Google Rankings Dropped After Switching to Joomla!?

As I was looking through yesterday’s visitor statistics, I noticed a visitor that used an interesting search query: “lost google rankings when i transfered to joomla“. As a search engine specialist, I know that switching from one CMS (Content Management System) to another is very unlikely to be a stand alone cause for dropped rankings. Since the on-page factors (that can be influenced by different CMS systems) determine only a portion of your Google rankings, there are likely to be more factors than the switch alone that caused the drop in rankings. That’s why I had decided to list some of the possible causes that might have (also) caused the perceived drop in rankings.

Just a temporary swing?

Seeing your rankings for some of your keywords higher or lower than last week doesn’t necessarily mean your rankings have dropped permanently or even over a longer period of time. These swings are perfectly normal and don’t have to mean there is anything special happening at all. To prevent certain swings from scaring you (or making you too happy when they happen to be upswings) try monitoring your keyword positions over time with specialized tools.

… the farmer / panda update?

There has been a lot of chatter lately in the SEO community about the so called ‘farmer’ or ‘panda’ algorithm update by Google. In this update, Google algorithmically devalued so called ‘thin content’ websites. These websites hosted articles (often surrounded by visual ads and Google adSense) written by authors like you and me. If part of your rankings where caused by links from these ‘content farms’, the devaluations of (links to your website from) these websites might be the cause of your dropped rankings.

… localization or personalization issues?

In the old days, you could boot up a computer anywhere in the world (or at least in your own country), type a query into Google, and see the same SERP (Search Engine Result Page) on every monitor. These days however, Google lets you personalize your search results (for example with the latest Google Chrome module), shows pages that are targeted to your current location, etc. Are you sure there ‘dropped rankings’ aren’t caused by you checking your rankings on a different computer (or in a different country or logged in/out on a different browser) instead of your switch to Joomla?

… a penalty?

Are you certain that your website hasn’t received a penalty from Google recently that has caused your dropped rankings? There can be dozens of reasons for a Google penalty such as: Linking to banned sites, linking to bad neighbourhoods, website cross linking & detectable link schemes and many more. The different Google penalties can come in several different forms, most of which will lower your ranking positions or remove your website from the index altogether.

… just a few keywords?

So, you’ve noticed that your rankings have dropped, and you have verified that they have dropped over a longer period of time, which was not caused by any of the causes described above. Are we talking about all your keywords here? Just a selective group of short tail keywords (popular keywords with a high search volume such as ‘joomla templates’)? A larger group of keywords including long tail keywords (less popular keywords, often consisting of many words such as ‘small round blue and red widgets made for the Olympic games in 2010’)? Branded keywords (such as ‘themepartner’)? To verify the magnitude of the drop, try searching Google for ‘site:www.yourdomainnamehere.org’ (without the quotes).

… old pages not redirected to new ones?

When you switch to a new content management system (or a new domain name, or a new URL structure) you have to make sure that the links that are pointing to your old pages are being redirected to your new pages. If you don’t redirect these pages, all the links that point to these pages had will no longer ‘count’ to Google. Also make sure you’ve done the redirecting properly by using a so called 301 redirect (and not a 302 redirect).

… or (god forbid) it WAS Joomla!?

After analyzing all the possible causes above, you might conclude that there is no other possibility than that it was your switch to Joomla that has caused your dropped rankings. Even though I find that highly unlikely, it is possible. After all, Joomla is infamous for having many rather bloated templates (containing all sorts of fancy Javascript) and many of the older templates weren’t exactly developed with factors such as loading speed (or crawlability at all for that matter) in mind. Add to this the sometimes peculiar default URL structure, the lack of control over your title tags (especially in older versions of Joomla, as this problem seems largely solved in Joomla 1.6) and the possible duplicate content issues caused by the fact that content lives under several different URLs, it might just have been Joomla that caused your problem. But, by using the latest version of Joomla (Joomla 1.6.1 at the time of writing) and a seo optimized Joomla 1.6 template you can probably overcome most of the obstacles I’ve just described, and reach rankings similar to (or even higher than) the ones you’ve had before.

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