Some time back, I noticed a sudden fall in the ranking of the pages for an important segment of my website, averaging an entire position in a single day. I am familiar with SEO strategies for the past seven years, yet I went about frantically and started panicking whether I would be able to figure out my mistake. So many things could have gone awry. Was it possible that the members of my team or I had inadvertently messed up the equity on the internal link? Or had we lost links? Could the problem be something to do with Google’s regular algorithm updates?
As the fall in the ranking applied to several pages of our site, I assumed that the problem lay with our website or the structure of the pages, which it did not. I considered technical optimizations for a whole day and then realizing my mistake, opted for creating a guide for more effective researches in the future and you can get the benefits of this effort.
First Ensure that a Google Ranking Change Has Occurred
Before you panic about the changed rankings, please make sure that there has actually been a change of this kind. It is possible that the tracker might have localized wrongly or it could have selected one of the ranking experiments/personalization of Google. Ensure the following:
a) Have the affected pages faced a drop in organic traffic?
• This is the first place to start, as it is the most dependable data of your website. The ranking trackers as well as the Search console attempt looking at Google’s activities, with the web analytics tools only tracking the user count.
• Analyze the weekly organic traffic to the pages that were affected, both before the fall and after it, ensuring that the same weekdays are being compared.
• Is the fall in Google ranking more prominent compared to changes occurring over several weeks prior to it?
• Did the drop happen during a holiday weekend and could there be a cause for the search volume to have fallen?
b) Is there a similar fall in rankings with Google Search Console as well?
• Search for clicks and impressions as well as average positions for the specific keyword, pages or the combination, making use of the Search Analytics part.
• Does the Google Search Console indicate the same rank fall as that shown by the rankings tracker? (Ensure that you run your report using the selected keywords)
c) Is there a consistent or steady fall in the organic rankings, as shown by the rankings tracker?
• You must track the rankings on a daily basis with respect to significant keywords, in order to verify whether the drop is sustained for some days.• I would personally recommend Stat for a very good tool.
If there is only a fall in the rankings tool, whereas the organic traffic as well as the GSC clicks have not fallen, just be alert and don’t panic. Natural fluctuations occur all the time, so patience is the key in such SEO issues. However, if there is a change in rankings, go through the following steps.
What Could Possibly Have Gone Wrong?
1) An update in the Google algorithm?
Google quietly makes changes to its algorithm and updates it almost daily. However, there are several SEOs that note down these changes.
• Have you read any SEO blogs or any articles discussing a change around the time you noticed the drop? You can get information from sites like Search Engine Land, MozCast and Search Engine Watch.
• Have any SEO acquaintances that have also witnessed some changes? My professional tip would be to develop friendship with SEOs running similar websites in the same industry. You can discuss similar SEO tests with them.
If the above is the problem and if Google has updated the algorithm, you may have to make modifications to your SEO approach.
Ensure that you know:
• What Google is specifically penalizing
• Reason for Google making the changes
– In my opinion, the best strategy for avoiding algorithm penalties would be to follow an SEO strategy with Google’s requirements in mind.
You must create a strategy to extricate yourself from the penalty, or if this is not possible, at least ensure that you don’t receive another penalty.
2) Was there any loss of links in your website?
Use Ahrefs, Majestic and so on for pulling the reports on the lost links, as these are renowned counters and update their index daily.
• Is there a conspicuous fall of links throughout the site?
• Is there an obvious fall in links in the pages for which the rankings have dropped?
• Do you see prominent fall in links on the website, linking to that particular page or pages experiencing the change in rankings?
– Try and immediately locate the pages that have internal links to the pages that are affected. Check the counts for the pages that are separated by one link from the affected page(s).
• Is there a conspicuous drop in links concerning links inbound to the page(s) affected?
– Make use of Majestic or Ahrefs for finding the sites linked to the affected page(s).
– Did any of the sites also experience fall in links recently?
– Did they update their website recently or change the URLs, the navigation structures or the content?
If this is the problem, then:
The solution is to determine where the links were lost and the reasons, so that you can regain them.
(i) Getting the Links Back
– If you are familiar with the website owner, you can reach out for assistance.
– If the links had been removed during an update, it might not have been deliberate, so you can request a replacement.
– Find out whether your links were replaced with other links from other sources. Try getting more information about the new source and see how you can make your links more attractive, and then approach the site owner after making the necessary changes in content.
(ii) Replacing Lost Links with New Links with Additional Investment, by requesting your team
– Try to prove that the fall in the number of links has negatively affected the rankings, so you can get more resources for replacing them.
