The last two years have seen many fluctuations in Google’s rankings – and many sites which were previously sitting pretty at the top of the rankings have now dropped like a stone. If this has happened to your site then this is your guide to help you understand why this has happened – and what to do about it:
Why Your Google Rankings Have Dropped:
There is usually one of three reasons why your Google rankings will have dropped:
1) Competitors Have Gained An Advantage
You don’t know what time, effort or budget your competitors are investing in their SEO but it could be that they have been hitting it hard and you are simply not doing enough to keep up. Maybe your competitors are building more links and/or better links. Maybe they are creating more and better content and are more engaging on social media, maybe their website does a better job in convincing visitors to stick around and convert. Either way, if you are not keeping up or getting ahead, then you will lose your positions.
2) Google Algorithm Updates
Google’s algorithm is the program it uses to evaluate which website should come first, second, third etc. for any given search query. It looks at thousands of criteria on every website and attaches more importance to some than others. Google regularly changes its algorithm, for example with the Panda and Penguin updates of the past two year which have had a major impact on businesses.
If you previously had an advantage, an algorithm update could take that advantage away and your rankings then drop. For example, if you had lots of links from a certain source and all of a sudden Google reduces the importance or value of those types of links, then you can lose your position.
As another example, a common practice in recent years has been to buy and use a domain name which exactly matches a keyword – www.widgetsinmanchester.com for example. This used to give a website a good advantage until the Exact Match Domain (EMD) update earlier this year. Websites with poor content and a poor link profile but an exact match domain have since dropped in the rankings as they have lost the advantage that this gave them.
3) Google Penalties
The Panda and Penguin updates meant, for the first time, that you could now be penalised for your SEO effort if you were seen as creating low quality content and/or spamming links. Five years ago, you could build as many links as you wanted and the only danger was wasting your time if they were poor quality. Now, poor quality links can be a serious danger to your site. Some websites have been merely ‘suppressed’ in the search results, others have been removed altogether.
So if you’ve suffered a drop in rankings, it will be one or more of these factors.
What To Do When Your Rankings Have Dropped:
1) Identify The Cause Of The Drop
If you have suffered a small drop in places but are still ranking for your keywords, then it’s most likely that either your competitors are getting ahead of you or that you have lost a previous advantage due to an algorithm update. If you have dropped out of the rankings altogether, then it’s possible you may have been penalised.
Ask your SEO company for a historical comparison in link building between your site and your major competitors to see if they have been simply doing more than you. You can also log into Google Webmaster Tools to see if you have had any warnings about your site – they will inform you if there are any links which you should remove.
2) Create Rich, Unique & Compelling Content & A Great User Experience
Google’s aim is simple: to provide it’s users with the best possible experience for every search. If you want to be number one in Google for the keyword ‘Blue Widgets’, then you need to have the best page about Blue Widgets on the ENTIRE internet. This means lots of fascinating and useful content, further resources and links to pages (ideally on your own site) where your users can find more information about blue widgets. Google index all of this rich content, but they also track what happens to your website visitors – it tracks how many pages they view, how long they spend on the site and how many ‘bounce’ back to the search results. So make sure you give people a great experience when they arrive on your web pages – you will lose rankings if not.
3) Diversify Traffic Sources
Stock market investors talk of having a ‘balanced portfolio’ and most business owners will be aware of the danger of having just one big customer – having ‘all your eggs in one basket’. Don’t just rely on organic search traffic – SEO should be an absolute cornerstone of your online marketing efforts but if it accounts for, say, 95% of your traffic then you have a problem. Having consistent traffic from social media, Google Adwords, display advertising, repeat visitors, referrals and offline sources spreads your risk and means you are less susceptible to algorithm changes in the future.
4) Get More, High Quality Links
Links are still the biggest driver of SEO despite the ‘link building is dead’ headlines we’ve seen in recent months. Poor quality link building and spam link building IS dead, however. To rank higher, you will need more good quality links from a wide range of sources, and less poor quality links.
5) Remove Bad Links & Use The Disavow Tool
Some links could actively be damaging your rankings, and Google has now introduced a tool to tell them when you ‘disavow’ a link. In order for Google to dismiss a bad link and lift any potential penalty, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have done everything in your power to remove the link yourself. If you do have some bad links, it’s important to do this anyway as otherwise using the disavow tool will just draw attention to the fact you have lots of bad links and can trigger a manual review which could mean your site has a worse penalty. On the other hand, you need to be careful when removing links though, as you can inadvertently remove links which are actually helping your rankings! In most cases, removing links and/or using the disavow tool is unnecessary as most rankings drops are not due to a penalty from Google, but a loss of previously held advantages or being overtaken by competitors.
6) Keep Calm & Don’t Panic!
As long as you are consistently building good quality links from a variety of sources and using white hat, ethical techniques, and as long as you are creating rich, good quality content on your website then you will be fine in the long run. SEO is about playing the long game, not just chasing the algorithm and sometimes you just need to be patient. If you are doing the right things, then just ride it out - you’ll win in the end.Carl's Captures via photopin
Image courtesy of [image creator name] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net