…is something I have heard more times than you’ve had hot dinners in 7 years as an SEO and digital marketing specialist.
It’s an unfortunate side effect of playing the Google game – sometimes Google giveth, and sometimes it taketh away. And sometimes, just sometimes, what it taketh away is pretty significant, and pretty bloody inconvenient, to be honest.
As I started the article by saying, I’ve been doing SEO for a while, and I can’t think of an occasion I’ve come across a site dropping in organic rankings without there being a reason (or a few reasons) to pin it on. Google’s search algorithm is incredibly clever, sophisticated and picky. If you’re not making the grade, it’s time for some self-reflection.
I’m writing this article in my usual dry and cynical tone, but I get it – losing rankings is serious. If you’re a business that relies heavily on web enquiries, losing your rankings can have a massive impact on revenue.
So, if you’ve noticed a drop in rankings, here’s a guide to figuring out what the fork* is going on.
*I’ve been watching The Good Place. Have you? You should.
First of all, let’s take a reality check
Have you arrived here, reading this article, because you’ve seen a slight dip in ranking for some keywords? If so, it’s probably not time to panic just yet. Because Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm, and new content and new sites are appearing every second, it’s natural to see fluctuations. If you do notice any drops, keep an eye on it over the space of around week – if there’s a steady downward trend, it might be time to rethink what you’re doing. If the ship seems to steady itself, keep calm and carry on.
Still concerned? Move onto the next step.
Pinpoint the problem
What was the specific point at which your rankings started to drop off? Having a “before and after” point is very handy for identifying what has caused your drop. If you can point at a date and say “this happened on that date, and our rankings dropped after that”, then whatever “this” is was probably the problem. How do you do this? You can use a number of tools and methods to get this information, but my method of choice is to use SEMRush. It’s pretty pricey to get a full-blown monthly subscription, but a free trial allows you 10 queries a day.
Enter your domain and once the dashboard has loaded, on the left-hand side, underneath “overview”, click “organic research”. You’ll be greeted with a graph, and scorecard numbers showing how many keywords your site ranks for in the top 100. The graph is the handy thing here. You can see over a period of 1 month, to “all time”, how your site has fluctuated in the Google rankings. Can you see a massive drop off in the last few months? There’s your starting point. Now we have an idea of when it happened, we can get on to the why.
A new website is an exciting time for a business. It’s a chance to freshen up your look, your messaging, and fix any issues you had with the old one. Unfortunately, this is a trap I see businesses fall into time and time again – a website isn’t migrated correctly to the new one, effectively losing goodwill and those all-important rankings in Google. To be successfully migrated, your web or SEO agency should ensure that every URL on the old site is directed to a logical counterpart on the new site. If those old pages are ranking in Google and aren’t redirected, you’ll lose ‘em, and it’s going to be a long uphill slog to get ‘em back. There are other pitfalls around new sites including moving to new domains, implementing new image or script-heavy designs that aren’t optimised properly, or simply just not replicating optimised content across. These are fixable, but it’s much better to consider all the necessary steps before you migrate.
Google algorithm update
Ah, the thorn in the side of every SEO specialist in the world. Occasionally, Google, in its infinite wisdom, likes to roll out an algorithm update across its search index. This means a change to the way it assesses and ranks sites. This can big (like the Panda and Penguin updates in 2013), or relatively small. It can affect certain industries more than others, or focus on particular technologies. There’s a chance if you experienced a drop in rankings around the time of a recorded update, then you’ve fallen foul of that algorithm change. It’s important to note here that Google doesn’t announce algorithm updates before they roll them out – there are instead swathes of the SEO community dedicated to monitoring the search index for massive fluctuations. If you look closely at your SEMRush graph, you’ll see little Google “G’s” on some of the months – this indicates that there’s been an algorithm update in that month. If your drop coincides with one of these updates, its best to consult your favourite SEO expert (ahem) as to what the new algorithm doesn’t like about your site, and what you can do about it.
New kids on the block
This is probably the most frustrating reason for a ranking drop. You’ve been chugging along doing everything right, being rewarded with great rankings, when a competitor suddenly bucks their ideas up and starts making waves in the search results. If you’ve recently noticed a particular competitor or newer business appearing for keywords you thought you had locked in, it’s worth checking them out on SEMRush, and doing a thorough spy mission on their website. What are they doing better than you? Have they launched a new page, new blog content, or a landing page that seems to be doing well? While it’s obviously not advisable to start copying their ideas, there might be things you can fight back with to compete. For a deeper dive in competitor analysis, consult that SEO expert we mentioned earlier.
Pick yourself up, dust yourself off
While a sudden drop in Google rankings can be incredibly frustrating, not to mention detrimental to your business, there are steps you can take to recover. It all starts with identifying the issues and opportunities and building a strategy to get your website firing on all cylinders again. If you’re concerned about your website’s search performance, or just think it could do better – get in touch.