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SEO Rankings Drop: A Quick Primer

By Snap Agency May 15, 2017

In many ways, internet marketing today is very similar to the traditional marketing from a more low-tech era. But there are also unique digital pitfalls which you’ll find nowhere else.

An SEO Ranking Drop is an issue many online businesses will face at least once. While your SEO agency will handle the details, you’ll still need to understand the basics. Here’s our complete guide to an SEO Rankings Drop – what it is, why it happens and what solutions to implement:

SEO Ranking Drop Explained

Let’s pretend you bought advertising space on a billboard next to a busy road. For a few weeks, you saw a steady increase in sales and brand awareness from people who had driven past your billboard.

One morning you wake up to find that the entire road was re-routed several miles away. Drivers can no longer see your billboard ad.

This is what a Rankings Drop is like. Something has changed online, and now Google doesn’t see as much value in your site as it once did. A big signal you spent time developing for your brand is no longer considered by the passing traffic.

How to Recognize a Sudden Drop

First, your SEO agency will determine if there was an actual ranking change. There are two issues which look like a rankings drop but aren’t:

  • The ranking tracker has failed to localize properly
  • The ranking tracker has picked up on a Google ranking experiment

How do you know if organic traffic is really dropping? The most reliable data will come from Google Search Console. Other web analytic tools will track user counts, but Google Search Console is going to give you the best look at Google’s internal processes – and that’s info you want to see when you suspect a ranking drop.

Take a look at the organic traffic drop. There will always be some changes from week to week; is this drop more significant than the general changes over time?

Is there another reason for the drop, like a holiday weekend or something similar?

Natural fluctuations are common. If you see a ranking drop, but it’s not reflected in your traffic and clicks, you can probably breathe easy.

Potential Causes of a Ranking Drop

What if you see a definite drop in ranking? Look for an algorithm update from Google.

Google releases a new algorithm update every day. Sure, most of these updates are far from world-shaking. But even a minor change can affect some small number of unlucky sites.

Your Site Lost Links

Links to your site from other sites – backlinks – are a key part of optimizing your site for search engines. Unfortunately, you don’t really have any control over the permanency of those links.

Backlinks can be lost for any number of reasons. Maybe the site went down entirely. Maybe they removed some pages, and your links were an unfortunate casualty.

If you want to look into this yourself, you’ll need a reliable link counter. We recommend Ahrefs or Majestic. Both are updated each day. You’re looking for either a site-wide drop or a drop affecting the pages with the ranking change.

You’ll want to get those links back if possible. If you have a relationship with the link provider, reach out for more information.

If you have to replace the links, first take a look at why you lost the old ones. Try to develop new links which can’t be lost in a similar way.

Internal Links Were Changed

Changing internal links can result in a rankings drop. Adding or removing links within your site can influence Google’s perceived value of each page.

Check for recent changes to both the content and navigation portions of your site. The homepage and top category pages often have a lot of connections throughout the entire site. Changes to these pages can have a big influence.

The best solution here is to pull up an archived version of your site. If you don’t use an SEO agency, you’ll need to store old versions of your site before making any changes.

Pages Were Changed

This issue is common if a site has recently changed URLs. Search engines consider a new URL as a new page, even if the content hasn’t changed. If a new URL is causing the problem, your best course of action is to call an SEO professional.

Otherwise, you’ll want to look at Google’s cache. You can do that with the search phrase “cache:www.yourdomain.com/yourpage.” The result is what Google sees, which can help you identify any potential problems.

Your Competition Changed

Sometimes a drop is caused not by anything your site did, but instead by actions from your competitor. You’ll need your ranking tool. Instead of checking the ranking for your site, use the tool to identify competitors who have gained from your ranking drop.

The Wayback Machine is a free tool you can use to view previous versions of a site, which is helpful in identifying how your competition may have changed their sites. If you have a lot of competition, identifying who changed what might be a problem. In that case, focus on what your closest competition does well generally – that might be a clue as to how they recently improved.

How Much Do You Need to Know?

If you’re a business owner, you don’t have to know all the technical details about an SEO ranking drop. One major benefit of working with an SEO agency is having a team you can rely on during an emergency.

Just know that someday, for reasons which aren’t immediately clear, your site’s ranking might drop. Understanding the potential causes and solutions can provide peace of mind. If you have any questions about a ranking drop, or site rankings in general, please ask them in the comments below: