The Different Types Of Google Ranking Drops & How To Deal With Them
We all know just how important reaching position one on Google can be, with approximately 30% of traffic directed to the first listing within the index. While the likes of Position Zero and Google Ads have reduced the traffic somewhat, we’re still seeing the first few natural results in the SERPS garnering more visitors and leads and so ranking drops can have a devastating effect on our ROI and conversion rates.
If you’ve been noticing drops in your Google ranking lately, you may be wondering just what has changed. Whether the drop seems to be reversing, or you’re still looking for the source of the issue, diagnosing the cause is essential for working out a solution. We’ve had a chat with our in-house experts and compiled a list of some of the most common types of ranking drops, with steps on how to deal with them.
One of the leading causes of ranking drops on Google rests with their algorithm updates. With over 500 major and minor changes taking place every year, it’s likely that at one point or another, your website will be affected. Whether you’re following the best SEO practices or not, changes happen and it’s your approach to these changes that will make all the difference.
New or major updates to Google’s core algorithm (referred to as broad core algorithm updates) can take place a few times a year and we’ve already seen one take place in March of this year. While it wasn’t quite as significant as the Medic update of August 2018, it did cause significant fluctuations for a number of keywords. There are very limited details about what exactly has been changed and for this reason, it was difficult for SEO or webmasters to tackle the changes with any vigour. Instead, it was a case of sticking to Google’s guidelines, as websites that followed the E-A-T requirements appeared to be doing relatively well.
Google isn’t overly vocal about their updates, rarely reporting that any changes are coming and only confirming that changes have happened after the effects have taken place. For this reason, it can be difficult to work out whether a ranking change has happened because of this. Generally speaking, your website won’t be the only one affected by changes, so paying attention to what other webmasters are experiencing can help determine whether this is a wider issue or not.
While it’s difficult to stay safe from potential updates without any information about what’s coming, fixing the issue is a case of working out what led to the drop in the first place. What does your website lack that would help it rise back up? What could you be doing wrong? By following SEO communities and leading blogs, you may find the answer given to you but for updates affecting specific niches, it may be a case of digging deeper into a competitor analysis.
Have a look at which competitors also dropped and who has taken your place at your previous ranking. What are they doing that you and your competitors might be missing? Take a look at how much content they have, the quality, the other features on their websites and the gaps that you need to fill to garner the same kind of quality.
Outranked By A Competitor
Every time you rise in rankings, you’ll be knocking at least one other person down and the same can happen to you. If you’ve experienced a slight change in your ranking and the rest of the SERPs seem to be relatively stable, it’s entirely possible you’ve simply been beaten. Working out what they’ve done to outrank you isn’t always easy. Without a full insight into their strategy and their recent activity, it can even seem impossible. However, there are generally a few core reasons to check first:
- Backlinks – With Google’s increasing focus on authority and trustworthiness, having a natural external link profile from highly authoritative sites can give you an edge over your competitors. Compare your backlink profile with your competitors – how do they compare? From here, you can adapt your link profile, disavow any harmful links and ultimately improve the health of your external linking structure.
- Social Media – While our social channels aren’t thought to have a direct effect on our ranking in the SERPs, a strong social presence that exercises good customer service, shows authenticity and trust and promotes engagement can help to show Google the credibility and reputation of your brand. Have a look at your competitor and how their social media is performing. Could you improve your own to offer something better?
- On Page – Content is king and while it’s been some time since the phrase was coined, it’s still entirely true. The difference, however, is that Google is favouring content that is high quality, valuable to the reader and that offers concise answers, particularly for brands that want to make Featured Snippets. Take a look at your competitor’s websites. How is their content? How is yours different and how can you improve on it to outrank your competitors?
By tracking your competitors before they can outrank you, you can better prepare and maybe prevent this from happening on a semi-regular basis. Follow their progress and over time you’ll begin to pick up on the tactics that they use and begin to implement them for your own website where relevant.
