Every so often, I personally experience, or sometimes hear about, changes deriving from algorithmic search engine updates that can affect a Web site's traffic in a big way.
When in that position, it's not the time to panic. Listed below are the most common symptoms that will likely come from the executive branch within your company.
- Shock, what happened? Even though they know this is almost impossible to answer, this is always the first question.
- When will the traffic return? This question is even more comical because you have no control over the search engine.
- Get a hold of someone there, we pay an arm and a leg for pay-per-click traffic, and they will fix this! This demand usually shows up about four to five days in, when the loss starts to sink in. Especially since you will get nowhere talking to your paid search representative, who in most cases has little or no idea what might be wrong or who to contact within the company.
- Reverse all the changes recently made on the site, that will fix it! This is one of the most common mistakes made today. A small database sync glitch on the search engine's side could remove a site temporarily, and by making massive changes, it might look like you have fixed the issue. But what you have really done is set yourself back with months of work while the search engine repairs itself. This is what I call chasing your own tail.
Now that we have addressed some of the concerns that will pop up, let's talk about how to deal with them. First and most importantly, do not freak out. If you panic, everyone else will start to panic, and it will only get worse. Damage control should be your number-one priority.
Send out emails to everyone who could possibly react quickly and rationally, explaining the problem. Don't be afraid to tell them you do not know the exact answer, but you are working to find and understand the problem. Make sure you understand the exact financial impact of the situation and be ready to answer questions about the loss quickly and directly. Even though they will ignore it and go right back to asking silly questions, inform them in advance that these are areas that we cannot control. We are doing our best to understand the exact problem and want to address any possible risk of making further changes.Possible Recourse
Here are a few ideas for possible recourse. Depending on which search engine you are dealing with, potential fixes for each problem can be vast. I could write for hours and not give you enough information for every would-be problem. But, check the basics, anyway.
- Is your site performing any differently than it was before (i.e., latency)?
- Are there any strange errors in your server's log files? Check for a massive surge of 404s, which is "page not found" or 503 "server is busy," which is a sign that you have too much traffic for your site to handle. It may be time to upgrade and add more capacity.
Check your project scope for upcoming projects to see if there are any good-sized projects with a high possible outcome. Sometimes, a simple cleanup of the site is in order to fix an algorithmic update. But don't go to crazy with these changes, you could wind up making it worse if you cannot measure what might have helped to recover the traffic.
Get out there and read. Check the popular forums for information about other webmasters experiencing the same thing. They tend to share what they did to fix it, and you can learn how this was handled elsewhere.Get a Grip
Then, what I most commonly see, is that traffic magically starts to come back, and things settle down. I personally can understand the stress of losing massive amounts of traffic and having a dozen top executives asking very uncomfortable questions, all at the same time. Hang in there, and it will all work itself out.