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Small Business SEO: What to do with a Google Ranking Drop

Watch out if your analytics are down, you may have a Google Rankings Drop to figure out!

It happens all the time in every business that depends on its website to deliver leads or sales. All of a sudden nothing seems to be happening. The store is quiet, the salespeople aren’t doing much, and someone says, “Why aren’t we getting any leads?” It then hits the marketing/owner/SEO person, and they check the website and the rankings. “What the….. where are we?” What happened overnight that we lost all of our rankings? 

This simple guide will go over the different possibilities and quickly explain how to check them. While the list is pretty encompassing, it is hard to figure out every scenario that could happen to your website. If you follow this list, you will most likely understand what happened, and then you can figure out the next steps. 

Before you even check the different scenarios I list out below, you must check if your rankings have dropped. Maybe it’s a minor fluctuation, and you are back up again. I will first check the analytics and Google Search Console to see if anything jumps out like a massive drop in traffic for the last few days. I would then check a rank checker like serpstat or accuranker to know if it also has a reduction in rankings in Google. Ok, it looks like I have dropped in rankings and I want to move on to the good stuff and find out why!

1. Google Algorithm

The first step is to check if there has been a recent Google algorithm update that affected your site. Even if you have not tried to manipulate Google’s algorithm, you could have lost rankings while Google tries to take down spammers and black hats. It is also possible that an SEO agency you hired did some nefarious tasks, and you are now getting punished. At this point, if it happens to be from an algorithm, then you will have to revise your SEO strategy to line up more with what Google wants. You need to find out what was the change, and how did it hurt your site? 

Recommended resources:

semrush.com/sensor/ Monitors a fixed set of keywords to determine how much movement is in the serps daily.

panguintool.barracuda.digital It has a historical representation of all Google updates.

cognitiveseo.com/signals/ Tracks the different rankings of websites to check if there has been a lot of SERP movements.

 fruition.net/google-penalty-checker-tool/. This tool will use your analytics data and compare it to Google’s algorithm to determine if you have a penalty. 

accuranker.com/grump/ Tell you Google’s mood based on area and type of device. 

2. Backlinks

The next area to check is going to be your backlinks pointing to your site. For this check, we will need to find all the backlinks pointing to your website. The first thing to check for is new links. Were you hit with a bunch of links from spammy sites? A competitor could be trying to hurt your rankings by making it look like you are spammy (negative SEO). If you haven’t had a bunch of links pointed at your site, then perhaps you have lost some useful links? If your rankings are from a couple of active backlinks that have disappeared, you could see a pretty quick drop. Then you need to find out what links you lost and ask to get them back if possible. If it’s not possible, you need to find another authoritative site to replace the excellent link.

Recommended resources:

ahref

SEMrush

3. Internal Links

Internal linking is one of the easiest ways to show Google your relevant pages. Perhaps some of your internal links were broken by a developer or a development upgrade? You need to look at broken links and fix them for best results. Another way your internal linking might have changed is the structure of your website was changed recently. Did any of your essential pages lose internal links pointing at it?

Recommended resources:

deadlinkchecker.com pulls up all dead links from your site

Screaming Frog SEO Spider (one of my favorite SEO Tools) has a built-in internal linking measurement based on the number of in-links and strength of those links.

4. Dropped or too many Redirections

Redirections can come from many places, but the one I see the most is when a company changes its domain name. Sometimes they don’t keep the old domain redirected to it. Another common mistake is when an old page’s URL is broken, and 301’d to the new page. The 301 can be deleted for some reason, and all old links are then not transferred to the new page. If the old URL had a significant amount of backlinks pointed at it, you would lose a lot of link juice and rankings! It is also possible that you added a new redirection to your site. Now the website has too many redirections in place, which causes the power of your page to drop significantly. You sometimes need to make sure you don’t have a redirect chain as well.

