This will be the first article in a format I like to call, “Case in Point,” where I present a specific, real-life scenario of success or failure on the web (the “Case”) and then the take-home lesson to be learned from it (the “Point”).

Case: Bloggasm and the Google Roller Coaster

On March 25, 2008, I saw a frantic post over on Bloggasm, one of my favorite independent news blogs, about a sudden drop in Google rankings and traffic. Simons Owens and I are friends, so I decided to offer my expertise. What followed was a lot of analysis, theorizing, and more than a little consoling.

I started where any good SEO should with the header response codes. Simon mentioned that he had recently upgraded his WordPress installation, so something could have happened to hinder spidering of the site. Everything looked fine until I discovered a 412 error for Googlebot 2.1. This sent up a red flag. Luckily, Simon trusted me enough to give me access to his Google Webmaster Tools, where I confirmed that Google wasn’t seeing any crawl errors. A more thorough crawl of the site revealed almost no problems at all.

Much like a clean bill of health from a physician, this should have been good news, except that Bloggasm’s rankings were still languishing. As Simon continued to panic, I advised that he should calm down and wait a few weeks. After all, common wisdom in SEO circles is that this sort of dance happens all the time due to algorithmic changes; all you can really do is wait for the rankings to return. If you’ve got a good site with quality content and you aren’t doing anything shady, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

That was the expert in me talking, but the friend in me wanted to provide more of an explanation. So, I performed some more analysis, theorizing that the site might now be seen as adult in nature due to some of Simon’s more risque post titles. I looked for evidence of paid linking and large-scale update news in the forums. I grasped for any explanation that seemed plausible, but all of them inevitably fell flat.

In the end, I gave up on over analyzing the situation and stuck with my original advice. If there’s nothing apparently wrong with the site, there’s nothing to worry about. Just relax and wait for the rankings to return.

On April 9, 2008, a little over two weeks after Bloggasm’s rankings plummeted, Simon emailed me with the good news that they had mysteriously returned. In fact, according to Simon, they’ve been higher than ever.

Point: Don’t Panic

In this case, common SEO wisdom was well-founded. Search engine rankings may suddenly drop for short periods of time only to return as if nothing happened. The important thing is not to panic. Take a careful look at your website and ensure that it doesn’t violate any of Google’s quality guidelines. If you don’t feel confident enough in your technical abilities to do this, have an expert look for you. If nothing is amiss and you know you aren’t doing anything to game the system, just relax and let the search engines work it out. Like a lost puppy to a loving owner, your rankings come back to you.

I’ll conclude with some words of wisdom that I shared with Simon early in his ordeal:

“Patience and strategy are the name of the game. Take a deep breath and accept that you may be suffering without ever having done anything wrong… It’s just how things work; as you say, Google is fickle. The important thing is that you keep writing good, organic content that people want to link to. If you do that, your blog’s success will grow despite these bumps in the road.”

Note: After writing this post, I helped Simon through some WordPress difficulties as well. In all fairness, then, a more appropriate title might have been the “First” Great Bloggasm Panic of ’08. 😉

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