Here is a tale of woe that can affect you - sent from John Schulz, a friend and past co-worker in Northern Colorado. From the Greeley Tribune (note - the link to the article no longer exists, but the story is still worth sharing).
"Direct from England, the Boultons came to Greeley to enjoy retirement and run an inn.
In August 2010, they took over the long-struggling Sodbuster Inn at 1221 9th Ave . It got them to Colorado, which they loved; it gave them steady income, which they also loved — without the hassle of the corporate world, which they no longer loved.
And they did well. So well, the Sodbuster Inn quickly became everything they wanted. They had a good inn, a website and they had reservations. Guests were raving.
“We had the most phenomenal summer,” Stephanie Boulton said of 2012.
Then, Aug. 1, the phone stopped ringing. They thought nothing of it. It was the end of the summer traveling season, after all.
Then September. Still, no calls. Something was obviously wrong.
They learned they weren’t getting bookings from their website. So they Googled their site and found it buried at the bottom of page 7 of their search — the kiss of death."
“For us, the web is our shop window,” Stephanie said. “That’s our bricks and mortar.”
Google is a Big Target
There is an entire industry focused on guessing what Google's "secret sauce" is for ranking and then using that knowledge to improve their clients' ranks in the free "organic" search results. Many businesses, like the Boulton's Bed & Breakfast, rely on their Google search position to direct a substantial portion of business to them. You probably get email solicitations every week from these folks, promising you access to secret information and a top search placement if you let them help you.
There are two problems with trying to outguess Google.
One - Google changes their algorithm regularly, and what works one month may not work the next. Google released a major anti-hacking algorithm update called Panda in 2011 which underwent a series of successive tweaks to keep the rank hackers at bay. Panda was followed by Penguin in 2012, and the changes keep coming as rank hackers discover new means of cheating the system.
Two - Google does not take kindly to people trying to manipulate Google's ranking process. They can, and do, punish websites that their evidence shows are manipulating Google.
For the Boultons described above, two things stood out - their Facebook content was identical to their website (duplicate content across multiple sites), and the shared server upon which their site was hosted, also was determined to host porn - not at all related to them and their site but suspicious to Google who sees sites used to promote porn all the time.
Note - our servers are dedicated to our Wave's End clients, there will never be porn on them.
So What do You Do About It?
The Boulton's eventually gave up on their old domain and created a new name for the inn and launched a new website. Online business has picked back up for them, but it was a painful and expensive experience.
In the "old days" of 2010, Google relied heavily on how many sites link to yours to determine where to place your site in search results, it is less so now, though link count is still important. The SEO (Search Engine Optimization) folks at the Savvy Panda have the following suggestion: "Stop Link Building and start Link Earning". Their point - don't try to manipulate the number of sites pointing to you, improve your search positioning by establishing web-based relationships with the people you do business with, the organizations you belong to, and focus on the quality of the links pointing to you.
I agree with this approach, at least 50%. Trying to increase links to your site by buying them (they are for sale), or using link exchanges that clutter your site up with links to unrelated organizations is more likely to get you into the kind trouble with Google that the Boultons saw. I'm all for establishing web links and exchanging content with selected, trusted partners. Spending 15 minutes a day on your social media links is a productive use of time as well.
Building links takes weeks and months to see results. If you don't have the time or patience, I recommend using Google AdWords to drive prospects to your site. AdWords has a wealth of helpful tools. I use it to prospect keywords for clients and to assess websites for SEO clients who are not interested in paying for visitors. You can manage your ad budget, tune your ads daily if you want (or let Google optimize them for you), and you can measure the results of your ad campaigns to see if your investment is paying off.
If you do only one thing from reading this tale of woe, please check your website on Google every month to make sure that you haven't lost your position as punishment from Google.