"I'll be sitting on top of the world
When It All Goes Wrong Again"
- Everclear "When It All Goes Wrong Again"
There is a strong experimental element to search engine optimization research and failure is a frequent byproduct of testing out new ideas and techniques. An SEO will try something new on a "research site" and might realize that the experiment hasn't succeeded when the site disappears from the search engines. Losing a test website in a laboratory environment isn't a big deal to an SEO…it is part of an ongoing educational process that insures clients receive the best possible results for their investment (since ethical SEO's NEVER use client sites for such experiments).
On the other hand, having your corporate website vanish from the search engines is an extremely serious event that could have major ramifications on your revenues. If this happens to you, don't grieve … take immediate action. As bad at it seems initially, it need not be the end of the world--- over the long term, many businesses have gained strength and versatility after dealing with such a catastrophe.
What should you do reestablish your Internet presence if your company's website swan dives out of cyberspace?
1) Make sure you know what caused the calamity.
Sometimes, your site will disappear from the search engines due a technical issue such as an improper robots.txt file or a problem with your web host. If you determine that the cause of your problems is one of the above, consider yourself lucky…your website isn't penalized and you should be able to regain your search engine momentum shortly.
If your problems aren't IT related, it is possible that improper site optimization has triggered a search engine penalty. When such a problem strikes, it is very important that you work with an SEO expert to diagnose what occurred and formulate a strategy to bring back your online presence.
Were your playing "SEO Cowboy" with your own site? Did you push the envelope too far? Many search engine experts are able to perform "Lazarus SEO" whereby they take a site seemingly ruined by faulty optimization and bring it back to prominence through application of "SEO Best Practices". You will need to decide if the business case exists for engaging such an expert or whether you should cut your losses and start over.
Were you working with a SEO when your site vanished? If your SEO has been using safe and ethical optimization techniques, there aren't too many scenarios where your website should crash and burn. Should such a situation occur, demand accountability from your contractor. Don't just take any explanation at face value…ask him/her to provide you with a thorough accounting of the techniques used on your site supported by detailed web analytics. Excuses and platitudes aren't acceptable for such a catastrophic occurrence…if you aren't comfortable with the explanations given to you, bring aboard a new specialist.
Fortunately, search engines have been known to show sympathy for business owners who have been penalized due to reckless techniques done by rogue SEO's. Google's Director of Search Quality Matt Cutts has posted helpful advice in his blog about how to get your site reincluded in Google if you are victimized by bad SEO advice. Overall, the prevailing search engine attitude towards penalties is that websites get one "mulligan" for being caught breaking the rules so long as the site owner comes clean about what has occurred and fixes the problem. If you must appeal a search engine ban, it is strongly advised that you seek professional advice on how to successfully get your site reincluded in Google / Yahoo / MSN.
2) Alternate online lead generation methods
a. Pay-Per-Click (PPC). You don't need organic search to bring targeted traffic to your website…you can purchase your traffic instead. Many penalized websites rely upon PPC to keep them afloat while they are taking steps to get out from under the weight of their search engine penalty. Note that generating leads from PPC is an art form all its own…if you wish to create a new PPC Campaign, I recommend you read my article about creating specialized PPC landing pages.
b. Start from scratch. It might not be worth the time and expense to try to eradicate the penalty. If branding isn't a huge concern for you, you can move your site to another domain. Make sure your new website is hosted on a different C class from your old website. You should know that it might take 6-12 months for a new domain to gain search engine traction (especially in Google). Using an older domain name might be more advantageous to resurrecting your organic search traffic more quickly…though be sure to research the history of any old domain name before you transfer your site to it.
c. Focus on offline efforts. Direct mail, telesales, and channel development are excellent ways to drive revenue to your business. If you neglected these methods of lead generation when putting all your efforts online, you might want to revisit them. By generating offline sales momentum while rebuilding your Internet presence, your business will be much less vulnerable to the whims of the search engines.
If you are generating a lot of leads through organic search, there is a tendency to neglect other forms of lead generation where the ROI is much lower. However, smart web entrepreneurs know that lead generation diversification is the key to long-term success. It is always better to create your contingency plan before you actually need it.
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Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association.
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