There’s been a lot of action over at Google in the past couple of months, and a lot of sites are reporting losses of organic traffic. I decided to do this post to help people determine if they’ve been affected, and if they have, which algorithm change was the likely cause?

I want to be clear that I am not talking to my existing clients on this. I’ve checked and confirmed that none of my clients have had any negative impact as a result of these changes. That’s probably becuase I do everything white-hat, by the book, but that’s another post.

First, Confirm that Google Traffic Has Dropped

I can’t tell you how many times in my agency days I had clients complain that they had a Google penalty, only to find that something else happened. Rule out these common problems first:

  • Make sure every page on your site is tagged with your analytics tracking code
  • Confirm that no special events or sales have just ended
  • Check with IT to make sure the site hasn’t suffered any outages
  • Verify that PPC hasn’t lowered their spend or suspended a test

If none of the following apply, check your analytics for visits from Organic Search and from Google specifically. Often clients found that while Organic traffic had dropped, Google was not to blame, and it was one of the other search engines that suddenly dropped all traffic.

Next, Look at When the Traffic Dropped

Once you’ve verified your data integrity, and that the drop is specifically Google Organic Traffic, use the following timeline to determine which update caused the drop:

Between March 15-30 (give or take a couple days): You were probably affected by the shutdown of a couple of big blog link networks. If you’ve been buying links or doing “article marketing” with third parties, these may be to blame. Read here for more information: Google Sending Warnings About “Artificial” Or “Unnatural” Links.

April 17-18: There was a problem with Google thinking some domains were “parked” that were not. You should have had immediate recovery if you were affected by this, such that your traffic only shows a quick blip and then a full recovery the next day.

April 19-23: If you saw a drop in traffic during this time period that has not recovered, you were probably affected by Panda 3.5, which launched April 19, as confirmed on Twitter by Matt Cutts. Check out the awesome infographic below by Search Engine Land– although with Panda 3.5, it’s already out of date!

April 23-now: If your traffic just dropped, you were probably hit by Penguin, an update that targets webspam like keyword stuffing and cloaking. More on this one as it develops, but you might want to “Poke the Penguin” to alleviate your frustration while you wait.

Updated: Google Penguin 1.1 hit May 26, 2012

Updated: Google Panda update 3.7 rolled out on June 8, 2012

Updated: Google Panda update 3.8 on June 25, 2012

Updated: Google Panda update 3.9 on July 25, 2012