Scottish bazillionaire Brian Souter made headlines this week when he pointedly accused Google of censoring him because his site dropped in the SERPs. Said Sir Brian, “It’s not Google’s place to decide which sites we can see and those we can’t.”
These complaints happen every day, actually; stop by the Google Webmaster Forum and pick one of the dozens threads accusing Google of arbitrarily penalizing or deindexing a site. They surface daily. Most of these complaints don’t get this kind of exposure, though.
The common theme in the majority of the complaints seems to be that webmasters haven’t looked at their site objectively in an effort to determine what they might have done to cause the issue. Often, the problems are obvious and fixable.
Timing and Bite of the Evil Panda
Sir Brian fell back several pages in the SERPs on August 13. Souter claimed that his site had “mysteriously disappeared,” but he still had 46 pages indexed, so he hadn’t been removed by Google.
Is it any coincidence that Google officially launched Panda internationally on August 12, the day before Sir Souter’s ranking dropped? I think not.
Until yesterday, you could find an exact duplicate of Souter’s site at www.briansouter.com.14feb-youth.com/; it was removed sometime overnight.
Image Credit: Attach Media
Your Baby is Ugly
No one wants to hear it, I know, it’s cruel. But it is what it is. Souter’s site is clunky, old, and not user-friendly at all.
In the generation of me, what are you doing to attract me, your reader, to your site and make it easy for me to find what I’m looking for, Sir Brian?
You have all of this information about Stagecoach in different links within your Profile page, but I had no idea it was there until I actually visited the Profile page. A dropdown menu on the main navigation would give me some clue as to what your site contains and why I should want to stay and keep reading.
Few Backlinks & Social Presence Lacking
Your website isn’t a billboard; you can’t just stick it up and leave it for 10 years and hope for the best. Millions of others are making an effort to meet the needs of their audience and stay current.
The online landscape is constantly changing and webmasters have to make at least some semblance of an effort to keep up… even if they feel entitled because of who they are.
Rankings Dropped? What You Should Do First
If your ranking has suddenly dropped or you believe it might have been removed from Google’s index, do at least the following things before throwing on your tinfoil hat and assuming the Intrawebz are out to get you:
- Do a Google search for site:yourwebsite.com with your URL to see if your site is still indexed. If you get results, you haven’t been removed; your ranking has dropped for some reason. If you’ve been removed, you need to find out why and apply for re-inclusion at Webmaster Central once you’ve cleaned up your problem.
- Do a Google search for “yourwebsite.com” with your URL in quotations. You should be in the top 10 results. If your site appears back on page four or five, you have most likely been penalized by Google.
- Have you a bought or exchanged links?
- Have you hired or otherwise allowed someone else to make changes to your site, and do you understand what they did? If you were ranking really well for a time and suddenly dropped, you need to find out if they were using black hat tactics such as cloaking on your site.
- Look at your site objectively. Better yet, have someone else go over it for you. Are you giving Google the information it needs to crawl and rank your site for the terms you’re after? Is your site easy to navigate and user friendly? Be honest, the only person you’re hurting by wearing blinders is yourself.
Sir Brian Souter released a statement this morning asking webmasters to contact him if their sites have been blocked by Google, seemingly unaware that his own site, in fact, isn’t blocked at all. Is he ever in for a treat!
I suspect he’s about to get a flood of emails, 95 percent of which will be from webmasters whose sites were legitimately penalized or removed for things they could simply fix. It’s always easier to throw the problem in someone else’s lap than to admit that yes, your baby is, in fact, ugly.