The most common reasons your SEO rankings suddenly dropped
I’m about to do a terrible thing. I’m about to ask you to imagine you woke up one morning, looked at your ranking report, and found out that your site’s hard-earned rankings are completely gone. You’ve disappeared from Google’s top 100, not a trace left. Nada, nichts, nothingness.
I bet it’s not the best feeling in the universe.
I don’t mean to be mean, or scare you, and I wholeheartedly hope that it never actually happens. But I want you to recognize the threat and do everything in your power to ensure it never becomes reality. On top of that, in the unlikely event of it happening, I want you to be prepared, able to fix things up super quick, and recover from whatever caused the drop like a superhero.
So let’s roll. Here are the top reason for a sudden ranking drop, with a list of symptoms, recovery tips, and prevention methods for each.
1. Manual search engine penalty.
Manual actions are imposed by human reviewers at Google when they determine that “pages on your site are not compliant with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines”. There are various reasons for manual actions; the most common are: hacked site, user-generated spam, unnatural backlinks, thin content, and cloaking. You can learn more about each type of manual actions here.
Diagnosis: If you notice a big drop (over 10 positions) in rankings overnight, for a substantial number of keywords, manual penalties are the first thing to check for. These are easy to diagnose: log in to your Google Search Console account and go to the Search Traffic > Manual Actions section. If the site has indeed received a manual penalty, there will be a notice in the account stating explicitly that the action was manual and specifying the reason for it (Google won’t be too specific, but they’ll give you a solid idea on where to look for the culprit). It’ll also say whether the action affects the whole site or only certain pages/subdomains.
The Fix: Identifying exactly what harmed your site is the first thing you have to do. In many cases, you’ll know exactly what caused it since you probably realized the dangers when you tried that greyish-hat technique. But if you have no idea where the penalty is coming from, here are the most common violations and tips for each.
1) If your site was hacked, here’s Google’s comprehensive list of what you can do to recover.
2) If you got penalized for user-generated spam, you’ll need to go through the pages on your site that allow user-generated content (typically blogs and forums) and identify and correct the violations. These are usually posts with advertisements and irrelevant links. Make sure to spot the spammers’ accounts and ban them, too. On top of that, it’s a good idea to implement measures to prevent user-generated spam in the future.
3) If the penalty is for thin content, you’ll need to find content across your site that duplicates content on other sites (Copyscape will be a huge help here), pages with little content and affiliate links, or auto-generated content. You’ll need to take all thin and duplicate content down, and spend the time to create unique content that provides value.
4) If the notice is for cloaking or sneaky redirects, use the Fetch as Google tool in Google Search Console and compare the content fetched by Google to the content seen by a human (you!) in a browser. You’ll need to fix anything that differs and make sure the same content is served to both search engine bots and users. As for sneaky redirects, look for any irrelevant redirects that take users “somewhere other than where they expected to go”. For a quick check of all redirects on your site, you can use our free WebSite Auditor services. Start by typing in your website’s URL to create a project, and when the crawl is complete, switch to Pages with 302 redirect, Pages with 301 redirect, and Pages with meta refresh in your site audit. This will show you a full list of redirected pages along with the URLs they redirect to.
We do hope it helped you understand the common reasons for ranking drops and make sure that from now on, your own rankings only keep growing. To list all the reasons why your ranking could fall would take many hours for us to explaining SEO ranking. Sure, everyone can get outranked by a competitor and drop out of page one when an unforeseen Google update comes out; but at least now you know how to reclaim your top positions like a superstar. Quickly, calmly, and with style.
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