Types of Google ranking drops and how to handle them
When was the last time you checked the second page of Google results? If you’re anything like most people, the answer is probably somewhere between never, and so long ago I don’t remember. We assume the most relevant results are the ones that Google gives priority to. This is why as much as 30% of traffic goes to the top-positioned result, so that is the place you want your website to be! But what happens when you achieve that position and then lose it? How is that even possible? Why do Google ranking drops happen? And more importantly, how do you fix them?
Sometimes, Google ranking drops are caused by unpredictable developments out of your control
Unfortunately, search engine optimization is not the most straightforward and exact science. Hard-and-fast rules are rare – most of the time, we’re talking about guidelines, advice, and best practices. This is in large part because your Google ranking doesn’t just depend on you. It will sometimes change due to factors out of your control (such as the behaviour of other web administrators and users).
Outranked by a competitor
Sometimes, you do everything right, and you still fall on the search results page. This is, of course, because you are not the only one optimizing your website. Your competitors will be doing the same thing. And sometimes, they are simply better at it than you are. This causes them to climb up in the search results and your website to fall behind.
- What to do: First, check whether the drop is for specific keywords or across the board. If it’s only for certain pages, this isn’t a problem. But if the same competitors are overtaking you for multiple keywords, you should look into what they’re doing differently. Are there any website updates they’re implementing? Specific practices for content optimization? Whatever it is, you should probably try doing it as well.
It’s questionable how much user behaviour directly affects SEO rankings. However, metrics of that behaviour such as bounce rates and time-on-site certainly play a role. When users start behaving differently en masse, you might see a change in rankings because people are searching for and choosing relevant content differently. A few years ago, for example, you could get away without listing your business on Google Maps. But these days, Google Maps is a fundamental app for finding local businesses, and without a profile on it, your positioning will be much worse.
- What to do: If you notice your click-through rates are down, the reason might be the changes in user behaviour. You should invest in some updated market research and see what your users are looking for and how right now. Then, adjust your marketing strategy to those changes.
SEO isn’t just about your own content; it includes both on-page and off-page practices. This means that sometimes, what other people do with their websites can have an impact on yours. If you have backlinks on another page and that page suddenly stops linking to your site, you’ll lose SEO points.
- What to do: Follow the status of your backlinks using tools like SEOSpyGlass. The sooner you notice something is wrong, the easier it’ll be to contact the site’s web administrator and resolve the issue with them to re-implement your backlinks.
Sometimes, the search engine itself is the reason for Google ranking drops
Google and other search engines are continually evolving. To provide users with the best possible experience, they are often changing things up and introducing new search parameters. Depending on the scope of these changes, they can have severe effects on your rankings.
Tweaks and updates to algorithms are just what Google does. Often, they won’t significantly impact your rankings, but some significant changes will. And unfortunately, there is not much you can do about it. You can’t predict or prevent algorithm changes or their effects. The best you can do is follow the news of when they happen and adjust your SEO practices to the new normal.
Updates to the search engine results page
Similar to algorithm changes, changes to the search engine results page are unpredictable and inevitable. Google will do what it can to make searches easier for users, adding rich snippets, lists, and FAQs. You will simply need to adapt. Luckily, serious changes to the SERP are pretty rare.
Sometimes, your own choices are to blame for Google ranking drops
While your SEO ranking does depend on the actions of others, your actions are still vital to your positioning. Most of the time, your SEO practices help your website climb on Google results – after all, that’s why you optimize your content. But there are times when what you do can cost you.
Manual penalties due to poor SEO practices
There are a lot of ways to practice search engine optimization. Some of them, specifically those that negatively impact user experience, are frowned upon by Google. We call those practices grey hat and black hat SEO. These include link spamming, plagiarism, unnatural backlinks, unnecessary redirections, and more. If Google figures out you’ve been engaging in this, your rankings can drop by tens of positions.
- What to do: Rely on white hat SEO only, and you’ll avoid being penalized!
Any major change to your website will cause a fluctuation in ratings, even if it’s a necessary one. Redesigning, reorganizing, and switching from HTTP to HTTPS URLs can all negatively affect your rankings. Updates like this can affect everything from website speed to link structure. And even a minor misstep in this process can be catastrophic for rankings.
- What to do: Google Search Console (under Index>Coverage) will show you what exactly the problem is. You can then opt for one of two options: either restore an older version of your website or keep the update but fix the issue (the choice will depend on the issue and the importance of the website update).
With the constant developments in technology, the way we access the internet has changed. In recent years, more and more people have started using mobile devices for their online activities. This has caused Google to prioritize those pages that work better on mobile (especially when the search is being performed on such a device). If your website is not optimized for mobile use, this can hurt your rankings; when a competitor optimizes for mobile, they’re likely to overtake you. Luckily, the solution is simple: optimize your website for mobile devices, and you’ll have no issues.
Google ranking drops are not always what they seem – check the accuracy of your data before you panic
It’s imperative to be able to identify actual Google ranking drops because your Google position isn’t always constant. It’s perfectly normal to have (minor and temporary) ups and downs in rankings. This is so common that it even has a name – the Google dance. So make sure that the changes you’re seeing are both profound and more permanent before you embark on a pointless crusade of fixing issues that aren’t there.