Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.
After Suffering Link Trouble, Should You Second-Guess Your SEO?
If you’ve just received an unnatural links warning or have been hit with a link-related penalty (or totally shafted by the latest algorithm update), should you expand the scope of your attempted fix beyond links? Absolutely, and here’s why:
I’ve Never Seen A Link-Penalized Site That Had Nothing Else Wrong
Even if it’s something small, it’s there. The most common question these clients ask me is, “How come I did so well before if all this other stuff was messed up?” And my answer is that sometimes links, no matter how dangerous, can hide a multitude of sins. You can’t quickly rank a site with amazing title tags and nothing else, but you can rank it very quickly with links.
That’s certainly not to say those links won’t hurt you later, or that those rankings will last — but a lot of sites that were built years ago have sailed through algorithm changes with very little upset, and those rankings have lasted. If everything is going well, why bother digging in to fix something that isn’t yet broken?
Here’s the thing: when you file a reconsideration request, for example, you’re stating that your site no longer violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines — and that includes more than just links.
What if you have some old hidden text in there, or you have a page saturated with irrelevant keywords?
I dealt with a site recently where they’d moved almost everything to a new structure, yet forgot about 20 of the pages and left them orphaned. The only way you could get to them was through a direct path that you knew, as they weren’t found in the new navigation or site map.
Those types of pages used to be used (in some cases) for blackhat purposes — but in this case, it was just simple forgetfulness that caused them to remain live. These didn’t appear to be hurting the site (yet) but if they did find themselves in the position of having to do some link cleanup and file a reconsideration request, would they fail because of something like this? I truly don’t know — but these days, nothing is all that farfetched.
If You’re Not Absolutely Current On SEO, Might You Be Missing Something?
Even the most seasoned of SEO professionals knows that simply keeping up with best practices is very time-consuming. I live and breathe SEO, but as someone with a primary focus on link building, there are many times when I refer something out because it’s too far outside of my knowledge. There’s just no way that I can keep up with everything that’s recommended, or know exactly what needs to be implemented in which cases.
If you are in control of SEO for a site but you aren’t an actual SEO, I cannot even imagine how you could keep up. Thus, chances are high some part of your site could violate Google’s current Webmaster Guidelines, even if it’s by accident.
That’s why, as painful as it is, any link warning or penalty is the perfect time to start looking over everything that you have — not just your backlink profile Don’t make the mistake of thinking that simply cleaning up some bad links will totally solve your problem. Maybe it will — but while you’re looking under the hood, you ought to check everything else out.
While You’re Fixing, Why Not Improve?
Even if you’re not actually violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it’s good to take the opportunity to fix issues or make SEO improvements your site. Maybe you aren’t yet using authorship, but you have personally authored 150 blog posts on your site. Maybe you haven’t implemented any Schema on the site. Maybe you have never even 301-redirected the non-www version of your site to the www version, and you’re running both as 200.
Something doesn’t have to be an actual violation of the guidelines to need to be fixed or implemented — and doing so will help ensure that you bounce back stronger than ever.
I’ve inherited enough messes to know that not every link builder looks beyond links. They often aren’t being tasked with that, of course, and I’ve certainly dealt with my share of clients that don’t want to hear anything from me if it’s not link-related — even if it’s something that really needs to be fixed ASAP.
“You know you’re running a copy of the main site on 3 different subdomains of the site and your dev site is being indexed and that’s quite bad, right?”
Advice like that often falls on deaf ears, especially when the client was ranking well before. Why such good rankings prior to the link warning, despite so many SEO problems? Because you got lucky.
Take A Look At Your Site, No Matter How You’re Ranking
See if you’re doing anything that might have been acceptable when it was originally done, but is frowned upon or dangerous today. See if there’s something more that you could be doing that might improve your visibility.
Obviously, as a link builder, I’d have the opinion that links aren’t always to blame — but even when they are to blame, there’s usually a lot more that’s wrong with the site.
(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.