Whether you agree or not, Google is the lord and master of the Web. With its dominant market share among the search engines, Google can give you massive amounts of traffic — for free. Unless your website has a strong brand presence with loads of direct and referral traffic or you have more than a million fans on Facebook, chances are that you will be relying a whole lot on Google to get traffic for your website.
However, it is important to remember this cardinal rule: Google can give – and take away – any traffic it gives you. As one poster wrote recently on a webmaster’s forum:
“My websites (5 of them) were hit on Dec. 20. No error notification in Google Webmaster Tools, no any kind of warnings. Everything was just fine over the whole year, and now: PUFF! And the secret reason is known only to Google”
If Google sends you 100,000 visits per month, there is always the probability that that number could shrink to 10,000 a month (if you’re lucky). If Google throws a hissy fit at you, that number could even shrink to 100 a month — and that could spell the end of your Web business. With Web traffic down, income from your ecommerce sales or advertising revenues will drastically fall as well — unless you find other sources of traffic or spend thousands advertising to compensate for the loss of Google traffic.
With Google holding 67% of the search engine market, with Bing 18% and Yahoo 11% (per Comscore’s November 2013 U.S. Search Engine Rankings), the bulk of your search engine traffic will come from Google. You need to be always on the good side with Google, and that means closely following its webmaster guidelines and diligently obeying its commandments.
However, even if you think you’re following their guidelines closely, Google could think differently and find that you are violating something and hit you hard either by their algorithm or manual penalty. The worst part of it is when you don’t even know what Google found on your site to be so offensive as to stop your website from showing in their search results for your main or even all of your keywords.
Why Use Google Webmaster’s Tool
Thus, it is essential to know the pulse and thinking of Google with regards to your website. If you have a website, you must have a Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) account. Many small and home business owners are not aware of GWT, and as such, they are left in the dark as to how Google views their website.
Google communicates with the website owners only through GWT, and will use GWT to let you know whether they find something wrong with your website. Ok, they won’t really tell you everything — you can see your Google traffic fall off even without any warnings or messages in GWT — but the data and charts you will see can give you clues as to how Google thinks about your site.
The Index Status tells you how many of your pages Google has indexed. You’d want to see this chart going up, and not going down. If Google has reduced the number of pages they’ve indexed on your site from 20,000 to 10,000, chances are you would have felt its impact with the massive loss of traffic on your website.
You can also use GWT to submit your sitemap to Google to let it know of your site’s pages. Understand though, that just because you submitted a sitemap, it’s not a guarantee that Google will actually get all your pages and put it in their index. The sitemap is just a tool for Google to know what pages are in your site; whether they use it or not is solely at their discretion.
Google uses GWT to send a message to you, when they find an increase in authorization permission errors, or that Googlebot can’t access your site, or whether it has found unnatural inbound links.
A warning message in GWT means that Google has found something that it does not like in your website – and depending on the severity of the message — it is just a matter of time before you will see your traffic tanking. It is NEVER a good idea to ignore Google messages — you need to act on it, and fix the problem as soon as you can. If you don’t Google will continue to send you messages about the problem — oftentimes at an interval of one per week. After 3 to 4 messages and the problem still remains (whether due to your refusal to work on it or you simply don’t know how to fix the problem), you’ll start seeing your traffic go down. You don’t want to wait for that, so you really need to work on the issue as soon as you see it.
Of course, your site could get hit by it algorithm and one of the animal updates (Panda or Penguin update) and you won’t find any messages in GWT. However, you will see it in Google Analytics (or any of the analytics tool that you use) as traffic will drop precipitously (anywhere from 40-80% or more) as soon as the Google update is released. For this type of traffic drops, you need to follow webmaster forums, Twitter or any SEO blogs to see news of Google update. Match the dates they say the update was released with the drop of your traffic to determine if your site was hit by that update or not.
You can even file reconsideration request in GWT and beg Google for forgiveness and mercy, and sometimes you will be rewarded with the message “Manual spam action revoked” and see your traffic climb back up. But sometimes, no matter how many reconsideration requests you send, your Google traffic never comes back up to its previous levels.
How to Minimize the Risk of Losing Google Traffic
The loss of organic Google traffic could be like a drop from the precipice (when yesterday your website had 10,000 vists, then the next only 500 visits) or a slow, gradual decline.
If your analytics looks like a drop from the cliff, check the buzz on various webmasters forum or Twitter to see if people are talking about an update. If they are, then your website was hit. If your site was hit by Panda, then it means Google thinks your content is thin or low quality. If your site was hit by Penguin, Google did not like the links to your website. Your next move will depend on the right diagnosis of what hit your website.
If your analytics is showing a gradual decline in Google traffic, your website has some technical errors that Google does not like. You may have some canonical problems, increase in authorization permission errors, or big jump in duplicate meta tags.
To minimize the risk of losing your Google traffic, start by getting a Google Webmaster Tools account (also, don’t forget Bing Webmaster Tools account). Check your account regularly — daily is even better (you need to be able to act fast and fix the problem before Google gets really mad at you). Seeing a message in GWT scares the bejesus out of me. Never ignore messages in GWT: traffic can drop quickly, but even if you’ve fixed the problem, Google takes its sweet time before its indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the “clean” status of your site (think 6 months or more).
Start fixing the problems you can identify. If the issue is about low quality content, block the indexing and crawling of all the low quality content. Rewrite them, if you can, or just purge them from your website. If the problems are the links to your site, use GWT or tools such as Majestic SEO to find low quality links, and file a disavow tool.
However, the best thing to minimize the lose of Google organic traffic is not to rely on Google as the biggest source of your traffic. If Google accounts for 80% of your traffic, you are dead meat if you are hit with an algorithm change. Bring that percentage down, and develop other sources of traffic. Build up your newsletter subscribers count, and email them regularly about new products or new content. Develop your social media presence — if you reach that million Facebook fans, you won’t even care about Google traffic because the traffic coming from Facebook will dwarf what you get from Google. Build awesome content so it could go viral, or at least generate referral links that could bring traffic to your website as well.
The less your online business depends on the free organic traffic that Google provides, the less risk you will have when Google changes its view on your site.
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