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  1. #1
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    Lost your search rankings? Read here for some tips..
    It's been a tough few weeks for me - last month, my main site (which is my bread & butter) took a turn for the worse in ranking, and traffic has suffered greatly.

    Prior to the drop, if you had asked how much I knew about my site, I would have said everything, with confidence. I had complete control, and there was no reason to see a drop coming (I add original content 3-4 times/day).

    I'm still in the midst of dealing with this, and while my rankings have not been restored, I'm hoping the steps I have taken will fix the problem. And I'm writing this list of bullet points for all those people (like me!) who are quick to blame the search engines.. here are a few items that you should start with:

    If you use Joomla or Wordpress:

    1) Things can break that you may not even realize - I used to have a custom 404 page with separate tracking (to detect 404s that needed a redirect) - at some point, my page was overwritten by a default version, probably a version update. The result? NO 404s were being addressed for 6 months. You can monitor Google WMT 404s, but they are far from complete.

    2) Turn on caching. Don't ask me why, just do it. Now. Caching stopped working on one of my installs, which was the reason for a massive spike in Google WMT page load time.

    3) Components and plugins may look harmless enough, but if you're not using it, uninstall it. I found one plugin that initiated an hourly database call, even though it was disabled.

    4) Meta tags - my fancy "auto create" description tag was broken. Again, perfect example of how things can break without your knowledge.

    Hosting:

    1) The Blame Game- don't automatically blame the host for slowdowns. Work with a host that offers decent support, and ask them for help. They have monitoring tools that can help troubleshoot & get to the root of the problem.

    2) If your site is built using basic HTML, a shared account is fine - but don't expect cheap hosting to support your Wordpress or Joomla site with all kinds of cool features - discussion forum, extensive photo galleries, etc. The strain on the database is too much.

    MySQL:

    1) You need to start monitoring MySQL performance on your site - there is something called a "slow query" log that identifies inefficient queries (that will slow down the server). I'm no database expert, but I learned A LOT from this log. It detected an inactive plugin that was kicking off hourly, and very inefficient code in a plugin that I use extensively on every site. Talk to your host about this, they may be able to identify the culprits for you.

    2) You get what you pay for - it's great that developers write free scripts, but be very careful what you install, as not all code is created equal (see above).

    I've spent the past month looking under the hood of my site/server, and was surprised to find it wasn't as clean as I thought.

    It's too soon to know if my site will return to its former ranking, but in the meantime, I've cleaned up and relaunched another site that has no history in google. It's lightning quick, and has no extra baggage (components, etc), and a shiny new sitemap, with no 404s.

    I hope this helps someone who has experienced a sudden drop - and even if your ranking is fine, feel free to use this as a maintenance checklist!


  2. #2
    ABW Ambassador superCool's Avatar
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    Thanks teezone. That's a great start. Maybe everyone will chime in with some ideas of their own. superCool just did a bit of this type of thing yesterday. More along the lines of site cleanup than SE issues, but itís all related. Here are the issues he is looking at:

    1) Bad spiders Ė superCool noticed one that was burning through the sites day and night (hitting one site more than 300 times an hour). Binged the ip and found that it is a known hog. So superCool banned the ip, then checked later and had to ban a 2nd range once the spider adapted. Will keep an eye on it. Donít know when or if the spider will stop trying, but at least itís no longer getting into the pages, images, etc.

    2) Wrong redirects Ė superCool assumed that the redirects on his sites were all using 301 permanent redirects, but after looking at the logs found a lot of 302 temporary redirects. You may prefer 302s, but either way, make sure youíre getting what you expect.

    3) Error logs Ė found a few issues in the error logs that had hidden themselves from superCool. He never saw the errors, but some of the site visitors (and SE bots) probably did.

    4) Bad meta Ė superCool was looking at search results and noticed some really stupid sounding descriptions. Times change, and as you learn more about what works on each site (and in general), itís important to clean up old crap and use what youíve learned to improve your descriptions, titles, etc..

    5) "Temporary" BS - superCool found some things that he had originally done as temporary workarounds, but had become permanent because they were never addressed. superCool needs a better way of tracking these things to make sure he comes back with a good solution.

    --------
    got tips?

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  4. #3
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    Ahh yes, the bots.. I forgot about those two days I'll never get back! Banned a bunch of those as well.

    I found Baidu was particularly aggressive - either they don't follow robots.txt, or they have a different algo, as I could see a spike in slow queries as soon as they came in. Banned as many ranges as I could find, which seemed to do the trick.

