Recovering from a Drop in Site Rankings

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For today’s businesses, being in the lead on search engine results pages is essential. That’s why search engine optimization is so important. With the right SEO measures in place, websites can rise to the top and maintain that position.

When you see your site reach the tops of the SERPs, it’s a major accomplishment. What happens if your rankings suddenly drop, though? When those numbers sharply decline, your heart probably drops into your stomach.

Exploring Factors that Can Negatively Impact Site Rankings and Ways to Resolve Them

Several issues can cause website rankings to drop. Some of them can easily be remedied whereas others aren’t quite so simple to resolve. Any of the following factors could be responsible for dethroning your website. First off, let’s take a look at some of the off-site issues that could cause a site’s rankings to drop.

Backlink Problems

Google places a great deal of emphasis on backlinks. As far as its crawlers are concerned, websites with plenty of high-quality backlinks are trustworthy and offer value to users. In turn, it ranks them higher than those that don’t have ample backing from other websites. Unfortunately, backlinks can also have detrimental impacts on a website’s rankings under certain circumstances.

Dropped or Disabled Backlinks

Perhaps one of the websites you were depending on for backlinks and, by extension, higher rankings, malfunctioned or was shut down. Maybe the operators of a site decided to update its outgoing links and dropped those pointing to your website. In some cases, websites may receive penalties for unsavory SEO practices or other issues. If that happens, it could affect the rankings of websites to which they’re linked.

Abnormal Backlinks

Certain backlink abnormalities can also hamper website rankings. Those may include excessive backlinks from a single IP address or referring domain. That could appear suspicious to Google. Backlinks from foreign websites may send up red flags as well. At the same time, improperly implemented links to your entire website rather than single pages could hurt its rankings.

Fixing Backlink Problems

Depending on how many backlinks your webpages have, finding the lost ones and resolving them may not be an easy feat. One of the first steps to take here is to use Google Analytics or your Google Search Console to find out where the problem might be. Numerous other tools, both free and paid, are also available for checking backlinks.

From there, if dropped backlinks are the problem, you can contact the owners or operators of the websites those links were coming from and ask that they be restored. Of course, if a website was shut down for committing an infringement, reconnecting may not be a good idea. It may not even be possible. In a case like that, the better solution would be to find new websites to establish working relationships with. Be sure they’re reputable and in good standing with Google.

If abnormal backlink issues are responsible for your descent through the ranks, any offending links should be eliminated. That, alone, might send you back to the top. Although you’ll lose backlinks, Google tends to appreciate quality over quantity. Once those damaging links are out of the picture, your website may naturally regain some of its previous glory. You can also reach out to other companies for additional backlinks to gradually and naturally bolster your rankings.

Search Engine Updates

Search engines, Google in particular, are notorious for implementing updates. This happens quite often. When search engines roll out new algorithms for ranking websites and displaying search results, those changes can completely upset the balance of the SEO world. Sites that once held high rankings in relevant SERPs may tumble while those that enjoyed mediocre success at best end up soaring to the top.

Keep in mind, some updates have nothing to do with algorithms; they only apply to SERP layouts. Google may add or take away certain elements, thereby completely altering the way some websites rank. As is always the case with changes like those, some websites benefit while others suffer.

Working Through Updates

None of us can stop those potentially harmful updates. All anyone can do is keep an eye on them and modify their websites accordingly. To determine if an update may be responsible for your loss of rank, conduct a little research into when the latest one took place. Then, use your Google Search Console or other tools to find out when your rankings started going downhill.

Once you have both details, you can cross-reference them to find out if the changes caused your rankings to drop. If so, dig deeper to better understand which updates took place and which aspects of your website might have been affected by them. Then, you can start to make changes to once again meet Google’s expectations.

Changing Consumer Mindsets

In some instances, unexpected changes in the way consumers think, shop, and search for information can cause websites to rise or drop in the SERPs. Certain analytics tools can predict shifts in consumers’ habits, but not all changes follow trends. Some of them develop suddenly and unexpectedly.

For example, think back to when the pandemic began taking shape. In light of information being released to the public, consumers suddenly began searching desperately for facemasks. Imagine how that affected websites that sell costumes and party supplies. Even those that sell sleep masks were impacted by the unexpected shift in consumers’ search habits.

Google used all its algorithms and ranking factors to determine that previously popular mask outlets weren’t providing what users were looking for at that point. As such, it modified its SERPs to meet their new expectations. No websites did anything wrong to lose their rankings, but their positions dropped nonetheless.

Battling Changing Search Habits and Intents

In truth, there isn’t much anyone can do to prepare for changes like those. You may decide to change your content, keyword use, and other aspects to try to rank for what users seem to be looking for following such developments. Doing so could place you on thin ice, though. If Google notices you’re trying to rank for searches that aren’t relevant to what you offer, those efforts could do more harm than good.

