Understanding how Google search rankings work is a critical foundation to help you understand why rankings appear slippery and elusive. There are many reasons why rankings keep fluctuating.
By understanding how the algorithm works in a broad sense, you can anticipate changes and keep adapting to remain on atop the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
When your ranking go south, it isn’t good for business. Even SEO veterans agree soothing distraught clients is an unenviable task. Significant drop rankings can send stakeholders into a panic mode because it means a potential loss of traffic and income. However, in most instances, it’s easier to fix most of the issues causing a drop in rankings, or better yet, anticipate what will satisfy users and search engines alike.
Verify Whether the Fluctuation is Temporary or Appears Permanent
Before getting stressed out about fluctuation in website rankings, analyze the organic traffic trends over time using Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Be sure to look at your top performing pages. This is usually where overall organic search traffic is lost, from a handful of the most popular pages.
If you notice a decline on a small number of pages, those pages must be improved. On the other hand, if you see a decline on all the pages on your site, across the boards, then your worry is justified. This usually indicates site-wide quality issues, or increased quality from competitors.
Why Rankings Keep Changing and How to Improve
Below, we look at the leading reasons rankings can fluctuate, and what you can do to be proactive and maintain long-term rankings.
1. Google Algorithm Changes
About three or four times per year, Google rolls out Core Updates to their ranking algorithm. Google continually makes substantial improvements to its ranking processes. The official Core Updates add all the broad changes that have been experiemented on in the previous quarter. Small changes are made to the ranking algorithm on a continuous basis.
Engineers at the major search engines also remain abreast of any black hat SEO practices, evolving the algorithm to reduce manipulation and the efficacy of SEO “cheat codes”. Rankings disruptions can occur from any of these algorithm changes.
Solution: Use rank tracker tools (like Ahrefs or SEMRush) to detect ranking shifts for your keywords. Pay attention to any ranking jumps, dips, or long-term trends. Deteriorating rankings for keywords are a cause for alarm – those pages may need quality improvement. Study the Google Webmaster Guidelines and objectively ask whether your website fits those criteria. Also, stay informed on anticipated core updates and prepare accordingly.
2. Stiff Competition
At the end of the day, Google rewards content relevance and quality. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve topped the search results in your niche. Never settle, and constantly improve. Despite utilizing SEO best practices, your competitors may have an overall better experience (content, user experience, link profile) and outrank you for some integral keywords. Other factors such as faster loading page speed, and enhanced user experience offered by competitors could also be contributing to better rankings. Poorly researched, low-quality, and misleading content can also lead to low rankings.
Solution: Up your game and become the “gold standard” in your niche! Improve your content, design and UX of your website, and promote your brand.
3. Making Website Changes
Site migrations, redesigns, relaunches, platform changes, page redirections, and not enabling HTTPS can negatively affect a site’s ranking if implemented incorrectly. Be keen on 301 redirects, URL website changes, and content optimization efforts. Have any of these actions led to lost rankings?
Solution: Constantly look at any errors triggered by any of these actions. Google simplifies the process by reporting on any indexing issues on Google Search Console.
4. Technical SEO Issues
If the search engines experience challenges crawling and indexing your pages, it means that the web pages cannot be ranked.
Solution: If you’re not competent in website technical issues, reach out to us or another SEO specialist since de-indexing can be catastrophic. Analyze Google Analytics or log files to see which URLs have been affected.
5. Link Changes
Backlinks act as “votes of confidence” to a website. Therefore, if Google finds your website carries spammy and poor backlinks, it can automatically diminish the validity and quality rating of those links. The rankings may drop automatically.
Link rot, losing important backlinks, and broken backlinks due to URL changes without 301 redirects can all affect SEO.
Solution: Avoid any backlinks that you’re skeptical about. Irrelevant article submission sites, link farms and spammy links will most probably lead to a ranking decrease. Secondly, always be on the lookout for quality link opportunities. Link velocity (how fast and consistently a site gains links) is believed to help SEO by many search engine consultants. Strong links that Google trusts will act as a stabilizer for large ranking fluctuations.
6. Google Manual Action Penalties
At times, Google acts as a disciplinarian when it finds out your website doesn’t follow its quality guidelines. Common triggers for such penalties include link schemes, website hacking, or the presence of unnatural links. If your webmaster has engaged in questionable link-building practices in the past, this may affect your SEO.
Solution: Look at the Securities and Manual Actions section in Google Search Console to see whether any manual actions have been imposed on your website.
7. Blacklisted Websites
Google exists to protect user interests. Its main obligation is to provide the most relevant and quality information to meet search intent. To achieve this, Google must ensure each website is safe to build confidence. Hacking and malware infections are detrimental to these aspirations. In order to protect users, Google assigns tags on such sites in search results, such as “This site may be hacked”. Entirely blacklisting a website from search results can happen if the issues are not dealt with swiftly.
Solution: Scan your site for any malware and permanently eliminate them. Hiring a professional to do a hacked site cleanup is highly advised. Adopt up-to-date security best practices to keep your site secure. Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to keep unauthorized users out of your site admin area. Different plugins and software can help prevent similar threats in the future.
8. Changing User Intent
Google is constantly testing web pages to further comprehend user trends and offer the best results. The user search intent for a keyword may change over time.
Society is constantly evolving and Google’s Natural Language API tries to keep up with changing trends. It’s not surprising to find Google allocating higher ranking to competitors who are able to adapt their content to fit the current trending intent for certain keywords. Seasonality and current events can also affect searches and trends. For instance, during the COVID pandemic, travel searches decreased due to the global lockdown.
Solution: Improving the click-through rate (CTR) requires aligning your page content, title tags, meta descriptions, and page functionality to reflect the existing user needs. Thoroughly cover the material for each keyword query. Above all, satisfy the needs of your target audience, and anticipate what their goals might be for a search query.
Rankings are Temporary
People forget that the web environment is dynamic. Sometimes, when you see rankings fluctuating, it may have nothing to do with your SEO approach, “penalties“, or website errors. It may just be reality that your competition is working harder at making a better website and brand presence. Keep doing your best, optimize, and get quality backlinks. Create relevant, helpful content over time, make your site user-friendly, and build a strong brand. The search engines notice these various signals.
Taking Manufacturing Industries to the Top
Lockedown SEO exists to help industrial and manufacturing companies rank at the top of Google. Our years of experience, professionalism, and technical know-how will help you get qualified leads from Google search. Contact us today, and let us help your site soar.