What to Do If Your Blog Is Dropped from Google Search

About three weeks ago, my blog was dropped from Google’s search index. It had a significant negative impact on my site’s traffic and on my Google PageRank. I thought it might be helpful to document what I have learned so far in case this ever happens to you.

A Frustrated Man Sitting in Front of His Computer - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/szelmek, Image #2512608

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/szelmek

First of all, I didn’t really know what hit me until one of my Twitter followers sent me a direct message: “Do you realize that your blog is no longer in Google’s search index and your PageRank is zero!” I’m sure the color drained from my face.

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I immediately went to Google and tried to search for my own name. I got my Twitter profile page and a few images, but—sure enough—my blog was missing. I tried a few other searches for more specific content. Nothing.

I then checked my Google PageRank. It had dropped from five to ZERO!

Needless to say, this was disconcerting, especially since I know that about 13 percent of my blog’s traffic comes directly from Google search. I had not looked at Google Analytics in several weeks. However, when I checked it, I discovered that my search traffic had taken a nose dive beginning on June 22.

Number of Google Searches for My Site Over the Last 30 Days

I then contacted my Web designer and developer, John Saddington. In typical fashion, he dropped what he was doing and began working on it. He and I spent the next two days, on and off, trying to figure out what had happened.

After a considerable about of sleuthing, we discovered that:

  • Google’s verification code was missing. In order to verify your site and begin tracking it, Google asks you to insert a special code in the HTML head section of your blog’s home page or, alternatively, to upload a special HTML verification file. I had previously inserted the code. However, it was now missing. As a result, the Google robots considered my blog an “unverified site.”
  • My robots.txt file had been modified. This file tells the Google search spiders what pages to index. If the file is missing, Google indexes your entire site. However, you may want Google to ignore certain pages or entire sections of your blog. My file had explicit commands to ignore EVERYTHING on my site. Nothing was being indexed.
  • The functions.php file in my WordPress theme had been altered. Although we corrected the two problems mentioned above, it took us another day to discover that the head section of my blog had a “noindex,nofollow” meta tag in it. This, too, tells the Google search spiders to ignore the entire site. We finally traced this back to the functions.php file in my blog’s theme. It had this function in it, which we removed:

    The Offending Code in My Theme’s Functions.php File

We are still not sure how these files were modified. There are at least three possibilities:

  • Someone gained unauthorized access to my blog by hacking the password or exploiting a permissions setting.
  • I unknowingly granted access to a hacker. I have hired a few coders here and there to do work on various aspects of my blog. It is possible that one of them modified these files. Why? I have no idea.
  • I installed a plugin that made the modifications. Admittedly, I am always tinkering with my site. I try out a lot of plugins, so it’s possible I installed something that created the problem then uninstalled it.

I will probably never know how it happened. However, I am determined to protect myself from having it happen again.

Here’s how you can protect yourself as well:

  1. Search for yourself on Google. It’s probably a good idea to do this periodically to make sure your blog is still in their index.
  2. Monitor your PageRank. The easiest way to do this is via Google Toolbar for Firefox. You can also use any of the PageRank tools available online, like PR Checker.
  3. View your home page source code. Depending on the browser you are using, you can view the source code behind the page. Check the main page of your site and make sure you don’t have a “noindex,nofollow” meta tag.
  4. Use a strong password. I was using a pretty strong password, but I am now using 1Password to generate a completely random, very strong password. It would now be almost impossible to hack.
  5. Be cautious about giving access to your blog’s backend. I have a hard time imaging that someone I had previously hired did this, but I am going to be more cautious going forward.
  6. Research third-party plugins before installing them. I am going to pay more careful attention to user ratings and comments on plugins before I try them. It might also be worth doing a Google search to see if other bloggers have reported problems with the plugin you are considering.
  7. Make sure your permissions are set correctly. This is a bit more technical and applies specifically to WordPress, but make sure that the permissions on your wp-content folder are not set to 777. This setting would allow anyone to write to the files in that folder. If in doubt, ask your webmaster to verify the settings.

