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Wednesday, Google, Gmail, YouTube, and all the other similar services went unresponsive for roughly an hour in many parts of the United States. The problem was quickly resolved, but not before Twitter freaked out and the story reached many news outlets.

Now, Google’s head of Webspam used his Webmaster Chat to answer the big question that site owners who have gone through similar experiences have often wondered. If your site goes down temporarily, does it affect your rankings?

According to Cutts, having a site go offline shouldn’t negatively impact your rankings, so long as you fix the problem quickly. Obviously, Google wants to be directing searchers to sites that are working, so if a site has been offline for days, it makes sense for Google to replace it with a working relevant site. But, Google isn’t so quick to cut out an offline site.

Once Google notices your site is offline, they will attempt to notify those registered with Google Webmaster Tools that their site is unreachable. The messages generally say something along the lines of GoogleBot not being able to access the site.

Then, roughly 24 hours after Google has noticed your site isn’t working, they will come back to check the status of your site. This means that sites can be offline for roughly a full day or more before you can expect any negative affects from the search engines. However, if you’re site has been down for 48 hours or more, chances are Google is going to delist the site, at least temporarily.

Search Engine Land pointed out that there are also other tools available to monitor sites for you and alert webmasters if their site becomes unavailable. They suggest the free service Pingdom, though there are also plenty others to choose from.

Establishing your brand online can lead to higher sales and profits, but the first step is always getting your site high enough in the search engine rankings that potential customers can find you. But, search engine optimization can be intimidating for many business owners to handle on their own.

Hiring an experiences search engine optimization consultant is often the best option for business owners who want to get their business online, but lack the time or technical skills to do so. However, you’ll want to get the most for your dollar. Kim Lachance Shandrow recently shared a list of questions you can ask any prospective SEO consultant to make sure you’re getting the best service possible.

  1. How will you improve my search engine rankings? – Consultants who won’t go into the details about the methods they use are almost always questionable professionals. SEO consultants should be happy to explain exactly how they improve rankings for companies, along with estimates of how long it can take to get the results you are desiring.
  2. Do you follow Google’s Webmaster guidelines? – Any consultant who tries to toe the line of Google’s publicly posted webmaster best practices is almost guaranteed to get you in trouble sooner or later. There are many consultants who will try to use tricks to get high rankings extraordinarily quickly, but Google is quick to punish those trying to abuse loopholes. Bing and Yahoo also have best practice guidelines publicly available that you should also want your consultant to follow.
  3. How will you keep me informed of all changes made to my site? – As a business owner, you should expect to be involved in your SEO strategy from the very beginning, and your consultant should be willing to stay in communication about any changes being made to your site or the SEO strategy as a whole.
  4. Do you have local SEO expertise? – Brick-and-mortar businesses trying to attract people to their local shops need consultants who are experiences with working locally. The strategies for local SEO can often differ from more regional or national level optimization. There are also numerous actions that local SEO requires to get your site showing up for searches in your area that SEOs without local experience may skip over.
  5. How do you measure your SEO success? – Any experienced consultant should be able to tell you in detail how they measure your traffic coming to your website and where it is coming from. The most commonly used tool for tracking rankings and traffic is Google Analytics, and consultant should be willing to share the data with you.

Depending on your skill set, a recent Webmaster video may be good or bad news to bloggers and site owners out there. Most people have never considered whether stock photography or original photography has any effect on search engine rankings. As it happens, not even Matt Cutts has thought about it much.

There are tons of writers out there who don’t have the resources or talent with a camera to take pictures for every page or article they put out. Rather than deliver countless walls of text that people don’t like looking at, most of us without the artistic talent instead use stock photos to make the pages less boring and help our readers understand us more. For now, we have nothing to worry about.

Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, used his latest Webmaster Chat to address this issue, and he says that to the best of his knowledge, original vs. stock photography has no impact on how your pages rank. However, he won’t rule it out for the future.

“But you know what that is a great suggestion for a future signal that we could look at in terms of search quality. Who knows, maybe original image sites might be higher quality, whereas a site that just repeat the same stock photos over and over again might not be nearly as high quality. But to the best of my knowledge, we don’t use that directly in our algorithmic ranking right now.”

Logically, I would say that if Google does decide to start consideration photo originality on web pages, Cutts appears to be more worried about sites that use the same images “over and over” rather than those who search for relevant and unique stock images for articles. Penalizing every website owner without a hired photographer to continuously produce images for every new page would seem a bit overkill.

Many website owners and SEOs have seen it happen. Your website is getting going, and Google is responding to your content with decent initial rankings. Everything seems fine, then gradually your ranking starts plummeting with no explanation.

You could time every day checking your rankings watching for this to happen  but that is a waste of time, as Search Engine Journal explains. Checking rankings isn’t an income generating activity, and your time is simply better spent elsewhere, like creating content or networking.

So then what is there to do about this mystery fall in the rankings? First, we have to understand what is happening, which Matt Cutts so helpfully explains in one of his latest YouTube videos.

Cutts uses an analogy of an earthquake to get to the heart of what is occurring. When an earthquake hits, the news about it is pretty broad. We know where it happened, but not many more details. Similarly, when content is posted, Google’s initial read of it is pretty wide. It is a best guess about where your content should rank.

As time goes by after an earthquake, we learn more and more. You will find out how much damage is caused, how many people died, how many aftershocks there were, and much more. As Google learns more about your content, it adjusts rankings. It contextualizes your content within the broader scope and repositions as needed.

So what can be done if you see your site drop in the ratings like this? Change up your practice. Most likely, your content is appearing to be quality at first, but Google is gradually peeling back the facade and seeing what your website really is, and it doesn’t like it.

Anytime a new website owner starts looking for an SEO, they always want to get to that precious number one spot for searches on Google. It’s hard not to want it, especially when quite a few people don’t even scroll down the page when they search for something. However, you shouldn’t be measuring SEO success by rankings.

There are plenty of SEO metrics to measure site success with, and rank isn’t near as important as you might think. Nick Stamoulis pinpointed three reasons you shouldn’t be focused on rank when you start using an SEO service.

Search is Personalized – Search engines are getting more advanced with their searches, and Google has a huge amount of user data they can take advantage of to craft search results that are personalized for every user. If you manage to show up in the number one spot for one searcher, you likely won’t for another. Rankings aren’t a concrete list of sites anymore, but a fluid collection of sites based on what you have shown interest in before.

Rankings Fluctuate – Aside from the differences in search results from user to user, Google is constantly updated their algorithms and finding new content. The web is in a continuous state of change, and the rankings evolve to match this. While Google’s big algorithm changes may make drastic differences to results, the smaller continuous updates going on can change a couple rankings for any keyword every day. Search engines also favor brand new content, so sites that have slacked off start to fall down the rankings.

Ranking for the Wrong Term is Useless – No honest SEO company will promise to get you a specific ranking. Some markets are more competitive than others, and you can’t control what Google does. That doesn’t stop some less reputable SEO services out there from promising they can get you the number one rank. The problem is, they will get you the number one rank for a keyword no one is searching for. If no one is searching for it, no one will notice that your page is the first result.