Google rankings fluctuate based on a number of factors, and not all of them are within your control. Your keyword rankings might drop because you’ve done something wrong, or because your competitors are doing something right, or for no discernible reason at all.
You can figure out why your Google rankings dropped. You just might have to look a little more closely at what’s going on with your overall SEO health.
Why Did My Google Rankings Drop?
Your Google rankings may drop for any of these reasons:
- SEO errors
- Competitors have better SEO strategy
- User experience is lacking
- The “honeymoon ranking” is over
- You’ve been penalized
- You’ve been hacked
- Negative SEO
- Google spasms
- Algorithm updates
To diagnose the problem in your specific situation, you’ll look at your site ranking data and the overall search landscape. This allows you to make some educated guesses about causation.
Hopefully, you’re using some kind of SEO monitoring tool to keep track of your rankings and watch for potential red flags. If you’re not tracking things like backlinks, rankings, and traffic, it’s time to start – those are important metrics that can help you determine the health of your site.
If your rankings went down, here’s are some of the common causes of keyword ranking fluctuations.
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1: Basic SEO Mistakes
Search engine optimization is a habit, not something you do once and forget.
Good SEO habits include updating your site regularly with valuable original content, monitoring for broken links, and ensuring that all of your title tags and meta descriptions are optimized correctly.
Beginner online entrepreneurs often make the same mistake out of ignorance: they copy content from elsewhere on the web.
Copying things like blog posts, product descriptions, or any content from other websites is very likely a violation of someone’s intellectual property rights. In Google’s world, that copied stuff is called duplicate content, and it can hurt your rankings.
Remember to check your site health regularly.
Things like broken links, updates that cause coding errors, and the little changes you make over time can all create more website errors that need to be addressed.
A Note About Setting Up SEO-Friendly Websites
Optimizing your website is very much a learn-as-you-go process.
If you’re creating a new website or optimizing a site that hasn’t generated backlinks and isn’t yet ranking, go ahead and make those broad changes to improve SEO health. Change global settings, update link structure, and organize blog posts into categories if you’d like.
However, if your website is already beginning to rank for some important keywords, only make those sweeping SEO changes if you’re 100% certain you know what all the repercussions will be.
Creating an SEO-friendly URL structure (like the pages on this website) is a great idea…but if you implement it on a live site with lots of pages and you don’t know how to redirect properly, you’re going to end up with a lot of broken links that would have been pointing to your site. That damages rankings.
When in doubt, ask for help.
2: Competitors Are Outranking You
While you’re trying to rank for important keywords in your category, so are all of your competitors.
The more people are searching for the most relevant terms and phrases, the more competition you’re likely to encounter as you try to rank for those keywords. If your rankings are gradually decreasing and your competitors’ ranks are steadily going up, the most likely scenario is simply that they’re doing a better job at SEO than you are.
Sometimes, you have huge, authoritative competitors with gigantic budgets, and they’re probably going to dominate the most competitive search terms. Other times, you have smaller, search-savvy businesses with excellent SEO strategy slowly pushing you out of key positions.
To fix it, redouble your SEO efforts and stay consistent with good habits.
You may want to target less competitive keywords that can start sending small amounts of traffic to your site, and once you gain traction there, you can start pursuing the higher volume terms more aggressively.
3: Poor User Experience
Google’s goal is to provide high quality search results that closely match what the user is looking for. When a person clicks on a search result, Google is looking for indicators that the website is providing a good experience and relevant information.
Even if your website content answers the search query perfectly, if your site is poorly designed or difficult to use, people probably aren’t going to stick around.
Poor user experience makes it hard for your website to retain traffic.
Indicators such as a high bounce rate, a lack of returning traffic, and low time on page tell Google that people aren’t finding value on your website, so your Google rank goes down.
Fix your user experience by using your analytics to identify potential problems, improving your website design, simplifying your system, and removing annoying pop-ups and intrusive advertising.
4: The Honeymoon Is Over
It doesn’t happen in every case, but sometimes a new website ranks unusually well for awhile just after launch.
Honeymoon rankings are believed to be a form of testing, as if Google is trying out a website in the search results to see how users react to it. After a short amount of time with high rankings, things normalize and those rankings drop.
There’s not much that can be done if you were enjoying honeymoon rankings and the honeymoon ends.
Keep up with good SEO habits and build your rankings gradually. New domains tend to have a more difficult time climbing in search results, so be prepared to put in the work to prove your credibility, build your backlink profile, and consistently release great new content.
5: Google Spasms
Random spasms are one of the things that occasionally make SEO so frustrating.