Note also that if your blog is dropped from Google Search, you will have to request that Google reconsider your site. You will then have to be patient. This is the hard part—at least for me.

It took almost a week for my site to reappear in Google’s search results. It took two weeks for my PageRank to be restored. Thankfully, everything is back as it was!

Questions: Have you ever experienced this problem? How did you fix it?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

    wow, that is hectic. I have to say that I would suspect a hacker, hmmm – would a plugin in modify core files?
    I think a good thing to do would be to us some alert system, maybe something that gives you a daily report .
    I wonder if Google analytics can alert you when certain measured dimensions fall below a certain value (as apposed to above)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      An automated alert system is a fantastic idea, especially since you can’t contact real humans at Google. (I’ve tried.)

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

        yeah, I know that there are free services out there that will check every hour if your site is access able. Surely there is google index and page rank monitor, should there be?
        I checked with analytics – one can set up an email alert for a certain metric that falls below a value – but I am sure that that will be an end of day alert.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          I use Pingdom.com to monitor whether or not my site is up. I just checked, and they don't have anything like this. It would be good to have a service that notify you (a) when your PageRank changes and (b) if your site has fallen out of Google’s search index.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

            thanks, I signed up for the free pingdom account, a check every 5 mins is very nice of them

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PaulSteinbrueck PaulSteinbrueck

    Mike, thanks for sharing the details of your misadventure. My company has helped a couple of clients who unwittingly made changes to their site that dropped them from Google. It's amazing how a few small things can make such a huge impact because of Google's dominance in the search market. We send out monthly ranking reports to our SEO clients, but more frequent monitoring tool is a great idea. I'm going to see if I can find one. If not, it wouldn't be too hard to create a tool to do it. I'll let you know what I find.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Paul. I think it would be a very useful, too.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Joe_Sewell Joe Sewell

    I've had a blog (OK, with little traffic … this is a "share as I receive it from the Lord" type of blog, not a business or "personal branding" thing!) on Google's own Blogger (or, more precisely, blogspot.com) that has never shown up in Google's search. Of course, having a blog hosted on someone else's site eliminates the ability to get into some of the areas you mention.

  • http://robinmarnold.blogspot.com Robin Arnold

    I DID notice that your blog was missing but went to your Twitter profile and clicked to your blog from there. I was looking for a post link to send to a friend. But, I experienced the same thing. I had a lot going on so didn't check my analytics for a good three weeks and found them flatlined. I had changed my blogger template and the code didn't transfer. Simple fix but annoying, and there's no warning really that can happen. Most everything else transferred to the new template without a problem.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/sheriboeyink Lynn Rush

    Wow. I had NO idea about any of this. I'm really glad you shared this. I use Safari, so I'm going to see what I can find out about page rank for Safari. Thanks for the tips. I'm off to do some more research…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      If you find something, please let me know. I use Safari, too, with the exception of checking my PageRank. Thanks.

  • Ed Wheeler

    Good info, thank you!

    As someone who's been there, I know what it feels like…

    – RE: PR – PR has traditionally been updated every 3 months or so (sometimes minor updates monthly) – usually around the start / end of fiscal quarters. The toolbar sometimes longer. It's likely that your site was changed right around when the last PR update happened (bad timing) – which means that it may be a little while until PR "officially" returns (however past is no indicator of the future). Search "scheduled PR updates" or similar for more information.

    – RE: Searching for your site – Another way to search for your site in the index is to enter "site:yourdomain.com" into google search. This displays all the indexed pages that google has of your site.

    – RE: Blog security – one of the best tricks is to restrict your wordpress login page to only certain IPs that you select – this can be done by modifying the .htaccess folder. This way only specific computers can log into the admin panel of wordpress.

    – Keep up the good content! You're always a good read.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is great info, Ed. Thanks for sharing it. I especially like the blog security tip.

      • Ed Wheeler

        Happy to help.

        It's always best to talk with your IT people before modifying the .htaccess file

        Keep in mind that when you're restricting IPs, there's a chance that you'll lock yourself out of your own blog's admin page (for example when you're traveling and you're on an IP address through a hotel room or airport, or if your IP at home or work changes due to a router / modem reset).

