A page ranking – the position of an article or sales page in Google for relevant search terms (keywords) – can tank suddenly. One day it’s at the top of page 1 and it’s got the snippet too, and the next, it’s languishing back on page 3. What happened? What went wrong?
Here are 8 reasons why your page rank may have tanked all of a sudden.
1. Google Changed the Search Intent on the Page
Google may alter the search intent for the search term and, as a result, the sites that showed on page 1 aren’t there any longer.
For instance, a query can initially be viewed as purely informational but later is thought to be partially or fully an e-commerce related term. In which case, suddenly Amazon, eBay, and other retail sites may appear more prominently. Also, if a video is now seen as a better answer than an article, then videos may take up more space, pushing down other search results to lower pages.
There’s nothing that can be done with changing search intent other than to look for that being a cause. It does also work the other way where e-commerce related queries morphed into informational ones and are subsequently easier to rank for.
2. Keyword Cannibalization
Unintentional keyword cannibalization can occur when two articles are published on the same site that covers similar ground. While they may be about related topics rather than identical ones, Google may have decided to rank the newer article for a keyword that the original article considered its own.
When a cannibalization issue happens, one article can fall in the rankings while the other gets a boost. It can certainly confuse search engines and is best avoided. Changing the focus and keywords included in the newer article and resubmitting it manually to Google can help update the index and possibly get the first article’s ranking back. But nothing is ever guaranteed.
3. Slow Loading Site
A slow-loading website that often doesn’t finish loading before the page ‘times out’ can cause spider problems when search bots crawl the site. When the site is having hosting issues, usually Google will let that play out before black marking the site. However, if the problem persists for days or weeks and doesn’t get resolved, eventually they may mark the site down in the page ranking.
While Google may not pick up on slower sites or long pages with many scripts taking too long to load, they could pay attention when searchers start bouncing back from the site quickly and clicking on other search results. If this didn’t happen before because searchers were previously happy with the information received, then this signals a change in searchers’ behavior. As a result, the page can begin to lose its ranking position.
Furthermore, the upcoming Core Web Vitals update is expected to make site speed more relevant with ranking declines or labels for sites offering a good or less than perfect customer experience. This update is currently expected to roll out starting in May.
4. Backlinks Have Been Removed or Disappeared
Backlinks pointing to the root domain or individual pages or posts can disappear or be intentionally removed.
It may happen because the site is no longer live or because they were manually removed from the page or post. Also, content is refreshed to keep it ranking, and in the course of refreshing and removing some paragraphs because they aren’t relevant any longer, a link inside that paragraph is lost too.
Many times, backlinks don’t survive longer than 6-12 months. The internet is everchanging and so links do vanish unexpectedly. This is why a steady stream of new links is always necessary to maintain the existing ranking, otherwise, a site owner will see a gradual decline in backlinks and rankings.
5. Getting Outranked
While it’s unlikely that you’ll drop from page 1 to page 3 because of being outranked, if multiple new competitors publish content and do well with it, then it’s conceivable that enough positions can be lost to eventually end up on a lower page.
Certainly, if you were holding the #8 or #9 position, then slipping down to page 2 is conceivable due to competitors. If they’ve built links recently, other pages could be ranking higher now too. If both happen, then your ranking may decline sharply.
6. Google Algorithm Core Update
While Google does release minor and major algorithm updates throughout the year, the Core Updates are a little different from these.
A core update is one that fundamentally changes how Google looks at web pages and decides where they should rank. For instance, one update might highly favor e-commerce sites, forums, or query answer sites. Another could give recent content, like newly published but weak pages, a bias over older superior content.
When a core update occurs, it fundamentally changes the game. While Google may declare that the update “only affected 7% of search queries,” the reality is that’s a huge amount. It reshuffled the deck in a major way. Core Updates happen at least twice a year and often three times.
7. Not Mobile-oriented
Google now has a mobile-first approach where the mobile version of the site is the one indexed and the desktop version is more of an afterthought. This is to reflect the reality that for most sites, over half of the visitors are using smartphones and tablets, not PCs.
When a site is not well optimized for mobile, this can materially affect the mobile ranking for the site. While the desktop ranking for the same keyword may be unaffected, the mobile ranking could have gotten marked down due to accessibility issues. When pop-ups cover the smartphone screen, ads aren’t properly optimized, or the menu is inaccessible for mobile users, it can play havoc on the ranking position.
8. Content is Low Quality
While Google still isn’t fabulous at detecting good from bad quality writing, it is improving every year.
Short, uninteresting content that doesn’t offer original thought is less likely to rank well compared to previous years. Therefore, older content that hasn’t been refreshed, modernized, and improved for quality may decline in rankings.
When a page has dropped in the rankings, it’s necessary to look at a variety of possible reasons for why that has occurred. Oftentimes, several reasons can overlap creating a double-whammy effect that’s even harder to figure out.