As we mentioned before, the links you have on your website can have an effect on it’s ranking and so if you’ve had a drop, it could be because of poor or lost links. Losing high-quality links, particularly if you don’t have a vast number of them, can have a significant impact on Google’s view of your trust levels. Each external link acts as a form of recommendation and so a single lost link directly affects your trust flow.
While the ranking drop won’t be drastic, it’ll still be noticeable as it can span across more than just a few keywords. You can use Google Search Console to track your external linking structure, from which you can take a look at any links are missing, any that are proving harmful or that have errors and work out the action to take accordingly. The action you take will depend on the website and your relationship with the webmaster in question. If you can, get in touch to see if they can reinstate the link. This may not always be possible, but it’s often the best action to take when you can, however, be wary that in the case of ‘spammy’ looking links, it could do more harm than good.
Manual actions and penalties are Google’s way of removing websites from their index if they find they aren’t compliant with their quality guidelines. The causes of a manual action are vast and include:
- Unnatural Backlinks
- Cloaked or ‘Sneaky’ Redirects
- Hacked Websites
- Hidden Text
- Spammy or Stuffed Structured Markup
- Keyword Spamming
- Thin Content With Little Or No Value
- General Spam, Whether Intentional or User-Generated
Thankfully, Google makes it pretty clear when you have had a manual action placed on your website. The penalty often results in massive ranking drops or deindexing entirely, and requires you to fix the problem and submit for a reassessment before you can take your place back on the SERPs. Google will notify you in Search Console of any manual actions or penalties, with details as to why you received it and whether it affects part or all of your site.
Generally, the fix for this particular drop comes with following Google’s advice. Whether it’s delving into their guidelines to get a better understanding of the issue at hand or simply repairing the problem they’ve found, making sure you take action is the first step to removing the penalty. Partial and full-site penalties require different levels of attention, but regardless, you need to make sure you’re not only familiar with the quality guidelines, but that you’re following them.
If there’s one thing Google has focused on since the very moment it was created back in 1998, it’s user experience. They’ve always had a core focus on offering a seamless experience for every user and as a result, the speed at which your pages load had become a key ranking factor. Nowadays, users want their webpages to load in under 3 seconds, which this dropping more and more as our technology and capabilities improve. If you can’t offer that kind of speed for loading, it’s unlikely that your website will be considered user-friendly.
Google ranking aside, poor page speeds also leads to increased bounce rates, reduced visitors to your site and, of course, lower conversion rates. Thankfully, Google has made it easy to not only check your page speed but also offers a wealth of advice for speeding it up on both mobile and desktop. Use their new and improved PageSpeed Tool to work out how quickly it loads for Google’s bots, and then adapt your website accordingly. You could try one or more of the following:
- Optimise Images
- Leverage Browser Caching
- Improve Server Response Time
- Enable Compression
- Reduce Redirects
Last, but by no means least, we have mobile-friendliness. Since the introduction of Mobile-First indexing in early 2018, it’s been incredibly important to offer a seamless mobile browsing experience for your website. Whether that’s through a completely separate mobile subdomain, or through Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Google had begun ranking it’s indexed sites by taking their mobile website into account first. For this reason, it could be the mobile version of your site that’s causing problems.
If there are any errors within your mobile site, Google can penalise your page by reducing the ranking. For this reason, you need to make sure you set up a website that not only features a responsive and fluid design but that the content itself is mobile-optimised. This means shorter headlines, different content forms that work well on mobile like GIFs, Infographics, memes and videos, as well as high-quality, yet concise and easily-readable content that captures their attention and increases the average session time.
While there are a number of different reasons why your ranking may have dropped, these are some of the most common, yet the most frustrating to fix. From algorithm changes that are difficult to predict and prepare for, to ensuring your website is mobile optimised and remains that way, keeping yourself high in the SERPs is an ongoing challenge.
For information on how we can help you do precisely that, contact the team on 0800 088 600, today.