        If you're traveling You can get around this by using a proxy or VPN, or if just submitting a quick post through one of the post via email / posterous type programs (or just logging in and adding your IP to the .htaccess file).

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

    I'm so glad you got it worked out. How frustrating, though. It makes me scared to tinker with my site!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      You'll get over it. ;-) (I say that every time, but, evidently, I can't resist.)

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

        I'm a fiddler too. Much to my web guy's chagrin! Must. Stop. Now.

  • http://profoundcreative.com Jacob Willis

    Michael –

    Wow I hate hearing that. If you host your blog on Media Temple, there are a couple of backup options I would have considered before spending a couple of days trying to figure out what was wrong. MT has two backup options, one that is built in for daily/weekly backups, and Snapshot Backups ($20.00/month) that is meant for entire server backups every month or so. If you had daily backups scheduled, you could have looked over your Google Analytics to see exactly when the hack took place, and restore your site from the previous day. This whole saga reminds me to check over my clients sites to make sure they are backing up correctly. Also, thanks for the pingdom.com reference, I'm looking into using them now to keep tabs on my sites.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Actually, I do use MediaTemple. I have the backup option turned on, but dreaded the thought of combing through the previous copies, especially since the site was still up and running. Thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Sorry to hear about your site, Michael. There is another type of hack going around the WordPress community that doesn't take down your blog, but instead puts a fake page title out that is only viewable by Google bots. These title pages have pharmaceutical names embedded in them and will quickly take your blog to unlisted status on Google. The way you can check for this is to go to Google and type in Site:your-blog-name.com. (example site:michaelhyatt.com ). If you've been hit you'll see all sorts of drug names instead of your regular pages. The insidious thing about this hack is that it is leaves your blog looking normal. Only Google sees it differently.
    Chris Pearson, the creator of the Thesis WordPress theme, has a post on his blog at pearsonified.com to help you clean this one up if any of your readers get hit with this.
    There are a couple of WordPress plugins that can help with security. WP-malwatch will scan your WordPress files each night and e-mail you if any important files have been changed. WP Security scan will check your existing WP installation and recommend security upgrades. Both of these are very helpful to keep you alerted to possible problems. It's also a good idea to keep all of your WP installations updated and use a good web host that keeps up with the latest security patches. Restoring a site on Google is a slow process that can take from 5 to 20 days to be re-indexed. Page rank can take much longer.
    Thanks for alerting everyone to the problems you faced and providing solutions.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for the tip on the WordPress plugin. That's a great solution. I will check it out.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laurinda Laurinda

    Wow, great insight in your post and the comments. I'll check into all those security measures. Thanks for writing about this!

  • http://bondchristian.com/ bondChristian

    Yes, I know some of the frustration. My blog's have been hacked three times… and for the first two times at least, I didn't know anything about it for a day or so. I still don't have a great workaround, but staying on top of it – prevention – is my best strategy.

    Glad to see you're back in Google. Looking to hearing how your PageRank turns out.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    Sorry your site was dropped, and I'm glad it has been restored. I always periodically google my own site to make sure it shows up. I didn't know what a "page rank" was, though. Now I know. Interesting that "page" in this context is actually a person's last name (the guy who developed the rank algorithm) and has nothing to do with the dictionary definition of the word.

    Twenty years ago, who would have prognosticated that getting dropped from something like a search engine's index would once become a source of major distress for people? In fact, who was the first person ever to anticipate that this may become a problem?

    Twenty years from now, what problems will people be faced with that haven't yet occurred to any of us?

    Food for thought.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/culturesmithconsulting culturesmithconsulting

    Great tips Mike, and I hope to never need them.

    By the way, I'm seeing your site as a google 5/10. Looks like someone there was listening.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it was just restored. Woo-hoo!

  • http://landlopers.com Matt

    This happened to me last week as well actually. Turns out it was a glitch with the Google Analytics plugin I use. I fixed it quickly, but had two days when my traffic was not being recorded at all. Now I check daily. LOL

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

    Any advice on how to increase your page rank? Is it just traffick?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I’m afraid I am not an SEO expert. There is a science to this, but I am just a layman. I know it has at least something to do with the number of people who link to you.

