- Joseph R. Mason
After checking the ranking of your domain in your rank tracking software, you find that it has suddenly dropped. While short-term fluctuations are common due to Google’s ever-changing algorithms, it’s still tempting to become frustrated. So take a couple of moments to rage against the search engine overlords if you wish, but don’t let that resentment last for too long. Now is the time to focus on finding the reason for the drop, and to respond accordingly and thoughtfully.
SEO is a Journey
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” It may be cheesy, but there’s truth to it - especially when applied to SEO. You’ll probably never remain permanently on top of the SERP rankings, because SEO isn’t a race with a clear start and a clear finish (nor is it one with a clear winner). It’s more like a spirited game of King of the Mountain, where everyone is fighting their way to the top in the attempt to dethrone the current king - in perpetuity.
Sometimes tweaking an insignificant aspect of your campaign can appear to be penalized by Google, making it difficult to keep track of the successful efforts versus the mediocre ones. And since Google controls the majority of the market (around 65 percent), this uncertainty can quickly become problematic. That being said, it’s important to make an effort to investigate the drop before making any drastic changes, as hasty tweaks to your strategy can cause you to actually be penalized.
Sustained ratings drops are significantly more troubling than a few short-term fluctuations. That’s not to discount how anxiety-inducing it can be to see your ranking go down, but you should make sure that it’s a pattern rather than a fluke. Check your traffic and related metrics to search for other possible influences besides a penalization. If you’ve made any recent changes to your search strategy, this may be the cause for the dip. If the changes were well-researched and followed comprehensive methods, then not to worry, this drop will level out with time. Think of it like the stock market: One bad day may be a slight cause for concern, but the biggest consideration should be the overall picture.
But if some time has passed and you’re confident that the drop is not just a quirk, you’re going to have to do a bit of research to find the cause.
An Algorithmic Shift
Don’t simply ask “Did Google change their algorithm?” Google changes their algorithms frequently and often without notice. You just have to hope that they haven’t changed it in a way that causes your domain to take a hit. Look for news about recent changes on websites that are devoted to tracking the algorithms, but remember that in the larger scheme of SEO, a comprehensive and long-term strategy is the most important way to ensure the high ranking of your domain. If you’ve done your research into quality link building and executed a plan based off of that, then you may just need to wait until the rankings adjust accordingly.
A Lack of Quality Content
Over all else, the Google bots that crawl the Internet are ensuring the quality and relevance of the content being shown to their users. Therefore, you’ll want to be sure that you are consistently producing high quality, on-site content. Your on-site efforts should be complementary to your link building campaign, as it is just as important to establish yourself as an expert in your industry as it is to appear in search results. When a visitor appears on your site, you will want them to be able to view more than products and services - you'll want to use your informative content to establish yourself as an authority in your space, thereby building trust, increasing their time spent on your domain, and increasing conversions. Writing a relevant and well-researched article or creating an interactive infographic will help to retain users and will ultimately create more conversions for your domain (and thus increase your ranking in the SERP).
Just as the content on your site will be scrutinized for quality, the actual format and design of your overall site may be affecting your ranking as well. You’ll want to be sure that all of your metadata is formatted properly, including your meta tags and H1 and H2 tags. When done properly, these elements provide information to Google that will verify the authority and relevance of your domain. The consistent upkeep of these on-site optimizations will undoubtedly help to stabilize your position in the rankings.
A Lack of Quality Links
Just as your on-site content must be high quality, the backlinks pointing to your site must be as well. While we already know that Google highly values links, it’s important to keep in mind that not all links transfer the same equity. There are many unscrupulous link building services that will create a large volume of low-quality links for cheap prices, but this is an incredibly short-sighted approach that will undoubtedly be penalized by Google. To be certain that your agency is providing a high value link, be sure to thoroughly research and verify the work that they have produced. If you had purchased spammy backlinks in the past, your domain may have been coasting on the short-term rise produced by them before it was then crawled by Google and penalized - resulting in the drop you are currently experiencing.
Additionally, it's important to monitor your backlinks as some publishers may directly, or inadvertently, remove them. Using a quality service that can track any newly acquired, lost, or broken links can help you monitor the overall strength of your backlink profile.
The Efforts of your Competitors
It's important to understand that you may not be the only person in your industry that is proactively strengthening your domain's position. Your competitors could potentially be taking a more aggressive approach, so its of the utmost importance that you figure out what that approach is and how best to combat it. Unfortunately, there is no generic outline for the best approach, as the competitive space of each industry varies and therefore the tactics do as well.
While it's necessary to adjust your strategy to combat that of your competitors, try to remember the King of the Mountain analogy. Just because your competition is above you today, that doesn’t mean the same will be true after a few weeks of employing your own optimization strategy. Continue to maintain your comprehensive, white hat tactics and remain consistent with your creation of rich, relevant content for your domain and you will surely rise again in the rankings.
While it never feels good to see your rankings drop, if you're willing to be proactive and stick to your long-term goals then you will surely be successful in your endeavor. It’s a puzzle, but it’s definitely not an unsolvable one. You may have to rearrange a few pieces, but with time, patience and determination things will start to fit together and your SEO train will get back on track.