Our clients know we’re not big on the scare tactics that a lot of other agencies tend to use. No, you won’t be left behind if you don’t think Snapchat is a good fit for your practice. No, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on the latest device just because the guy down the street has it. No, your business won’t implode if you aren’t very active on RealSelf.
Does that mean there’s nothing to be afraid of in the land of online marketing? Or course not. If you pay attention to the big stuff for SEO success, you’re very likely to stay out of harm’s way, and thankfully there’s a lot that’s in your control. But there’s one big item that isn’t: how Google ranks your website.
Google has shared some core principles in terms of what makes a high-quality site. These include:
- A website that is fast, secure and accessible on all devices
- Optimized text, video and image content that is up to date and answers the most important questions your patients have
- Good user experience stats that indicate visitors are engaging with your content
- An established URL with some degree of domain authority
- Links from other reputable sites, indicating your site has something useful to say
These principles sound easy enough to follow, but there’s a lot of nuance behind each one. No search marketer has a complete idea of exactly what variables Google is using to rank sites, and in what mix. If anyone tells you they do, run away as fast as you can in the opposite direction. The recipe for rankings is called Google’s search algorithm, a highly proprietary and closely guarded set of code that is consistently tweaked and reworked over time so that the company can continue to deliver what it believes are the best results for its search customers.
So what’s the big deal? Well, we all know that ranking highly on Google is very important to get eyeballs on your site. But even subtle tweaks to Google’s algorithm can enormously impact your rankings, and in many cases there’s not a single thing you can do to know exactly why it happened and what to do about it. Frankly, that should scare you a little, especially when Google may be driving 50% or more of all your new business.
Case Study: Pink Sites Stink!
Let’s take a silly example. Suppose out of the tens of thousands of variables Google is analyzing, they decide to deeply discount any site that has bright pink on it. So any site with bright pink in the design gets slammed and loses a bunch of traffic from Google as a result.
First off, they will never announce exactly what they changed about their algorithm. All you’ll see is your site just tanked in the rankings, with absolutely no explanation. You didn’t do anything differently, but you now don’t rank as well.
Secondly, it’s really difficult to figure out for yourself why this occurred. Maybe you (or your web vendor) starts researching forums and articles talking about the latest algorithm updates, where various site owners share their woe about getting hit for no apparent reason. In most cases, you’ll hear a lot of problems but not a lot of answers or insights.
For something obvious like all pink sites getting slammed, that might get figured out in time as people try to find common threads between sites that got hit. But again, we started with a silly example just to illustrate the point. In reality, the algorithm may have been changed in a way that affects several hundred variables all at once. How in the world are you supposed to figure out exactly which ones, let alone develop a plan to recover?
What to Do If Your Rankings Tank
Because Google brings so much traffic to your website, a drop of 30% or more in organic traffic can translate into big drops in new leads and consultation appointments. And the nature of these updates means that your business can be disrupted overnight. You have every right to be frustrated, scared and even angry. But as hard as it is, you need to stay on course and carefully work through your options with your web vendor. Panicking and jumping for a quick solution will very likely just cost you more in the long run.
Don’t Look for a Magic Bullet
It’s very unlikely that a single, easily identifiable variable is responsible for your rankings drop after an algorithm update. If only it were that easy! Much more likely is that the change in algorithm variable weighting has affected a number of aspects of your site and once added up, has created a noticeable decline in rankings. It’s easy to jump to conclusions like “we need to blog more” or “we need a redesign.” While those things may help (or not), putting all your eggs in one basket will very likely not solve the problem and can cost you a lot of money in the meantime.
Don’t Look for a Quick Fix
Because there’s no magic bullet to get your rankings right back where they were, you need to be prepared for a longer journey back to the top. How long? That depends on many things but in the past, we’ve seen clients get hit by algorithm updates and still not return to their previous organic traffic levels even after a year. That’s a long time to be patient, but it takes time to identify which variables may have caused your rankings decline and even longer to make changes that are recognized by Google. You are effectively doing trial and error with a blindfold on.
Do Take a Deeper Dive
After a drop in traffic has been identified, it’s time for you or your agency to start looking deeper at what may have caused it. There is a long list of items to consider – some of the big ones include:
- Content updates – Google wants to see fresh text, images and videos on your site. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve your content.
- Backlinks – Links back to your site are essentially votes for the quality and authority of your site. Google wants to see natural links that have been earned over time.
- User data – Google Analytics is a helpful tool for you, but of course Google sees all this data too. Metrics like time on site, bounce rate and many others can signal how well users are engaging with your site.
- Social engagement – While Google says that social media activity is not tied directly to how it ranks websites, more engagement there can result in more linking back to your site.
- Site technical health – Through the use of Google Search Console, web.dev, Pagespeed Insights and other external tools, you can do a thorough analysis of load time, mobile/responsive rendering and many other aspects that might be affecting your ranking.
As we said above, don’t expect to find a magic bullet in any of this. After all, your site was doing just fine before the algorithm update, meaning that you were already doing a lot of things right in Google’s eyes. Instead, look for ways to improve and build upon your previous SEO efforts. Have you taken a look at your procedure page content in the past couple years? Could a design tweak help to boost your time on site for mobile users? Would a rebuild in a modern WordPress framework help your site speed and usability? These are some of the questions to ask and tactics to try.
Do Consider PPC
If your business just got kneecapped by Google, the last thing you want to do is give them money. Feels like extortion, no? But the reality is that if your organic rankings have taken a hit, one of the best ways to maintain traffic levels to your site is Google Ads PPC advertising. We generally try to bring in new leads for about $100 each on this platform. So if your leads have dropped by 25/month after an algorithm update, plan on factoring in an extra $2500/month to get back on track, at least until you start to see organic rankings improvements.
Facebook Ads advertising is another option to consider and may be more palatable than giving money to Google. Cost per lead tends to be lower with Facebook Ads, but in our experience these leads aren’t quite as far along in the buying cycle and may need more nurturing to turn into paying patients.
Summing up, Google is likely a key source of new business for your practice. It can be very easy to take it for granted and expect a nice, steady flow of new leads from Google. But always remember that the business they send your way is never completely in your control, and if an algorithm update affects your website, be prepared for a long road back to the top.