So your website is ranking pretty much at the top of Google’s organic search results, you’re happily getting on with dealing with more leads and sales, it is all looking rosy, if not AWESOME. Then one day you spot that your Google ranking dropped suddenly, seemingly overnight, to page 2 or worse. No warning, nothing, no heads up, no notification, nada, zilch!
It’s hard not to panic when those high Google rankings you’ve secured have been sending you tonnes of web traffic that’s converted into new business and it’s all now tumbled off a proverbial cliff.
While it can be extremely disheartening there are some steps outlined below that you can take to help figure out why your website suddenly fell off Google’s first page of search results. We’ll also show you the process we take on how to get back to the top of page one (or as close as we can) for your targeted keyword phrases.
Figuring Out Why Your Google Rankings Plummeted
You first need to understand that Google owns its organic results, not you or even the best SEO person in the world. Sorry, but its Google’s turf and what they state, goes. True, some sites dominate the number 1 slot for years but they too can be subject to Google’s whims that can then knock them off their perch.
Second, it’s easy to panic and immediately making on-page changes in a bid to get your rankings back, or to carry out damage limitation and prevent them from falling further. Don’t do this. If traffic means that much to you (and yes it should) then ideally you will need other sources of traffic to switch on if not already – i.e. paid social media or Google Ads.
When one of our clients’ rankings unexpectedly dropped for a decent keyword phrase recently, we were able to pinpoint the probable cause without panicking or needlessly updating their page in a bid to get them back.
It turned out that Google added in 3 results which weren’t particularly relevant or useful to a user searching – maybe it had come off the back of the latest algorithm update, but who knows as Google isn’t telling.
The good news is that those ranking drops didn’t last long and the client regained their ranking over time. Half the battle in SEO is understanding when to start making changes, the other half is to learn when to wait. Whilst we waited we carried out further checks, so take a look below at what we did to ascertain what was going on.
It’s important to check if Google has changed its algorithm as this can have an effect on rankings. Sometimes this shift in rankings is temporary but it can be on a more permanent basis. Usually checking competitors pages that now outrank above yours can give you a HUGE clue if they might be there for, potentially, the long term.
Search Engine Land lists all the changes and updates made by Google, check it out here:
History of Google Algorithm Updates
You can also check to see if Google has updated its guidelines too:
Google Webmaster Guidelines
You’ll need to do some investigative work to find out why your rankings dropped; there’s a few situations that usually result in a fall to page 2 of Google and beyond. It could be your site content/design and/or page speed is no longer considered good enough or your competitors have upped their game in a short space of time and beaten you in one swift go. We’ve seen that before but its usually where a client fails to keep up even with us shouting loudly they need to make substantial SEO and content changes to stay in the race.
Has Your Site HTML Code or Content Changed?
Next, cross reference when your Google rankings tanked and look around your website and check whether you or your developers have inadvertently changed your site’s code or content over the past few days or even weeks. Sadly this does happen at times and things can then go south on Google. Recognising what has been broken and fixing the SEO issue can help get you back to where you want to be in the SERPs, though you may need to be patient.
Check Google Search Console’s Crawl Status
We’d then review your site’s crawl status in Google Search Console. Try to find where there might be something stopping Googlebot from reaching your content, finding tons of duplicated pages on your site or encountering a host of unwanted 404 errors.
It can pay to work with a SEO and a developer to get this fixed, especially if there are a huge number of SEO issues you are encountering on your own – speed might be important in getting this fixed so don’t hang about. You can also check if Google is penalising your site in some way with a manual action but for most of us who abide by the rules that is going to be highly unlikely these days.
Bringing your SEO Tools to the Fight (it’s hardly a Party!)
If you use Screaming Frog, then run a crawl with this tool (it crawls up to 500 pages for free) to highlight any other SEO problems. You may find redirection loops or other SEO issues which are causing bots major problems when they attempt to crawl your site.
Also look at your keyword rankings, has everything dropped or is it just one or two (major) keyword phrases? I’d say if it’s a sitewide drop then start looking at the keywords that have dropped more than 5 positions. If it’s a drop of 1 or 2 then they can wait unless they really are those key money terms for you.
By paying for SEO software like SEMRush, you’re able to go back and look at your 4 nominated competitors and see if they have suddenly rocketed up Google’s results as yours have fallen.
I’d also note that if they haven’t shot up the rankings then check other competitors you’re not tracking who may have stolen that lead, so you’ll manually have to check. Just be wary, if Google personalised search is switched on then your click history is likely to serve up your website or your competitors in first place.
Don’t believe me?
Go give it a try. Google up an unrelated phrase, move down to the results on page 2 (if on a laptop or desktop computer) and click the link. Go back to the search results and click it again and then repeat this a few more times. You should start to see it ranking higher based on your click history – this can also cross over to mobile or tablet if you have synced your Google account with various devices.
