Like most people who have a Web site I check my site's ranking on Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) from time to time. It's striking how much of a Website's life depends on Google. That's particularly true with smaller sites whose lifeblood is the traffic Google sends their way. But even bigger sites would suffer severely if their pages suddenly lost ranking in Google. Sure there are other search engines like Yahoo and MSN, but enough about those.
And so when a couple of days ago I noticed that my site's traffic had a noticeable drop in traffic, the first place I looked for diagnosis was Google. Sure enough, my site's pages where either non-existent or had dropped considerably in ranking. I know that compared to other sites, my traffic is but a drop in a proverbial bucket, but even so the realization of lost ranking made me concerned. I can only imagine how those people, whose living is tied to their traffic, may feel when Google starts to snub their sites. the results could be devastating.
Had I violated any one of Google's quality guidelines? Had I engaged in any activity that might have blacklisted my site? I was stumped. I hadn't made any design changes to the site that I could recall. I even tested my site for unintended search engine spamming using a couple of different online tools. One claimed I had hidden text on my pages. They were light-colored timestamps on a colored background. Just for insurance I changed them to a darker color. It also caught what it regarded as keyword stuffing. The culprit turned out to be whitespace characters ( ) with missing trailing semi-colons. So at least I got to fix this error on my site, and then I just moved on.
Today, inexplicably my site's ranking in Google SERPs seems to be back where it used to be. Could this have been the result of those minor changes? I don't think so. Most likely, the drop was due to some temporary event in Google's algorithm.
What's alarming is that Google is not just influential, but it's vital to so many. Where can one go to if they are unfairly treated? Who will listen? This is not a paid service, there are no SLAs (Service Level Agreements), contracts, or even tenuous promises. Mine is just a hobby site. Being present in Google is great, but I'd still be doing this even if my site wasn't included. I don't think my attitude would be the same if I were making a living off my site.
I can appreciate that Google has the enormous task of separating the good sites from the bad. But with that much power and reach, it is inevitable that many innocent sites will be inadvertently punished. Consider how things would be if there were only one powerful and unregulated credit agency with two marginal ones, instead of the three with equal standings today.