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5 Ways to Avoid Making Your Site Lose Rankings

by Rania Kort

 

As a new website owner, it’s important for you to understand the difference between two terms—“SERPS” and “PageRank” —that people often confuse when discussing website ranking. SERPS (short for search engine results pages) refers to how well your site ranks when a consumer searches for a keyword in Google. On the other hand, PageRank is actually a trademark of Google, and it refers to how important and relevant the search engine thinks your site is – websites are graded on a scale from 1-10. Once you’ve worked hard to get your site ranked, you want to prevent your website from losing rankings you've already achieved.

One of the most important aspects of small business SEO is to understand the basics and not get tangled up with all the jargon and detail that can make it complicated. Fortunately, the majority of optimization has to do with common sense, once you have the foundation of what to do and what not to do.

While there is no sure full-proof method to keep your site in good standing, here are a few of the top ways you can avoid inadvertently slipping down in ranking.

1. Be careful of changes to your link structure

One of the most common ways that a site can lose rankings is if you do a site redesign and make any major changes to your link structure without redirecting your old pages to your new pages. A drastic change in the design structure, mostly within the navigation, can hurt your search engine rankings. If you plan to redesign your site and you know that your URLs are going to change, you need to make sure your webmaster makes the appropriate updates, which includes things like updating your site map, and redirecting your old pages to the new ones.  By not doing so, your ranking could be significantly impacted.

2. Avoid website changes that are not search-engine friendly

Many times people make updates to their sites without knowing what the consequences are to the search engines. This is why onsite optimization is important. If you add content or make major changes to your content, it could have an impact on your ranking. Your titles, descriptions, and Meta tags, links and images, must accurately describe your content (with keywords used sparingly throughout your text); if you change the content on the page, be sure to update the meta tags as well to reflect these changes. Do not heavily stuff your text with keywords because that could be considered spamming. When adding new pages to your site, make sure there are text links pointing to the new page; don’t rely solely on graphical navigation buttons, as search engines cannot read the content of images directly. You can easily avoid any changes in your ranking so long as you abide by good small business SEO practices.

3. Understand the penalty for duplicate content

Your ranking in the Google search results will eventually drop if you continually post duplicate content, effectively ruining any small business SEO work in the process. Duplicate content is seen as trying to cheat the search engines. The business model of search engines revolves around bringing the freshest content to its users. You should always make sure the content you post is original, whether it is on your website or content you have submitted to external sites.

4. Avoid participating in link exchanges and backlinks from "bad neighborhoods"

While it’s important to try to increase the number of sites that link back to your website, you shouldn’t encourage spammy links from a bad neighborhood. If you fall for an offer where you pay only a few dollars for a thousand or more links, this is inevitably what you will get. In small business SEO, the quality of the backlinks you receive is much more important than the quantity. By the same token, you should also not post outbound links that are not relevant to your business.

As a general rule, you should avoid getting involved in link exchanges because many SEO companies who do link exchanges have been known to participate in link farms. This was once an effective way to improve a website’s rankings - until Google cracked down and changed its algorithm to "bust" these link farms and penalize the sites that are participating in them. By participating in link farming now, you can get your site banned from Google because Google considers that spamming, and the search engine’s objective is to only reward high quality sites and content.

5. Make sure you understand the difference between White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO practices are tactics that are in violation of Google's “Quality Guidelines”. Sometimes these practices are done out of lack of knowledge, other times they are done by people who want to trick the search engines to gain an opportunity. Google in many ways has now become the "law enforcement" on the internet and in a sense these quality guidelines have become the law. So make sure you understand these guidelines, because violating them can hurt you.

In some cases though, you cannot avoid making your site lose rankings because Google’s algorithm periodically changes – this is why it’s so important to stay on top of all the changes as they happen. However, the above tips will help keep you from being permanently sandboxed, especially when it comes to making sure you’re always practicing good small business SEO.  

It is also important to note that the age of your domain name is a significant factor in how well your site ranks – in both SERPS and Google PageRank. Established, aged domains tend to receive both consistent and higher rankings because they have already proven to the search engines that they are in demand. Newer domains will find it more difficult to rank for search terms, as well as maintain high rankings until they consistently show Google that they intend to practice good small business SEO, and regularly post unique content. 

New websites also go through a phenomenon commonly referred to as the Google dance – this is just a fancy way of saying that the site ranking dramatically fluctuates throughout the first several months. This isn’t a bad sign, so try to worry less about your rank in the beginning, and more about the quality of your website. 

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