How to Kill your Search Engine Rankings

Believe it or believe it not, it’s fairly easily to kill your Search Engine Rankings albeit accidentally, and even the most experienced web masters do it.

no index drop in serps

Recently I was running an eye over the SERPS and checking out the rankings of one or two local companies. One of the listings stuck out like a sort thumb. All the other listings on the first page had page title’s with their company names, targeted keywords and a fairly comprehensive description. The site is question just had a short URL reference. Figure 1 below (just a mockup I stitched together) shows the difference between 2 listings. To hide the company’s embarrassment I’ve replaced the URL in the first one with my own, but you’ll notice the difference in a listing and a short reference.

Figure 1

no index short url reference

A quick check of the source code revealed 2 interesting and conflicting lines in every pages’s code.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow" />
<meta name="robots" content="index,follow" />

In a nutshell the first line basically tells Google to de-index your listing, and the second line instructs Google and other search engines to index the page. Judging by how Google followed these directions, the first was given priority and the site was de-indexed. Arguably when there a conflict’s and an obvious indexing mistake has been made Google should ignore both directives and include all pages in it’s index.

What Went Wrong

The site in question was running on WordPress. My guess is that the site had been redeveloped, and that the privacy settings on WordPress had been set to dissallow search engines from indexing the site while it was being redeveloped online. When the new site was moved across they forgot to take the privacy setting of, and the noindex remained. I’m not quite sure how the additional robots tag got in the code, maybe it was inserted manually.

Anyway, I fired them off an email but it wasn’t acted upon.

A couple of weeks later when I rechecked I noticed that the penalising code was still there. The homepage was still showing a short URL reference, all the other pages had dropped from the index, and the home page was no longer on the first page of Google, it had slipped down to second page siberia. Traffic through the search engines now must be a trickle.

I’m not a web developer, how can I tell on my own site?

On your browser toolbar, click view source and look for the robots tag, like the code shown above. If it’s noindex then this might start the alarm bells ringing, time to follow up with the developer.

how to view source code

What Can Be Learned

  • Following a redesign or just going live, check that there is nothing stopping your site from getting indexed correctly.
  • Keep an eye on Google Analytics or your stats software for any unexpected dips in traffic.
  • Check through the SERPS occassionaly for your main keywords.
  • Run a site command, and inspect your site’s listing. This is also great for noticing other things including duplicate content.

On a final point Google, Yahoo and Bing all showed a short URL reference. Ask was the only engine that didn’t even list a URL reference, it totally de-indexed the site in question. Not entirely sure what is the correct interpretation of the tag, but arguably with noindex the main engines shouldn’t even show a short reference.

4 Responses to “How to Kill your Search Engine Rankings”

  1. ColinNo Gravatar Says:

    I have looked ath the source code on my site and dont seem to have any
    <meta name="robots" …..etc

    Will this impact my seo

  2. MichaelNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Colin,

    Hope things are going well. If the code isn’t in your source code then no need to worry. Google and other search engines will index the page by default if you don’t tell it not to.

  3. Jordan McClementsNo Gravatar Says:


    (It wasn’t one of my sites, was it? 🙂

  4. MichaelNo Gravatar Says:

    Jordan, just goes to show that it’s more common than people think. It’s always a good idea to run a check on your analytics especially when a site is just launched or after a redesign.

Michael Wall

Michael Wall is an experienced SEO based in Belfast N.Ireland currently running his own SEO Agency.

Michael Wall is available for Internet Marketing, Google Adwords PPC and SEO work. Please call Belfast 02890 923383 or use the contact form.

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