A drop in your Google ranking can sometimes happen in the blink of an eye: One day, you were showing up on the first page of search results, and by the next day your site could barely be found. If you depend on your visibility in the search engines to bring in the bulk of your visitors, this scenario can be quite frightening. It’s especially terrifying if you have no idea why the drop in rankings happened.
There are many reasons why a site’s ranking might suffer an abrupt plunge, and the majority of them can be remedied with a bit of time and effort. Let’s look at some of the most common issues that could cause a site’s ranking to plummet.
In an effort to weed out bad content and present users with higher-quality search results, Google has cracked down hard on websites that violate their guidelines. Older SEO techniques that used to be commonplace can now send your site plummeting in the rankings. There are a wide variety of transgressions for which Google will penalize a site; the following list includes some of the most common mistakes:
It takes time to recover from a Google penalty. If you’ve been hit with one, the first thing to do is to clean up the problem: Rewrite any thin or keyword-stuffed content, get those bad links removed if you can, and use the Google Disavow Tool on links you can’t remove on your own. Once you’ve made your best efforts to remedy the problem, you can file a reconsideration request with Google and hope for a positive outcome.
Problems with canonicalization are somewhat similar to issues with duplicate content. These problems crop up when Google has indexed a page from your site with multiple different URLs. Canonicalization issues can occur when two versions of a domain name are indexed or when a single domain name is indexed with both HTTPS and HTTP. Unfortunately, this type of problem is easy to encounter through no fault of your own. Anyone who links to your site with an incorrect version of the URL can cause canonicalization trouble for you. If this happens, it’s important to reach out to the webmaster of the site with the bad link and attempt to have it changed.
Google is typically quite forgiving of short-lived server problems on your site: If your website is down for maintenance or experiences a day or two of availability problems, your ranking should be unharmed. However, if the search engines have trouble accessing your site for several days, it could have a negative impact on your ranking. If you’re planning to take your site down for maintenance, you should make changes on your server so that a 503 code is generated; this indicates to the search engines that the outage is temporary.
The presence of malware on your site won’t directly harm your ranking, but the impact it has on the traffic you get from search results is just as significant. If Google observes the presence of malware on your site, it will add a warning for users next to your listing in the search results. Various tools are available for finding and removing malware on your website. Once you succeed in dealing with the infection, Google will be able to remove the malware warning from your search results listing.
If you’ve been playing by the rules with your website, and your site hasn’t been experiencing any technical problems, your drop in ranking may be due to an algorithm change by the search engines. In an effort to improve the overall quality of their results, Google and the other engines have made many adjustments to the way they index and rank web content. Google’s Penguin and Panda updates are two of the most well-known algorithm adjustments, causing sweeping changes in the SEO community. While most of these algorithm tweaks result in a more gradual impact on rankings, an overnight drop could occur if your site is particularly affected by the changes. If this happens to your site, your only recourse is to work on improving your website’s SEO and attempt to make your website stronger and better.
The most likely culprit is actually the simplest explanation. Google has released a new algorithm update or a new data refresh that reevaluated the rankings of businesses for a particular query (or the way that the evaluation takes place). As a result of the update, you’re ranking lower.
Google releases updates from time to time, though only a handful warrant widespread attention. For example, Panda 4.1 and Penguin 3.0 were massive algorithm updates in the past year that received great amounts of attention and instigated major shakeups in page rank, but these aren’t the only type of updates that Google unveils. Google regularly applies data refreshes to its index in order to keep its ranking predictable and in line with its current standards—so one of these data refreshes, while small in scale, could easily disrupt your previous rank.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to reverse the effects of one of these updates. If it’s a data refresh, there’s practically nothing you can do. If it’s a larger update, and Google has made adjustments to some of its ranking factors, learn which factors were affected, and adjust your strategy accordingly to compensate for those changes.
New sites get a lot of love from Google. And a lot of hate. It’s complicated. When your site launches, Google will have never heard of it, and it won’t have your site indexed, which means you can’t show up in any search results. When Google first indexes your site, it might give you an artificial ranking boost (since Google’s algorithm naturally favors new sites temporarily), leading you to believe you’ve earned those ranks all on your own. After that introductory period, your rankings will probably drop again as Google tries to make better sense of who you are and how authoritative you are. To put it concisely, volatility is expected and normal for new sites.
