Imagine waking up one day, opening your ranking report, and finding that your site’s hard-earned position on Google’s search results has fallen significantly. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Perhaps your website dropped out of the top 10 – or plummeted straight out of the top 100 without a trace. Of course, this is not a good feeling.
The good news is twofold. First, you’re not the only victim of such an occurrence. In fact, even the pros experience this on a regular basis. Secondly, there is a range of find-and-fix solutions available that can help you quickly reclaim your position and potentially push your website further up from where it initially was.
In this guide, we explore the why behind the what, so that you can identify the cause and determine an appropriate strategy for getting back to the top. Let’s get started.
It’s possible that your ranking didn’t actually drop, and that it was simply your tracker acting up. Therefore, before going any further, consult your tracker’s website and social accounts for any announcements regarding this kind of issue.
In some cases, trackers need to adjust their software when Google changes their SERPs, and there can be a delay that causes the former party’s reports to be inaccurate for a brief period. You can also consult your website analytics on the Google Search Console to be extra sure.
If it turns out to be the case that your rankings really did fall on Google’s side, then the following steps are for you.
To effectively determine the underlying cause, it’s important that you scope the impact of the drop by considering the associated pages and search queries. You can use Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools and your own tracker to provide the queries displaying a drop. Then, check the following factors:
- The cluster your query belongs to
- Their initial ranking (this provides a baseline)
- Their current ranking and the difference between it and the old ranking
- The content type and URL in question
- Whether or not the page is indexed
In doing so, you can usually lay out a pattern. You may find, for instance, that only certain sections of your website were affected by the drop. With this information at hand, you can move on to the next step.
Major website changes can cause ranking drops. For example, you might have migrated several pages, adjusted a large amount of content, or switched to a responsive design. If you’re not sure about any recent changes of this nature, ask around within your agency or team. Also, inspect your code repository and project management software.
There are two kinds of changes to assess here, namely content changes and technical changes. The former only affects the pages where the content was made, whereas technical changes typically affect the whole website. Here’s how you can assess them.
Since search query relevance is affected by content, changes to the material on your site can impact on your rankings, especially when pages are removed. You can identify content changes by crawling your website for changes to:
- Body content
- Meta descriptions (they don’t have a direct impact but do affect your click-through rate)
In the event of a technical change, you need to examine whether Google is still crawling and indexing your site as it was before the drop. Again, you should crawl your site and check for changes to:
- Canonical URLs
- HTTP status codes (are they still code 200?)
- Meta robots tags
- Hreflang (are they still set up properly?)
It’s possible that Google is failing to crawl and index your website correctly, which can affect your rankings. One cause is crawl anomalies. These prevent the search engine from receiving the requested information. Check your Index Coverage report to see if Google has reported any crawl anomalies.
Also see your log file records, as they may contain clues as to what is causing the drop. When looking through your files, look for decreases in crawl activity and a rise in 4xx and 5xx status codes.
In a similar vein, rankings can drop due to an improperly configured system administrator blocking all bot traffic or incoming traffic from the United States in the firewall. Since all Google crawl activity is done from the US, you could be stopping the search engine from crawling your site. This subsequently leads to your pages getting deindexed.
If you’re located in another country, set your location to the US with a VPN, define your user agent as Googlebot and see if that works. If no issues arise, try checking if your website is blocking Google’s IPs by using the Test Live URL in the Google Search Console. You might be blocking Google on an IP level, which you can check with the Rich Snippet tester.
Finally, it’s worth determining if page load times have increased after the drop. You can check this by consulting crawl statistics in the Google Search Console or checking the page load times in Google Analytics.
In 2018 alone, Google performed over 3,000 changes to its algorithms. While some are mostly ineffectual, others can have a huge impact on your SERP rankings. Therefore, you may find it useful to check if your drop aligns with a recent update. You can use the website “Was There A Google Update” for this purpose.
There are also tools such as Advanced Web Ranking, Algoroo, and AccuRanker that allow you to monitor the volatility of your ranking over time. Keep in mind that the effects of these changes don’t always happen straight away. In some cases, your ranking might slowly slip away following an algorithm update.
While taking these steps should help you determine the cause of the drop in your ranking, they might not lead to a comprehensive fix. There are several other factors that may require consideration. Fortunately, the internet is home to a wealth of information on the topic, so you can always consult other sources for additional direction if necessary.