Business Technology

What you should do when your search engine rankings drop

8 min read

25 October 2017

Jean Frew, digital marketing consultant at Hallam Internet, takes a closer look at what you should do when your website starts to drop down the search engine rankings.

You write great content for your website, you get a few backlinks, things are going well and then one day you notice it. Your visitors and traffic from search engines isn’t as high as it once was. You check your search engine rankings and you’re losing positions. This happens to many businesses.

You feel like you’re doing everything right but are still losing ground. Sound familiar? This post will give you a few areas to look at to make sure you give your website the best possible opportunity to rise in the search engine rankings.

Firstly, it’s important not to panic. When your organic traffic seems to be falling, it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction, but this could make you do something that doesn’t help the problem. Don’t be tempted to resort to tactics such as keyword stuffing or buying links. Take a moment, check your stats and then take rational steps to address any underlying problems.

(1) Think about recent changes to your website

A common mistake businesses make is changing the site without thinking about the consequences. I’m not saying your site should never change, but consider the impact any changes may have on your customers and on search engines.

One big change to a website that will affect search engine rankings if not handled correctly, is if you change some pages, or move your website completely. If you have changed your site navigation, or you or your team added or removed internal links, that could change the way link equity flows through your site, changing Google’s perceived value of the pages on your site.

Migrating to HTTPS and clearing out old pages can also create problems if your old links aren’t redirected to the next most relevant counterparts correctly.

Check your Webmaster Tools setup for any 404 errors. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to identify any other issues (it’s free for the first 500 URLs).

Google Search Console will also give you an idea whether you’ve been handed a manual penalty in the messages section (although in this instance your search engine rankings wouldn’t dip, they’d disappear overnight).

Be sure to provide a list of any old pages to your developers and point them to appropriate new pages. This saves some of the link equity you have built up over the years by making sure it is still being passed through to your new structure.

(2) Check your backlink profile

Since the introduction of the Penguin update in 2012, Google has taken a strong stand against building links to manipulate search engine rankings. AHREFs and Moz are great tools which will give you an idea of where your external links come from. You can conduct free trials on both. At a glance, you may immediately spot links that aren’t representing your site in its best light.

Top tip: Keep an eye out for directories with the word “SEO” in the title or “buy links” for example. They’re usually very poor quality.

Not sure how to assess the quality of a link? Perhaps the most common method of determining link value is Domain Authority (DA). A metric created by Moz, and gives a score out of 100 based on factors that affect your ability to rank. The higher the score, in theory, the better the authority of the site and the more desirable a link from that source is.

Open Site Explorer in Moz allows you to check for sites which link to your domain. It also gives you a potential spam score to assess whether it’s a quality link. This spam score is really useful when determining whether you actually want a site to link to you.

If it is a poor link profile that’s the culprit? Perhaps you need to submit a disavow file in Google Search Console.

(3) Is it time to check your overall content strategy?

If your site content is thin, never updated or stuffed with keywords (or has none), search engines will struggle to work out what your website is about. If you have a WordPress website then the Yoast plugin is a great way to assess the strength of your on-page copy.

Alternatively, Moz have a tool called the On-Page grader which gives you hints on how to optimise your page, the importance of any recommendations, and how difficult they are to fix.

(4) Competitor research

SEO does not happen in isolation. It isn’t just your website that search engines look at. Your website is ranked against countless others in the battle for who gets that coveted top spot. A few questions to ask yourself are:

  • Who has bumped you further down the page?
  • Can you see anything they may be doing well, that you perhaps aren’t?
  • What can you learn?

(5) Sometimes it’s out of your hands

Did Google update its algorithm? It rolls out updates or changes pretty much every day, without anyone knowing. The good news is that there are many SEO influencers who keep on top of the latest changes. The bad news is, if it’s a big update and it hits you, it has the potential to hit you hard. If this is the case then you’re going to have to change your approach to SEO in one way or another.

Make sure you understand what Google is actually penalising, and why it made the change. And it’s not just Google that changes, your rank may have changed because your competition got stronger or weaker. Use a ranking tool to identify competitors that gained or lost the most from your rankings change. Then again, copy them. They have tested and made a change, and it paid off for them.

Work it out and do the same. But try and do it better, otherwise they’ll always be one step ahead.

Jean Frew, digital marketing consultant at Hallam Internet