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  • Why Your Google Rankings Dropped & How to Fix It

    Why Your Google Rankings Dropped & How to Fix It

    A significant and sudden drop in your Google rankings can can be both frustrating and frightening.

    It’s especially terrifying if you have no idea why your Google rankings dropped so suddenly.

    With over 200 Google ranking factors, there are a multiplicity of reasons why a site’s Google ranking might suffer an abrupt plunge.

    If your Google rankings dropped overnight, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Luckily, a majority of Google rankings issues can be remedied with a bit of time and effort.

    Although, if your Google rankings drop overnight, it can sometimes take months of heavy work to fully recover the lost ground.

    But, don’t despair!

    Recovery from a sudden drop in Google rankings is possible!

    Let’s look at some of the most common issues that could cause a site’s search engine ranking to plummet AND how you might fix them.

    Your Website is New(ish)

    Your Website is New

    The number one issue we see when it comes to drops is typically related to new websites.

    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, the Google algorithm 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.

    If your site is less than five years old, chances are there will be much more volatility than other established websites.

    To put it concisely, volatility (a.k.a. Google dancing, which we discuss a bit more in detail below) is expected and normal for new sites.

    You’re Not Diversified in Your Google Ranking Factors

    The second most common reason for a Google rankings drop is an over-focus on one ranking factor to the exclusion of all others. For instance, it is possible to have too many internal links and over-optimized content.

    Did you know that the most important Google ranking factor is diversity of the overall factors?

    It’s not backlinks!

    So, when a site focuses too much of their SEO efforts on building backlinks, to the exclusion of other factors, they are more likely to see a drop in their rankings. Excessive backlinks (particularly if they are not natural or diverse enough) can look like unnatural links to Google, which might be a factor if your Google ranking dropped dramatically.

    We cover this in more detail in our complete list of the most statistically significant Google ranking factors.

    Canonicalization Issues

    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.

    Canonicalization issues
    Using canonical checking tools like Moz or Ahrefs can help eek out potential issues with duplicate content on-site.

    Host Server Problems

    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 webcrawlers 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 outage is temporary.

    Detection of Malware

    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. If the problem becomes too extensive, Google may blacklist your entire domain.

    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.

    Google Updates & Search Algorithm Changes

    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. SEO rankings usually drop after Google algorithm updates and unfortunately, many people experience a dramatic Google ranking drop.

    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. It’s not just about backlinks and site speed.

    Google updates and Google Core Updates, in particular, can cause immediate and sudden changes to Google rankings, regardless of the industry. It’s hard to find a business owner who hasn’t been impacted by a Google algorithm update ranking drop.

    Take a gander at any Google search sensor to tell whether or not major flux is occurring:

    Google search rankings sensors will let you know whether the internet is in a state of flux or if it’s just you.

    While most of these algorithm tweaks result in a more gradual impact on rankings, an overnight rankings 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.

    Algorithm changes
    Source: Advanced Web Rankings

    The most likely culprit to an overnight Google rankings drop 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.

    For more information on this subject, please take a look at our guide: How to Prepare for & Survive Google Updates.

    Spammy Links

    Even if you rigidly adhere to best practices when building links, it’s possible that a bad link got into your backlink profile. Having backlinks on spammy sites can definitely hurt your SEO efforts and could be the reason your Google ranking dropped. Ranking drops can be serious if you don’t make the effort to recover. If you don’t maintain your ranking in Google, you’ll lose a lot of organic traffic.

    Where do spammy links come from? 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. Don’t hesitate to ask the linking domain to remove links to your site.

    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.

    Major Changes to Your Backlink Profile

    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. Either way, lost links are a bummer.

    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.

    And while you can rank without backlinks, a drop in quality links is a poor signal that can cause rankings drops.

    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 our free backlink checker tool to check your external links.

    If you wish for an even better tool, we also suggest Ahrefs.com.

    You Lost a Good Backlink

    You lost a good link
    Losing one (or in this case) thousands of backlinks will definitely have an impact.

    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.

    You Acquired a High Authority Backlink

    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:

    You’ll notice an immediate Google rankings drop after a high authority backlink was pointed to the page, then subsequent rankings volatility and–eventually–Google rankings settling a number of weeks later.

    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 marketing 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.

    A Decline in Content Quality

    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. Make sure each blog post you publish uses your niche keywords in the proper context and is written first for visitors.

    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. Connect with us to get a free site audit.

    Even the best content marketers aren’t always perfect.

    This is one of the reasons we suggest regularly updating your content. You’ll get more targeted website traffic with updated content, provided your page structure is optimized, too. For instance, you’ll need to be on point with your on page optimization and have accurate meta descriptions.

    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.

    If you’re accepting content from other people, make sure it’s not already published on the web somewhere to avoid duplicate content issues. You may want to put a clause in your agreement that writers will only provide you with original, previously unpublished content.

