Sometimes Google ranking drops happen and you can be caught scratching your head, wondering what has caused them. A Google update or algorithm change? After all, there are 250 – 300 changes per year. Is your ranking checker working correctly? On page issues? Competitors? It could be all these, or it could be none of these. Find out what could cause your Google rankings to drop suddenly and how to fix them.
Don’t Panic! Check Your Tools First
Many businesses use Rank checker plug-ins or sites to monitor keyword rankings and their corresponding ranking pages. However, like all technology, these can stop working occasionally, which may lead to you to believe your rankings have suddenly dropped. The best way to monitor if this is the case is to check Google Analytics and Search Console. As these draw data directly from your site, they are more likely to show accurate information regarding rankings. Also, check out forums and sites to see if any other users are having issues with their Rank checker before panicking.
Google Update or Algorithm Change
Just when you think you have found the perfect method for ranking highly on Google, an update or algorithm change occurs, throwing your method out of the window. Between 250 and 300 updates happen each year within Google and this does not include any Algorithm changes. Keep on top of the latest Google developments to avoid being caught when Google changes how it prioritises ranking factors within its Algorithms. This could result in massive ranking drops if you do not change your strategy to match.
Technical SEO Changes: Migrations and Updates
When a website has undergone substantial changes, these can either have a positive effect on rankings (if done correctly) or a negative one if steps have been missed. For example, if a site has recently been migrated and the correct re-directs have not been put in place, this could cause a massive drop in rankings and traffic to essential pages. Key technical SEO points to check following a site update or migration:
- Lost re-directs/ re-directs that are in place which now shouldn’t be.
- Check For Crawl Errors – Easily accessible on search console, any crawl errors will be and address these to limit long term impact.
- Robot txt. Change – Living in the root of your website, a robot.txt file informs search engines which parts of your site to crawl and which parts to ignore. Therefore, ensure search engines still have access to all areas of your site and the Robot.txt has not been changed.
- Lost backlinks – Trustworthy backlinks from other relevant sites can have a positive effect on the overall ranking position of a site. Monitor these to ensure these links are still functioning and reclaim if they have been lost. Losing high quality links to your site can have a detrimental effect on your traffic and ranking, however this can be remedied quickly by getting in contact with the relevant site quickly.
- Canonical URLs – A way to avoid duplicate content on a site by telling search engines to put preference on a particular page over another identical or similar page. As duplicate page content can have a detrimental effect on your site’s ranking, ensure your canonical URLs have not been changed.
- Page load time increase – As mentioned above, Google gives preference to sites where the user’s experience is a priority. Therefore, if a change has been made to a site/page which has resulted in the loading page for that page increasing substantially, Google will see this as a negative experience for the user. You can check your site speed with Google’s speed checker, where it will also give basic recommendations to help improve.
- Broken Links – If a site or a specific page has an abundance of broken links within it, Google will down mark that site or page due to the effect these broken links have on the user’s experience. Identify broken links and repair or re-direct them to not be affected further.
- Mobile experience – More than ever, pages are being accessed via mobile, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Therefore, another major ranking factor for Google is how mobile friendly your site is. Ensure your site is fully responsive for mobile to avoid being penalised. This can also be checked via Google’s Page Insights Checker.
On Page Content Changes
Changes to on-page content can lead to ranking drops for several reasons. If the page content is no longer relevant to the keyword the page is currently ranking for, this could lead to a drop in rankings. Changes to page titles, meta titles, meta descriptions and on page copy can all have an effect on ranking. Sometimes this effect is positive and for others, it can be negative. Ensure you aren’t creating ‘spammy’ content by trying to include your keywords in an unnatural tone which does not benefit the user as Google will penalise this. Remember, Google puts a priority on the users experience over everything else when it comes to a sites ranking position so keep this in mind when creating content. Match users intent and try to target them accurately at different stages of their customer journey to have the best chance of ranking organically with content.
Check You Haven’t Received a Google Penalty
Penalties can be given to websites from Google for a multitude of reasons, with the main being using underhanded techniques to fool Google into ranking pages higher than competitors. Therefore, if Google believes one of these techniques is present on a site, this could lead to a penalty.
Penalties come in different forms and levels of severity, the most severe being a complete de-indexing of your site which would result in a complete loss of any keyword rankings. However, a less severe penalty could also be your site only being able to rank for branded keywords, which would still have a large impact on your overall traffic and brand reach.
If you have noticed a large drop (10+ positions on a multitude of keywords) within a short time frame, check your account on Search Console. You will be notified of any penalties on your account and how best to rectify them.
Find out the impact of the drop – build a picture. Which queries or keyword ranking has affected by the drop? Which page is ranking? Is it the content on the page or is the old ranking higher than the new? The best way to track accurately if your rankings have truly been affected by a drop and the impact of this is to build a complete picture.
Competitors Making a Move on Keywords
Google is an extremely competitive environment for companies all chasing that coveted first position spot for high traffic driving keywords. Therefore, if you notice regular changes in your ranking for said keywords, be aware that competitors may be targeting those keywords to rank above you and drive traffic away from your site. Constantly review your rankings and perform a competitor analysis to see how they are performing in comparison.
Ensure You Haven’t Been Hacked
Due to the amount of money passed through websites nowadays, it’s no surprise the number of hacking incidents online has increased over recent years. However, what has also become popular is what is known as a “Negative SEO” attack. In these incidents hackers infect a site with malicious code, spammy content and harmful links which cause a plummeting in rankings. Google will notify a site owner if it believes a site is hacked via Search Console so check this regularly to limit long-lasting effects of an attack.
Google Flux – Often Misread as a Negative SEO Attack
Occasionally, your site might be affected by Google Flux. An event where ranking will substantially drop without warning or change to the site. Often mistaken from a negative SEO attack, for this reason, Google Flux instead occurs even when there are no on-page issues, no linking issues, no competitor issues and no known update. Unfortunately, there is no way to prepare or react to this happening. You simply have to wait a few days for the issue to rectify itself.
Know Your Rankings
The best way to ensure you can keep on top of any ranking drops is to accurately track your rankings each month. Monitor every drop and rise in position, the corresponding ranking pages and keep notes of any notable changes to pages or updates to avoid any unpleasant surprises. If SEO for your site is struggling, PPC can be seen as a way to fill in missing gaps in traffic and to help improve ranking by driving traffic to essential pages.