Google Slap and Back In Less Than A Week

I was checking my stats late one night when my eyes beheld a heart stopping sight – google had stopped sending any traffic and the PR for most of the popular pages had dropped from PR4 down to PR0 and were missing from the SERPs – eek!

Because the site has been online since before the millennium we’ve seen some dramatic spikes and depressing slaps before but we’ve never experienced PR0 pages and NO traffic at all so something was clearly wrong.

My first instinct is always to do nothing but after asking a few affiliate chums if I had missed anything obvious the consensus was it was most likely we had tripped an automatic penalty or perhaps a manual penalty – eek2! I had a look around for news about Google algorithm changes and nothing set any alarm bells ringing – the site hadn’t changed before/after the slap so I feared the worst.

Apparently a manual Google penalty will be displayed in your Google Webmaster tools account so I nervously logged in and was relieved to see I had not upset the google traffic gods so WTF was the problem?

I took a good look around GWT and the only thing flagged up was errors in the sitemap.xml file. I manually created and update that file so I knew I hadn’t made any recent changes and that left me puzzled how that could suddenly cause errors. I re-uploaded my local copy, validated it then resubmitted it to Google and within 24 hours most of the pages were showing up in the SERPs and the PR had returned – phew!

We’re still well down on traffic but I’m sure that will improve as we add new content which will get crawled.

I was surprised that fixed the problem but it does leave me wondering whether to remove the sitemap.xml file altogether and let google make its own way around the site – or maybe it was just a google blip, either way it was a bad day SEO day in Joe World!