Have you ever checked to see how some of the pages on your site are ranking, only to see a sudden drop in their position? If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but regardless of why it’s happening, it costs traffic, and ultimately, money when your page rankings drop.
The key here is not to panic – page rankings fluctuate constantly. But how do you set about recovering?
In this article, you will discover a simple checklist that you can use to diagnose the reason for your drop in ranking, as well as the necessary steps you need to take to remedy that.
So, let’s get right to it.
1. Check That Your Website Is Working
Sounds crazy, I know.
But you first have to ensure that everything on your site is working. Is anything messed up? Is your site not loading for some reason?
Check if either your hosting or domain has expired.
Or maybe your web hosting provider is experiencing issues and isn’t displaying your site. Any one of these could be the reason for your loss of rankings, and it happens a lot more than you’d think.
2. Confirm an Actual Drop in Site Traffic
Some tools may not be totally accurate, and so it’s vital that you confirm the loss of traffic using different tools.
Double check your site’s analytics using Google Analytics or other similar tool and verify that there’s an actual drop in your organic traffic levels. Keep in mind that it’s normal for traffic levels to go up and down.
But, a massive drop that does not come back up means that something is definitely wrong. You can get your traffic metrics from Google Analytics, and also connect Google Search Console to get your rankings information.
Generally speaking, Google’s data is the most accurate, but using other tools to confirm that information helps to add another layer of confidence.
Tools like Ahrefs, when used alongside Google’s tools will help you quickly and easily diagnose and fix rankings drops.
3. Check for Google Search Console Warnings or Errors
Are there any penalties or errors from Google crawling your site?
You’ll be automatically notified of any crawl errors whenever Google bots crawl your website. Google will also notify you if your site’s pages are flagged by the manual human reviewers.
The information is pretty straightforward, so just check that you don’t have any errors or penalties – and if you do, take care of them at once.
4. Review Any Recent Changes
If you’re thinking that you didn’t change anything major, consider the small things that often change in your site’s back-end.
Any of them could be responsible for affecting things.
- Have you installed any new plugins lately?
- Maybe you’ve updated a few existing ones?
- Did you add a new site theme or some new pages?
It doesn’t always have to be something major like URL structure changes from moving your blog, for example.
If you’ve made any changes recently, then it’s worth looking into that. It could also be that your site is being de-indexed by something without you knowing.
Check your WordPress back-end to make sure that box isn’t checked.
5. Could Recent Google Updates Be Responsible?
Things are forever shifting in SEO, and they may even go back to normal without you doing anything. That’s just the way things are in that arena (And in relationships. And weight loss. Basically everything in life…).
But, I digress.
Google releases updates constantly, and so change is inevitable. Check the date around which your rankings dropped and use it to see if Google released any updates during that period.
If so, there’s a good chance that is the reason for your traffic drop.
Tools that you can use to determine fluctuations in the SERPs (search engine results pages) include the Flux Chart from SerpMetrics, Rank Risk Index from Rank Ranger, and Sensor from SEMrush.
Once you confirm that Google caused your drop in rankings, you need to do your best to improve your site according to the update’s objective.
6. Find Out Exactly What Dropped (and When)
After running through the 5 steps listed above, it’s time for a closer diagnosis to ascertain what dropped.
Find out the following:
- Was it one specific page that dropped?
- Or is it multiple pages?
- Were all your site pages affected?
- Which of your targeted keywords dropped?
- When did they start dropping?
Use your analytics or tools like Ahrefs and Rank Tracker to find out the answers to those questions.
Ask yourself the following questions to help you do your research and identify possible causes:
- Is there something that you were doing consistently that you stopped around that time?
- Did Google roll out any updates around that time?
- Are there any notifications that you received in Google search console?
- Do you run a seasonal business? For instance, a Halloween website will have more traffic in Sep/Oct than in May.
Answering these and other similar questions will help you to zero in on the factors that are impacting your rankings.
7. Are You Simply Being Outranked?
This is something you need to check.
Sometimes it happens that your website rankings didn’t ‘drop’, but rather you’re being outperformed by another website.
Check if that’s the case by doing the following:
- Determine how many back-links your rival has – and then beat them
- Find out how much content they have on their site (more content usually equals better rankings)
- How many pages do your competitors have? The more high quality pages they’ve got, the better ranking’s they’ll have
- You can get all the information you need by typing both yours and your competition’s URLs into the Ahrefs Domain Comparison tool
After running through all the possibilities outlined above, you can then check the specific factors below to see if there is something wrong with your on-page optimization or back-link profile that you can fix.