Recommended resources:

https://httpstatus.io

5. Manual Penalty

A manual penalty is when a person who works at Google says you are trying to game their algorithm and penalizes your site. It takes a person at Google to manually go to your site and check it to determine if your site is compliant or not. When this happens, you will get a notice in your Google search Console stating you have a manual penalty. Go to >> SearchConsole >> Search Traffic >> Manual Actions. Another way to check to see if your site has a penalty is to do a site:putyourwebsitehere search on google and see if your page shows up in the search. If it isn’t there, Google has de-indexed the site, and you have a penalty.

Recommended resources:

Google Search Console

site:yourwebsite in Google Search

6.On-Page SEO Fundamentals

Look at a page on your website; it should have a title, meta description, H1 (possibly H2 thru H6 as well), keywords, and images that are all optimized for one keyword. I often see changes made to a page without a thought about the effects it could have for the rankings. Perhaps someone in the organization didn’t like a keyword in your title or changed the URL to remove a keyword. There are a lot of changes that can be done to ruin the SEO that you have completed to help it rank. I feel like this is one of the biggest obstacles an SEO can face, a web person who changes on page attributes without notifying anyone! A Google Ranking Drop always follows major changes from someone who doesn’t know SEO.

Recommended resources:

https://littlewarden.com This site monitors your site and tells you when so.

7. Server issues

slow-website-cause-google-rank-drop
Having a Fast Website Helps Google Rankings

The first and easiest server issue to understand is when your server is offline, and therefore, your website is offline and shows a 500 error. If you have a server that goes down too often that will tank your rankings. The next way to hurt rankings is if your server has slowed down. Sometimes web hosts stack too many websites on a server and slow it way down which can drastically drop your rankings. The speed of your server, in general, is a ranking signal, and you should always look for a fast server. Finally, the last error we’ll discuss is called shared hosting and your neighborhood. Sometimes you can be on a shared host(server) with some websites that Google deems as not useful. Perhaps your IP is in line with known spammers and porn websites. Having these bad sites can hurt your site, and you should switch to managed hosting.

Recommended resources:

pingdom.com speed testing that includes your servers

gtmetrix.com speed test that has server issues

https://www.spiceworks.com/network-monitor/windows-linux-server-monitoring/ Monitors your servers for downtime.

8. Someone Hacked your Website!

Make Sure you don’t get hacked, it will result in a Google Ranking Drop!

Far too many websites these days are hacked as it has become quite an active online business. While most of us think hackers are going to deface the site, what usually happens is they send email spam or link to their viagra sites. Then when people come to your website, their anti-virus goes off, and they leave lowering CTR and time on site. After this, Google usually ends up scanning your site and finding the malicious code and immediately putting a manual action on your website. In the search results, it says by your URL, “This site may have been hacked.” Along the same lines, your site may have been infected with malware or phishing software. While similar it to be being hacked, there are some differences. Malware is used to try and gather confidential information from the unsuspecting visitor. While phishing looks like a legitimate site but is trying to trick users into giving up usernames and passwords. Google finds thousands of these sites a day (average of 6,000). Make sure your website hasn’t been comprised using the tools below!

Recommended resources:

https://www.irmi.com/articles/expert-commentary/hacking-malware-and-social-engineering-threats a great article explaining the differences in these events

https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/security/hacked/ a Google article about what to do when you have been hacked.

https://www.virustotal.com A quick scan of a website for common viruses

http://isithacked.com/ a site that checks if you have been hacked 

 https://sitecheck.sucuri.net free website malware checker and security scanner

https://www.wordfence.com/learn/has-my-site-been-hacked/ an excellent article about being hacked and also good software to protect your site from attacks

9. Changes in Search Behavior behind Rankings Drop?

The web changes at a moments notice! Sometimes people’s browsing habits change in the same way. You may have lost traffic pretty fast due to the terms you are using have lost search traction. While not an overnight drop if you don’t check your statistics often you may not notice the sharp decline right away. Keywords can change overnight depending on factors like influencers and events that change searchers intent. If your older content doesn’t satisfy newer user intent, your rankings will tank.

