How to Deal with an Unexpected Drop in Rankings
Let’s play a game of pretend for a moment. Imagine that six months ago you added some well-researched, incredibly useful content to your website. This new page targets a highly valuable keyword that just about every one of your competitors would love to rank for. And after hours of hard work, you finally achieve a #2 Ranking for it. Pretty amazing, right? Time to just kick back and watch the Traffic roll in.
But two days later, you check your tanking and it’s dropped down to #4.
Time to freak out and run for the hills, right? All hope is lost, obviously. That Ranking will soon drop to the second page, then fourth, then disappear from the SERPs completely, right? RIGHT???
First, DON’T PANIC Over Ranking Drops (At Least Not Yet)!
Let’s make this clear – some Ranking fluctuations are normal. Some. It is normal to see Rankings move up or down two, three, or even five positions. This is not necessarily a sign that there is something wrong with your page.
For one, Search Engines like Google are constantly updating and “improving” their Search results. Google has hundreds of Algorithm updates every single year. You may find that if you go back the next day your Ranking has recovered or even improved. This is why we recommend the following…
Look at Rankings Over Several Weeks, Not a Few Days
Because the SERPs can be so finicky, we recommend giving yourself a big enough sample size to make sure what you’re seeing is not just normal SERP changes. Doing a full Rankings report once a month while spot checking key Rankings every week should work.
Assuming you’ve done this, and you are noticing a negative trend, we then recommend…
Don’t Do Anything Crazy
Rankings still appear to be heading south? Do not charge in and begin making changes to the page before fully understanding what the issue is. You may be tempted to update your Title Tag, add or delete content, or start building a bunch of low-quality backlinks. All changes that may not fix your problem, and possibly make it worse.
See What’s Happening with Your Other Keywords and Pages
Check out how your other keywords are performing for the page in question. Are you seeing big drops for all the Target Keywords of that page? If so, you may have an issue and should investigate further. Also, be sure to check if other pages are seeing a decrease in Rankings. If you’re experiencing a drop in Keyword Coverage overall, then this is probably not normal Ranking fluctuations.
What is Your Competition Doing?
Remember how we said before that your competition would love to outrank you for that highly coveted keyword? Well, it’s possible that they recently updated a competing page. And Search Engines loves fresh content. If you think this might be the case, you could try using the Wayback Machine to see an older version of that URL. It could tell you if the page has indeed received a recent update.
Consider if Anything Recently Changed with Your Page
Is there anything you’ve done to your page in the past few weeks? This could be something seemingly minor like adding a form or altering the Title Tag, or something major like an improperly applied No Index tag or the page being down for a significant amount of time.
Find Out if Organic Traffic has Been Affected
Of course, the biggest problem with dropped Rankings is losing out on all that Organic Traffic. A significant drop in Traffic is probably the clearest indicator of whether you need to make a change to the page. If you’re looking at the past few weeks and seeing that Traffic is largely unaffected, you’re probably in the clear.
How to Manage and Fix an Unexpected Drop in Rankings:
Check for any Technical Issues
There’s a few different technical issues that could be affecting your indexation and causing the drop in Rankings:
Check your Robots.txt file to make sure no one accidentally made an update that is blocking Search Engines from crawling the page.
- Be sure to check the Source Code of the page to ensure that it isn’t being affected by something like a No Index tag, an incorrect Rel=Canonical, etc. Changes like this usually occur following a major site update like a redesign, but even if something like this didn’t happen recently, it’s still worth checking.
- In this same vein, if you have any older pages being redirected to your page, check to make sure that these redirects have not been broken.
- After checking out your page’s Source Code, go to Google and use the “site:” search command to make sure that your page is still indexed and appearing in Google.
Next, login in to Google Search Console. You can check a few different potential issues here, starting with Manual Penalties.
- Google will apply a manual penalty if you violate their Webmaster Quality Guidelines. A common violation that would draw a manual penalty is building unnatural links to your website. As a result, Google may deindex your page or even your whole website.
- Click “Search Traffic” to expand the menu and then click “Manual Actions” to make sure no penalty has been applied.
- Finally, use Google Search Console to check that there are no server issues affecting Google’s ability to crawl your website. Use the “Crawl” menu in GSC to see this information.
Check for Content Issues
Google wants to serve up the best possible content to its users. So, delivering underwhelming or “thin” content that doesn’t actually address the user’s query is a quick way to lose Rankings (or never Rank at all).
Knowing what qualifies as “thin” content can be difficult. This is why it’s helpful to find a reputable tool that can audit your page. We at Arc Intermedia have used Moz’s On-Page Optimization Grader, but there are several others out there as well. You’ll want to find something that can check your word count, Title Tag and Meta Description lengths, use of Headers, etc.
Additionally, do a Search for your Target Keyword and examine what type of content is out Ranking yours.
Finally, make sure that no recent changes were made to the content. Even the tiniest change to your H1 header can affect Rankings.
Check for Link Issues
There are two types of link issues we’re going to check for – internal and external. Internal are links from within the same domain, and external are from other domains.
Internal links help Search Engines understand what pages on your website are most important. Because presumably your homepage and top products or services pages will have way more links pointing to them than something like an About Us page. With this in mind, make sure your page didn’t suddenly lose a bunch of internal links.
External links are considered “votes of confidence” by Search Engines. Search Engines use links to determine Rankings. Therefore, the more links you earn from well-respected, contextually-relevant websites, the better. On the flipside, links from spammy websites can hurt your Rankings.
Check that you didn’t lose any external links to the page. You’ll need a third-party tool such as Majestic to see your backlinks. You’ll also want to see if there are any spammy links pointing to your page. If so, you can disavow them via Google Search Console.
Check if Google made any Algorithm Changes
As we mentioned before, Google is constantly updating and improving their Algorithm, and while these changes are usually minor tweaks, they occasionally roll out major updates, such as their Penguin and Panda Algorithm updates. Penguin and Panda were updates that respectively punished sites with low-quality backlinks and low-quality content. While Google has not implemented any new versions of Panda or Penguin recently, it is possible that another, similar Google update occurred recently and is affecting your site. Check out SEO news websites and blogs to see if there is any chatter about updates. Then check the dates to see if it lines up with your Rankings drop.
If you do have an issue with Rankings, odds are you’ll be able to catch it using one of the above methods. However, if you find that your Rankings still aren’t recovering, please contact us for further assistance.