Several events can cause sudden changes in consumers’ search habits. Even breaking local news stories can alter the public’s online activity. These shifts are usually temporary, so taking no action could be the best alternative. If your rankings don’t recover or continue to drop, though, an SEO revamp may be in order.

Being Outranked By Competitors

Sometimes, dropping in rank isn’t a matter of anything going wrong with your website or elsewhere. It could simply be that a competitor’s site underwent a massive overhaul and ended up outranking yours as a result. Perhaps said website was plagued with numerous issues, and eliminating them allowed its high-quality content, backlinks, and other strong suits to shine through.

Regaining Your Position

In the event a competitor pushed your website out of the spotlight, you may have to make several changes of your own. First of all, consider using a domain comparison tool to learn more about the site that’s now outranking yours. These tools can give you plenty of insight into what that website might be doing right and where yours is falling short.

From there, take that information to heart and incorporate the necessary changes into your own site. This may not be a simple matter. As such, professional intervention could certainly work in your favor.

Looking at On-Site Ranking Issues

That brings us to the on-site issues that could be negatively affecting your rankings. Several problems may arise with your website, each of which might cause it to drop below its normal position in the SERPs. One of the best ways to find problems is to simply look at your Google Search Console. It’ll let you know if it has found fault with your site. That may only be the first step, though.

Keyword Problems

Keywords are essential in SEO. After all, they’re the terms businesses want their websites to rank for when people conduct searches. They can also be problematic in certain situations, though.

In some cases, websites include the right keywords, but they don’t use them often enough. Other times, they use keywords too many times on a page of written content. Either one can detract from the site’s rankings or those of its individual pages.

Generally speaking, keyword density should range from one to two percent per page. You can also work in secondary keywords and variations to further boost a page’s relevance. Be sure those terms flow naturally in the content. Otherwise, Google may decide your content isn’t up to par with its quality requirements.

Remember, keywords aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it matter. People’s search habits frequently change. Though they may be searching for the same products and services, the way they look for them is in a constant state of flux. That means the keywords that kept you at the tops of the SERPs last month might not have the same effect next month.

Keeping Keyword Issues at Bay

Google Analytics will clue you in on keyword density issues and certain other problems. Additional tools are also available to help determine if you’re using keywords correctly. They can help you find secondary keywords you could be ranking for but may have overlooked as well. Thinning out overused keywords and paying closer attention to underutilized ones can help restore a site’s rankings.

Conducting ongoing keyword research is also crucial. This will help you keep those keywords fresh and relevant, so they’ll continue to match what consumers are looking for. It’ll also help ensure Google finds your site relevant enough to maintain its positions in SERPs.

High-Quality Content

Search engines frown upon content that doesn’t give users what they’re looking for as well. Keyword use aside, if the content on your site fails to provide useful, relevant information, visitors will react accordingly. When they do, Google will take notice and strip your site of its rank.

Repairing Content

Be sure your content offers ample well-written information that pertains to the products or services being discussed. Don’t hesitate to add new pages to cover individual products or services, but be sure to include all the right keywords and other measures to ensure it meets with Google’s approval.

As noted, check the keyword density of each of your webpages to find out if it needs to be increased or reduced. Longer content usually ranks higher than shorter pieces, so you may need to add information to some of those webpages to make them meatier. Fill in gaps with important details, and make use of subheadings to break up content into more readable text.

Major Website Changes

Any major changes made to a website can cause its rankings to drop, too. In the grand scheme of things, those changes may be for the better. In a short-term sense, though, they may hamper your webpages’ positions in the SERPs.

Some changes that may affect a site’s ranking are adding or taking away webpages. Moving to a new domain or revamping the site could have a negative influence as well. Even something as seemingly minor as changing headings or title tags can negatively impact a website’s rankings.

If any of your pages have been de-indexed, either intentionally or accidentally, they could affect your positions in the SERPs. That’s especially true if the de-indexed pages were greatly boosting your rankings. Keep an eye out for situations like that.

Mitigating Website Changes

If any changes have been made to your website, certain steps can be taken to mitigate the resulting ranking drops. For one, if you move to a new domain or change the site’s URL, be sure to let Google know about the transition. Secondly, consider adding redirects to the new website.

In the event you’ve added or taken away webpages or made other changes to improve your rankings over the long term, reversing those changes may not be advisable. In that case, you might need to be patient and allow those pages to serve their intended purpose. It’s possible to put other measures into place to boost your rankings in the meantime, though.

Along the way, check for inadvertently de-indexed pages and correct those problems. Keep your sitemap up to date, too. Be sure to check for other problems that could have accidentally been implemented alongside intentional changes.

