Your site’s rankings can tank in what seems like only a split second. If you, like a lot of other businesses and website owners, rely on first page rankings to bring in leads or purchases; a drop in rankings can gravely affect your bottom line. Just as quickly as rankings can drop, issues can be identified – but the actual remedy might take a bit longer.
It’s important to note, Google does what the SEO world calls, the “Google Dance.” This randomization of rankings jumping around in a short time frame is difficult to explain and luckily doesn’t last long. So if your overall rankings have dropped a few positions as a whole in a short time frame (think 30 days or less), there’s no use in panicking. Odds are, they’ll level themselves out soon enough.
Regardless, if you track your own rankings and you have cause for concern, there’s no shortage of reasons why this has happened. To ease the pain, we’ve outlined a few items to troubleshoot when your rankings drop:
First thing’s first: Check your title tag
As an agency, our first instinct when we see a tanking of rankings is to check the site’s title tag. Has it recently changed? Were the strategic keywords crafted into that beautiful title tag ripped away and replaced with “Welcome” or just the brand name? For us, that’s about 80% of the time. Checking that the title tag hasn’t changed is a simple, easy-to-do yet effective measure to take before panicking. There are a few different ways and tools to check your title tag but the easiest is just heading straight to your website and hovering over the tab:
We recommend recording your desired title tag somewhere so that you can keep track of what it should be. Oftentimes, team members will make tiny adjustments to the title tag, not knowing the weight it holds in an SEO strategy that can go unnoticed. Write down the agreed-upon title tag and refer back to it to double check nothing in the title tag changed.
Have removed site pages or content affected my rankings?
Removing large blocks of content or even entire pages from sites will definitely negatively affect your rankings. If you have multiple members of your team working on the site, be sure to keep a change log of what was removed, added, etc. Most CMSes will do that for you. Removing blocks of content can throw the SERP for a loop, and Google might award a competitor with your ranking position because it relied on that content for ranking credibility. Similarly, you or some team members might want to clear up some pages or reorganize the site. Always be sure to check what pages your rankings are pulling from before completely demolishing a page. If you track your own rankings, your tool should have the option to show you exactly what page your ranking pulls from.
Unless you have a very good reason for doing so, you should never change a URL slug (a slug is anything that comes after the root domain, like /about-us or /contact) and always keep the URL structure when rearranging or even rebuilding new sites. If you do end up changing the URL structure, you should always 301 redirect that specific page. It won’t get exactly the previous “SEO power” that the original slug had, but it will pass most of it on to the new slug.
Your new site doesn’t mean you’re going to rank first
Just like ripping copy or entire pages off of your site will disrupt the search engine results page (SERP), an entirely new site is guaranteed to do the same. Don’t let this scare you into never refreshing the site with a brand new design or launch – an experienced SEO can head into optimization mode and address the site backwards and forwards for best practices. But any major changes you make to your site, even if you have a plan of action for post-launch, is always going to affect your rankings, at least in the short-term. Google gets very thrown off when you make large-scale changes to your site, don’t’ be surprised when it throws your rankings off too. If your rankings are sacred to you, talk to an SEO professional about post-launch best practices. A swift plan of action can mean only a slight hiccup in the SERP, or better yet, a slight hiccup that results in even better rankings than you had before.
Duplicate content can penalize your rankings – try cononicalization
It might seem easy to (legally) rip content from a pre-existing site or even one of your other sites, but it won’t be easy on your rankings. It’s no longer technically considered a Google penalty, but it should be taken just as seriously. When you present duplicate content to Google (by the way, duplicate doesn’t mean identical, if it’s similar enough, it won’t do) it doesn’t know which bit of content to rank, yours or theirs. This can negatively affect the both of you. As much as we think Google cares about our rankings, it only actually cares about providing the best experience for its searchers. It’s not going to present the exact same information to a user on the SERP. To alleviate, once it finds the duplicate content, it penalizes one of you – typically the one with the most recent addition of that content.
While this makes sense to most everybody, it’s still frustrating, especially when you have information you’re supposed to duplicate – like mission statements, testimonials, white-paper results, etc. There is a way around this, canonicalization. Canonicalization, or a rel canonical tag, is a way to show search engines that whatever URL is tagged is the main version of what’s presented. This can help to show Google you mean no harm in presenting duplicated content and it should consider whatever URL you presented in the rel canonical for ranking. The concept of canonicalization is a large one and should be studied up before practiced. You can read more about canonicalization here.