If you monitor your rankings closely, you’re bound to see a spasm at some point. For no apparent reason, your rankings go haywire and you go into panic mode trying to figure out why you’ve suddenly and swiftly lost all of your front page rankings.
A day or two later, your rankings go back to normal.
Google spasms are like random hiccups in the rankings on your website, and while they’re intensely stressful, they’re not really a big deal.
The real problem occurs when your rankings abruptly plummet and don’t bounce back.
6: Google Penalties
Violating Google’s SEO rules can get you penalized or removed from search results entirely. Once you’ve been blacklisted (removed from all search results) there’s not really any way to recover. You must start over with a new site and domain.
If you’ve been penalized, though, you have a chance to fix it.
Penalties from Google come in two flavors – manual and algorithmic.
Algorithmic penalties mean that Google’s crawlers have detected red flags and they automatically lower your rankings or remove you from search results.
When a site receives a manual penalty, the site owner is notified in Google Search Console and given a chance to fix the problem and submit a reconsideration request.
You’ll need to address every issue that Google identifies, track your work, and submit a thorough (and polite) request to restore your rankings. A Google employee will review your case and decide whether or not to reinstate your site.
Penalties can also be related to hacks and security issues, duplicate or scraped content, excessive site errors or downtime, keyword stuffing, hidden links, links to flagged sites, or any attempts to blatantly manipulate search results.
7: You’ve Been Hacked
There are two ways a hack can cause your search rankings to go down.
The first was mentioned in the last bullet – a hacked website can be manually penalized because Google doesn’t want to send traffic to an unsafe site. After all, imagine you used Google to find a gift for your spouse and the website you clicked on installed a virus on your computer. Would you continue to trust Google results?
A security problem doesn’t have to be your fault. It’s still your responsibility.
Hacks can also more subtly damage your rankings by causing errors in your code, slowing your load times, and generally impairing the regular function of your site.
Security should always be a major concern.
Help prevent hacks by keeping your site updated, using secure usernames and passwords, and blocking spam.
8: Negative SEO
Each Google update makes negative SEO a little less effective, but it’s still a thing you should know about.
In an attempt to sabotage your search rankings, unethical competitors have been known to buy spammy link packages pointing to a site whose rank they want to damage.
Based on Google’s algorithms, this used to cause drops in search rankings. More recent Google updates are now simply devaluing low quality links instead of penalizing sites for bad links, though, so negative SEO is less damaging than it used to be.
In theory, anyway.
Negative SEO can still cause your site to be manually or algorithmically penalized.
Using a tool like ahrefs, monitor your backlink profile closely for any sudden influx of low quality links. If you see spammy links pointing back to your site, the easiest way to prevent penalties and reduce your risk of ranking drops is disavowing those low quality backlinks.
9: Google Algorithm Updates
The tricky thing about Google algorithm updates is that they treat their updates like the government treats potential scandals.
We can neither confirm nor deny that Google algorithms have been updated.
Actually, the standard Google statement is more like this: “We’re updating all the time.” They’re notorious for releasing major updates, saying nothing about it, and responding vaguely to direct questions about ranking factors.
Part of the reason for all the secrecy is because Google doesn’t want SEO specialists to game the system…as we most certainly would.
When Google releases a big update, everyone’s search rankings fluctuate. If you hear a lot of people asking “Why does my Google ranking keep changing?!” it’s a good indicator that there may have been a big algorithm update.
In September 2017, keyword rankings started fluctuating drastically for a large proportion of websites. Based on data from SEO analysis tools, it seems likely that there’s been a major update, and things are still in flux as of November. Keep watching your rankings, because everyone seems to be experiencing changes.
Tips to Boost Your Google Rankings
Even with all the secrecy over things like ranking factors and algorithm updates, Google has been very clear about their stance on black hat SEO.
Google is getting better and better at detecting black hat tactics, analyzing website content to determine relevance and value, and determining rankings based on quality. If you want to rank well and stay at the top, avoid black hat SEO completely.
Getting to the top in the first place is easier said than done, though.
The first thing you can do to improve your rankings is work on writing better content.
With featured snippets becoming more common (and with the rise of voice search) you might be wise to create more answer-based content on your website.
When publishing blog posts, product descriptions, or essentially anything else on your site, strive to provide as much value to the reader as possible. With increasing frequency, the highest value and quality content wins.
Next, make sure to keep your site updated and secure. If you don’t have one already, get a SSL certificate and keep it updated.
Finally, remember to pay attention to your SEO details.
Search engine optimization is a habit, not a one-time chore. If you’re doing your own SEO, keep on learning and stay active in the online SEO community so you know what’s working and what isn’t.
Results don’t usually happen quickly.
Stay consistent, stay ethical, stay diligent, and you’ll build great results.