    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.

    You have broken links

    Broken links are terrible for SEO and too many can drop your rankings. For example, say you have five pages that rank high for certain keywords. If three of those pages get deleted, Google will eventually notice that they produce 404 errors and will remove them from the index. If those pages ranked well, you’ll lose a good amount of organic search traffic.

    On the other hand, if you put 301 permanent redirects in place, Google won’t see those pages as a 404 error. Although, it’s best to avoid deleting pages in the first place, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

    Something Changed in Your robots.txt or .htaccess File

    Something changed in your robots.txt file
    Even small changes in your Robots.txt file can have a massive impact on your Google rank.

    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:

    Example .htaccess file.

    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.

    A Competitor Emerged

    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 outsourced link building or cheap SEO service.

    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.

    Decrease in Indexed Pages

    Decrease in indexed pages
    Performing a Google “site search” should provide a total number of indexed pages. If that has fallen, then you have a problem.

    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.

    You can typically check Google Search Console data to see why some of your pages may be crawled but not indexed:

    Just because Google crawls your site, doesn’t mean it is going to get indexed. And just because a page is indexed, doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to rank well.

    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 or “The Google Dance”

    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.

    Google Penalties

    Google penalties
    A manual link review by the Google webspam team can cause your rankings to fall overnight. Make sure to familiarize yourself with Google guidelines for quality content. Bad quality content can cause a sudden ranking drop, which could be the reason you’ve seen a drop in organic search traffic.

    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.

    You can typically check Google Search Console (GSC) to see where the issues may exist. Google Analytics should also help provide some insight as to why your Google rankings may have dropped.

    There are a wide variety of transgressions for which Google will penalize a site; the following list includes some of the most common mistakes:

    Keyword stuffing

    In the early days of SEO, it was typical to stuff your keywords as densely as possible into your content.

    Of course, this resulted in some badly-written content that was clearly created for search engines instead of humans.

    The goal of SEO is to get your website higher in the search engine result pages. Keyword-stuffed pages won’t get you far in the rankings today; the better strategy is to incorporate your keywords in a natural manner, without sacrificing the quality of the content.

    Artificial link-building

    Buying links, renting links and participating in too many link exchanges are just a few of the sketchy link-building practices that could earn you a Google penalty.

    Google frowns on any artificial means of building your link network. If you need to boost your backlink profile, it’s best to do it the old-fashioned way.

    Reaching out to the webmasters of other reputable sites in your niche and guest-posting on well-known blogs are great ways to build a solid set of links to your site.

    Your site isn’t mobile-friendly

    Google favors websites that are mobile-friendly, so if your site hasn’t been optimized for mobile it’s time to get that taken care of.

    Google only has one database that contains both mobile and desktop search results. However, whenever there are two options, Google’s algorithm will favor the mobile-friendly version. In other words, all users now get the mobile-friendly version of indexed pages.

    Search engine crawlers will continue to index your pages, but if they’re not considered mobile-friendly across all mobile devices they will get suppressed in the SERPs.

    Duplicate content

    Google doesn’t want its users to see the same content repeated within a list of search results.

    To avoid the possibility of this poor user experience, they may penalize sites who have identical content across multiple pages.

    Using tools like Copyscape can help you ensure that all your content is completely original. This is one of the best SEO tools around.

    Duplicate metadata

    Similar to the problem of duplicate content, duplicate metadata can also hurt your rankings with the search engines.

    Google won’t penalize you for having duplicate metadata alone, but they view it as a signal that your site may have a duplicate content issue.

    Many content management systems and blogging platforms make it easy to commit this particular transgression by accident.

    Take care to enter unique, original metadata for each of your site’s individual pages.

    Thin content

    Google likes to see pages that are rich in information and filled with original content.

    Pages that exist primarily to serve ads are likely to earn a penalty; similarly, e-commerce sites that copy their product descriptions directly from the manufacturer or another website might also find themselves in trouble.

    Abusing anchor text

    Using your keywords in the anchor text of your links used to be standard recommendation among SEO experts. The algorithm changes involved in Google’s 2012 Penguin update changed all that, and this practice is no longer advised. Your anchor text should contain genuine phrases, and it should flow naturally with the rest of your content.

    Recover from an Overnight Google Rankings Drop

    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.

    Want to figure out why your rankings have dropped or perhaps you are looking to rank for competitive keywords?

    We can help! We’re the SEO company that other agencies come to help them with their clients!

    An advanced SEO audit is likely to uncover the issue so you can know how to get your website back on track.

    Chief Marketing Officer at SEO Company
    In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. As a technical SEO strategist, Sam leads all paid and organic operations teams for client SEO services, link building services and white label SEO partnerships. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
    Samuel Edwards