Technical Difficulties

Technical issues are among the most common reasons website rankings drop. They occur behind the scenes, so you may not immediately notice them. Unfortunately, Google and its users will certainly see their effects.

Slow Load Speeds

Few problems deter website visitors quite like slow load speeds. Consumers are only willing to wait a couple of seconds for a site to load. If it takes longer than that, they’ll move on to the competition. If Google sees numerous users abandoning a website, it’ll move it down in the ranks.

Several factors can impede loading. Having too many ads or too much flash content are among the most common. Unclean coding is another issue many websites contend with. Eliminating those and other problems known to slow down websites could have a positive impact on their rankings.

Website Structure

Websites that aren’t set up in an orderly fashion could also experience drops in rankings. Flat structures are recommended to make sites more crawlable and indexable. If they can be crawled and indexed properly, they’re bound to rank higher.

Perhaps you’ve recently added to your site but failed to follow a flat structure with the new additions. Maybe you forgot to add working links to those additions. If so, those oversights could hurt your rankings.

Mobile Friendliness

With the majority of searches now taking place on mobile devices, Google expects websites to be mobile friendly. Businesses can approach this aspect from different angles. Mobile-first design is picking up steam, but mobile-responsive and mobile-adaptive sites also gain Google’s favor.

Some companies have separate mobile sites. Those won’t hurt the site’s rankings as long as the right measures are in place, such as having a canonical tag linking the mobile and stationary versions. Without those actions, though, a separate mobile site could certainly cause a drop in site rankings.

Broken Internal Links

If any of your site’s internal links are broken, Google could see that as a negative and push you further down in the SERPs. Broken internal links could prevent your webpages from being crawled and indexed properly. They’ll also detract from the user experience. Both of those issues will reduce your site’s rankings.

Those and many other technical difficulties could have a cascade effect on your website as a whole. Losing its ranking position is only one problem among many. Be sure all the technical factors are in order to maintain high positions in the SERPs and prevent visitors from looking elsewhere when your site doesn’t work properly.

Other Aspects to Consider

At this point, we’ve covered several of the main on- and off-site problems that could cause drops in website rankings. Now, let’s go over some additional factors that may come into play. These issues are no less detrimental than the ones that we’ve already mentioned.

Duplicate Content

One issue many websites face is duplicate content. It’s not uncommon to create separate websites for different branches of a business. In some cases, companies temporarily use duplicate content across those websites until they can create or commission new content for them.

This could easily cause a website to be flagged. When that happens, it could lose credibility in the eyes of the search engines and subsequently lose its positions in search results pages. On the other hand, some businesses “borrow” content from other websites without their owners’ permission. This process is sometimes known as scraping, but it could also be considered stealing.

Preventing Duplicate Content

Whether you’re a victim of scraping or simply using duplicate content to foster branch websites, your search engine rankings could be impacted. To avoid the latter, simply use new content on branch websites rather than using what’s on your primary site. Numerous plagiarism checkers are also available to help make sure your content is unique.

When it comes to scraping, a few tools are available to block content theft or alert you if someone tries such a stunt. It’s also important to mention that not all content flagged by Google is actually duplicated. In some cases, Google’s crawlers may detect paragraphs with nearly identical wording or even pages with similar text structures. It could misconstrue those as duplicates and unfairly flag a website.

Make Sure Your Rankings Really Dropped

Seeing your site rankings drop is disheartening. You probably want to jump into action and fix the problem, whatever it may be, as quickly as possible. Before covering all the bases we’ve mentioned, though, take a step back for a moment.

Rank checking and analytics tools aren’t infallible. Sometimes, they make mistakes. Much like the stock market, rankings can surge and drop from time to time as well. If your rankings seem to have plunged, wait a bit and check the figures again. Alternatively, you could use a backup tool to get a second opinion. Maybe there’s really no issue at all.

Keep Your Website at the Top Where It Belongs

SEO is an ever-changing field, and staying at the tops of the SERPs isn’t a surefire venture. It takes ongoing attention. Keeping up with search engines’ changes and evolving consumer mindsets is an exhausting endeavor. Despite your best SEO efforts, certain problems could still arise.

If your site rankings plummet, think about the factors we’ve mentioned. Any of them could be the culprit, or multiple forces may be at work. Take a look at the on- and off-site issues that could be robbing you of your rightful place in the SERPs, and take the necessary actions to resolve them. Don’t hesitate to use the many tools at your disposal to help along the way.

Also keep in mind, you don’t have to do this alone. We’re always on hand to help. Our SEO experts know what it takes to get your website to the top and keep it there. Feel free to contact us for help with recovering from a drop in site rankings.

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