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Organic Rankings Drop: A Step by Step Google Rankings Drop Guide to Recovery

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Organic Rankings Drop: A Step by Step Google Rankings Drop Guide to Recovery

 

A month ago, rankings for a client’s site dropped an average 10 positions in a day. Since I became an SEO 20 years ago, that was my greatest shocker. I’d not anticipated any algorithm updates and I almost panicked that I wouldn’t figure out what went wrong. We sat down with my team, and for starters, tried to diagnose the cause of these Google rankings drop. There were so many possible causes. Did one of Google’s algorithm screw us over? Could we have lost links? Did we mess with internal link equity unintentionally?

 

Since the rankings drop occurred to the home page and a dozen other pages, I assumed it had to do with the page structure or the entire site. Can you imagine, the entire SEO team at WebStreet Strategies wasted two days focused on technical SEO? Fortunately, we realized the error and as a team decided to put together a standard operating procedure (SOP) or a Google rankings drop guide (GRDG) so that in the event of any drop in future, we will do our research efficiently and effectively. Today, we share out this SOP with our funs.

 

For starters, ensure there’s a real rankings drop

 

Before you go down the rabbit hole of Google rankings drop, ensure that there is a real drop. Your tracker may have failed to pick up on one of Google’s rankings personalization or experiments, or may have localized poorly.

 

So, find out:

 

A)  Is there a drop in organic traffic to the affected page(s)

 

  • This is the most ideal place to start because it’s the most reliable data about your site. Ranking trackers and Google Search Console try to figure out what Google is doing whereas web analytics tools e.g. Google Analytics track user accounts only.
  • Compare organic traffic to page(s) with ranking changes week-over-week after and before the drop, and be sure to compare same days of the week.
  • Is the drop significant than in other week-over-week changes?
  •  Is there a specific reason search volume dropped? Was the drop over a weekend or holiday?

 

B)  Is there a similar ranking drop in Google Search Console (GSC)?

 

  • Under the search analytics section, check on the average position for a given, combo, page or keyword.
  • Is the rankings drop in GSC similar to what is in your rankings tracker? (Don’t forget to compare the reports with the given keyword(s).)

 

C)  Is there a sustained rankings drop in your rankings tracker?

 

  • At WebStreet Strategies we recommend a daily tracking of rankings for your keywords to establish if the drop is sustained within a month, week or a few days.
  • I recommend STAT, because it’s our preferred tool for daily tracking of rankings for your important keywords.

 

If you’ve just noticed a rankings drop in your tacking tool yet your GSC and traffic clicks are still up, try not to panic and keep a close eye on things. It could be a natural fluctuation that you need not sweat your pants over.

 

But if you’re seeing a sustained rankings change, this Google rankings drop guide is for you.

 

Figure out what the problem is

 

1.  Is there a recent Google algorithm?

 

King Google rolls out an algorithm update in Canada, at least every day and mostly, silently. Fortunately, there are SEOs that are dedicated to researching and documenting these silent updates.

 

a)  Are there any SEO blogs or articles revolving around an algorithm update around the date you noticed a drop in your rankings? Be sure to check out:

 

 

Are you in any SEO forums or do you have SEO friends that have noticed a change? Tip: Make friends and reach out to SEOs who run sites in your industry or similar to yours. I can’t emphasize more on how helpful it’s to reach out and talk to SEO’s because they may bring a lot of stuff to your attention.

 

If this is the issue…

 

You have to brave up for the bad news. If Google updated their algorithm, you have to change in one way or another, your approach to search engine optimization.

 

Before you embark on anything else, make sure you understand:

 

a)  Why Google made the change

 

b)  What Google is penalizing

 

  • The best and surest way to keep off algorithmic penalties is to align your SEO strategies with what Google wants.

 

Next, you have to come up with a strategy to either recover out of this penalty, or protect your site from future penalties.

 

2.  Did the site lose links?

 

Pull a lost link report from Majestic or Ahrefs. To date, and most SEOs will agree with me, Majestic & Ahrefs are the most accurate link counters out there, thanks to a daily updates on their indexes.

 

a)  Is there a detectable site wide link count drop?

 

b)  Is there a detectable link lose to the page(s) you’ve noticed a rankings drop for?

 

c)  Is there a detectable link lose to page(s) on the site that link to the page(s) you’ve noticed a rankings drop for?

 

  • Use Screaming Frog to find out the pages that link internally to the affected page(s). Check out internal link counts for page(s) a link away from affected page(s).

 

d)  Has there been a detectable link drop to inbound links to a group of pages or the page you have seen rankings drop for?

 

  • Use Majestic or Ahrefs to find out sites that link to your affected page(s).

              - Is there any that has suffered recent drops?

              - Is there any recent updates to any of those sites? Did the update change their on-page content, navigation structure or URLs?

 

If this is the issue…

 

The import is to find out who you lost links from and why, with a view to try and replace or regain them.

 

a)  Can you regain the links?

 

  • Is there an existing relationship with the website owner who deleted the links? Your best bet here is to reach out to him.
  • Could it be that the deleting of the links was accidental? Probably they were deleted during their website update. Reach out to him and find out if he is willing to replace them.
  • Were the links to your site deleted and replaced with links to a different site? Investigate the new site – what is it you can do to make linking to your site more appealing than linking to them. Update and spruce up your content and reach out to the site owner.

 

b) If (a) above is a tall order, is investing in new links easier? You need to replace the missing links quickly.

 

  • Bring it to the attention of your team how much the drop in link count affected your rankings negatively. Discuss the resources it will take to create new links to restore the link count.
  • There is an option of outsourcing someone to build the new links, or you and your team have to sit down and do it. The latter is tricky and time consuming, however be sure to learn from your mistake and come up with a strategy to build links that will last.

