Google recently stated that removing comments from blog posts can have an adverse impact on rankings, as the search giant’s algorithm can find some of the user-generated content on webpages useful for serving relevant content to users.
The fact that a seemingly benign move to remove what would seem like less important content can be detrimental to a site’s search performance shows just how difficult it can be to maximise visibility and keep traffic levels consistently high over time.
Ranking drops are inevitable, especially with Google rolling out broad core algorithm updates every other month or so, but actually diagnosing what has changed can be incredibly frustrating.
If you have recently noticed a slump in your position in SERPs for branded keywords or just want to improve your SEO knowledge for future strategies, here are some of the issues that could cause your search rankings to suffer.
Dearth of new content
One of the reasons why content marketing is so critical for SEO is that it provides an outlet for you to publish content regularly. Without new content, your site will quickly become outdated as there won’t be anything for Google to index and rank for.
A drop-off in content output will lead to you becoming less competitive and struggling to make any discernible impact in search rankings. If you have noticed a recent downturn in traffic, it might be time to invest in new content. Just a simple daily blog or news article can be enough to kick-start your SEO performance.
New site design
Major site upheaval can be a root cause of SERPs struggles as you may have overlooked something or made a mistake that can then make it difficult for Google to crawl and index your website. If Google’s bots cannot access your pages, rankings will suffer.
Removing the wrong content
You need to conduct regular content audits to identify pages that need to be edited, upcycled or removed to improve key metrics and general SEO performance. However, in this process there is the possibility of jettisoning blogs or articles that are actually driving traffic.
As Google’s advice on removing comments from blog posts shows, you may not always know what types of content are working. This blind spot can lead to a rankings drop even though you have followed the right advice about, for example, getting rid of thin or duplicate content.
The only way to tackle this is by being careful about what you update and remove from your site. Try to gauge whether a specific piece is doing any heavy lifting in terms of SEO by using the data and analytics tools at your disposal.
When you publish relevant and authoritative content, other sites will link to your page. Google’s algorithm loves these types of inter-site recommendations as they show that a particular article has value for its readers, which can vastly improve your positioning in search rankings.
However, when an important backlink is removed, you may suffer via a decrease in traffic. If you have run into problems recently, double-check to see if all of your links are still in place. Even one or two removals can make a difference.
Google can also dole out manual penalties for manipulative and deceptive linking strategies, but if you are using white hat SEO tactics, this should not be an issue.
Google SERPs changes
Featured snippet tweaks
In addition to algorithmic updates, Google is no stranger to regularly tweaking the rich results it surfaces for some queries such as carousels, maps, images and general non-textual elements. These differ from the standard blue links that are presented in search for people to click on.
When Google makes changes to the design or appearance of featured or rich snippets, you can suffer. A rankings drop may be attributed to a competitor taking your place in a coveted snippet space or simply an overhaul of how rich results work.
Changes in search behaviour
Keeping up to date with the latest news about content and SEO will keep you informed about algorithmic rollouts and design changes, and generally help you to figure out what has changed and how you could be affected.
Another area of search that you don’t have full control over is audience behaviour and changing moods and trends. You may witness a traffic decline during certain seasons or for macro developments such as the current global pandemic.
You can test some of your target keywords and phrases to see what is working for competitors and to identify any potential topics that you could explore through content to align with current trends.
Client and server errors
Server side issues can also affect rankings, which highlights the importance of conducting regular maintenance to prevent errors from torpedoing your best-laid SEO plans and reducing your visibility.
Error 404s – the status codes that are displayed to users when they cannot find a requested URL on your site – can really eat into your traffic, as can a range of other client and server errors. Pages that are down and inaccessible can lose rankings, so you need to be proactive with audits and updates.
Prolonged server downtime
If your server is not sufficient to support your website and causes prolonged bouts of downtime, you will struggle to retain any top positions in search. Google wants to direct searchers to websites that can provide relevant answers to queries and will balk at using any pages that cannot fulfil that basic functionality during critical time frames.
Diagnosing the reason behind ranking drops can be a minefield, with so many potential issues that can lead to a poorer performance in Google and Bing. By keeping calm and running through a checklist of the most common off-site and on-site problems, you should be able to make the repairs you need to reverse the trend.