When is a blog not a blog?

I first started blogging to collate and share an array of educational resources within the medical community and beyond. My first blog (as sandnsurf with the medbrains.net domain) ranked well on search engines which allowed relevant articles to be found easily on the first page of Google.

However, last week all the blog articles and even the Life in the Fast Lane website vanished from the face of Google and Technorati…I was no longer classified as a blog and no longer found on Google searches. All WordPress trackbacks disappeared as Google Blog Search became blinded to this blogs existence…

So, keyboard in hand, I set bravely forth to explore the intellect of cyberspace to try to understand more about the power of Google and to rectify the conundrum surrounding my fall from grace.

Despite my initial angst, dismay and panic (sorry @problogger – I did panic), I actually found the whole blog review process very rewarding, and so tonight I write to share with what remains of the readership a few lessons I learned along the way.

“I just lost all my Google traffic – help!” This request hits my inbox every week or two from a distraught blogger who has logged into the blog’s statistics one morning only to discover that most of their traffic has completely disappeared due to the all powerful Google making some kind of change in their algorithm and how they rank sites which resulted in that particular blog either disappearing from search results or at least being buried many pages down in the rankings. – @problogger December 2009

1. Check your most popular pages and your page links.

  • Have you moved or renamed your most linked or popular page?
    • Sites with low to modest PageRank obtain the bulk of their link strength from a small number of links and the loss of even one of them can have a major impact on their rankings.
    • In our case, I had recently renamed and moved one of the popular Irukandji pages
  • Has there been a change in the Search Engine Ranking Algorithm?
    • Nothing I can do about that…
  • Do you have good internal link integrity or multiple broken links?
    • Look for typographical errors to key pages. Examine internal links to ensure integrity, especially if you have made lots of changes to the ‘page’ structure
    • Regularly using a link checker such as Xenu Link Sleuth or W3C’s Link Checker to find an fix broken links
    • Check your RSS feed or atom feed is valid and functioning correctly
  • Is the Honeymoon over?
    • Sites less than 6 months old may get an artificial boost in the Google rankings, but this doesn’t last forever!
    • Building natural links through writing good content should ensure link popularity and assist the ‘crawlers’ to find your information

Try out this great form for finding links from RainboDesign.com. Enter the URL of a webpage and the form will return all the valid links on the page.

2. Check your site is still being searched

Check your blog is still being searched

  • Try a Google search for your website www.[yourdomain].com
  • Check your Google Site Index
  • Use Google Search operators to assess your sites visibility
    • Check search function on your whole site e.g. site:lifeinthefastlane.com
    • Check for specific pages e.g.  site:lifeinthefastlane.com/exams/ucem/
    • See how Google last saw your site with cache:lifeinthefastlane.com
    • Look for ‘Link Love’and ‘Link Hate’
      • link:lifeinthefastlane.com (85 links)
      • link:lifeinthefastlane.com/exams/ucem/ (o links)
    • Note: there is no space between the operator and the URL

Check your blog is still being linked on blog search engines

  • Technorati.com has undergone huge changes recently and is inundated with blogs and blog claims. I had previously been listed as a blog, but for some reason my blog has been delisted as ‘spam’. It is still worth logging onto the site and reclaiming your blog…but don’t hold your breath (Support Page – GetSatisfaction Page)
  • Check your blog on Google Blog Search and if it is not listed give Google a ping. All of the standard Google Search operators outlined above are supported in Blog Search. In addition Blog Search supports the following new operators
    • inblogtitle:
    • inposttitle:
    • inpostauthor:
    • blogurl:

Action Points:

3.  Read the Google Guidelines For Webmasters

Read the Google Guidelines For Webmasters – A treasure trove of descriptive analysis pertaining to the structure and layout of your site. I had no idea that these rules existed or were so easy to follow.