Recommended resources:

https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/ helps you understand what your consumers intent online is

https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2017/03/user-intent-seo/ article which helps explain user intent

10. Lowered Click Thru Rate

Google cares about user engagement and serving up content that best answers the query. It stands to reason that if one SERP result has a lower Click Thru Rate and time-on-site than the other websites, Google will lower the ranking below the others. Google engineers have confirmed lower CTR as a ranking factor. You need to ask yourself if you made any changes that reduced the CTR, like adding a pop-up or maybe changing the content? First, make sure your click-thru rate has lowered by going to Google Analytics: Click on Search Console > Landing Pages > CTR. You will be able to see what your click-thru rate is and can toggle thru different dates. You can also look at other categories to see if something else is wrong like your Mobile CTR. Below are some articles to help you improve your CTR.

Recommended resources:

https://www.sweor.com/post/ctr article on improving ctr

https://medium.com/marketing-and-entrepreneurship/6-seo-experiments-that-will-blow-your-mind-4f0cd76aa92a an article discussing ctr and other signals that help rank

11. Time on site Dropped?

As discussed above Google wants to make sure that it is answering Google search queries with the best answer. If your page has people bouncing back to the serps faster than you can say “where have my rankings gone!” you are in trouble. While Google has never said, dwell time is a ranking factor they have alluded to user engagement being a ranking factor. I think time on site can show user engagement along with a number of other factors. I wouldn’t be obsessed with it, but if your dwell time has dropped and you lost rankings, it could be a sign that user engagement has decreased. Have you made any UX changes? Added a full-screen pop-up or intrusive ads? Anything that could annoy a user to leave the page and drive engagement down? A Google Ranking Drop could be Google deciding your content is no longer the best out there as it is not answering the searcher’s question.

Recommended resources:

https://ahrefs.com/blog/dwell-time/ great article about dwell time

12. Did you move your Business?

Changing your business address can result in lower rankings if not done correctly!

Google can get confused when a company moves, and it can hurt your rankings. Local SEO is all about your NAP ( name, address, and phone), and when you have different entries, it can cause a drop in rankings. First things first, add your new address to your website, including a map and pictures. Go to Google my Business and make the appropriate changes and add photos as well. Then you should gather a list of local places where your business is listed and change each one of them. It is more of a temporary loss of rankings that will eventually go back up when Google sorts it all. Here are some excellent articles about how to do this.

Recommended resources:

https://searchengineland.com/business-owners-guide-moving-office-234671

https://www.audiencebloom.com/how-to-move-your-business-without-disrupting-your-local-seo/

13. Content Changes can cause a Google Ranking Drop!

Content changes is a pretty self-explanatory change! Someone went in and changed what the page is about or made drastic changes to the content. Changing content is different than changing basic SEO, and it has more to do with the actual content staying relevant to what it is ranking for. When Google spiders that content and realizes it isn’t as appropriate, your rankings will drop. Many times your best bet is to keep the old content and make an update to the content that will please everyone. It might also be a case of having thin content on the page, and you may need to add content back on to regain rankings.

14. Duplicated Content

Duplicate content is indeed a problem on the internet in more ways than one. Many websites make duplicate content on their sites through other URLs, search, and parameters. Duplicate content can also be found in various locations when it’s submitted for the website (like company pages locally). Once again, this is one of those things that may not hurt you, but I feel it could devalue your content and create a loss of rankings. You shouldn’t chance it and every chance you get, try to get the copied or duplicated content removed from other sites. You will also need to check your site for duplicated content using screaming frog. Do a crawl of your website then go to the Internal tab and filter by HTML. From there, go to the hash column. Every unique page has a different hash, and if two are the same, you have duplicate content on that page. You will have to canonicalize those pages so that Google knows which one it should rank.

