We bring to your attention the translation of the article by Christina Kledzik, a consultant in the field of online marketing. Kristina works with RoverDotCom and Moz and is well versed in Google analytics. In this article, she talks about how to improve rankings in the event that they have dropped dramatically. SEO Rankings Drop: A Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery
A few weeks ago, the ranking of the pages in the key section of my site was reduced by about a whole position in one day. I’ve been working in the SEO field for 7 years, but I still panic and I ran around the office like a chicken with a severed head trying to figure out what my mistake was. Much could go wrong: I or my team screwed up with internal links, ignored some very important links, or I did not have time to adjust to one of the updated algorithms of Google.
Since the decline in indicators affected a whole group of pages, I assumed that this was due either to our site or to the structure of the page (it turned out that this was not the case). I’ve wasted the whole day trying to figure out what went wrong in the field of technical SEO. As soon as I realized my mistake, I decided to write a step-by-step instruction to know for sure that next time I will be more effective. And you, my friends, reap the rewards.
FIRST, MAKE SURE THAT THE CHANGE IN THE RANKING REALLY HAPPENED
Well, I’ll start with the following: before you turn into Alice in Wonderland and fall into this rabbit hole, make sure that in fact there has been a change in the ranking. Perhaps your tracker was mistaken, or caught on one of the experiments or personalization of Google’s ranking.
Find out the following:
- Has the organic traffic decreased on the affected pages?
- Let’s start with this, because this is the most reliable data about your site. Google’s search console and ranking trackers are trying to figure out what Google does; Your web analytics tool simply tracks the number of users.
- Compare organic traffic from the affected page with the week before and after the decrease in ranking, while comparing similar days of the week.
- Is the drop more significant than most of the changes during the week?
- Decline occurred on the weekend? Is there a reason why the volume of search can decrease?
- Does the search console in Google Search show a similar decrease in rankings?
- Use the Search Analytics section to see clicks, the number of impressions, and the approximate position of the specified keyword or page.
- Does the Google search engine show a similar ranking compared to what you saw in the ranking tracker? (Be sure to run the report with the selected keyword.)
- Does your tracker track a stable ranking?
- I recommend tracking the ranking daily for the most important keywords. So you will find out whether the decrease in ranking lasts for several days.
- If you need a recommendation regarding a tool for these purposes, then I like Stat.
If you’ve just noticed a decrease in rankings, and your traffic and clicks in the Google search console are still at the level, keep an eye out for the situation and try not to panic. I had to see too many natural fluctuations to run to the boss, as soon as I see the problem.
But if the ranking really changed, use my step-by-step instruction.
FIND OUT WHAT WENT WRONG
1. DID GOOGLE UPDATE ITS ALGORITHM?
Google updates the algorithm every day and does so, mostly quietly. The good news is that there are whole groups of people working in the SEO field who document these changes.
- What articles or blogs related to SEO tell about changes in the algorithm of Google’s work, as soon as they occur? Here is the list:
- Search Engine Land;
- Search Engine Watch.
- Do you have friends working in the SEO field who noticed the change? Here’s a professional tip: make friends with SEO-optimizers working with sites that are similar to yours, or with sites in your industry. You can not even imagine how useful it is to frankly discuss testing with optimizers who have already performed similar testing.
If the problem is in this …
The bad news is that if Google updates its algorithm, you will have to change the approach to SEO anyway.
Make sure you understand correctly:
- What exactly punishes Google?
- Why did Google make a change?
- The best way out of this situation is to develop an SEO strategy, taking into account what Google would like.
Your next step is to formulate a strategy that will avoid potential punishment, or at least protect your site from the next punishment.
2. DOES YOUR SITE LOSE LINKS?
Use Ahrefs or Majestic to compile a report on lost links. They are the most authoritative tools for counting links, their indexes are updated daily.
- Has there been a significant decrease in the number of links on the site?
- Did you notice a significant decrease in the number of links on the page or in the page group where you noticed a change in the ranking?
- Did you notice a significant decrease in the number of links on the page of your site referring to the page or group of pages where you noticed a change in the ranking?
- Run Screaming Frog on your site to find out which pages have internal links to the affected pages. Check the number of internal links to the page for one link from the affected page.
- Did you notice a significant decrease in the number of external links to a page or group of pages where you noticed a change in the ranking?
- Use Ahrefs or Majestic to find the sites that link to the affected pages.
- Have any of them suffered recently because of the decrease in the number of links?
- Have they recently updated their site? Has this changed the URLs, navigation structure, or content on the page?
If the problem is in this …
The key here is figuring out where you lost references and why after that you can try to restore or replace them.
- Can I restore links?
- Do you maintain a relationship with the owner of the site that provided you links? Communication with him can help.
- Did you remove the links while updating the site? Perhaps it happened by accident. Contact the site owner – you may be able to convince him to return the links.
- Links were replaced by links to another source? Learn a new source – how to make your links more attractive than their links? Update your content and contact the site owner with the links.
- You can convince your internal team to do new links to quickly replace the old ones?
- Show your manager how much the decrease in the number of links affects the ranking, and ask about the resources that will be needed to replace them.
- Resume links is difficult, but if you succeed, make sure that the next time you create a strategy for creating long-term links
3. DID YOU CHANGE THE AFFECTED PAGE?
If you or your team recently changed the affected pages, Google may find that they are less important to the target keyword than before.