  • Design and content guidelines
    • Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link
  • Technical guidelines
    • Something obscure about Robots and Lynx
  • Quality guidelines (common downfall secondary to deceptive or manipulative behavior)
    • Learn about terms such as cloaking, hidden text, sneaky redirects, doorway pages and cookie cutting
    • Avoid Link Schemes and avoid links to web spammers and bad neighborhoods
    • Avoid creating domains with duplicate content
    • …initial thought was ‘if I don’t understand what these are, I am probably not abusing them’

Action Points

  • I signed up to Google Webmaster Tools, read the guidelines and started my ‘webmasters checklist‘ and analysed, assessed and addressed 280 of the Crawl Errors
  • Redesigned the educational pages with static text links, and reduced the surprising number of empty/redundant pages that the site had accumulated
  • Tried to understand what a robot is
  • Reviewed all my blog links, blog directory links and removed all those pages which looked like ‘bad neighbours
  • Engage the assistance of Googlers on Webmaster Forum

4. Look for evidence of Content Duplication…

Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.

  • Look for evidence of the same content being available through more than one URL on your blog or from anyone else’s website.
  • When Google finds duplicate pages, it tries to select the “best” or “canonical” version and devalues all of the copies
  • The Webmaster Central Article on Duplicate content is illuminating…

Action Points

  • External Sources of Duplication
    • I used CopyScape and found at least three domains were ‘hosting/serving’ some or all of my blog posts in full, often without attribution. These domains were all ranking on Google for my articles, when the original blog posts on Life in the Fast Lane was not…
      • I have written to the major websites hosting this blog content (e.g. Wellsphere.com) and have requested removal of this content
      • I wait with baited breath and a vertiginous sense of unease
  • Internal Sources of Duplication
    • Regarding internal content duplicate content within my site – apparently this can be fixed with canonicalization
      • Mmmm…right…definitely one for the ‘too-hard’ basket!

5. Look for sign of Malware or Hacking on the blog

Look for evidence of malware or hacking software present on your site? If there is malware present, users may be referred away from the site as it is unsafe or untrustworthy

Action Point

  • I used Google’s Safe Browsing Diagnostic Tool to check the site

6. Check your Server Speed

It would appear that search engine crawlers may be a little impatient! If they have difficulty accessing your site or if the site is slow to respond or responds with an error code for a sustained period, it can lead to problems.

Slower than molasses in January

Slower than molasses in January

In the short term, search engines can be tolerant, but if the problems persist over many days it can impact your rankings. Apparently a 503 can be issued if you know the server is going to be down for a period for maintenance…this informs the search engines that you’re aware of the situation and they should try again later

7. Consider Reconsideration…

So, I have been through the webmaster checklist; contacted the replica sites; requested a hosting server change; fixed all the broken links; found and added meta tags; oiled some robots…but I still have no idea what the exact problem is. My options now include

  • Watch and wait
    • Google’s automatic systems will usually remove a penalty if a site has been brought into compliance.
  • Request Reconsideration
    • This Reconsideration form lets you tell Google that you have repaired any violations you found and ask that any penalties be removed…
    • There are a maximum number of characters…so be concise!
    • Sending a Reconsideration Request can speed the process of re-instatement up by several weeks or months
    • After a little while you may get Notification of Reconsideration

All in all…I am glad to have had to go through this process. I think the changes that have been made to the blog will make it easier to navigate, quicker to load and improve the functionality of the site – even if the website no longer returns to the Google search results page.

8. Utilize the webmaster services of other search engines

Google is trying (and in the large part succeeding) to dominate the web by taking a stranglehold on search, advertising and the way we interact with the internet. But although Google accounts for >75% of search on the web, there are other very viable alternatives…

  • Validate your blog with Bing Webmaster
    • Very user friendly interface (especially for the code illiterate) – found it extremely easy to use and very informative coding structure dictates the importance of various pages within the site
    • Test and validate your Robots.txt files
    • Use the microsoft HTTP verifier
  • Validate your site with Yahoo Site Explorer

9. Consider Building your own Customised Search

10. Remember why you started blogging in the first place…

At the end of the day I am  ‘Mum and Dad blogger‘, a hobbyist with altruistic ideals and a desire to write good copy…if the content is good, sound and honest I feel gratified and hope my boutique audience will too…

11. Read, learn, digest and implement

Take a look at the experts and what they do. I am going to give 31 days to build a better blog a go

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