Published: 26 April 2016 High Google rankings are vital to a website’s success in bringing in customers as well as providing something to brag about. However what do you do when you go to search for your site and your previous top 3 position has slipped down or even worse, disappeared altogether? Here’s a guide to some of the more common reason your Google rankings might drop.

Overnight or gradual process?

Look at how quickly the change occurred. If the rankings dropped suddenly over the period of a day or two, this would suggest that there a single event has caused the drop. On the plus side, this also often means that once the offending event has been identified and corrected, rankings will quickly recover.

If rankings have gradually declined over a longer period of time, the cause can be harder to diagnose and it’s possible that there are several smaller issues that are combining to have a negative effect on the site. This will require a more in-depth analysis of the site and recovery is likely to be a longer process.

Manual Google Penalty

Google has strict guidelines to prevent website owners exploiting Google’s algorithms. These include abnormal backlink building and exploiting on site features such as schema or hidden content. If your site has received a manual penalty, you will receive a message in your Google Search Console account. This will also include a brief description of what is wrong with your website and what you must do to fixit, although these are typically quite vague. Once you believe you have corrected the problem, then you can submit your site for reconsideration, where it will be reviewed again and if approved, the penalty removed.

Google Algorithm Updates

Google routinely updates its algorithms. The majority of the time these are small updates that rarely have a significant impact on most site’s rankings. However, from time to time an update is released that has a larger impact, the most famous being the Penguin and Panda updates. Penguin assesses a site’s backlink profile, checking for evidence of high numbers of low quality links. Panda assesses the quality of content on a site, penalising those with poor content.

In the past, these were carried out periodically and sites that fell foul of them and were penalised would have to wait until the next update, which could be months away, before having the opportunity for their rankings to recover as unlike a manual penalty, there is no opportunity to have the site reconsidered. More recently, both of these have been incorporated into Google’s core algorithm, meaning that they are both updated more regularly. However algorithm changes do still happen, if your drop in rankings coincides with the date of one of these, you should take action accordingly. The dates of updates and their impacts can be found here:

Backlink profile

Backlinks are still the most important factor that Google looks at when looking at rankings, with links from high quality third party sites being considered a strong signal that your website is of good quality. Over time however, backlinks can be lost as older content on sites is deleted or moved around and the backlinks get removed or broken.

Some SEO tools provide a monitoring service that will inform you if a backlink disappears meaning that you can investigate the reason for its demise and may be able to reinstate it.

If you do not have this, the only solution is to try and build new back links. It is good practice to continuously build backlinks to your site as part of your SEO strategy.

The aspect to check is that your site doesn’t have too many poor quality links, these can include poor quality directories – often with ‘SEO friendly’ somewhere in the URL, title or homepage or lots of links with keyword anchor text e.g. florist in Kent.

Site or Domain Updates

If there has been a recent fundamental change to your site such as transferring from http to https or relaunching a new site, this can have an impact on rankings. Any large change will usually cause some short term fluctuations in rankings, but if the transfer has been handled correctly they should slowly return to their previous positions.

If rankings continue to drop, then there probably is a larger issue at play. Key points to check are:

Redirects are correctly set up from old pages to new pages. These should be 301 permanent redirects and not 302 temporary redirects.

The robots.txt file has been updated and is not blocking the new site. Likewise, make sure any staging or development sites setup are blocked to search engines.

Technical issues

There are a number of technical issues that could have a detrimental effect on your site’s performance in search rankings. The most common issue we come across is duplicated content which can be caused as a result of a number of issues including:

Blog and news article tags and categories; these can create lots of new pages which have the same content on. We would normally look to block these pages via the robots.txt file.

Different versions of URLs; many platforms create additional versions of URLs, such as adding .aspx or .html on the end or additional folders such as /en/, which can get indexed. To resolve this, either redirect the additional URLs to the preferred one, or add a canonical link to the pages indicating the preferred version.

The most common cause of duplicate content we come across is when staging and development sites have been indexed. These should always be blocked to search engines.

Another common issue is the robots.txt file either blocking or allowing access to the wrong files. Media files such as images, css and javascript files should be allowed in order for Google to render the site. Internal folders such as wp-admin on wordpress sites or /sitecore on sitecore sites should be blocked.

Market changes and competition

It may be that there is nothing wrong with your site, it’s just that your competitors are either increasing in number or doing a better job at SEO than you. It may also be that the keywords that you are targeting and measuring are no longer as relevant or as popular.

When searching with your keywords, look at the websites that are ranking above yours and make a note of any new competitors and those that rank regularly above yours. Look at the content on those sites to establish what they are doing differently that is making their site rank above yours. You can also look at their backlink profiles to establish new link opportunities for your site.

Use Google Trends to look at the popularity of the keywords you are targeting. Increasing popularity will mean that there will be more competition as more of your competitors will also be targeting them. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to look for alternative keywords. It may be that your site already ranks well for these but you weren’t aware of them.

Stale or out of date content

Over time content can become out of date meaning it less relevant and therefore less likely to be displayed in search results. Site’s that regularly update their content or add new content are more likely to rank better.

Whatever the cause, it is likely to take a bit of time to regain your positions, if you need any further help or advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Nick Steele

Digital Marketing Consultant


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