The way round this is to log out of Google and you *may* be able to use Incognito/Private to then see if the results change. Failing that you’ll have to surf via anonymous proxy.
Targeting the Best of the Competition
Be careful when choosing to target competitors rankings, I’ve seen many clients only want to target the competitor who “annoys them the most”. That’s a recipe for disaster. We regularly scour Google’s results for our clients, noting who might be a new competitor that is gaining ground on them.
We also recommend you track those competitors and removing the ones that don’t rank for much. If they haven’t got their act together within a few months of you tracking them then move on and look for a more ambitious competitor to target.
Reviewing your Individual Pages
Review the page(s) that have fallen down to page 2 or beyond on Google and benchmark against those pages now above you in the top 10 for your chosen keyword phrase. It’s NOT about Keyword Density, so fight the temptation to start filling up your page with more on target keywords. Trust me, that won’t work that well in 2021, you might want to look more at your site’s topical authority instead if you must do something.
Instead you should look at each competitor in turn and in a spreadsheet make a note for each:
- Title Tag
- Meta Description
- Topical Sub Headings (H2’s)
- Internal Links from other pages on that site to the one that’s now ranking
- Images – filenames, image sizes (if time to investigate)
- Alt tags
- Content length – skyscrapering content still consistently wins in the rankings
- How useful/authoritative is the competitor content?
- Does that page help the visitor accomplish their goal?
- Does your competitor have video embedded on the page?
- Number of external links to that particular page (not just the website)?
- Have your competitors adopted Schema?
- Are they utilising a Silo structure?
- Page speed – is the page faster to load than yours? It’s not always the case but increasingly we expect to find this to be an issue
You can then at a glance compare why Google ranks competitor pages higher than yours. This research gives you a greater insight as to where your site has failed and what steps you need to plan to get things back on track.
Be Honest with Yourself… is your Content Just Utter Crap?
You’ll need to be objective and honestly ask yourself is your competitor’s content and/or website just better than yours?
If it’s a clear yes, then you’ve likely got your answer so you may want to conduct a Content Audit or Gap Analysis to expose the quality of your pages (you’re not spamming keywords or content are you?) and what types of content you may be missing.
Sizing up your Backlink Profile to your Competitors
Most small UK businesses don’t have the budgets to stretch to hundreds of thousands of pounds for huge PR campaigns to drive links back to them (shoot me down if you disagree). Due to financial limitations most scrape by with maybe a dozen directory listings, occasionally some PR mentions, some trade memberships and perhaps even a few charity contributions too.
With useful and well optimised content this can be enough but if your online competition increases, you may find yourself fighting up an uphill battle as others start to invest to acquire a greater number of links than you.
We’ve seen clients on a tight budget really have to battle with their content over sites that go after more links and mediocre content. Yes, Google states paid links are a no-no and they can make an assessment but their systems aren’t perfect.
Some SEO say links are still a big part of SEO, I’m not going to argue here whether links are as influential as they once were, but it’s still important to check what you have and build on your backlinks when required.
Sure, you don’t have to pay for links, but you can talk to your contacts to see if you are providing content of value to them and ask if they might share it or link to it from their website. It’s not always the case but it is always worth the ask.
Check your Google Analytics Traffic
Are you guilty of having pages with a high bounce rate? Have you never bothered to sort out those pages that people don’t spend enough time on? This can all have a detrimental effect on your SEO efforts so do check Google Analytics.
Bounce rate isn’t considered a direct ranking factor on Google but their systems will note if people click on your site and then leave to visit many other pages elsewhere on the same topic. This is called Pogo Sticking.
If you have a page with a low time on site and a high bounce rate then it’s crucial you pay attention to matching your content with a user’s intent, funnelling people where they want to go and keep them on your site and not elsewhere.
I’d also recommend you check the following as well to see if these have changed:
- Device being used (Desktop, tablet, mobile)
- Geographic Location of your user
- Time on site/page
Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to organic SEO so you will have to ensure once you are at the top of the page results that you don’t sit back on your laurels. If you want a number one position guaranteed then I really do suggest using Google Ads to bid your way to the top!
Keeping tabs on competitors moving up Google rankings is crucial as is checking the types of content that are in vogue and that work to keep visitors on your site. Videos, infographics, surveys etc are not going out of fashion anytime soon so look at other ways of delivering your message.
If your rankings have substantially dropped then one might say it is Google trying to tell you that what you were doing for SEO previously is no longer of any value and that its time to sort your content out.
This blog post doesn’t necessarily cover everything but should include a few of the most common causes of why your Google rankings seemingly dropped overnight and the steps you can take to get yourself back.
Let me know how you get on, I’d be interested to hear your stories, be they fails or successes!
Still stuck? Feel free to give us a call for help on 01285 50 55 50 or get in touch here.