- Have you changed the URL?
- DO NOT change URLs. URLs are unique identifiers for Google; The new URL indicates a new page, even if the content is the same.
- Was the keyword replaced from the title of the page H1 or H2?
- The keyword density for the target keyword is lower than it was before?
- Can Google read all the content on the page?
- Look at Google’s cache, search the cache: www.yourdomain.com/your-page to see what Google sees.
- Can Google access your site? Check the Google Search Console for server and scan reports.
If the problem is in this …
Good news! Perhaps you can fix the site and recover lost traffic.
- If you changed the URL, change it back. If this is not possible, make sure that the old URL 301 is redirected to the new URL.
- If you changed the text on the page, try to go back to the old text. Wait until the ranking is restored, and then try changing the text again, this time, keeping the keyword density.
- If Google can not read all the content on your page, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Tell your development team about this. (According to my observations, the development team often underestimates the impact of SEO, but the phrase “Googlebot can not read the page” is a pretty straightforward problem).
4. HAVE YOU CHANGED THE INTERNAL LINKS TO THE AFFECTED PAGE?
If you or your team added or deleted internal links, this could change the way that streaming links go through your site, thus changing the value of the pages on your site from the perspective of Google.
- Did you or your team recently update the site navigation? Some common places to check are:
- Upper navigation
- Lateral navigation
- Navigating the footer
- Featured Products
- Recommended blog entries
- Have you or your team recently updated the key pages of your site that link to landing pages? Some pages to check:
- Top category pages
- Links-bait in a blog or article
- Did you or your team recently update anchor text from links to landing pages? Does it include a target keyword?
If the problem is in this …
Find out how many internal links among those that affected affected pages have been removed. If you have access to the old version of your site, run the Screaming Frog (or similar scanner) on the new and old versions of your site. This will allow you to compare the number of incoming links (in the program they are called inlinks). If you do not have access to the old version of the site, take a couple of hours to compare the navigation changes and see if the new layout damaged the affected pages.
How you solve the problem depends on how much influence you have on the structure of the site. It’s best to fix this problem in the navigation structure of the site, but many SEO specialists are influenced by the team responsible for the user experience when it comes to primary navigation. If this is the case, consider systematic ways to add links where you can control the content. Here are a few of the most common options:
- In the product description
- In blogs
- In the footer (since the user experience, as a rule, indicates that few people use the footer)
Keep in mind that deleting links and adding them later or from different places on the site may not have the same effect as the original internal links. It’s worth keeping an eye on your ranking and adding more internal links than lost pages to make sure that you’ve restored your ranking on Google.
5. GOOGLE’S FEEDBUFFER TESTIFIES THAT IT’S WORTH IT TO RANK DIFFERENTLY
Google uses machine learning to determine the ranking. This means that they, at least in part, measure the value of your pages based on the ratio of the number of clicks on the link to the number of its displays on the screen, and also on how long visitors stay on your page before returning to Google.
- Have you recently added a pop-up window, after which the page’s exit rate increased?
- Does it take longer to load a page?
- Check the server response time. People can leave the page if nothing happens within a few seconds.
- Check the loading of the full page. Have you added something that loads for a very long time and forces visitors to leave the page?
- Have you changed the page names? Does this reduce the clickthrough rate? (I optimized the names of a number of pages at the end of November, only this affected the average ranking of 500 pages – they moved from 12th position to 9. We can assume that there are also vice versa – the ranking may get worse).
If the problem is in this …
- If the problem is a new pop-up window, do everything possible to convince your marketing team to test a pop-up window of a different type. Here are a few options:
- Pop-up windows with scrolling
- Temporary pop-ups
- Pop-up windows with the ability to exit
- Stable banners at the top or bottom of the page (with a big button PUSH ON ME!)
- If your page loads longer, you will need a development team. Match the loss metrics with fewer SEO conversions. Now that you have lost your position in the ranking, you will have a good opportunity to return to the development issues.
- If you change the page names, change them quickly! Treat this as a lesson, use this experience before you pass your next test.
6. CHANGES MADE BY YOUR COMPETITORS
The ranking could change not because something you did, but because your competitor has become stronger or weaker than you. Use your ranking tool to identify competitors who have received something or lost something due to changes in your ranking. This tool can be Versionista (a paid program, but it’s worth it) or Wayback Machine (free, but the data is incomplete). It will help to detect changes on the sites of your competitors.
- What competitors have won or lost the most from changing the ranking of your site?
- Has this competitor received or lost incoming links? (more detailed question in paragraph 2)
- Did the competitor change his page? (more detailed question in paragraph 3)
- Has the competitor changed the internal structure of the links? (more detailed question in paragraph 4)
- Have your competitors increased the click-through rate or time-out on the search results page? (more detailed question in paragraph 5)
If the problem is in this …
You are probably angry, and your managers are probably angry with you. But there is an advantage in this: you can learn more about what worked for your competitors. They conducted a study and tested the changes, and it paid off in their case. Imitate your competitor, but try to get around it and do it better than they do, otherwise you’ll always play catch-up.
NOW YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO
You can still panic, but I hope that my post will help you in making constructive decisions. I believe that the best response to lowering the ranking is to find an explanation for what is happening and plan the plan.