If you’ve seen your store’s organic traffic fall since Google’s big changes, don’t feel down. Here’s a quick, five-step to-do list to get your store back on the SEO track.
As a storeowner, it’s important to regularly review your streams of traffic. You want to be in the know if any channels are growing or declining at an unusual rate, especially when it comes to your organic traffic.
With all the changes Google has been making, there’s a good chance your site’s organic traffic has been flip-flopping. But if you’ve noticed a steady decline in organic traffic, it may be due to negative off-page or on-page factors. Luckily, many of these factors can be fixed.
Here are five steps you need to take when assessing why your site may have taken an organic traffic hit:
1. Review Webmaster Tools
Google’s Webmaster Tools (WMT) is the first place to look, and the most obvious place to look to identify any “actions” Google may have taken against your site.
To check if you’ve received any actions, log-in to Google Webmaster Tools and click in the left navigation to Search Traffic > Manual Actions.
You may see any number of notices, including (in order of best case scenario to worst case scenario):
If you have no manual action, but still see a big decline in organic traffic: Move onto step 2.
If you see a manual action: Check if it applies as a “partial match” or a “site wide match.” Partial matches are less harmful to your traffic, as they normally affect just the page(s) involved; whereas a site wide match affects the entire site.
Within the depth of the action (“partial” or “site wide”), you’ll see why Google is taking action. Reasons may include:
- Unnatural links to your site
- Unnatural links from your site
- A hacked site
- Thin content with little or no value
- Pure spam
- User-generated spam
- Cloaking or sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or keyword stuffing
- Spammy freehosts
(You can learn more in this Google WMT article.)
Recovering from any of those reasons will be a long and hard journey. You’ll need to prove to Google that your site is no longer participating in spammy SEO tactics, and that you’re committed to ethical and Google-approved SEO tactics.
For this reason, if you see an action, do not immediately click ‘Reconsider’ or ‘Request a review.’ Instead, wait to ask Google to reconsider your site until you review their Webmaster Guidelines to ensure your website adheres to them; if your site doesn’t, make the appropriate changes and then ask for reconsideration. If you haven’t changed anything about the spammy links pointing to your site, or the “thin content” on your pages, Google will not change their view of your site and may not as closely reconsider your site when you do make the appropriate changes.
2. Review your website’s backlink profile
Even if your site shows “no manual action” in WMT, it’s still imperative to review inbound links to prevent any manual action in the future. Likewise, if Webmaster Tools shows that you do have unnatural links to your site, you need to review your links to fix the current action against your store.
To review your links in WMT, navigate to Search Traffic > Links to your site.
Here are two questions you need to ask when reviewing your links:
1. What does your Who links the most section say?
Does one website have an abnormally high amount of links to your site? Do you have a good amount of websites linking to you? Do these websites look like reputable sources or are they websites like “freeseolinks.com” and “rankhigh.com”? Visit some of the top domains showing up here; if they look like link farms or spammy sites, you probably do not want them linking to you.
If you see one domain linking to your site 100s (or 1000s) of times, and it’s only linked to one page, that’s a red flag. Especially if it’s a spammy site where it doesn’t make sense for them to link to you. However, this is an imperfect system – it may not always be negative that 1 domain is linking to 1 page on your site 100s of times.
So be sure to download your latest links – every webmaster should do this regularly. You may have a clean backlink profile now, but competitors could be performing negative SEO against you and you want to catch spammy links back to your site as soon as possible.
2. Are the links good or bad?
A good link comes from a site within your vertical or niche. It’s a natural link, someone sharing a product or information that’s important to them with others
A bad link is a link for the sake of a link. It may be in an irrelevant syndication site, or even a paid link on a non-vertical high ranking website. A bad link may come from a website that is full of links.
If you’ve determined you have spammy or potentially harmful links, Matt Cutts (head of Google webspam) recommends contacting the harmful domains and asking them to remove the link to your site. Document these efforts, and if your website isn’t removed from their site, submit a disavow file to Google.
3. Check if your site has duplicate content
Take copy from category, article and product pages and paste it into Google. Is it appearing elsewhere? If so, Google may be penalizing your website for thin and duplicate content. If you have copied content from a competitor or another source online, delete the duplicate content from your site and write your own unique version.
Note: We know it’s hard to avoid using manufacturer description for product pages. We still advise every single page (and product page) has completely unique content; you may use the manufacturer content as a guideline and add to it with your own words. (i.e. “5” x 7” acacia wood picture frame” becomes “This gorgeous dark acacia wood picture frame is sized 5” x 7”; the perfect size to display memories beautifully”)
4. Monitor top organic landing pages
In Google Analytics, compare organic (non-paid) landing page data pre-traffic decline and post-traffic decline. Look for any trends: Are there any product pages that suffered a strong decline? (Maybe you need to restock that item.) Or category pages of a similar theme? (Your competition may be getting stronger, or you may have stopped promoting that area of your website.)
5. Look at your site metrics and design
User experience influences how Google perceives and presents your site in search results. So check on the following areas when helping your site recover:
- Bounce rate: Do certain pages on your site experience a high bounce rate? What is your home page’s bounce rate compared with category pages? Your home page should generally have one of the lowest bounce rates of any page of your site, so if it’s significantly higher, you may be bringing unqualified traffic. Google may see that as a negative sign, and demote you accordingly. (You should also reevaluate the keywords used on your website as they are bringing the wrong type of traffic!)
- Robots.txt file: Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of pages on your site that don’t add much value (like the My Account, Order Status, View Cart, etc.) pages
- Dynamic content pages: if you use a content management system, ensure the pages created are crawlable by the search engines
- Dynamically created pages: does your site utilize dynamic pages (pages with a ? in the URL)? These pages are not always indexed by Google.
- Ads: do you utilize a lot of advertorials on your site? Block them in robots.txt so it doesn’t interfere with the search engine’s understanding of your page
- Mobile-friendly: can your website be accessed easily on a mobile device?
Even if you haven’t taken an organic traffic hit, we recommend consistently reviewing your links and on-page content to prevent any negative actions against your site.
Furthermore, think about diversifying your online marketing strategy. As Google blends their search results to include more paid results (like PPC and Shopping ads) and personalized results, organic listings are pushed further down the search results page. Even if your search engine optimization strategy is quality, you may still lose organic traffic.