Most websites have been there one time or another - suddenly your organic traffic has dried up because your rankings have taken a mysterious nosedive. Although you might want to just hide under your desk and give into a full-blown panic attack, before you start thinking about throwing in the towel and resigning yourself to keyword ranking destruction, take a moment to go through this easy-to-follow checklist to see if you can identify where the problem lies.
Check Google Webmaster Tools for Penalties
The first and most obvious problem is that your site has managed to win itself the lovely gift that keeps on giving in the worst possible way - a google penalty. In order to find out if this is the case, go into your Google Webmaster tools. Here you can find whether or not you have a penalty and can begin to understand what steps you're going to have to take to address it.
Navigate over to the "All Messages" tab. If you don't see anything, then luckily your issue doesn't lie with a google penalty and we can move on to the next step. If you do, follow the steps outlined here to begin fixing your rankings.
Check Your Indexation Rate
Since we're already in Google Webmaster Tools, take a second to check the indexation rate of your domain to see if anything has drastically changed.
Check Google Analytics for Traffic
Go into Google Analytics and navigate your way over to the "Acquisition" tab. From there, go to "Channels" and sort by dimension. Using the date range, do a month over month or year over year comparison to make sure that there isn't anything funny going on with the amount of direct or referral traffic your website is getting.
It is really easy to assume that your organic rankings have tanked when you suddenly notice that your website has had a traffic drop-off, but taking the time to make sure that you haven't lost an important referral link or that a PPC ad has randomly stopped running is also definitely worth checking out so that you don't attribute your traffic loss to the wrong source.
Look at Your Landing Pages
Now that we're in Google Analytics, another good strategy is to take a look at your landing pages and do a month over month or year over year comparison of your most popular pages. If you see any drastic changes in the amount of traffic on one of those pages, you may have found your problem.
A great way to figure out how or why a certain landing page has tanked in rankings or traffic is to do a link analysis for that individual landing page to make sure there is no negative SEO affecting it, if so, make sure to disavow any links that may be negatively affecting that page. Another great step is to use a tool like Moz's Page Grader to see how the page can be better optimized for SERPs.
Double Check Your SiteMap
If you still haven't been able to find the issue, it's time to move on from Analytics to your sitemap. If your .xml sitemap is no longer being indexed, your site will basically become the equivalent of Harry Potter's invisible cloak - scouring the halls of the internet without anyone being able to see you.
To fix this, make sure that the .xml is being indexed in Google Webmaster Tools. In webmaster tools, navigate to your domain and then click on "Crawl." In the drop down menu you'll see an option for "Sitemaps." Clicking on this will show you the sitemap(s) on your site and will allow you to see any errors that webmaster tools might be encountering when crawling your domain.
Check your Robots.txt File
Another great step you can take is to double check your robots.txt file. If you are conducting tests on your website it is often easy to forget that you set certain pages to "noindex" - effectively removing them from Google's search results. Checking your robots.txt file will let you verify what pages you may still have blocked and fix accordingly. If the file is set to block one of your most popular landing pages, this can often be responsible for huge drops in organic traffic and is a fairly easy fix to make.
Check Your Individual Pages for NoIndex Tags
Just because a page isn't blocked by your robots.txt file doesn't necessarily mean that it is being crawled by Google. Another problem may lie in the code of the page itself. Go through each one of your pages and check to make sure that there are no NoIndex tags in the header code of the page.
Doing a quick inspect element of the page and using ctrl + f to search for "noindex" is a quick way to check your most important pages for this. If you identified any pages through your analytics earlier on in this checklist that looked a bit off, that may be an indicator that those pages are suffering from this issue, so definitely double check that they don't have noindex tags on them.
Losing your traffic and organic rankings can be absolutely terrifying. Keeping your wits about you and checking all of these common problems will more often than not help you identify, and ultimately solve, your SEO nightmares.
What was your worst SEO scare? How did you fix it? Let us know in the comments section below or by tweeting us @BFMweb!