    Added: It's worth mentioning that while bots can overload those slow queries (and banning bad ones is a great idea), it's important to review the health of your queries under the hood. I didn't stop after I banned Baidu, but kept looking for those weak spots.
    Last edited by teezone; February 23rd, 2012 at 02:00 PM.

  5. #4
    ABW Ambassador superCool's Avatar
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    yes, Baidu was the main bad bot!

  6. #5
    ABW Ambassador daiarian's Avatar
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    Hi Teezone,

    Thanks for the post

    Code:
    2) Turn on caching. Don't ask me why, just do it. Now. Caching stopped working on one of my installs, which was the reason for a massive spike in Google WMT page load time.
    I use WP how do I turn caching on.

    Many thanks
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  7. #6
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    You need to install a plugin that caches pages - I've used both HyperCache and W3 Cache, with mixed results (I say mixed results as my low-traffic WP site still seems to chew up a lot of resources when anyone visits).

    I'm going to test a few more.. but check out these reviews & downloads (Super cache looks to the most downloaded):

    WordPress › Search for cache ę WordPress Plugins

    The difference in speed will be remarkable

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  9. #7
    ABW Ambassador daiarian's Avatar
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    Thanks I am on to those suggestions.

    Regards
    0 to $1m before I am 70, Ok maybe 71 !!! (April 2013)
    You Can Eat Our Noodles Without Gaining A Pound
    What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare.

  10. #8
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    Update on WP caching:

    I uninstalled Hyper-Cache & W3 Total, and settled with Quick Cache. There were less options, but it does exactly what I need.

    One thing I noticed (which may have been the problem with other plugins I tested) - there is an option "Don't Cache Pages For Logged In Users?" which defaults to True. That means your own visits don't create cached pages.

    Since the site is static, I changed this to "False" so that my visits would create cached pages. It seems pointless to wait for non-existent traffic to cache the site.

    All good now, site clocks fast.

  11. #9
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    Sorry for getting here late - I have been busy trying to get my traffic back too.

    It sounds like many of us are going through the same thing at the same time. As great as the posts have been (I spent the last day looking at and cleaning up server log issues thanks to the posts) I would like to suggest that the loss of search rankings lies equally, if not more, at the feet of the search engines and their ranking algorithms. I have been following my keyword and search phrase reports in Google Webmaster tools very closely lately and I can see clear evidence that Google is making huge swings in how it looks (and ranks) at my sites. One month, I am top of the heap and the next I am not even in the heap. I have not made any changes so the only other player that has changed is Google. Now, Google is not alone in this, I have seen similar swings from Bing and Yahoo - I just don't have the tools and time to look at all the search engine to the depth that I follow Google.

    Another great source of information to add to this discussion would be the voice of our merchant partners. They must be seeing first hand how top performing affiliates simply disappear from their sales stats - and they can see and compare the affiliate sites. Who better than the merchants to tell us if they are seeing any trends (ie. blog sites rising while coupon sites drop). We have a great resource here so merchants, please chime in.
    When the only tool you have is a hammer - everything looks like a nail.

  12. #10
    ABW Ambassador superCool's Avatar
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    Yes BIG swings up and down. Have you also noticed large swings in browser usage? Sometimes when the traffic goes way up there is an unusual distribution of browser usage by unique visitor - like certain browsers are all of a sudden finding the site more frequently (sometimes it's Chrome - google testing the site and collecting info?).

    Also notice high levels of direct entry users on certain days - all of a sudden there's a bunch of people coming directly to the site. Seems odd.

    Oh well, superCool has strayed away from the topic - sorry. Love to moan about stats!

    Back to the original topic - one other problem superCool has found this week.... Looked at the redirects/rewrites in .htaccess and noticed some extra [L] flags on a few of the rewrite rules. This means "Last" and stops rewriting for that request. Then apparently a new request is created and the rules are applied again, but this time using the rewritten url. So this can have unexpected consequences. Not sure if this has been causing many problems, but need to look at it more carefully and map out all the rewrite rules. superCool sometimes wonders why a particular url would be in the index, and this is probably why. Uncoordinated rewrite rules.

  13. #11
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    the loss of search rankings lies equally, if not more, at the feet of the search engines and their ranking algorithms
    There's no question this is a variable, but what I've realized in the last 3-4 weeks is that my site had some major problems, which just made the algo change worse.

