Why Keyword Rankings Drop and What to Do About It

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You are either a newbie or the luckiest person in SEO if you have never heard of a ranking drop.

Most of us know those bad goosebumps we get when we open our rank tracking tool one morning and see that rankings dropped by 20+ positions for the most voluminous keywords. And yes, half of the daily traffic you see being lost as well.

It may not look that dramatic but even a small decline in rankings is quite stressful and requires an immediate reaction.

Let’s talk about what to do if you’ve faced with an issue like that, and, most importantly, how you can prevent it.

Main reasons for ranking drops

There are lots of explanations for a sudden decline in rankings, but here are the most common ones:

  1. Your competitors simply got ahead of you in organic search results. In such cases, you get a slight drop in rankings, but if you don’t do anything about it, the drop will steadily continue.
  2. There are technical errors on your website (incorrect redirects, page duplicates, server crashes, etc.). This can be a reason for a quite notable rankings downturn but the good thing is that this group of issues is totally under your control. You can fix the problems on your side, but this also takes time and even a 1-day drop will most probably result in visitor loss.
  3. Search engines manually penalized you for overusing questionable link-building methods. Such penalties can cause a major drop, but worst of all, they can catch you off-guard. So, if you spot a big drastic change in your rankings, rush to check your Site Messages menu in the Google Webmasters panel for any penalty notifications.
  4. Search engine updates have taken you by surprise. It can be a drop of a little or major significance and happen at any moment. The good thing is that it also affects your SERP competitors.

In short, these are the most probable reasons for rankings drops. Let’s figure out what we can do to prevent the effects of each one of them.

How to prevent ranking drops?

1. Keep track of your competitors’ rankings and website updates.

Of course, tracking your competitors won’t stop them from outranking you, but at least it won’t be that unexpected. The question is what to pay attention to:

  • Inbound links. Check your main competitors’ backlinks profile – figure out where they get new links and what their link-building strategy is.

How to do this? Via Ahrefs, Majestic or any other backlink checker.

  • Content strategy. Keep an eye on your competitors’ content updates: what do they do to engage people, which posts got more buzz from the audience lately, what channels do they use to promote their brand voice.

How to do this? By simply monitoring the blogs and social accounts of your competitors. You can also use Ahrefs Content or Buzzsumo to check the most trending content in your niche.

2. Do day-to-day technical audits of your site.

Technical website check-ups help spot on-page issues and enable you to start fixing them right away. HTTP code flaws, expiration of the SSL certificate, disclosure of hidden subdomains, broken links, mistakes in .htaccess attributes, and other on-site failures can affect your rankings overnight.

Make a habit of quickly auditing your website every day to spot problems quickly.

How to do it? Some of the issues can be reported via the Google Webmasters panel. You can also use tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider, SE Ranking’s Website Audit, or any other tools. Such tools are convenient, because in SE Ranking, for example, you can set the frequency of audits and get results sent to your email, without the need to check it daily by yourself. The tool will also notify you if something goes wrong on your website.

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3. Be mindful about choosing websites for getting inbounds links

There are two kinds of Google penalties you can get: automated (derived from algorithm updates) and manual (applied particularly to your site for duplicated content or a certain Google link-building rule violation). If Google thinks that there are “unnatural” links leading to your website, it will manually ban your site pages. The term “unnatural” refers to links from thematically unrelated and non-authoritative sources.

Check if Google took any action against you by going to the Google Search Console:

If you see the problem, delete/disavow links from sites with low domain authority, from link aggregators, etc. Then submit a reconsideration request and just be patient while your rankings get recovered.

To avoid Google sanctions, monitor the quality of inbound links to your site and, if you see any risky ones, disavow them.

How to do this? With the help of any backlink monitoring tool (e.g. Ahrefs, Majestic, Backlinko, SE Ranking, etc.).

4. Monitor Google update news

Track Google updates in the news to know which way the “trend wind” is blowing. Subscribe to SEO news platforms, such as Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land or Search Engine Watch to be among the first ones to learn the news. Also, follow SEO gurus on Twitter or any other social media platform to get professional comments on all the updates.

Important! Make sure that there was, in fact, a drop in rankings, and this is not just a seasonal or holiday-related decline. You can also see a temporary downturn of keyword positions if you have recently made major changes to the site – either in design or in code.

How to recover from drastic ranking drops

First of all, don’t panic. If you’ve been putting consistent efforts in making high-quality content and getting good links, you have all the chances of recovering quickly.

Define the reason for the ranking drop to develop an effective plan for getting your positions back. If you start fixing things before knowing exactly what caused the drop – you can just waste time, which, in this case, also means wasting money.

Here are the main questions you have to ask yourself before rushing into fixing things:

  • Is the entire website affected or has it only impacted particular sections and pages?
  • When exactly did it occur? Compare to other periods.
  • What are the dynamics of the drop: really bad and abrupt (then it’s likely Google penalties or updates, on-site issues or redesign effect) or slight and progressive (competitor’s success)?

Check Google news for updates. Go through forums to find people who have similar issues, and discuss possible reasons and ways to deal with the problem.

Last word

A sudden drop in rankings puts into a panic even seasoned SEO pros with years of experience under their belts. But this is how we get a deeper understanding of search optimization and learn steps for quick recovery and response to similar issues.

Nevertheless, it’s better to do our best to prevent ranking drops, so focus on avoiding tricky link-building methods and providing one-day solutions for your projects. When deciding on your technical and content options, it’s best to think long-term.



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