Even if you rigidly adhere to best practices when building links, it’s possible that a bad link got into your backlink profile. You might have built a link hastily, or on a site that isn’t quite relevant enough for your brand, or someone else entirely might have built it, putting the incident entirely outside of your control. In any case, if Google sees an irrelevant, unhelpful, or low-authority link pointing back to your site, that could be all it takes to throw your rankings for a loop. You can check out your backlink profile using Open Site Explorer or a similar tool, and remove any suspicious links with a simple request to the webmaster hosting it.
Your backlink profile is a collection of links on the web that help Google analyze your authority on the web. If the constitution of that back link profile suddenly changes, your rankings could drop as a result. If you’ve slipped up and posted an irrelevant link, or a link on a low-quality source, or any kind of link that could be considered spam, you could see a drop shortly thereafter.
Backlink profile changes aren’t always at the fault of the webmaster, however. It’s possible that one or more of your existing high-quality links were removed by an external webmaster. If your link profile is diverse enough, this shouldn’t be enough to move you, but if several of your links or a majority of your links disappear overnight, you could easily experience a significant ranking drop accordingly.
Additionally, negative SEO attacks are rare, but possible. In a negative SEO attack, a competitor or other malicious entity would intentionally post bad, spammy links to your domain in an effort to lower your authority. If you are concerned about this, or if you just want to audit your current backlink profile, try using Moz’s free tool, Open Site Explorer, to check your external links. If you wish for an even better tool, we also suggest Ahrefs.com.
Conversely, if you had an especially powerful link pointing back to your site that suddenly disappeared, the authority it passed will disappear with it. For example, let’s say you earned a link on a major authority with a .edu domain.
That webmaster decided to turn the link into a nofollow link, or decided to remove it entirely. It’s to be expected that your domain authority, and thus your rankings, would then drop, especially if you’re new to the game.
Believe it or not, but powerful, high domain authority links can create a drop in rankings for specific or overall keywords for a given page. Here’s one example:
If you’re performing your outreach properly, you’ll obviously want to diversify you backlinks between high and low authority websites, focusing on sites with high(er) authority that are niche-relevant. But, be very aware, new backlinks, especially on low authority sites that are new(er) (<3 years old) can cause massive rankings swings that may take months or more to settle.
Not all links are created equal. It doesn’t mean you’re being penalized by Google. It’s simply a byproduct of the SERPs looking to readjust where your page now stands relative to other sites on the web.
So, whenever we have a new client with a new website come to us and want to immediately go after the highest authority links and then they complain of immediate rankings drops, we gently remind them that anytime you make significant changes to a site (on-site content, inbound links, content consolidation, etc.), you will need to expect rankings volatility to occur.
The next time you see an absolutely killer link come from the links of BusinessInsider, Business.com, Inc, Forbes, etc., brace yourself for some turbulence.
This isn’t a common cause of sudden drops in traffic, since a decline in content quality usually happens over time, but it is possible that your latest ranking report was influenced by a gradual change in your content approach. Google favors long-form, highly detailed, original content with heavily researched elements and understandable wording. If your posts are getting less detailed, more rushed, or otherwise less useful for your readers, it could trigger a signal to Google that you aren’t as authoritative as you used to be. If you’re concerned, run a content audit to evaluate the strength of your latest material, and refresh your approach for modern best practices in content marketing.
Even the best content marketers aren’t always perfect. Writing well-written, appropriate, in-depth, relevant topics on a weekly or daily basis is quite a challenge, and a couple of slips in that consistency are all it takes to cause a temporary slide in your online rankings.
There are some usual culprits for this. First and foremost, if you post a piece of content that’s a duplicate of one you’ve already posted, or a copy from something that already exists on the web, you could have inadvertently triggered a slight content-based penalty. Scan your site for any pieces of duplicated content, and get rid of them or use redirects to mask one iteration in favor of the other.
Irregular posting of content could also interfere with your page rank. If you usually post three times a week, and you stop for a month, Google’s algorithm could detect the change and dock you for the lapse of new content. This is where guest blogging services can prove helpful.