8. Check the Links Pointing Back To Your Site
Your back-link profile can have an impact on your lost traffic.
Some of the things you need to look out for include:
Losing back-links from authority sites that helped you rank can result in a massive drop in rankings.
Use a back-link checker tool to help you get all your profile details. In Ahrefs, there’s a ‘Lost Back-links’ feature that allows you to check for abnormal numbers of links lost or any specific day with important links.
Look at where those links are from to helps establish what’s affecting it. If the links were valuable, you can reach out to the page publishers and try to re-establish each of them.
Unnatural or Spammy Back-links
Check your site’s back-links to ensure that there are no types of links that may hurt your rankings.
Again, you can accomplish this using Ahrefs, or any other similar tool. Simply search your website and go to ‘Back-links’.
Some things to watch out for while evaluating your site include the following:
Site Wide Links
These are typically found in the header, footer, and sidebar of another site.
While these aren’t necessarily spammy if they’re relevant and natural (eg., a blogroll link), the anchor text for such links pointing to you needs to be branded terms instead of just keywords.
The site that’s linking to you needs to be very relevant. Also, keep the number down as having too many such links can have a negative effect on your ranking.
If you’re getting back-links from various, non-Roman character sites (like Russia or China) then keep the number of links to a minimum.
For instance, about 5 or so links would be fine, but if you’re a local business with 500 Russian back-links, that’s going to be bad for your ranking.
If back-links don’t seem natural to you, chances are, they won’t seem natural in Google’s eyes.
Disavow any links you receive notification/manual action for in your Google Search Console.
Improve your back-link profile’s health by focusing on building more in-content/natural links and creating more valuable content that gets linked to.
9. Check On-Page Factors
Your site content can affect your rankings in significant ways.
Check for the following on-page factors to ensure that you don’t get penalized:
- Look for pages on your site that have thin content. If you have too many of them, it can hurt your SEO. If you find any, build them out. Use a word count tool to create a spreadsheet of the word count of each page on your site.
- For any pages that have 500 words or less, you need to make a decision whether that page offers enough benefit on your website already, in terms of backlinks, or if it’s an important sales/product page. If not, you can delete such pages from your site. But if you decide that it has value, add content and links to give it a better chance of ranking.
- E-commerce sites, in particular, can appear as having excessive pages with thin content because of the product pages that only have descriptions on them and not much else. A great way of solving this issue is by doing what Amazon does. Include lots of other information on the product pages, including reviews, images, and so on.
Check the Use of Keywords on Your Site
For those pages you are trying to rank high for specific keywords, you need to check if you’ve either over-optimized or under-optimized each of them.
Over-optimization is where your keyword density exceeds 25%. There are many free keyword density tools online that can help you check each of your articles simply by entering the page URL.
On the other hand, under-optimization refers to the actual keyword you’re trying to rank for not being found enough times on the page you’re trying to rank for it. Focus on topical relevance, ensuring that your keywords occur naturally throughout the content.
This includes the use of secondary or LSI keywords to indicate to Google what the topic of your page is.
A tool like Ahref’s keyword Explorer will help you find many secondary terms that you can include. If you’re wondering why I keep referencing Ahrefs, it’s because they have all the tools you need in one place.
A simple search will reveal many other similar free and paid platforms that you can use online.
10. Track Your SEO Activities
It could be that your website rankings didn’t drop but that they are simply stagnant and not growing.
If that’s the case, then you’re going to need to seriously up your game. The SEO you’re not doing may not be the reason for a drop in rankings, but it could be why you’re not growing.
Listed below are some of the things that may contribute to stagnant ratings or possibly even a drop in your current ratings:
- If you’re not doing SEO work consistently (like every three months) you might experience stagnant ratings
- Not adding both content AND links to your site might lead to less growth or even a drop in ratings
- Check that you’re not trying to rank for keywords that have fierce competition. The work you put in should match the level of difficulty of the keywords you want to rank for.
Keep in mind that when it comes to SEO, time is a huge factor, and it can take months of consistent effort before you start seeing the results you want.
The good news is that once your rankings start moving up, it takes a lot less work to maintain them.
The bottom line is that any SEO work you do has to be consistent as well as in proportion to the keywords you want to target.
It’s important to be aware of each keyword’s difficulty level so you can avoid having expectations that are unrealistic.
Keep this checklist handy and run through it the next time your rankings are either stagnant or dropping.
Just remember not to panic.
No matter what the reason for the drop in rankings is, you can always get your site back on track. All you need is to use this methodical process to diagnose the problem and then take the steps to rectify it.
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Updated: Originally published February 1st 2019