If you’ve ever experienced your search rankings drop you know the sinking feeling that something is wrong. Lost traffic, diminishing phone calls, and confusion as to why you aren’t ranking where you were in search can all be very stressful in the highly competitive legal niche.
If you’ve lost or are losing your hard-won Google search traffic, here are some common causes and tips on getting it back.
Step 1: Rule out the obvious
There’s no sense in going through long and tedious recovery processes if the solution to your rankings problem is simple. Here are some simple things to check first:
- Is your robots file configured to stop search engines from crawling your site?
- Are there meta tags on your site causing search engines not to crawl your pages?
- Is your site reachable? Does it have DNS issues or can you reach it on networks other than your own?
- Do you have any redirects in place and if so are they working correctly?
- Have you recently moved your site and/or changed your URLs? If so were proper redirects implemented?
These are all simple technical glitches that can cause your site to be de-indexed or lose rankings and can be corrected quickly.
If you do a search for “lost Google rankings and how to fix” you will find advice on fixing stuff. Before you tear your hair out looking for issues that may not exist, you need to know exactly why your site is losing ground in search.
Google penalties: Manual and algorithmic
Barring any obvious technical misconfigurations, a penalty from Google could be the culprit.
In general, there are two types of penalties:
- Manual: a Google employee manually demoted your site
- Algorithmic: an algorithm (not a human) decided your site was doing something wrong and downgraded it in search
Checking a manual penalty
Manual penalties are accompanied by a message in your Search Console account. You can check in Google Search Console for messages from Google telling you if there are issues with your domain. If your site is not setup in Google Search Console, you can learn how to do it here.
Otherwise, log into Search Console, click on the site you want to manage and then click on messages. If there are messages related to manual penalties from Google, they will be in here.
Fix: For manual penalties, there is usually a straight forward 2-part process:
- Undo whatever it was that Google said you did wrong
- Ask Google to take the penalty off after the fix is complete
There are more steps in the process to recovering a site from a manual penalty, but that’s the overview. Most manual penalties come from violating Google’s quality guidelines related to links or content.
Lawyers should do their absolute best to remove bad links or take down harmful content and then submit a reconsideration request to Google with as much documentation as possible on why the offense happened and what was done to correct it.
Here’s an example of a successful response from Google in Search Console:
Checking an algorithmic penalty
Algorithmic penalties are much harder to identify (mostly because Google does not send a message telling you it happened). That being said, algorithmic penalties that cause steep drops in traffic typically only occur when a website owner was up to no good. If you have been doing any of the following you could have been hit with Google’s Penguin or Panda algorithmic penalties.
- Buying large amounts of bad links
- Building large quantities of bad links
- Over optimization of anchor text
- Producing low-quality content duplicated from other sources online or using spinning tools
For Google’s algorithms to target your site for these offenses, they need to be happening on a large scale.
Fix: The solution for algorithmic penalties is the same as for manual except you do not have to submit a reconsideration request.
Go to work undoing the tasks that done to your site. If there were bad links built to your domain, reach out to those website owners and ask them to remove the links. For those links that you cannot get taken down, you can prepare and submit a list of links to disavow.
Once you have taken steps to clean up your site (and all other things being equal), your rankings should return to normal.
Other causes of position change
- Outranked by competition. A competitor could have simply started outranking you for your keyword phrases. Aggressive competition is especially prevalent in the legal industry.
- Negative SEO. Another common occurrence in the legal industry is negative SEO. Negative SEO is where massive amounts of spammy links are pointed at a competitor’s domain intentionally. Checking your link profile on a regular basis is a good way to learn of sketchy behavior. Disavowing those links should fix the issue.
- Loss of links. Links are not permanent and can be lost over time. Editorial links typically stick around but links made from campaigns, social media, etc. have the potential to be lost more frequently.