Imagine if one day, as you are checking your website’s rankings, they are nowhere to be found – your rankings are totally gone!! It’s a total nightmare, and I bet you would be wracking your brains trying to figure out what you did wrong!!
It can be devastating to lose your hard-earned rankings, but if you want to stay in the game and fight for your way back up, then you need to carefully diagnose what may have happened so that you can provide the necessary solutions. Here are some of the most common reasons why your rankings can suddenly drop:
- Google Algorithm Update
Google is always working to improve its search algorithm. In fact, it updates its algorithm several times a year. Some of these updates are minor and do not cause massive ranking changes. But there are those that are extensive and may lead to a sudden drop. These are Google’s formidable ‘animal’ forces – Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, Pigeon and who knows what’s behind another cage waiting to be freed! Keep in mind that Penguin (for websites with ‘spammy’ links) is already real-time and Panda (for poor quality content) is part of Google’s core algorithm. Major updates for these are to watch out for!
Most of the time, Google is mum about such algo updates, so it is important to always keep your radars working for any news from industry experts and other webmasters who may have detected something. Some updates are only niche-specific, which may mean that the update may not immediately be detected by webmasters, so it is important to always monitor your own rankings and look for unusual spikes or drops. In the event that your site has been negatively affected, then you may dig deeper for information about the update and list down things you can do to repair the damage. The best way to prevent such a scenario is to always follow Google Webmaster Guidelines and practice only white hat SEO strategies.
- Competitors’ SEO Strategy
Search engine optimization is a never-ending process. Once you stop working on your site, your competitors who are properly working on theirs will soon be rewarded by search engines. And if a certain page improves in ranking, then one has to be knocked off the charts. Even if you get to the very top, there is no guarantee that you will stay there; one day your competitors may take your place.
Determine whether there was a drastic change in the search results. If changes are massive, then it might be an algorithm update or a ‘Google Dance’ when the engine rebuilds its ranking, causing a fluctuation in website positioning. Possibly, it may also have something to do with RankBrain – Google’s learning system that helps it decipher the meaning of queries to provide the best-match results. If there are no other drastic changes other than another page moving upward the ranking board, then you simply have been beaten by someone else and you just have to work even harder. Yes, SEO is TOUGH!
- Negative SEO
In SEO, you shouldn’t only be looking at what’s in front; what’s behind is equally important. In other words, watch your back. As horrible as it may sound, there are those who will do everything just to take on your coveted spot. One of which is through Negative SEO, a set of harmful tactics aimed at decreasing the rankings of competitor’s website. Some of these practices include building spammy or unnatural links pointing to a competitor’s site, content and link scraping, and sometimes even hacking. Thus, it is important to regularly monitor your backlinks so that once you detect any spammy or low-quality link, delete it immediately or ask Google to disavow links you cannot delete.
- Losing Quality Links
Another possible reason for a drop in ranking is due to loss of quality links, more so if your site does not have a lot in the first place. Some of the reasons behind this is perhaps the website/webpage disappeared or your link was taken out. If you are looking to reclaim lost links, then it would be a lot easier if you have a relationship with the site owner as a call or email may do the trick. But if you are not really in touch with the owner then you might have to try your best to convince them through email, LinkedIn or Twitter. Therefore, it is important to regularly monitor your link profile because the sooner you discover that a link was taken down, then not only will you be able to reach out sooner, but the owner will more likely remember removing it.
One thing to learn here is the fact that links are not permanent. It is essential to continually build high quality links by attracting them naturally. Create quality content and find people who will be interested enough to share or link to it. Also, be careful when removing backlinks. If you are trying to make your link profile much cleaner by deleting old low quality links, then do it gradually as a rapid change in the number of backlinks may lead to a huge drop in rankings.
- Website Changes or New Website Launch
Substantial changes to your website – redesigning, changing of platform, moving http to HTTPS, etc. – may lead to serious SEO consequences, regardless of how better optimized the new site is, more so if the process does not go well. To minimize a drop in rankings, make sure that proper 301 redirects are done. Check Google Webmaster Tools for crawl errors and you might see pages that are not found which should be fixed immediately.
If you have launched a new website, and after a few weeks your rankings shoot to the top, then suddenly they dropped, understand that this is a common occurrence. In SEO, one needs to be patient as rankings do not simply rise within just days or weeks. It takes months and even years to build a solid SEO profile that will help your website steadily rank. Long term rankings require good, long term SEO work.
There are several other reasons for a drop in rankings, including having bad hosting, poor quality link profile, speed drop due to new plugins, or even a mistake with robots.txt file. If your website is not gaining any progress despite all your hard work, check you robots.txt file because you might have accidentally told search engines to ignore your site! Believe me, it happens! Finally, it can be due to a manual search engine penalty. Some of the reasons for this is hacking, unnatural back-linking, poor content, and cloaking. If your site has been hit by a manual penalty, you will receive a message in your Google Webmaster account. From there, carefully follow the instructions provided so that the penalty is lifted.
Always remember that rankings do change, not just due to changes by Google or other search engines but also from one computer to the other, one location to another, or depending on your hosting and several other variables. Your SEO team may send you a report which may not exactly be the same with what you see on your computer simply because of your different location or computer. It is also likely that rankings have just changed yesterday! The best ways for you to ensure that your website does not get lost in the abysmal world of forgotten sites is to practice proper SEO tactics and follow guidelines by the boss – Google.
So in conclusion, once you find out that your website’s rankings have dropped, check for any algorithm update, analyze your competitor’s strategy, watch out for negative SEO, continuously build a quality link profile, be careful when changing or launching your website, and have patience. Don’t panic (if you do, take a few deep breaths and calm down!). There is surely a reason behind the drop. If you clear your mind and stay focused, you will efficiently find the problem and come up with an effective solution.