 

3.  Did you make any changes to the affected page(s)

 

It could be that you authorized changes to the affected pages recently, and that’s why Google thinks they are not as relevant as they used to be for the target keyword.

 

a)  Did you change the unique resource locator (URL)

 

  • NEVER CHANGE URLS, because they are unique identifiers to Google. To search engines, a new URL is equivalent to a new page regardless of whether the content is the same.

 

b)  Did you remove the target keyword from the page Meta Description, H1, H2 or title?

 

c)  Did you lower the keyword density for the target keyword?

 

d)  Did you change the content to a format that Google doesn’t understand?

 

  • Search for cache:www.yourdomain.ca/your-page to look at Google’s cache to see what they see.

 

e)  Can Google bolts access your website? Check GSC for crawl and server reports.

 

If this is the issue…

 

The good news is that you can revert your site to its previous state and regain the rankings position you’ve lost.

 

  • If you are dealing with URL change, figure out if you can revert it back. If it is impossible, 301 redirect the old URL to the new URL.
  • If it’s a text change, try to restore the page to feature its previous test. Wait until you regain your rankings then try to make the changes, but do not change the keyword density.
  • THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM is if Google can’t read all or part of the content on your page(s). Communicate this to your web development team as soon as is practically possible. (Often, developers undervalue SEO, but if Google can’t read the page, this is a problem they easily understand.)

 

4.  Have you checked if you changed internal links?

 

If you removed or added internal links, that could change the flow of link equity through your website, changing search engines perceived importance of your site’s pages.

 

a)  Did you update or change your site’s navigation recently? Check out:

 

  • Suggested blog posts
  • Suggested products
  • Footer navigation
  • Side navigation
  • Top navigation

 

b)  Did you or your developer update important pages on the site that interlink to target page(s)? check out:

 

  • Linkbait articles or blog posts
  • Top category pages
  • Homepage

 

c)  Did you or your developer update or change anchor texts to target page(s)? Does the anchor text still feature the target keyword?

 

If this is the issue…

 

Find out the number of internal links that have been deleted from pointing to the page(s) dropping in rankings. If by any chance you can access the old version of the site, run Screaming Frog on the old and new versions of the site with a view to comparing inbound link (inlinks in SF) counts. If you can’t access the old version, the task ahead is enormous, but doable. Invest time to compare any navigation changes and mark where the new internal link layout may have affected your pages.

 

The extent to which you fix the problem depends on your impact on the site structure. At WebStreet Strategies we recommend to SEOs to fix the problem in the navigational structure, however, I know that your UX team might overrule you as far as primary navigation is concerned. Should that be the shoes you find yourself wearing, come up with systematic ways to add links on locations where you have full control on the content. Common options include:

 

  • In the footer (this may not affect UX team, because very few guys use the footer to navigate your site)
  • In blog posts
  • In product description

 

NB: Deleting links and adding them later, or from a different location on the site, may not restore your rankings because the effect of the added links may be different from the initial internal links. The best way to go about it is to monitor your rankings and if possible, add more links than what was deleted, if you want to recover from the drop in Google rankings.

 

5.  User Feedback tells Google you should rank differently

 

To determine rankings, king Google is now using machine learning. What that basically means is that they will in part determine the value of a site’s pages based on how long users stay on your site before Pogosticking (Returning to Google) and click-through rate (CTR) from SERPs.

 

a)  Have you added a popup that pisses off users and increases bounce rate?

 

b)  Is the page loading slowly?

 

  • What’s the server response time? Users will easily give up if the site doesn’t load in a few seconds.
  • What’s the full page load? Could be you have recently added up something that takes long to load. As a result, users are giving up.

 

c)  Have you recently changed page titles? Could it be the cause for a lower CTR?

 

If this is the issue…

 

a)  If the bounce rate is due to a new popup, test a different popup. Best options include

 

  • Stable banners at the bottom or top of the page (featuring clearly visible CLICK ME button!)
  • Exit popups
  • Timed popups
  • Scroll popups

 

b)  If the issue is the time it takes for the site to load, you will have to seek the assistance of a web developer. To capture the attention of the dev team, bring to their attention the lost revenue from diminishing SEO conversions.

 

c)  If you recently changed your page titles, change them to their previous state. Mark this test and learn from it before you come up with another strategy to change the page titles again.

 

6.  Your competitors made changes

 

What if your drop in ranking was not occasioned by your commission or omission, but because your competitors got weaker or stronger. Use your preferred ranking tool to discover competitors that lost or gained the most thus affecting your rankings. For a paid and accurate tool I recommend Versionista while for a free tool, though it provides spotty data, I’d go with Wayback Machine.

 

a)  Who amongst your competitors lost or gained the most while your rankings dropped?

 

b)  Check his inbound links count, did he lose or gain inbound links?

 

c)  Are there any changes you can notice on his competing page?

 

d)  What about the internal link structure? Has he changed them?

 

e)  What’s their CTR? Is it better or same? What’s the average time users are spending on his site? Has it improved?

 

If this is the issue…

 

No doubt, you’re not happy and your clients or managers are not happy with you because you are paid to beat competitors. Nonetheless, there is a huge advantage to this: you have an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t from your competitors. They researched and implemented a change that paid off. Now you can attach a value to the changes they made. Don’t shy away from imitating your competitor, and more importantly, double your efforts to be better than them if you want to avoid always playing catch up.

 

Now you know!

 

Now that you know what caused the rankings drop, I’m hopeful this Google rankings drop guide will help you come up with constructive solutions. For us at the best SEO Company in Canada, the most proactive response to a drop in Google rankings is a disputable explanation and an actionable plan.

 

Over to you guys, what is it I’ve missed? 


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