Recommended resources:

https://www.hobo-web.co.uk/duplicate-content-problems/

15.Website Indexation

One day you wake up, and all organic search traffic is gone? What happened? Everyone struggles to figure out why traffic has disappeared like water leaving a bathtub. It happens a lot more than you would think, but someone no indexed your site or the essential pages. If you use WordPress, it usually changed through a plugin or page builder. Many SEO sites have the option to turn no index on, and WordPress has a checkbox “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” Sometimes the robots.txt file was configured wrong with 

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

Which means Google, please don’t crawl my site at all! That is bad and leads to Google ranking drop!! Another bad thing to do is to have orphaned content. Orphaned Content happens when you create content and have no links to it. Google can’t find it because nothing links to it. You might have created a new page and never told the search engines it is there and it is not indexed! Finally, the last way a page might be no indexed is if you happen to have the wrong canonical on the page. A canonical tells Google which page should be indexed when they are similar or duplicated. I have seen cases were the canonical gets pointed somewhere else even when the other page doesn’t relate to it.

Recommended resource:

https://www.greenlanemarketing.com/tools/google-indexation-tester/

16.Switch from HTTP to HTTPS

Suppose you decide to secure your site and move to google’s preferred https. If you don’t redirect the old site correctly, you will have two websites in Google’s index. When this happens, Google thinks it is duplicated content and doesn’t know which site to rank. Usually, both pages are ranked lower than they should, and you would notice a loss in rankings.

Recommended resource:

https://www.whynopadlock.com/

You can also do a site:yourwebsite search in Google which will show all URLs that are indexed. Look for ones that start with https and ones that don’t.

17.Competitor Increases

It is not out of the realm of possibility that some competitors have become wise and hired SEOs to work on their sites. Perhaps they have spent some money to get links or better content to move up the rankings. You need to do a competitor audit to determine if they have started to outrank you rather than you getting worse. It might not be a Google ranking drop but a competitor pushing you down. Maybe those competitors moved you from two or three to the sixth position of page one which could drastically cut your traffic. Studies have shown that it would drop your clicks by up to 70%. Going from position one to position three will mean if you had a thousand visits you will now only have around 300. That is a significant drop in traffic and would show up in your analytics.

Recommended resource:

https://serpstat.com/competitor-analysis/ This tool will check your competitor’s sites versus yours.

18.Sitemap Issues

Old, outdated sitemaps won’t help search engine spiders from finding deep content. I have also seen sitemaps cause issues in Google Search Console, which I think can hurt your overall SEO. Many time sitemaps include pages that are no indexed, causing a lot of errors showing up in GSC. While Google hasn’t said, GSC errors hurt rankings it certainly can’t help. For me, it is more you want to be consistent with your no index and sitemaps, and you want to control what Google visits. If you have bad sitemaps your website could experience a ranking drop!

Recommended resource:

https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/validate-xml-sitemap.html

19.Website Redesign

website-redesign-lost-rankings
Website redesign gone bad will cause a Google Rank Drop!

Redesigns have been discussed in a few areas up above but deserves its own space. A website redesign can wreak havoc on your SEO in so many ways. First is a URL structure change. You might add categories or navigation items that completely change the URL that was ranking. Secondly, you may not correctly 301 redirect old pages to their new ones causing duplication of content. You also need to do a new sitemap, robot.txt file, and change URLs in Google Search Console. Website redesigns are very tricky and deserve an article all to themselves (I’ll link to it here when completed).

20. Pop-ups can hurt!

I have noticed that a lot of sites have a pop up within three seconds of coming to the website. P.S. DON’T! Pop-ups will drive people away faster than a charging rhino. Also, if your site is under mobile-first indexing, it can be penalized. Do everyone a favor and wait thirty seconds before you pop it up so I can see if your site is worth it. Also, make sure to disable the pop up in media queries for mobile, so you don’t get penalized.

Recommended resource:

https://sleeknote.com/blog/mobile-friendly-popup

Reverse the Google Ranking Drop!

So there you have it! One of the most authoritative sources on how to reverse your Google Ranking Drop. If you follow this article, checking each possible cause one by one and check all of the items, you should be able to figure out what happened. Once you know what happened, you can then reverse your misfortune and rank once again! Any Questions on this or any SEO issues let me know.

David J Forer

Head Honcho at David J Forer
I am a Digital Marketing Specialist that understands Small Business and the complexities of online marketing to drive traffic through the door. I write about all the little things that your website needs to be successful!
David J Forer
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