An intense Google ranking drop can happen due to various reasons, like technical issues, an algorithm update, content changes, SERP layout changes, improvements/alterations that the competitors make, and due to the penalty imposed by Google.
Find below the handy checklist for quickly diagnosing the issues and improve your rankings!
Table of contents
- Step 1: Never panic!
- Step 2: Did your Google rankings actually drop?
- Step 3: Scope of ranking drop’s impact
- Step 4: Latest website changes
- Step 5: Technical issues
- Step 6: Google algorithm update
- Step 7: Google SERP update
- Step 8: Disavowed valuable backlinks
- Step 9: Google manual action
- Step 10: Website getting hacked
- Step 11: Changes in the search intent and its behavior
- Step 12: Competitors making quick moves
- Step 13: Lost backlinks
- Frequently Asked Questions/FAQs
Now picture this: your Google rankings dropped quickly and intensely. Maybe by many positions—or even got dropped out of the top 100 for that matter.
You are having sweaty palms and your face has now become pale. What now?
How do you analyze what the real issue is? What will be the most probable reasons for your rankings to get dropped so drastically?
Step 1: Never panic!
Never panic – This is a general scenario that happens or can happen to most of us. It is a usual part of SEO. In fact, the one sure thing we can expect in SEO.
The best part is that you don’t have to worry about it a lot. It might be that your rank tracking application is behaving (a bit ridiculously) or perhaps Google is fine-tuning its ranking algorithm. Check out your ranking the coming day, and you might just be happy to find things are back to normalcy.
Ok now what if your rankings are not back to normal, or if you’re being over-worried, and want to ensure everything will be alright? Be patient and kindly take a look at the steps jotted down in this guide to quickly find out if your website is actually suffering from any of the so-called SEO issues, or is it just that Google requires some more time to make things alright for you.
Step 2: Did your Google rankings actually drop?
Did your Google rankings actually drop, or is it that your rank tracker is acting up?
Check out the website of your rank tracker and the Twitter account to make sure if there are any known real issues. It’s because Google and rank trackers at times indulge in a sort of cat and mouse game. Usually, when Google makes any changes or alterations in the pages of their search engine, the rank trackers have to update the software accordingly. So till they get things right, the rankings reported to their specific users may not get properly reflected.
You can properly set up rank tracking for your important keywords with the help of a subsidiary tracking app. So, when you are doubtful about the validation of your primary tracking app, you can check your backup for the validation. Use analytics, Google Search Console, and other effective tools for verification
In addition to that, you can check both the web analytics suite as well as Google Search Console for making sure if your Google rankings dropped or not,
Step 3: Scope of ranking drop’s impact
The pages and search queries that get affected due to the ranking drop can clearly say many things about the actual underlying issue.
Make proper use of your rank tracking app, Google Search Console data, web analytics data, and the Bing Webmaster Tools data for identifying the scope of the impact created due to the ranking drop, and this will help in properly diagnosing the issues.
List out all the search queries which show the ranking drop, and add for each one:
- Info about what cluster the specific query belongs to
- Their previous ranking (for establishing a baseline)
- The latest ranking status
- The difference
- URL that was having the ranking
- The content type
- If you are able to index the page or not
- Any comments that may seem helpful (for example, the correct date on which you made alterations to the page)
By doing this much you will be able to create a pattern. It perhaps might be like the ranking drop have only affected certain sections of your website.
Step 4: Latest website changes
The drops in rankings are often caused due to the major changes made to a particular website. When you’ve reworked a large chunk of website content it’s normal to see major variations in your rankings. You should only be concerned when the rankings don’t return to their previous state.
Discuss within your team
Discuss within your team to find out if there were any major changes or alterations that were made to the website. Also check if the code repository, project management software, and any other crucial technical activity is impacted due to the ranking drop.
Check SEO monitoring tool
It’s imperative for you to frequently monitor your website to be watchful for on-page SEO changes when optimal page rankings are vital to your business. We have a clear differentiation between technical changes and content changes —the complete website is affected by technical changes and content changes only create an impact on the pages that are directly affected.
It is better to do a double-check for making sure the search engines are still functioning or crawling and the indexing activities for your website are being done in the normal way.
You can perform the check by crawling your website and looking for changes specifically in the below-mentioned areas:
- HTTP status codes: are the pages of your website still able to return HTTP status 200 and the redirects still in place?
- Canonical URL: are there any changes in the canonical URLs?
- Meta robots tag: have the search engines lately been instructed not to do indexing for your key pages?
- Robots.txt: were there any changes made to your robots.txt? The search engines do they still have the access to all sections of the website which should be indexed?
- Hreflang: are the Hreflang definitions still being set up in the correct way?
Also look whether HTTP headers as canonical URLs, robots directives, and Hreflang definitions are getting defined there also.
We highly recommend you go for automated tracking to detect changes on your entire website. This is specifically why ContentKing was built, so make sure to check it out at the earliest if you haven’t done it already.