– If you were responsible for the links that have been lost, do better this time around and build links that will last for a long time.
3) Did you make changes to the pages experiencing dropped rankings?
If you or the team had made any such changes, Google might consider the new content to be less relevant as far as the target keyword is concerned, compared to the earlier content.
• Changes in URL
– Never change URLs, as they are Google’s unique means of identification. New URLs means that the page is new, despite the old content.
• Have you removed the target keyword(s) from the title, the H1 or the H2?
• Have you reduced the keyword density from what it was earlier?
• Is it possible for Google to read the entire page content?
– Search Google cache at cache:www.yourdomain.com/your-page, so that you can see what Google is viewing.• Is Google able to view your site? Use the GSC for reports on servers and crawls.
If this is your problem:
It is possible to regain lost ground and get the traffic that was lost.
• For changes in URL, you can change it back again, or else make the old one 301 for redirecting it to the changed one.
• For changes in text, go back to the old content and wait for the rankings to pick up. You can try changed content again, using proper keyword density tactics.
• If Google is not able to read the entire content on the page, it is a problem. You can ask the development team and mention the problem.
4) Changes in Internal Links to Affected Page or Pages
If you have made any changes to the internal links for the affected pages, it could affect the flow of the link equity through the website. This would change Google’s perception regarding the value of these pages to your website.
• Did you update the site navigation on the following locations:
– Top, Side, Footer, Suggested product, Suggested blog post• Did you update some of the most important pages on the website that point to target pages? If you think you’ve done so, then you need to check the Home page, Linkbait articles or blog posts and Top category pages.
• Did you update any anchor texts on the links to the target page(s) and does it contain the target keywords after the update?
If this is the problem, then
Find out the number of internal links that no longer point to the affected pages. Use a crawler, like Screaming Frog, to access the previous site version and run it on both the versions. You can compare the counts of the inbound link. If the older version is not available, compare the navigation changes and note down parts where the latest layout could have impacted the concerned pages.
The impact on the structure of the site will decide the way to fix this problem. You can fix the problem in the site’s navigational structure, but your UX team could overrule the SEO team, in case of primary navigations. You can opt for ways of adding links in places that you have control over. This would be:
• In description of the product
• In the blog post
• At the footer, as few people make use of it.
Of course, removing a link and adding it later from a different location on the site will not be the same as having the original link. Check out your rankings and put in additional internal links than what was lost, in order to ensure Google search page rankings.
5) The User Feedback states that you need a different ranking.
Google makes use of machine learning for its rankings, which means that they measure your page value on the basis of the click rates seen of SERPs and the duration of a visitor’s stay on the page.
• Have you added a popup that has increased the bounce rate?
• Does your page take more time to load?
– Check out the response time of the server, as people generally give up after a few seconds.
– Check out the load time for full page, because if you have put in content that takes ages to load, visitors could give up.
• Changes to page titles could lower CTR, because I had done this some time back and it resulted in changing the ranking of 500 pages from 13 to 8, so the reverse is also possible.
If this is the problem, then
• In case of the new popup, ask the marketing team to use another popup, such as Scroll ones, timed ones, or Exit popups or even Stable banners placed at the page bottom, using a Click Me type of button. • For longer loading times, ask the development team to use reduced SEO conversions, as rankings have been lost.
• If page titles have been changed, revert to old ones.
6) Changes made by Competitors
It may not have been your fault at all, as the competition became stronger. Use the ranking tool to find out which competitor has gained due to your ranking drop. There are paid tools like Versionista or free ones like Wayback machine for finding the changes in the competitor sites.
• With the change in your site ranking, who was the competitor who gained or even lost?
• Has that competitor lost inbound links or gained them?
• Has the competitor made changes to the competing page(s)?
• Has the competitor made changes to the internal link structures?
• Is the competitor getting higher click through rate or a better dwell time for the its page from the SERP?
If this is the problem, then
You must be angry and so must your boss. You can learn from the competition and imitate their changes, but improvise on it or you will merely be catching up with them, instead of getting ahead.
Back on the Saddle
You might still be panicking, but the above tips will surely set you on your way to positive solutions and put you back on the saddle with respect to your SEO rankings. In my opinion, the best way to tackle a fall in SEO rankings is to find a good reason for it and then set about to create a good plan for tackling it. If you still find it challenging to retain the lost rankings and traffic, then you can use services of a SEO company like Top SEO Now.