Google can be a fickle mistress.
Search engine marketers often pour untold hours into optimizing a website’s SERP performance through crafting masterful content, properly employing canonical tags and other technical elements, ensuring a preeminent UX is at work and everything else that goes into reaching Google’s summit.
However, algorithms and tactics can (and often do) change in the blink of an eye. Just like that, pages drop out of sight, traffic plummets, sales tank, people panic.
Truth be told, it’s not a pretty sight when it happens.
When such a thing occurs, the first thing is to remain calm. The second is to quickly diagnose the issues to get the site’s performance back on track.
For merchants who have found themselves facing unexpected SEO calamities, here are the steps to take after experiencing a drop in Google rankings to help restore site performance.
Analyze the Decrease
Before taking any action, retailers will need to assess the situation to determine the best course of action.
The first critical piece of information to uncover is if a drop actually occurred as there could be an issue with the ranking tracker or its settings. To establish if this is the case, determine if organic rankings have dropped for the page(s) in question. Additionally, analyze the week-over-week traffic from before and after the drop occurred. Ensure that the same days of the week are set to obtain the most accurate view.
If it seems that there has in fact been a ranking decrease, determine how far the affected pages have dropped. To obtain an accurate picture, it is necessary to leverage a tool such as the SERPs Keyword Rank Checker. Using this tool, enter the targeted keyword and the URL for the impacted destinations.
Once the tool returns the proper information, compare this data with the previous status of the page.
With a fair degree of certainty that a dip in ranking did occur, it is time to establish the underlying cause. There are a variety of reasons for why a seat fluctuation could have taken place, so it is necessary to zero in on the exact origin.
Establish If Google Updated Its Algorithm
Most Google updates fly under the radar, and most SEOs are none the wiser. These changes tend to happen on a daily basis, and most cause no consternation. However, every so often, Google makes an algorithm update that has a considerable impact on the SERPs.
No matter if the changes are subtle or substantial, there are tons of SEOs and search-oriented reporters discussing these matters. Therefore, retailers should seek out reputable destinations to verify if such a transition has taken place. Some valuable resources include:
If it turns out that an algorithmic change has been made, this means that best practices have shifted yet again and retailers must adjust their strategies accordingly. Therefore, it is necessary to understand what Google is demoting and why the company has made such changes.
However, if it seems that Google made no algorithm update, move on to the next factor.
Check for a Loss of Links
Building valuable backlinks is a foundational practice for an effective SEO strategy. Therefore, if a site loses some of its links (particularly its more authoritative ones), it could drop in rankings.
Now, if any changes were recently made to a site such as a redesign or a website migration, issues might arise due to content pruning, improper redirects and similar circumstances. However, if this is not the situation, then business owners will want to assess their backlink profile by pulling the lost links report from a tool like Ahrefs or Majestic SEO.
Once pulled, look to see if there has been a site-wide link drop or a drop for the affected page(s). Alternatively, explore the sites that link to the impacted destinations and establish if any of them have been recently affected in such a way or if they recently made changes to their websites that might have resulted in dropped links.
If any of this appears to be the underlying issue, it is necessary to establish where the missing links came from and if it is possible to regain them.
Start by reaching out to any site owners with which a current relationship exists to see if these links were accidentally removed in a site update and if they could potentially replace them.
However, if these links were supplanted with alternative sources, it is imperative to research this destination to understand how their content is superior to the previously linked to piece. From there, merchants can update their content and contact the linking site owner to see if they are interested in linking to the new version.
If none of this is possible or efforts are unsuccessful, aim to replace old links via a link building campaign quickly.
After assessing the situation, if no links were lost to outside activity, turn inward to find potential causes.
Review Page Alterations
As touched upon earlier, if merchants make changes to their sites, there is a possibility that it could impact their rankings. In fact, this is one of the most common website migration issues. While the changes need not stem from as major of a shift as a platform migration, changes to pages could have substantial rankings implications.
If retailers make changes to their site’s pages, Google can potentially view these destinations as less relevant to the targeted keyword than it was previously.
Many on-site changes could result in a page’s visibility dropping. If a URL is changed, this indicates to Google that a new page exists, even if the content is the same. If keyword density on a page changes or if keywords are removed from page titles or headings, this could also impact performance.
Alternatively, if changes were made, it is essential to ensure that Google can read all of a page’s content and is still capable of crawling the pages.
Another problem-causing change is alterations in a site’s internal links or navigational structure, thereby changing the way link equity flows through a site’s pages.
Find out if any of these kinds of adjustments have taken place. In the case of URLs and keywords, site owners can simply implement a 301 redirect or undo the keyword changes and likely recoup their losses.
If links or navigation features have had modifications, utilize a tool like Screaming Frog to compare versions of the site (if possible) and contrast inbound link counts. However, if the older version of the site is unavailable, it is necessary to manually note the navigational changes and follow how these might have impacted the pages in question.
In this instance, even if merchants can regain lost links or replace them with alternatives, it is likely that performance will not be the same as before. Therefore, it is vital to monitor rankings and continue to work on regaining the losses to these destinations.
Analyze Competitor Changes
After going through all these other potential culprits and coming up with nothing, it is time to turn attention to competing websites. After all, there is a decent chance that the pages in question dropped in rankings as a result of rival sites enhancing their SEO strategies.
Start by establishing which sites received the most significant gains or are now ranked above the impacted pages. Then, begin to dive into the alterations the site might have made.
One of the best ways to get to the bottom of this potentiality is to employ a tool like Versionista as this platform provides comprehensive information on changes to online destinations.
After entering a URL, Versionista will supply a color-coded report displaying any changes made to a rival’s website, highlighting anything that has been deleted or added. While this tool is quite valuable, it is also a bit costly. If this tool is outside of a brand’s budget, there are other website change monitoring tools that can help with this task.
Using one of these tools, establish if competitor pages gained any inbound links, what types of changes were made to the higher-ranking destinations, if there were any alterations to the site’s navigational structure, if the site has increased its clicks and other factors that could have caused it to raise its rankings.
If any of these are the cause for the decline, study the changes made by competitors and learn from their efforts. Since the owners of these pages found a way to increase performance, take these tactics and try to up the ante and provide a superior version of such alterations.
After analyzing all these aspects, it should be clear what caused a page’s drop in rankings. Once the culprit is uncovered, the next steps to take should be clear. The only situation that might be an ambiguous one to come back from would be a change in Google’s algorithms.
Nonetheless, a drop in rankings can be a disconcerting event for eCommerce retailers to experience. If your site sees a dip and needs help regaining lost ground in a hurry, reach out to Visiture’s eCommerce SEO specialists to get to the bottom of things and institute a strategy capable of earning increased visibility and click-throughs.