Emergency SEO: 10 Tips For Getting Back Onto Google Fast!

If your website has suffered a drop in rankings recently don’t panic, read through this guide and get a better picture of what is happening behind the scenes. Prepare yourself for any future search result hiccups with our 10 Emergency SEO First Aid Tips and avoid paying someone else to diagnose the problem.

Assess the damage

Check site:www.yourdomain.com on Google to see if your website is still in the index.

If you see nothing at all or just your homepage then it’s serious – you need to work fast to salvage your online presence, especially if your business is e-commerce. This is a good indication that your site has been banned from the Google index… have you been a naughty boy?

If you see lots of your pages in the Google index then you can breathe a small sigh of relief – it’s unlikely to require surgery, just a course of antibiotics and a bit of physio. Search for your domain name (but without the site: prefix) and if you’re not there you’ve probably had your wrist slapped for dodgy SEO tactics. Consider it a gentleman’s warning that your rankings have plummeted, and you should take the opportunity to fix things as soon as you can. Use tips on managing GMB listings to your advantage.

If you are in both the index and the normal search results, but you’ve still lost significant rankings on quite a few keywords, then it’s likely Google has devalued a bunch of high profile links to your website. Check any under-the-table paid links you might have purchased. If they’re of no value anymore then put the money to better use. Build local citations, as they help Internet users to discover local businesses and can also impact search engine rankings.

Temporary algorithm shift

The search engine algorithms change every couple of days and often a drop in ranking is nothing to worry about. Micro-managing your search positions will just add stress and knee-jerk reactions to your digital marketing, so give it a couple of days to settle unless the drop is significant enough to hit your sales.

Check Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools will show you when your site was last spidered by Googlebot, and any problems it encountered. Investigate any errors to see if it’s indicative of a larger problem with your website. There’s also a chance it might tell you if you’ve been flagged as spam.

Have you changed anything?

Check with your designers and web developers if anything has been recently implemented. Often they roll out new code, page redirects, clever things with user-agents or IP addresses etc. and don’t think the marketing team needed to know. Find out what changed and change it back or fix the offending elements.

Make it your company policy to keep everyone aware of new website developments as a matter of course.

Check if you’ve been penalised as spam

Sometimes this is easy to determine and other times it’s not so obvious. Generally if you see your entire website drop around 30 places in Google’s search results for a number of keywords then it’s a fair assumption you’ve been given a slap on the wrist for gaming the system too aggressively. Stop what you’re doing until things settle; after that take it a bit easier in your grey hat tactics.

However, if Google decides to drop your website from the index entirely you need to act quickly, as getting back into the search results can be a slow burn. SEOmoz suggests asking yourself these questions before trying to diagnose:

  • Has the site been buying or selling links in the past?
  • Has the site ever cloaked or hidden content?
  • Is it possible that someone’s hacked the site?
  • Is the site restricting or redirecting robot access in some way?

If the answer to these is yes, here’s what you need to do:

  • Check Google Webmaster Tools for any penalisation messages
  • Stop cloaking your site (serving different content to humans and search engines)
  • Drop any paid links from your website
  • Cut loose any inbound links from your spammy blogs, microsites, and shady global footer links on your other websites
  • Remove any keyword stuffing or hidden text
  • Make sure your users aren’t bombarded with adsense links disguised as content
  • Request re-inclusion from Google

Check your robots.txt file

It’s entirely possible you’ve restricted the friendly spiders from finding your content. Check www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt for any rules that are too wide. Sometimes you can accidentally restrict all spiders in an attempt to restrict specific spiders and bots like the waybackmachine or third-party scrapers. Google Webmaster Tools has a neat little robot.txt tester so you can develop your spider restrictions in a safe environment before setting them live.


If you’re in an industry where none of the players have a clue about SEO then be ever watchful for them getting clever. It’s easy to think you’ve got the search results dominated if you’re the only one putting any effort into your SEO strategy. A big wake-up call to one of your more formidable competitors could drop your rankings as they enter the game guns blazing.

Duplicate Content

The Google algorithm tries very hard to avoid results that have the same content. It tries to work out the canonical version and places the rest in the supplemental index never to be viewed by the majority of the public. However unlikely, it’s always worth checking if you’re running out of options.

To quote Google directly…

“… If you find that another site is duplicating your content by scraping (misappropriating and republishing) it, it’s unlikely that this will negatively impact your site’s ranking in Google search results pages. If you do spot a case that’s particularly frustrating, you are welcome to file a DMCA request to claim ownership of the content and request removal of the other site from Google’s index …”

You can check by typing this into Google…
"an original sentence from your website" -site:www.yourdomain.com

Devalued inbound links

Only you and your SEO consultant knows if you’ve been a little too happy with your link buying. Check the other sites that get similar links and see if they’ve been hit too – it might be worth cancelling some regularly payment agreements and putting the money to better use like writing original and compelling content.

Whilst kind of difficult to prove, it’s widely understood that the search engines can, and have in the past, decided a particular authority website no longer carries the same level of credibility that it once did.

This is definitely more documented on cases where the inbound links were purchased or rented. Don’t be surprised if swathes of your hard-earned links are suddenly worth far less, especially if you’ve been particularly aggressive in your link building strategy; buying too many at once is a good way to raise red flags.

Hosting/server/domain issues

Coming back to your web developers changing technical things – it can be worth a quick check to see if your site has moved servers, domains or nameservers recently. Whenever you move the site be ready for a thump to your search rankings.

Make sure you redirect anything you leave behind via a 301 permanent redirect: that should pass the vast majority of link juice (page rank) over to the new location and serves as a valuable instruction to the spiders.

In conclusion

A serious drop in rankings is usually down to one of three things…

Someone, somewhere changed something
Find out what was changed and either change it back quickly, or fix it.

You’ve stepped too far into blackhat SEO tactics
Remove as much incriminating material and links as possible, and request re-inclusion.

The environment in which you are competing has changed
Check for savvy newcomers to the rankings, and assess whether any paid links have been devalued.


#1 Marc on 07.09.08 at 3:45 pm

nice run down. I definitely think I will be sending my friends and family this post when the come crying about a small rankings dip. and it happens regularly. :)

#2 SEO Team Reading List 7.9.08 » (EMP) E-Marketing Performance on 07.09.08 at 7:43 pm

[…] Emergency SEO: 10 Tips For Getting Back Onto Google Fast! Like this post? Subscribe to the RSS feed and get lots more! Leave a comment or trackback from your own site. Posted in SEO, Team Reading […]

#3 Kathy on 07.11.08 at 6:31 pm

Thanks David for your calming thoughts. Will definitely keep these in mind next time I panic. :)

#4 Dick on 08.16.08 at 8:03 pm

I am a small time publisher but I have put 3 solid years of infrastructure building (http://www.netysis.com)behind me and pretty much have decided to throw in with google completely. With all of their free tools and them being the biggest SE I cant run the risk of being devalued. That means TLA go away but so be it. I happen to agree with Robin Good on this issue.

#5 David Lindop on 09.04.08 at 4:37 pm

Yeah, many people have done the same Dick. There’s even more pressure if the majority of your sales comes from organic traffic. You gotta decide on the risk vs rewards you’re willing to take.

I think it’s worth throwing Robin a link so people can read up on the context of what you’re saying.

#6 Adi on 02.04.09 at 9:39 pm

Checking the chache in google can help too, you might find your site was unavailable when it was last crawled.

Leave a Comment