    One site had no cache (of any kind), which means it already started with a site speed 'penalty' - another site had so many calls to MySQL, it was bursting at the seams, with a steady decline in server performance. It was probably not noticeable to the end-user, but the bot will pick up on that.. and I think that was my main cause of the drop.

    The purpose of this thread is to highlight the importance of maintenance (and a complete site review!) when a drop happens.. I could have avoided this in the first place had all of the above been properly addressed. My stats in WMT now show everything is clean and fast, but it may take weeks to see an impact on search results.

    We are quick to blame search engines, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of fixes/improvements right in front of us.. I would rather be proactive than assume my site is perfect and belongs at the top (well, it is and it does )

  14. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by teezone View Post
    The purpose of this thread is to highlight the importance of maintenance (and a complete site review!) when a drop happens..
    My mistake... I guess I was confused by the thread title. Sorry for the detour.
    When the only tool you have is a hammer - everything looks like a nail.

  15. #13
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    It's all part of the discussion, so I'm glad you brought it up...

    I've been VERY quick to blame the search engines in the past, and with everything we read (here and elsewhere), I'm not the only one. But the past 4 weeks have been the worst experience in my few-year career as an affiliate - not just performance-wise, but the eventual mess I discovered. It almost made me wonder how the heck I got ranked in the first place

    Canned software (including Joomla and Wordpress) give us a false sense of security as webmasters, and we need to have a better understanding of what we are actually installing & using. Just this morning I found a disabled component STILL executing a query on the hour - 5 sites on one server - I have since uninstalled it! And yes, it was free.. and from 2008.

    There is big part of ranking beyond our control, but it's important to monitor the health of your site - performance, scripts, database, etc...

    Using a car analogy - it might run smoothly for a while, but eventually the oil needs changing, engine needs a tune-up etc etc. Your host is also upgrading behind the scenes, which means something that worked perfectly today might slow down tomorrow.

  16. #14
    ABW Ambassador superCool's Avatar
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    superDave - IMO you were on topic but superCool couldn't help himself but talk about other weird issues

    teezone - where do you find the slow query log and SQL logs in general? superCool has never even seen them

  17. #15
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    Well I had 2 issues that I remember.

    One, some might remember where my posts were gone - http://www.abestweb.com/forums/blogg...ed-136252.html

    This fixed it:

    How To Quickie: Repair MySQL Tables — PaulStamatiou.com

    So I do that a few times a year, especially before the holidays or when I anticipate a surge in traffic.

    Then, another I posted about recently, where one site was getting a whole bunch of traffic and I was getting the site is unavailable message, too many processes. I contacted my host, HostGator and they recommend W3 Total Cache, which I activated immediately, just went thru and checked off whatever some site told me online. My site was fine after that. Still need to go thru that plugin so I actually understand it. It's the only blog where I have it activated, apparently most major sites have something like that.

    I think we could probably do a thread on that alone and go thru it. We should have a series or something. Like one thread for Cache plugins, then get recommendations, tips etc.

    Also when using WP, don't go crazy with the plugins. Anoher thing they told me when my site was having issues due to traffic, was to disable any plugins that I could. Site visitors x plugins, increase in traffic, increase in processes, something like that. I have a Privacy Policy plugin which basically spits out the same info everytime, just different site name basically, so that's not needed. Just can copy and paste text. So cut down when you can.
    Last edited by Trust; February 26th, 2012 at 03:34 PM.

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  19. #16
    ABW Ambassador AddHandler's Avatar
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    It's Google...
    IMHO the problem is Google... Since the "Farmer Update" Google has been aggressively removing affiliate sites from it's SERPs. The biggest threat to Affiliate Marketing is our biggest competitor... GOOGLE...

    They are not only the biggest affiliate in the world but they control a huge percentage of search traffic and they don't want to share any of that with affiliate sites anymore.

    Google simply got tired of beating around the bush... with the Farmer Update targeted at anyone using a datafeed and the subsequent Panda updates they have put a huge dent in the amount of affiliate sites that are ranked and in turn secured a bigger market share for their shareholders... Google uses the "algorithm updates" to eliminate the competition not provide better search results...

    It's Google's internet now... and if you want to play you'll play by their rules or go out of business. They decide what is "good" and what is "bad" and rank accordingly... of course any competition is BAD and affiliates are competitors...