Google crawls each page of your site and their content to determine where to rank them all. If you don’t have enough information presented to Google and users, you’ll get a lower rank for your desired keyword. Google will typically crawl and rank all of these pages but sometimes, individual pages do not get crawled and indexed. When this happens, your rankings suffer. 404s, deindexed radio boxes checked in the back end, or nofollows can cause pages to be deindexed. Check these items to assure they get crawled and indexed again. Google Search Console also has a deindexing tool that checks for site crawl errors that will identify these issues for you.
Crawling your site
Speaking of crawling, Google doesn’t just automatically know what you want it to do when its crawlers get there. A robots.txt file lives in the back end of your site and leaves certain instructions for Google to know what pages not to crawl or any other instructions you want to give it. Properly filling this out is important to assure your site is being consumed the way you want it to.
Losing quality backlinks can negatively affect your rankings.
We’ve explored some on-site happenings that can negatively affect your rankings. What about offsite? As most know in the SEO world, there’s only so many on-page changes you can make to your site before needing to back link to really boost your rankings. As you grow your backlink portfolio, the array of credible sites will grow and grow. Sometimes, you can land a really awesome, super authoritative site that can carry you up to the first page. If you lose that backlink, you might, and mostly likely will lose your rankings too. The concept of link decay means the moment you lose the link doesn’t mean it’ll be the same moment you lose your ranking. But that can happen over time and so slowly, you don’t even realize it. Sometimes it’s hard to catch when a link was lost. We recommend keeping a backlink report and updating each month, taking special note of your high DA back links so you can keep an eye on them and make sure they’re still active.
Spammy backlinks can definitely ruin your good-standing rankings.
Just as a really good backlink in your portfolio can bring you to the first page, a few spammy links to your site can really negatively affect your rankings, and even worse, get you deindexed off of the SERP entirely. Google Search Console is usually pretty good about notifying you of an influx of spammy links, but it’s best to check and catch it before Google does. If this is the case, you can also use Google Search Console to disavow those links. This means you submit these links to Google and tell them you don’t want them pointing to your site – they have nothing to do with you. This takes a while to recover from but is usually the only solution for this particular problem.
Algorithm updates can drop your rankings
Just as quickly as Google algorithm updates can launch your site’s rankings to the first page, it can rip you from the first page and throw you into the dark abyss. Google doesn’t exactly annonce major algorithm updates. And if it does decide to do so, it doesn’t exactly tell you what penalized you and what you need to do to cheat the system. It’s Google’s world, we’re just living in it.
Google releases major and minor algorithm updates. The minor algorithm updates could have a big effect (good or bad) on your rankings, but if you have a solid SEO strategy in place, minor algorithms usually affect your rankings…minorly. It’s typically the major algorithm updates that throw the SERP for a loop. You can always check on Moz’s Google Algorithm Change Log to see what’s already happened and what you can do to keep up with the times. If you’re noticing some turbulence in your rankings but can’t find anything in the log, you can always check their MozCast to see any correlation to minor happenings in the algorithm world.
Of course, we can never forget that pesky competitors might be our downfall (or at least your rankings’). You can exhaust a list of SEO best practices and ranking remedies and find that you’re still dropping. It’s best to take a look at the SERP and see who has recently jumped ahead of you. It’s pretty easy to see who has an SEO strategy, like checking their title tag, content, or even backlink portfolio. You might notice that they’ve recently upped their game and surpassed you. Identifying competitor growth, and even better, their strategy, is a great first step to totally annihilating them in the search engine results page. Getting ahead of your competitors might take a while but it’s worth consistent SEO and competitive research to win back your rank or stake your claim.
There are plenty of ways you can alleviate falling rankings
It’s important to note, most search engines follow Google’s lead (it is king, after all). While we mention only Google here by name, these principles, tactics, remedies, and red flags can be assumed for most if not all search engines. Noticing your rankings have fallen is one thing, but identifying the problem and then acting on that is a whole other backflip. There’s no shortage of ways a site’s rankings could have fallen, but hopefully this list of common reasons and remedies will help you get your rankings back to where they were if not further. If you ever have questions or want to know more, you can always reach out to the SEO experts at JEMSU!