  • http://www.executivecoachcarolinesmith.com Caroline Smith

    Thanks for this valuable heads-up, Michael. I had just started learning about Google Page Rank using the Firefox toolbar this week and noticed that your site didn't have a pagerank (now I see it is a 5). Appreciate you writing about it.

  • http://www.orthodoxytoday.org Jacobse

    Make sure your admin account (the account user WP automatically creates at the install) has been deleted. Often times hackers get in that way — they already have the user name after all.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, i did that immediately. It is a good reminder, though.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WindmillDuke WindmillDuke

    New writer, new blogger…well, if I can get this galdurned thing going without tripping up by missing out on all your advice and warninga. So, I read, print, highlight, and recite to my co-author who thinks I'm briliant…but wonders when i can join him in "REAL" writing. (Then I feed back your platform advice).

    Michael, of the 123 docs I've downloaded from myriad sites, your "Google Rank" is just fine with me. 1 of 123: Feel better?

    Thank you, sincerely, for both your dilligence and excellence of craft and the generosity by which you share your gifts.

  • http://www.creatingnewworldes.org Carl Townsend

    Thankis for insights. I periodically see this happen with my site and blog, but not as extensively and seemingly intentionally. Any Christian on the edge of today's paradigm shift should expect this, and you certaily live there. It's called spiritual warefare. And with blogs, twitter, facebook, etc – the traffic plummets. It happend to one of my blogs a few weeks ago when the host did an upgrade to their server. The upgrade was essential for WordPress 3, but they worked on it 24 hrs while my blog traffic dropped near zero. I have a backup plugin installed that backs up the wordpress database every night. @carltown

    • http://www.creatingnewworldes.org Carl Townsend

      Pardon the typos – rushing out to a lunch with someone.

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  • http://pcunleashed.com/ Kelly

    Hi Lynn and Michael… saw your comments. We just released a new Safari extension which displays the Google PageRank of the current page. You can check out the extension called “PageRank Unleashed” here:

    http://pcunleashed.com/download/pagerank-unleashed/

    Good luck!
    Kelly

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kelly. I just installed it. Very helpful!

  • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

    I happened to notice that Google Toolbar for Firefox no longer works on the newer Firefox browsers. Google offers solutions here:  http://support.google.com/toolbar/bin/answer.py?hl=en&topic=15356&answer=1342452

  • http://www.DavidASpecht.com/ David A Specht

    Hi Michael,
    You may have answered this before, so my apologies in advance if you have. Lately, I have been dealing with a lot of malware links infiltrating the code on my blog site. I even got blacklisted by Google about a month ago. I contracted with a 3rd party via BlueHost’s partners, SiteLock, and they have been great at cleaning and hardening my site. However, problems continue to arise every few days/weeks. Even this morning I received an email that my SiteLock scan detected problems. I know you aren’t a web coder. I was wondering if you are dealing with problems like this on a regular basis? Internet research is showing many many hacks out there against WordPress sites (and I am sure every other CMS). It is a frustrating thing to say the least. However, if that is the world we are living in now, I guess I will just have to deal with it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I really don’t deal with this. I am not sure how Andrew has my site locked down, but I don’t think it’s a problem. If it is, I never hear about it.

    • http://www.stormyfrog.com/ Andrew Buckman

      The biggest problems I see with people running in to problems like this with WordPress sites are: running way too many plugins, leaving plugins installed after you’ve deactivated them, failing to keep plugins / themes / WordPress up to date, using poorly written plugins or themes, and having passwords that are too simple.

      You shouldn’t really be having that many problems, it’s a sign that something is wrong and hasn’t been fixed.

      • http://www.DavidASpecht.com/ David A Specht

         Thanks guys. I will delete all my disable plugins while they clean my site. I am using Standard Theme, so I doubt that is the problem. If it continues, I will just delete the entree site and start all over. I have all my posts saved, so it shouldn’t be THAT difficult. Just time consuming.

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