Uh oh. You’re rankings have dropped all of the sudden. You’ve done a Google search and all of your rankings are coming up at No. 21. Looks like someone did an audit of your site and found some errors.

Before you pull the fire alarm and/or choke your SEO, we’ve asked our team of experts to provide a short walkthrough on what they did when this situation comes up. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the word.

Step 1: Make Sure Nothing Else Has Come Into Play

It’s easy to make a rush to judgment with rankings but you really want to make sure. Take a couple of days – maybe even a week – to evaluate. Rankings bounce around, so if everything is down one day, make sure it’s not a one-off oddity. Make sure you see a pattern of at least three days before you become concerned.

There are other factors that could come into play. Have you been hacked? Did your site link out to a shady location – like a spam site? Is there technical issues with your site that isn’t allowing Google to properly crawl your site? Did you post a piece of very low quality content?

Make sure you check off that list before you assume that you’re world of rankings is crumbling.

Step 2: Stop The Dirty Practices

Of course, nobody on the internet would ever go and buy links. Google says that’s illegal, so of course, why would anyone participate in that type of transaction?

You have to be honest with yourself here. If you’ve been buying links and the network you were buying from got busted, there’s a very good chance that’s why your rankings have dropped. Google will routinely catch these link farms and after they do, the next process is to punish the people supporting that network.

Take a look in the mirror. If that’s a strategy you’ve been employing, you need to stop and fix it.

Step 3: Evaluate The Clean Practices

Now even if you aren’t buying links from shady services, there’s a chance that your backlinks could still burn you. Don’t just assume that the links you’ve built are great and will always be great. Things changes, page rank fluctuates and what was once a site with a great reputation can now be an abandoned ghost town that’s dragging you down. Let’s say ChuchGirls.com was a squeaky-clean site that gave you some divine links. But all of the sudden, the owner stopped keeping the site up to date and ended up selling the domain to someone with a dirty mind. You’re helpful backlink can now turn harmful.

Obviously, that’s an extreme situation but if you’ve received a penalty, it’s time to start looking back to the links you’ve previously built. See which ones are potentially harming you.

Step 4: Compile An Effective Link-Removal Strategy

The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out what type of penalty you suffered. Was it a keyword penalty? Or was it a specific page or site-wide?

If it’s a site-wide penalty, then you’re going to have to look at all the backlinks coming to your site. That’s basically the worst-case scenario as you’d basically have to go through everything.

If it’s a specific page, you have to examine what backlinks are pointing to that page. Evaluate the links to that page and resolve the issues there. Don’t make drastic changes to the entire site; just deal with this page first to see if that takes care of the penalty.

Lastly, if it’s a keyword-level penalty, then look at the pages that ranked highest for that keyword before the penalty was invoked. Continue with granular audits against those pages and even cross-references it with similar pages from your competitors. That may give you some clues as to which links are hurting you.

Overall, there are lots of solutions out there. These are just a few from our experts. If you’re rankings drop overnight, don’t panic. Stay calm, follow these steps and you’ll isolate the issue is soon enough.