Google updates its search algorithm regularly, so it’s inevitable that your rankings will change over time, even if you are implementing SEO best practices and publishing high–quality content consistently.
After a broad core update, you might see your webpages fall in SERPs even though you have not done anything differently. Google stresses that these fluctuations are normal and that a drop in rankings is often just due to other sites becoming more relevant, rather than you doing something wrong.
However, if your rankings have taken a dive recently, you can be proactive and run through a list of factors that could be causing problems. Identifying issues and rectifying them or simply making small improvements could be enough to boost your rankings again when the next update is rolled out.
Check Google Search Console
The answer to an unforeseen decline in search visibility could be readily accessible within Google Search Console, a free service that gives you the tools to track your site’s performance in search.
The Index Coverage report is one of the most useful as it highlights any problems that Google has had indexing your site, which could be affecting the visibility of your pages. Within this report, any errors will be flagged and presented within a red box at the top. Crawling errors usually manifest from DNS, server or URL problems.
You can reconcile any structural issues with your site by submitting an XML sitemap and comparing how many URLs Google is indexing and how many are in the sitemap. Any discrepancy in numbers suggests that bots are being blocked from indexing.
Setting up email notifications within Google Search Console will ensure that you get alerts when major issues arise, but it is important to make manual checks, especially if rankings are falling.
Log into Google Analytics
A drop in rankings is likely to lead to a decline in traffic and other key metrics. You can see whether this is the case by loading up Google Analytics and checking how traffic, bounce rate, and time on page numbers have changed over time. Has there been a notable dip during the last week or so?
You can tally these numbers with any recent changes you have made to your website. If you have implemented a new page design, for example, a drop–off may point to problems with the visual overhaul. Reverting any changes can help you to recover, but that’s not always the case as Google’s algorithm is so complex.
However, using the wealth of information within Google Analytics for insights and to keep tabs on the health of your webpages across mobile and desktop will enable you to make more sense of ranking fluctuations.
Check Google’s recent update timeline
Google rolls out three or four broad core updates annually and these typically have a much bigger impact on rankings than the smaller updates that are implemented almost every day.
If you have spotted a decline in rankings, you should check Google’s own webmaster blog and SEO news sites to see whether there have been any major changes in recent days. A number of influential people in the industry also provide search-related updates on Twitter.
Check the basics
Google Search Console should flag any basic problems with your site, but you should double–check for simple mistakes that could have impacted your rankings.
For example, is the status code for your pages correct? A ‘200 OK status code’ indicates that all is well and your pages are successfully completing HTTP requests, whereas ‘404 page not found’ or ‘410 page permanently deleted’ codes means that they are causing problems in search.
You should also check that you haven’t used any robots.txt files erroneously as these can instruct bots not to crawl a page. Google’s own Robots Testing Tool will tell you whether there is anything wrong here.
Run through your SEO checklist
Now is a good time to go back and take a look at your SEO strategy and see if there is anything you can do to make slight tweaks and adjustments.
Checking on-page elements such as titles, tags, headings and meta descriptions to ensure that they are optimised and implemented correctly is a good place to start. Title tags do not actually have a direct impact on your rankings, but they can drive click-through rates and other key metrics.
You should also make sure that your primary heading is contained within a H1 tag so that search knows that it is different from the main body of your content. These tags provide context and detail the purpose of a page.
Check the quality of content
Google is not shy in stating that high–quality content is key to better search rankings, so this could be an area that you are falling behind with if you spot your pages falling to the second or third page in SERPs.
The content that you publish, whether blogs, articles or news, should be unique and interesting, and provide value for searchers. Any duplicated or thin content is destined to hold back your search strategies, so remove anything that is weighing you down and green light new campaigns to get back on track.
Better content will also drive click-through rates and dwell time, both of which will lead to more positive returns for your company in terms of sales and revenue.
Check mobile-readiness and speed
Google’s focus on the page experience also means that content that does not live up to user expectations can end up tumbling down rankings. This means that your site should be optimised for mobile, fast loading and easy to navigate.
You can look at the Core Web Vitals report within Google Search Console to see if there are any problems here. Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly Test also offer up detailed feedback and actionable recommendations.
With all that done, you should have identified at least some of the issues that may have played a role in your drop in rankings. The majority of sites will see declines at some point, so don’t worry. Just make sure that you are ready to make changes and optimisations to reverse the trend.