How to recover from a Search Engine ranking drop
Experiencing a ranking drop is not unusual, in fact, every website experiences a drop in its ranks from time to time. The search engine ranking algorithms change all the time and causes these fluctuations. But website owners should be more concerned about how their websites can recover from ranking loses. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to recover your rankings and that is our focus in this post.
Table of Content
- Verify that your Google Rankings really dropped.
- Understanding the ranking drop's impact
- What could cause a search engine ranking drop?
- How can you recover from a ranking loss?
1. Verify that your Google Rankings really dropped
The starting point is to verify that your rankings have actually dropped. You will find search trackers like Google search console, Google analytics and other tracking tools very useful here. You will need to check both the ranked positions and visitor traffic to the site to confirm that there has actually been a drop in the ranking of your website. Once you are able to verify that there is a drop in your ranking, then you move on to investigate its impact.
2. Understand the ranking drop impact
The impact of a ranking drop should guide you on the underlying issue and how you should respond. You will begin by evaluating the search queries and the pages affected by the ranking drop. Your Google analytic results can be helpful in understanding the nature of the drop. Go to Behavior > Site content > Content drilldown and carefully observe the changes.
Further compare the data with the period before the drop and monitor the changes. You need to assess the impact of the drop and watch the consistency to decide the nature and impact it has had on your website.
3. What could cause a search engine ranking drop?
A ranking drop as conceived in this post is a relatively stable, consistent and dramatic loss in search engine position. Now, what are the factors that can cause such a drop in search engine ranking?
We have identified the following causes of website ranking drops:
- Competitors out-rank your website
- Recent website changes
- Technical issues
- Google algorithm update
- Disavowed valuable backlinks
- Google Manual Action
- Hacked website
- Change in search intent and behavior
- Lost backlinks
3.1 Competitors Out-rank Your Website.
You can loose ranks because your competitors are doing something the search engines love better than you. There are a lot of factors that influence search engine ranks. You will have to take them very seriously. Fortunately, today's website design platforms take care of 90 percent of the SEO factors that play a crucial role in how Google ranks web pages. So, you have less work to do. But you must be smart at what you do and get it right.
3.2 Changes Made to The Website
We have seen drops due to changes we have made to our website. In some cases, just a single line of sentence changed on a page can cause a temporary drop and that should not be a problem as the page regains its position within a short time, maybe in about a week or so. The important point here is that you must be careful with your content to ensure that you have checked and rechecked for spellings and appropriateness before you enable the post to go live because everything matters and Google can sometimes be very detailed in crawling a website. Where you choose to make changes, they must be justifiable and absolutely necessary. You never can predict Google and their search engine.
Further reading: 10 obstacles to good ranking for websites and contents
It is important to note that not all changes lead to a ranking drop. In some cases, the changes can also lead to an increase in the ranking. Changes to website titles, description, page content and keyword usage in page content can lead to a dramatic increase or drop in search ranking positions. Care must be taken when making such changes.
The takeaway here is for you to keep in mind that website content matters and is a key ranking factor with Google so the changes you make to your website can improve or hurt its ranking. We recommend that your content and any changes you will make should improve its usability, relevance and quality.
The lower search results usually fluctuate much more than the top search results. If your website is new in the top 5 results, you can expect more fluctuation than websites that have been listed in the top 5 results for a longer time.
You can also expect higher fluctuation if the keywords are related to a hot topic. If Google shows results that are marked with “two hours ago”, or “one day ago” then it’s likely that the keyword is related to such a hot topic.
If your website was ranked in the same positions for several weeks before the rankings dropped, you should take a closer look at the changes.
Check to confirm that search engines are crawling and indexing your web pages as before. We strongly recommend that you track the changes on your site with tracking tools like Google analytics and Google Search Console.
Checking specifically for changes in:
- HTTP status codes: are your pages still returning HTTP status 200, and are redirects still in place?
- Canonical URL: have your canonical URLs changed?
- Meta robots tag: have search engines suddenly been told not to index your key pages?
- Robots.txt: was your robots.txt changed? Do search engines still have access to all the sections of your website that should be indexed?
- Hreflang: are your hreflang definitions still set up correctly?
Further reading: How to Get Your Content on Google's Featured Snippets
Internal link structure changes
Changes to the internal link structure of the website can have a strong impact on your pages' performance especially if you have made changes to links on the homepage, on other authoritative pages and in the sidebar or footer. This happens most often with a website redesign and can cause change in website ranking.
Content is a big thing when it comes to how search engines rank websites. Because search engines use content to determine relevance for search queries, content changes can have a big impact on your rankings. This will involve rewritten content and pages that are removed.
Check your website if there are changes to its content and check with your team for any changes that they have made recently. Crawl and check specifically for changes in:
- Title: even the smallest change in the title tag can have a big impact on your rankings.
- Meta description: while not impacting your rankings directly, the meta description does impact the click-through rate (CTR) for your search result.
- Headings: headings communicate relevancy to search engines too. Changes to headings may impact your rankings, so check to see if they were changed.
- Body content: Google heavily relies on your page's body content to determine what queries it's relevant for. You may want to track the changes and possibly revert. WordPress tracks these changes automatically. Alternatively, you can look up Google's cached version of your page with a
cache:query or by checking the Way Back machine (opens in a new tab).
3.3 Technical Issues
If Google starts having issues with crawling your site, then that will have a very big impact on your rankings. If Google is unable to crawl and receive the information they requested, that will affect your website ranking.
Most of the time, system administrators decide to block all traffic from bots, or all traffic originating from some countries to mitigate attacks on their websites using the system firewall.
If you block a country like the United States, where almost all crawl activity performed by Google is done from, you will be preventing Google from crawling your site, which will quickly lead to your pages being deindexed.
Use a VPN with a location in the United States, and visit your site. If that works fine, do the same thing but additionally, define your user-agent as Googlebot. If you do not detect any issues, then you are fine with Googlebot.
Also check to confirm that you have not blocked Google's IPs. There are a few ways you can do this:
- Use the Test live URL (opens in a new tab) feature in Google Search Console. Fill in a URL there, and hit the
TEST LIVE URLbutton in the top right. If that process fails, Google's IPs may be blocked.
- Use the Rich Snippet (opens in a new tab) tester to request a URL on your site. If that fails too, then Google may really have been blocked on an IP-level!
Have the load times significantly increased for pages affected by the ranking drop?
- Check out your crawl stats (opens in a new tab) in the old Google Search Console.
- Check the page load time in Google Analytics (
- Analyze it through CrUX.run
3.4 Google algorithm update
Google updates its algorithm quite often. According to Search Engine Land (opens in a new tab), Google made 3.200 changes to their algorithms in 2018. That signals the impact Google updates can have on websites. Some updates are small and less impactful while small can be heavy. In most cases, Google updates will have a gradual impact on websites as Google rolls out new data. If Google has made changes to its algorithm, you need not panic. Study the update and see if there is a need for any changes.
Google SERP update
Sometimes, Google updates its search engine result pages by adding or removing some snippets. Sometimes, they have to change the SERPs layout. All these can affect the search engine and how results are displayed.
3.5 Disavowed valuable backlinks
Quite often, people think of using the disavow tool to clean their backlink profile and remove links that are considered to hurt rankings. Often, this is not a recommended practice and ends up hurting the website. We recommend that you will need to avoid the spammy links but if you have found a link to a spammy website, say a directory that has added your link, you just need to ignore that. It is normal for those things to happen and Google knows all the things that can possibly go on. What Google particularly frowns at is a purchased link especially when they are massive and intended to manipulate it's search results.
3.6 Google Manual Action
A manual action is a penalty and a very serious one. It means Google has observed unacceptable behavior and manually penalized your website. There are some checks you need to make:
- Check to see if your web pages are still indexed.
- Check if you are still ranking for non-branded queries. If no, then a manual penalty is likely.
- Check Google Search Console for any messages notifying you of the manual penalty and why. You will open GSC and navigate to Security & manual actions > Manual actions.
3.7 Hacked website
Some hacks will infest your website with malicious codes. Once hackers gain access to your website, they can cause a lot of harm and sometimes may deface your website. Google will crawl your website and if it finds security issues, it will notify you in the search console. It is important that you check this information daily to be able to take a quick response to any threats.
3.8 Change in search intent and behavior
Google could change its idea about a search intent and therefore change the content it should serve for such search queries. That can cause a fluctuation and a ranking loss. For instance, the COVOD 19 periods really changed search intent for many keywords.
3.9 Lost backlinks
Links are endorsements. They boost your website credibility and authority. Losing backlinks is a sign of lost credentials and authority and will follow with ranking loss. Our suggestion is that you continue to do the best things you were doing and consistently too and you will see a rebound.
4. How to Recover From a Ranking Drop
Ranking loss or drop is a given in the world of SEO. You will experience it just as you will see ranking gains. The first thing is to be calm and not rush to make changes once there is a ranking drop.
Begin with a careful analysis of the situation. Whatever changes you will have to make should be guided by your findings on what has actually happened. Here are some questions that can help you to identify the problem:
- On which search engine has the ranking change occurred?
- Has the change happened in a particular region?
- Which pages have been affected by the change?
- Has the ranking change had an impact on your conversions and your website traffic?
- Did the same happen a year ago? This might be a seasonal issue.
- Are the changes affecting competitors' websites? That will suggest a Google algorithm update.
After identifying the affected pages, you can proceed to the details. Find out if there are specific keywords that caused the traffic change. Find out if particular competitors gained rankings for these keywords and resulted in the changes.
You will want to equip yourself with tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics. These free tools can help you monitor your website performance.
Also consider if Google’s algorithms have re-evaluated the intent behind a query group.
You must be very careful with making changes. Do not arbitrarily change your SEO tactics. Find the reason for the problem and then react wisely. Analyze your competitors to determine what they have done better. If a large number of your pages have been affected, then there could be a technical problem on your website.
Our most important advice is that you adhere to the Google search quality guidelines. Google will decide where your website will rank and so impressing Google is important.
Do not panic if you observe a ranking drop, it can be resolved and you can always regain your positions. Remember that a ranking drop is something you will experience in SEO. Also keep in mind that you are in competition and should expect your competitors to sometimes do better. That should not be a problem. Just keep doing what you do and try to make things better.
Ranking is directly a function of what you do to your website, the changes you implement and the quality of your content. Be very mindful in choosing your keywords and content. They influence how your website ranks.
Finally, monitor your website performance and be patient. SEO takes time for results to manifest.