26 Feb 2013

The Mystery of my Disappearing Google Presence

Hmmmm, so two weeks after disappearing off the face of Google, I'm now back - hurray! It's been a slightly stressful two weeks, wondering what the hell was going on, and trying to tinker with a few things in Webmaster Tools to see if I could work out how to fix it and revive my presence. Like a phoenix rising out the fire, I've appeared again, none-the-wiser about what happened to take it down or bring it back up again.

So what was the issue? Well, I used to come up first on a Google search if you typed in "Sophie Carr" or "Sophie Carr Photography". I also was coming up about 8th if you searched for "London Travel Photographer" or "London Travel Photography" - which brought in some nice traffic to my site (and some work, so it was important). But then two weeks ago I was just Googling myself (as you do) and discovered that I'd completely disappeared (apart from my blog and Facebook presence, and a handful of other references to my photography work). But no sign of www.sophiecarrphotography.com.

The first thing I did was to ask Photoshelter - my website host/provider - if they had changed anything that might have had an impact. They had done nothing, apparently. They noticed that I had two chunks of code for my Google Analytics, but that this shouldn't make any difference (the reason I have two is that one is for the www.sophiecarrphotography.com site and the other is for the www.sophiecarr.photoshelter.com site - they have different GA codes, and I want to track them both).

The next step was to work out what the hell Webmaster Tools was all about. If you're not from a techie background, this is a very user-unfriendly tool, I think. The language can be unintuitive and assumes a lot of prior knowledge (which a photographer who pays for an off-the-shelf website package doesn't generally have!).

I spent quite a bit of time reading through all the sections of the Webmaster Tools and reading the help section to try and make head-or-tails of some of it. The main thing that I learned (and updated) was setting my preferred domain to www.sophiecarrphotography.com instead of "Don't set a preferred domain" - perhaps this had an impact, as previously it was seeing both www.sophiecarrphotography.com and sophiecarrphotography.com (without the www.) and discarding both in its crawls as duplicates. I looked at the html improvement suggestions and removed some alleged duplicate meta descriptions (long and short) and duplicate title tags - doesn't seem to have done anything as it still shows them to exist now.

I was given rather unhelpful suggestions by people on the Webmaster forum that the reason for the disappearance might just be that photography websites are not good quality in Google's eyes, content-wise. They change their algorithms the whole time - we all know that - but maybe some new algorithm has decided that photographers websites are rubbish. Well, I follow all of Photoshelter's SEO suggestions, such as adding meta descriptions and titles wherever necessary, etc.. Although most of the content on my website is images, each page, gallery and image has associated text (like titles and descriptions). It's not just a bunch of photos with 0123.jpeg as the only text, which would be meaningless in Google's eyes.

After I changed the domain setting suddenly the Photoshelter version of my website reappeared again (www.sophiecarr.photoshelter.com), but this isn't the one I want coming up on searches - I bought my title www.sophiecarrphotography.com because that's the business name and the website address I want people to see! I asked for more advice from the Photoshelter community and we were all stumped and rather worried by this (I wasn't the only photographer affected).

Anyway, the upshot is that after a couple of days of uploading new content (new images in new and existing galleries) and posting lots of stuff about this on Facebook and Twitter, I'm back in the searches as if nothing ever happened. It would be nice to have some kind of proper explanation, but all I can say is that if you find yourself in the same position then check the domain settings (under Webmaster Tools, Configuration, Settings, Preferred Domain & point to one only), check the Health section of Webmaster in case there are any easy-to-resolve problems, and continue uploading new content and getting people to look at it. Probably also worth posting your issue to the Webmaster forum to see if anyone can find anything obviously wrong. And then cross your fingers that it sorts itself out as quickly as possible! 

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