Sudden and sharp drops in site rankings are a primary source of anxiety for webmasters, and for good reason.
After putting in time, money and effort into SEO strategies and slowly climbing up Google’s search ladder, all of this good work can be undone seemingly overnight.
Every webmaster has to deal with ranking slumps and it is not always as easy as attributing it to a recent broad core search algorithm update.
Here are some of the most common factors that can negatively impact your site rankings and a range of solutions that can help you to bounce back quickly.
One of the easier fixes is removing duplicate content from your site. Google defines duplicate content as any “substantive blocks” of copy that are either “appreciably similar” or a complete match for other content across domains.
This can be a problem if you have recently upcycled older content and published new pages.
Any content, including titles and H1 tags, that is mirrored on other pages will not be viewed favourably by Google and you can expect site rankings to take a hit as a result.
Running an audit will uncover any pages that have duplicate content. There is a range of online tools that can complete this process quickly. Most will identify pages that, for example, have more than an 80% match with content on other pages.
Simply deleting these pages is the easiest fix. You should also use 301 redirects when crafting new pages in order to render older ones inaccessible to users who may be searching for your content on Google.
Receiving a lot of low-quality traffic is not a problem in itself, but it can be a sign that things are not quite how they should be elsewhere. You are probably aware that not all traffic is created equal.
Some will lead to conversions, while other forms of traffic will rarely drive any meaningful actions.
The latter can undermine rankings as key metrics such as bounce rate, time on page, and returning visitors will suffer, which is a signal to Google that users are not finding your site relevant or useful.
You can determine the quality of your traffic by running a quick test with an analytics tool such as Finteza, which promises to “identify twelve types of bad traffic”, including sources such as bots and suspicious IP addresses.
The solution here is to remove any links or ads you have on sites that are regularly referring low traffic to your webpages.
Changes to content
Even small changes to content on your site can lead to fluctuations in Google rankings.
This is not wholly surprising considering that search engines are built around serving the most relevant and engaging content to users, but it does make it difficult to ascertain exactly what may have gone wrong if you have recently amended or updated certain pages.
You can find out whether recent changes have had an impact by exporting the landing pages that already feature in organic search to Google Analytics.
Getting a more technical or IT-based employee to provide a backup of your website as it is right now will allow you to compare and contrast the URLs before and afterwards.
This method is quite laborious, but it will show whether any content changes may have caused a rankings slump. You can also use tools such as OnWebChange to get notifications when the content or the design of a webpage has changed.
The fix here involves either updating content again using the older backup as a template or adding keywords in the older content to your newer output.
It should be stressed that rankings lost to content amendments are not always permanent and pages can bounce back at a later date.
Updated titles and meta tags
Titles and meta tags are another important signal for Google. This is because they relay information that helps search engines to understand the content of webpages. Even small changes to these elements, which are pieces of HTML code, can cause fluctuations in rankings.
The title tag for each of your webpages is likely to have one of two important keywords that underscore the intent of your business.
For example, if you change a title tag from ‘Car Accident Lawyer London’ to something without the location at the end, then rankings might be affected.
The solution is similar to the previous one for changes to content. To confirm that titles and meta tags may be an issue, you should first ask a web developer or relevant employee to detail any recent changes to these elements and then use Google
Analytics to export landing pages for those that are ranking. Compare these pages to the backup you have used previously and jot down any that have been amended.
Fortunately, the fix is a simple one. You can just replace titles and meta tags with the older versions.
However, it is not a good idea to keep chopping and changing these elements as rankings can take a hit regardless of the amendments you make if you do this often.
Being cautious and applying changes to a single page and seeing how this impacts rankings is probably the best way to proceed.
Updates to Google’s algorithm
As noted at the start of the article, Google’s algorithm is arguably the most obvious source of lost rankings, so taking a quick look at whether there have been any updates in recent days is worthwhile.
Google is always updating its algorithm, but most of the time, these tweaks are minor and don’t require an official announcement.
However, several times during the year, Google will roll out a broad core algorithm update and these can create big ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in terms of rankings.
Google says that there is not any specific advice it can provide for recovering from a slump post-update, but publishing high-quality content will always stand you in good stead.
On the subject of these updates, Google’s Danny Sullivan says that webpages are rarely penalised for being “bad” and that moving further down SERPs is usually the consequence of someone else being more deserving of a higher spot.
To conclude, rankings in Google can be a minefield to navigate. There is a range of factors that can have an impact, but with a keen eye and a few SEO-based tools, you can quickly make changes to put your site in the best position to recover lost ground.