Changes in internal link structure
Changes made to the internal link structure of your website can certainly have a huge impact on the SEO performance of your web pages, mainly if we are talking about the changes to the links appearing on the homepage, in the sidebar or footer, and on other authoritative pages.
You often can see a major shift in the structure for internal links, so be careful about that especially when a redesign is being or has already been rolled out.
Search engines make use of the content for determining relevancy for the search queries, therefore content changes certainly have got a big impact on your web rankings. And be mindful that the impact will be more for the removed pages.
To do double-check if your content has been changed, you can crawl your website and look specifically for the changes in:
- Title: Even the slightest change or variation made in the title tag will have a large impact on your rankings. So make sure if there were any changes made?
- Meta description: well the impact to your rankings may not be directly made, even then, Meta description does impact click-through rate (CTR) for all your search results and CTR does impact your web rankings. So it is always better to check for the changes made to your Meta descriptions.
- Headings: Headings communicate proper relevancy to the search engines too. Changes made to the headings may have an impact on your rankings, so it is good to check and confirm if your headings were changed or not.
- Body content: Google seriously relies on the body content of your web pages for determining what queries they are specifically relevant for. If you observe changes made in the headings, titles, and Meta descriptions, chances are that the body content has also been changed. So it will be helpful to find out what changes were actually made. For instance, these changes are automatically tracked by Word Press. Instead, you can also lookup Google’s cached version of your web pages with a cache or by examining the Way Back Machine.
Just like keeping the track of technical alterations or changes, keeping track of content changes is indeed a very time staking and error-prone activity. It’s a task to be run on autopilot mode just like what ContentKing can do for you.
Step 5: Technical issues
It is very likely for your rankings to get impacted if Google was facing technical problems while crawling and indexing your website.
Crawl anomalies prevent Google from receiving the information they have requested. They cannot index and rank your web content if they are failing in this step.
And find out what your log files are trying to tell you? Log files record basic level information from the visitors and the search engine crawlers, possibly containing signs or clues about what’s happening with your Google ranking drop.
It’s always better to do a proper analysis of your log files, and zoom in specifically on the affected URLs that you’ve found in Step 3. Things to watch out for: reduced crawl activity from Google, an increase in both 4xx and the 5xx status codes.
One of the main reasons why rankings drop is because a trigger-happy and responsible system administrator was very certain to block all the web traffic from bots, or maybe all the traffic that was originating from the United States inside the firewall.
Take note that most of the crawl activities that are performed by Google are carried out from the United States, which means you were actively stopping Google from crawling into your site, and that can quickly cause your pages to get deindexed.
It is good to use a VPN from a location inside the United States to visit your website. Additionally, you can define the user-agent as Googlebot. Hope that works.
Now if this is working out fine, there’s another method also that you can try: check if Google’s IPs are blocked or not.
Use the Test live URL feature that you can find inside the Google Search Console. Fill in the URL and hit the TEST LIVE URL button that you see on the top right. Now if that step fails, it means that Google’s IPs may have been blocked.
Have the loading times considerably increased for the pages that got affected by the ranking drop?
- Check your crawl stats in the old Google Search Console.
- Check page’s load time in the Google Analytics (Behavior > Site Speed > Overview)
- Analyze it via Crux. Run
Step 6: Google algorithm update
Google updates can probably be the main reason behind fluctuations in the webpage rankings.
According to an authentic digital marketing survey, Google had made almost 3.200 changes to its algorithms in the year 2018. That figure might have only increased since then.
Some changes that were made were considerably small and hardly noticeable. On the contrary, other changes were huge with the capability of breaking and making businesses.
Find out whether your ranking drop is connected or coinciding with a Google update. Google seldom does open up regarding smaller updates, however, SEO specialists from all over the world are very mindful and have specific tools for detecting major changes pertaining to webpage rankings and frequently try to tie such changes to updates.
You can find out if there have been any reports about a Google update. Check out the tools below to keep a track of the ranking volatility over time:
- Advanced Web Ranking
Note that ranking drops caused due to updates in the Google algorithm don’t always happen so fast. There are times when you can see your rankings slipping away gradually. Now, this can be a normal scenario because Google needs to evaluate, reprocess and recalculate immense amounts of data sets.
Step 7: Google SERP update
It is not like each and every Google update is all about their algorithm. Google might also change its Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) layouts by incorporating additional elements that can push down the snippet or can even attract much more attention when compared to your snippet. Remember that the rank tracker treat featured snippets in a different way. Some may not take it into account when a featured snippet appears for a query when reporting rankings, while others will.
Step 8: Disavowed valuable backlinks
Most users disavow spammy backlinks that they don’t prefer to get connected with. But there is no need to disavow spammy backlinks because it might lead to getting a penalty. Spammy backlinks don’t actually add anything, they are in fact harmless unless there’s a very malicious intent to it (say for instance, frequently purchasing 100,000 blog comments in every month). Disavowing spammy backlinks might even create a negative effect on your SEO performance. So it’s better to be cautious about this.
Step 9: Google Manual Action
People often gets scared thinking that they just got a Google penalty when they find their rankings got dropped. However that’s not the case. This is why this section is placed here so down in this article.
If you are done with all other checks and yet to find the actual reason for the ranking drop, check whether you have received a manual penalty.
Are your webpages still being indexed?
Manual penalties arrive in various forms, the most harsh one is the total de-indexing of your site –and this only happens to websites that are purposefully vexing to game Google’s system. You can rest assured that when Google imposes a penalty, it can never be a severe one like the total deindexing of your site. An example of a minimal penalty from Google is allowing your site to get ranked only for the branded search queries.
Find out to see whether you can recognize this type of pattern in the search queries especially for the one in which your site got dropped. Still getting ranked for the non-branded queries? Then that’s good news. If not, a manual penalty can be the reason.
Step 10: Website getting hacked
Sadly, website hacking has always been considered as an active line of business. Once they get “infiltrated” hackers contaminate sites with spammy content, links and malicious codes. Obviously, this type of scenario will be detrimental for your rankings, so it’s very important to ensure that you were not hacked. If at all you are getting hacked, it’s imperative to make sure about it at the earliest and take quick measures to restore your website to its previous condition. Google frequently scans sites for detecting malicious codes and activities. They will inform you via Google Search Console once they find out that your website has been hacked. Though this check cannot be considered as a foolproof method, it will only take less than 10 seconds for you to check the console and confirm if there was a hack or not. So this is a highly recommended step for you to always be on the safer side.
Step 11: Changes in the search intent and its behavior
At times Google may think about changing its idea regarding the intent of a particular search query, and thereby can also change the sites they consider relevant.
Especially since advent of COVID-19 pandemic search behavior got drastically changed, which must have indirectly or directly affected webpage rankings. There were services and products that were no longer required. On the contrary, there were services and products that garnered extreme demand.
Step 12: Competitors making moves
Your competitors are definitely making their moves and trying to overtake you in the search engines. And as a result, your listings might get pushed further down in search results. It’s kind of rare that your competitors can overtake you with so many search queries in a very short span of time. Nevertheless, market competition can certainly become a crucial factor for your ranking drop.
For instance, imagine this scenario: During the latest release, a group of 301 redirects was unintentionally removed. Subsequently, the so-called URLs served 404 – Page not found. Your competition topped up their game and was able to win few of your own featured snippets. All these can certainly lead to the drop of your webpage rankings across the board.
You need to investigate and find out to whom your rankings were lost to. In Step 3 we made a set of search queries about why your positions dropped; now dig this scenario, and find out who is getting benefited from this. Also try to analyze how they were able to beat you.
- Were they able to win the featured snippets that were there for your specific queries?
- Are they having better quality content?
- Are they having better and more links?
- Are their pages getting loaded quickly, are they able to provide an overall improved user experience?
Just gather all your important findings and make sure you are winning back those rankings!
Step 13: Lost backlinks
As backlinks are always considered as the most crucial ranking factor for SEO, losing the backlinks will certainly have a great impact on your webpage rankings.
Find out if you have lost any backlinks recently by using the help of applications like Majestic, Kerboo or Monitor Backlinks. Kindly remember that there can always be little delay for these applications in picking up the lost (or say the new) links.
Nothings working? Look into this!
Another area that you can surely look into is user engagement or interaction with your particular website. If the users are leaving quickly from your site, that’s probably because they are mercilessly getting bombarded with ridiculous ads or popups. This again can make your rankings go for a toss. And they will also leave your site in a jiffy when they are not able to find what they are exactly looking for. Google can very well make out that your website, the answer to a specific search query was not up to the mark and as a result, your rankings can down in the list.
These factors and scenarios plays a very significant role in Google’s algorithms. The interesting thing is that you may not find these in the Google Search Console, but oh yes, they can really create an impact on your webpage rankings.
Google has published an extensive document on this subject known as “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” Though its bit intricate, it can be really useful for you since it has many theories as to probably why your rankings are getting so low.
Even though they are rare, algorithmic penalties can happen — the penalties given by algorithms without any human intervention.
It is a fact that Google heavily depends on machine learning to constantly learn and develop their search engine results and if not played by the rules can result in the algorithmic penalty. Such penalties can result in the demotion of a URL inside Google’s search engine results. Until you resolve the issue this demotion will last. Resolving it, and applying for a reconsideration request can speed up the re-evaluation process. It can be really helpful to make use of a hired SEO consultant to figure it out.
Yes, web rankings do drop; it’s a given in the SEO Universe. Just be cool and investigate systematically to find out the actual cause of the drop in rankings. No big deal!
If you have read this article it’s very clear that your website’s SEO matters a lot to you. So why don’t you let ContentKing to monitor and take care of your website?