    It's bad and it is going to get worse... take the JC Penney fiasco for example...
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/bu.../13search.html

    So Google decided that a company that has been around for 100 YEARS selling clothing and apparel... shouldn't be #1 for the clothing they sell...!! For what ever reason JC Penney was on top of the SERPs, they have the right to be there... They have been around for 100 years and have been a well established company in good standing with consumers... I have never heard anything bad about JC Penney... and it wasn't like they were taking up the first 50 pages of results either... ONE SPOT on the first page of results for the products they sell... {{ OMG NO!!! }}

    So what gives Google the right to penalize JC Penney for showing up in the SERPs for the apparel and merchandise they sell...??? What gives Google the right to PUNISH JC PENNEY monetarily for ANYTHING...??? Look at the results of when the penalty was LIFTED by the almighty Google.. JCPenney

    Google has taken themselves way too seriously and taken their position to new heights... They are pushing the limits out as far as they can get them without anyone taking notice... Buying up every thing popular online... just look at what hey OWN... List of acquisitions by Google - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    This is new ground and Google is preparing for any kind of fight affiliates or affiliate marketing can give them... spending more money on lobbyist in 2011 than ever before Google nearly doubles lobbying spending in 2011, tops Microsoft | Digital Media - CNET News

    They know exactly what they are doing... they are breaking anti-competitive laws that have been on the books for hundreds of years (SINCE ROMAN TIMES)..!! But they don't care...

    I think it's time that the Networks spent a little money on lobbyists for their affiliates... or spend some money on anti-competitive lawsuits to get this situation in the media somehow... Google would love to see Avantlink, CJ, LinkShare and any other affiliate network go out of business..!! AND they can make that happen easily with just a little more time...

    This is something that the networks need to address sooner than later. When ever Google penalizes an affiliate site for having affiliate links they are being anti-competitive.

  20. #17
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    This thread isn't for trashing Google - I share every other affiliate's frustration with ranking issues, but it's just not a productive discussion to have when, as an affiliate, you're trying to adapt to the changing landscape.

    I can bash G all I want, but it's not going to change my situation - time & energy is better spent on reviewing my own site. If you would have read my original post, it talks about database issues that cause bots to slow down. No matter how G feels about database sites, or affiliates, my site is going to rank lower if it's slower.

    If you want to start another thread to discuss Google's business practices (incl the Farmer & Panda updates), feel free, but in this case, please stay on topic. I started this thread to give publishers tips on their OWN site when they lose rankings... which is the one variable we have complete control over.

    And on the subject of datafeed sites - if you have no content, don't expect to get ranked. It's that simple. I'm addressing content-driven sites that may or may not have feeds...

  21. #18
    ABW Ambassador AddHandler's Avatar
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    Keep telling yourself that and keep working on complying with Google's rules... and see where it gets you in the long run.

    Next they'll be telling you WHERE on your site you can place ads...
    https://www.google.com/search?source...l1090l5.6l11l0

    Soon it won't matter if you have slow queries or database issues... if you have an affiliate link on your site you won't get listed... but you go ahead and keep trying to comply with Google and ignore the root of the problem.

    I won't comment any more... thanks!!

  22. #19
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    Keep telling yourself that and keep working on complying with Google's rules... and see where it gets you in the long run
    That's condescending and unnecessary.

    but you go ahead and keep trying to comply with Google and ignore the root of the problem.
    You really haven't read anything here, have you? This isn't about "compliance" with search engines, it's about good site practices & maintenance.. something many publishers fail to observe when they build a site.
    Last edited by Chuck Hamrick; February 27th, 2012 at 11:38 PM. Reason: typo

  23. #20
    ABW Ambassador simcat's Avatar
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    Re: Caching plugins, this thread inspired me to try one on some of my sites. Last time I tried using them was several years ago.

    So anyway... one of the sites I tried WP supercache on has been getting valuable backlinks from a 'best of the blogs' type aggregator site for awhile not. alexa<5,000

    Shortly after turning this plugin on, I visited the backlink site, and my backlinks had vanished!
    So the next day I took a shot in the dark, thinking that the plugin might be the problem, turned it off, and shortly after...my links all reappeared!

    So no caching plugin for me until I figure out if I mis-configured the plugin, or maybe the bot from the other site just doesn't like it!

    Anyone else had something happen like this?

  24. #21
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    Hi guys,

    Sorry I've been gone forever. Been swamped in my other business doing Local SEO and Google Places Optimization.

    But just wanted to swing by on this thread to post a bunch of updates that Google just made or is in the process of making. Never hurts to at least try to stay on top of all the changes the fickle beast is making.

    Official Google Post: Search quality highlights: 40 changes for February

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