If you’ve recently changed topic focus or hosted an abnormal guest blog, the sudden alteration in authority could slightly interfere with your rank as well. For example, if you usually write about hamburgers, and you suddenly start posting about steak, your keyword rank for hamburger could potentially see some downward momentum.
Your robots.txt file is an instruction file in the back end of your site that lets search crawlers know various things about your site.
For example, you can tell crawlers to ignore certain pages, or certain versions of pages.
Similarly, you may also have issues with your .htaccess file or or NGNIX rules for redirects may have changed. The .htaccess file and the NGINX rules control redirects for pages and posts on your site. Here is an example:
Changes in your .htaccess file can create 404 pages, redirect loops and redirect posts and pages that may have been previously ranked. In some cases, webmasters may not be editing these files directly (using a third-party plugin), may have their webmaster editing it and in worst case scenarios, these files can sometimes be hacked, creating redirects to sites that are unwanted and nefarious.
If you’ve accidentally updated the .htaccess robots.txt file to tell Google not to index mass portions of your site (it happens more often than you think), you’ll obviously lose significant ground in the SERPs. Read up on best practices for your robots.txt file, and double check yours—just to be safe.
Let’s face it. You aren’t the only company in your industry currently jockeying for a top spot in Google’s search results. If a new competitor emerges in the field with a great new site and tons of interesting, original content, you could easily get swept off your position. Older competitors, too, might launch new strategies and new initiatives that make them more attracting to Google’s ranking algorithm. If this is the case, you’ll have to step up your efforts to match theirs, or find a new niche or new angle to allow you a better competitive edge.
Competitors can be sneaky, and even niche companies can face the emergence of a highly similar rival. Search engine rankings take time to build, so it’s unlikely that a new competitor could completely catch you off guard, but it isn’t unheard of. Take a look at the new company profiles of the businesses now outranking you. Have any of them made massive changes recently in order to improve their ranks? Have any of them been rising up slowly from the back pages? If so, it’s possible they have simply overtaken you because they’re spending more time and effort building their authority on the web by using a outside link building solution.
In order to fight back against this emergence, you’ll either need to step up your effort to match and exceed theirs, or shift your focus to specialize in a different niche and overtake them in a tangential strategy.
Google produces its ranks based on the information it crawls on the web. If there isn’t enough information on your site for Google to crawl, the result will be a lower rank. Ordinarily, all of your internal pages should be crawled and indexed by Google’s bots, but there are cases when some of your pages suddenly stop being indexed, and your rank suffers as a result.
Pages could be de-indexed as a result of a manual penalty, but it’s more likely that something easily fixable is causing their disappearance. Check your pages for any 404 errors, nofollow tags, or any other quality that could make them invisible to search engines. You can also log into Webmaster Tools and check your site for any crawl errors or de-indexed pages—this is a great way to analyze your current sitemap and fix any glaring errors preventing your pages from being seen.
Randomization, which is sometimes referred to as “the Google Dance,” is the phenomenon that refers to websites randomly jumping around in the search engine rankings. This is perhaps one of the most difficult ranking issues to explain. Basically, it simply refers to a random shuffling of rankings that usually doesn’t last long, so if this is the reason why your website’s ranking dropped, then the good news is that it will likely return back to its high ranking again sooner or later.
As you can see, there are multiple factors that could play a part in your site’s sudden decline in search results. Whether a Google penalty, server problems or an algorithm change is the culprit, it’s important to identify the root of the problem. Once you’ve figured out the underlying cause of the issue, it’s easier to take the necessary steps to fix the issue and make your site more visible in the search engines. There are various reasons why your website might not be showing up in the search engine rankings. Then again, perhaps your ranking was relatively high, and then it suddenly dropped for no apparent reason. Discerning the reason why your website dropped in the search engine rankings is important because diagnosing the problem lets you know what you need to work on to get your website back up in the rankings. Below are 10 of the most common reasons why your website ranking may have suddenly dropped.
Want to figure out why your rankings have dropped? An advanced SEO audit is likely to uncover the issue so you can know how to get your website back on track.