitting a request, Google wants to know two things:
- that any spam on the site is gone or fixed, and
- that it’s not going to happen again.
Matt Cutts suggests giving a short explanation of what you think happened: what actions may have led to any penalties and what corrective action that you’ve taken to prevent any spam in the future. The video (below) created by the Google Search Quality team provides some good tips on requesting reconsideration.
How Long will it take ?
Once you have identified the problem, fixed it, and submitted your reinclusion request to Google, how will it take before your site starts to show up in the listings again, and will it achieve the same rankings as it did before?
That depends largely on when Google reviews the request, and on the type of spam penalty that has been applied. In our experience though Google is usually very responsive to reinclusion requests – and your site could start appearing again within days, although don’t’ be surprised if you do not see any changes for 2-3 weeks. If your site has not reappeared within 3-4 weeks, you should take a closer look at the webmaster guidelines, and seek advice from a reputable and professional SEO agency.