Meet Tom. Tom’s tired of seeing his website languish on Google. That’s why he spent a serious chunk of his marketing budget on a top-rated search engine optimization (SEO) consultant. That’s also why, following expert advice, Tom executed a massive overhaul of his company’s entire website.
It’s 10 days later, and Tom’s eager to see how his site is doing. Luckily for Tom, he’s no longer on the bottom of page two. Unluckily for Tom, he’s now at the top of page four.
Cue the phone call. As a veteran SEO professional, I know what it’s like to be on the other end of that call. I’ve had my share of nervous site owners give me an earful for “letting” their pages slide in the rankings. Usually, they ask, “What happened to my site?”
Trust me; that isn’t a fun place for anyone, but it’s often a necessary one. Here’s why.
Welcome To The Dance
As early as 2003, SEO professionals noticed that Google had begun cracking down on what’s commonly known as black hat SEO (i.e., the sneaky tricks that some SEO professionals play in order to climb the Google search rankings ladder). One of the search engine’s most ambitious anti-spam strides came in 2012 with the filing of a patent cleverly titled “Ranking Documents.”
Here’s the gist of it: Whenever Google’s algorithms see new rankings signals to your website, for up to 70 days they will place you in a seemingly random transitional ranking position to see whether and how you’ll respond. This random transitional ranking can result in positive, negative or neutral changes in rank.
You can probably guess what change would trigger the early morning, not-so-fun calls from clients. In the SEO business, this is known as the Google dance.
While the dance can be frustrating, it’s actually a good sign for veteran SEO professionals. Why? The Google dance is designed to keep black hatters from gumming up and fooling the search engine. More than that, it gives all the legitimate site owners out there a fighting shot at ranking — when doing SEO the right way.
Here are just a few of the things the dance helps mitigate:
• Keyword stuffing: People will keyword stuff as many keywords as possible into their pages on keyword stuffing to get Google to give them a solid ranking for “keyword stuffing.” See what we did there? That’s keyword stuffing.
• Invisible or tiny text: Sometimes people will incorporate paragraphs of invisible or tiny text stuffed with keywords. This text isn’t for humans to read, only algorithms (robots).
• Page redirects: Some developers will set up a redirect to immediately take searchers to something other than what they clicked on.
• Meta tag stuffing: On the technical side, people will stuff large strings of keywords into meta tags to get more SEO juice out of their sites.
• Link manipulation (most common): There are many ways to do this, but typically SEO professionals will create or manipulate other sites to include links to the target site in order to increase its search rank.
When Google Takes the Lead
Google’s sophisticated algorithms have made short work of the most egregious examples of spamming. Still, the dance exists as a sort of stopgap — a metaphorical penalty box for you to wait in while the robots decide whether the new ranking signals are legitimate. What’s most frustrating to some is that the dance can last up to 70 days and is completely random.
This dance exists for one thing: to audition. While your site is in that transitional zone, Google is very interested to see whether and how you respond — it’s testing you. For sites practicing quality SEO strategies, such as targeting featured snippets, the transitional period will come and go, and the end result will likely be a positive gain in rank.
This is likely not so for site owners who cut corners with their SEO strategies and either undo their work or double down on it. If Google sees you reverse course or ramp up poor-quality SEO, they’ll most likely flag your site. If your site gets flagged, it can mean a few different things, but the most common result is an algorithmic penalty that will lower your site’s ranking. In this situation, as far as Google’s algorithms are concerned, you’re a black hatter who’s trying to cover their tracks or outfox the system with spam tactics. Either way, if you’re a bad dancer, panicking during the transition can land you in hot water with Google.
So What Can You Do?
It depends. If you think your in-house team may have taken a shortcut with your SEO or you hired a potentially unreliable SEO professional, then you might want to have a conversation with them to find out what they’ve been doing and the possible damage they might have caused with poor-quality ranking signals. If a shortcut was taken by your in-house team, it could be in your best interest to stop, re-evaluate your SEO process and possibly consider outsourcing your SEO to a reputable company that specializes in it. I recommend telling an unreliable professional who has taken a shortcut to immediately stop all services.
However, if you’ve outsourced to a reputable SEO company or professional that has shown you successful campaigns they’ve created for their current clients, then put your head down, trust the process and wait it out. Quality white hat SEO usually wins out. We typically see the true rankings settle in around 60 to 65 days after going through the transitional ranking period.
It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride, but the wait is usually worth it. Sure, I’ve fielded angry and bewildered calls from site owners during the dance. But I’ve also picked up the phone just a few weeks later to celebrate with those owners as they climbed to the top spot.
If you’re in Tom’s position, don’t lose heart. Put your dancing shoes on, and follow Google’s lead until the music stops.
Share this post if you enjoyed! 🙂