So, why did your website lose Google search rankings for a keyword?
It’s an easy enough question that can open a giant can of research depending on the scenario. To get to the bottom of it, we go through a simple 4 step process of deduction – starting with the easiest and most obvious reasoning and working backward into the more complex until we find the culprit.
1. Did we lose Google search rankings due to a Google Search algorithm change?
First things first, we want to make sure there wasn’t an update that completely wiped out your SEO strategy for the keywords in play.
While Google doesn’t typically notify (or forewarn) us of impending changes to their algorithm, we’ve come to rely on some great tools that will keep us ahead of the pack on algorithm updates. One such tool is SEO MOZ’s Google Algorithm Change History page. It’s also worth mentioning MOZ’s dedicated tool, which provides an interesting take on SERP fluctuation. Giving this a quick look is typically enough insight to either move on to step 2, or to start reading up on the changes to develop an updated plan of attack.
2. Did we get hit with a penalization that gave us a dramatic drop in Google search rankings?
Ask any SEO engineer what their worst fear is, and this is up there on their list (sitting right below clowns in sewers).
At Activator, we firmly believe in punching above the belt, and thus do not engage in any blackhat SEO practices. However, even those who only work with proper “white hat” SEO know that it’s always possible to get flagged, even if for an illegitimate reason.
The easiest way to see if Google penalized you is to hop into your Google Search Console and look for a sudden drop in rankings.
- You’ll first be dropped into your Dashboard. Make sure you review the data in your Dashboard and view your Messages section to ensure there aren’t any blaring alerts about things gone awry. Red flags include URL errors, robots.txt issues, and sitemap misconfigurations.
- Next, look to see if you have any items under Search Traffic–>Manual Actions. This is where Google will show actionable responses to any penalties you may be facing. However, this isn’t always updated instantly, so….
- The last area you should focus in on is the Search Traffic–>Search Analytics page. Make a custom search query that shows position. We like to do last 28 days for the scope and set a particular query to target the keywords in question where you’ve lost Google Search ranking. Look for dramatic drops here – the graph is the only thing you should need to tell the story. If your graph looks like it flatlined, Google likely hit you with a penalty. Note: While you could do this data analysis in Google Analytics, Search Console works on a wider variety of search queries, even if they make up a relatively small portion of your traffic.
3. Did one of our competitors jump ahead in the Google Search rankings?
While this step can be the most frustrating for our SEO team at Activator Studios, it is also the most motivating (we are an incredibly competitive group of search marketers). Learning why you competitors ranks are rising requires quite a bit of elbow grease to determine who is outranking you and the reasons why.
Your standard SEO toolkit is the best place to start. Look for competitors that recently jumped in rankings and ask the following questions:
- Did they change internal links?
- Gain new external links?
- Create a new blog?
- Add new content to a page?
More often than not, you’ll need to look at your competitors using a tool like Versionista to determine what exact changes they are making to jump rankings. Often, the answer is obvious as a new blog with slightly better (or just newer) content than yours.
Your SEO solution is simple: roll up your sleeves and compete. Imitate and one-up your competitors. Develop higher quality content than your competitors. Increase your content output. Win more backlinks. Optimize anchor text and more.
4. Are you just experiencing a Google flux?
While not advertised by Google, random fluxes in the Google search results commonly occur for days to weeks at a time with seemingly no concrete answer as to why.
The myth is that these fluxes are related to 2 things: a database refresh of the search results or an impending change is coming to the algorithm.
While these fluxes are mostly wait and see moments (and why this is the last tip in discovering why your search engine rankings dropped), there is one other reason that a flux can occur outside of potential myth territory: search engine content confusion.
Content confusion arises when Google can’t determine what content should take precedence – maybe you have duplicate content across pages or perhaps you aren’t using canonical tags correctly to tell Google which is the preferred page on your site for the relevant content. Both of these are relatively easy to fix but more challenging to find.
So there you have it – a simple 4 step process to get your Google search ranking position back. What are you waiting for? Get out there and dominate your competition!
Stuck on one of these steps? Need a little more guidance? Just want someone to do all of this SEO work for you, monitor the results, and send you beautiful monthly reports of your website climbing the search result rankings? Drop us a line or give us a call – we would love to help out.