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Why have my Rankings Dropped?

Oliver Ewbank

by Oliver Ewbank on 13th October 2011

WhyIn the fast paced world of SEO, rankings are constantly fluctuating. This is part and parcel of search engine optimisation.  However, if your rankings have dropped dramatically there may be a more serious issue. As we all know time is money and the longer your rankings stay hidden on page 2,3,4 of the SERPs the more money you can potentially lose.

The good news is there are a few standard checks to quickly find out why your rankings have dropped. If you run this emergency spot check you can often quickly get to the bottom of why your rankings have collapsed.  Sourcing the problem and fixing it is often a much better solution than counteracting the problem with extra link building activity. If you follow the steps below you can soon uncover any potential issues which in turn will save your rankings, not to mention your money.

Broken Links

A good place to start is to check if your site has any broken links. This can be done through Google Webmaster Tools and will quickly show up in the ‘crawl errors’ section. If there are a huge amount of pages not found (or redirected) this will cause Google to deem the site of low quality and it will start to place you lower down the rankings.

Site Speed

This is not a huge factor, but if your site speed has taken a dip this can influence your search engine rankings. If a webmaster has done some development work or changed host this can change the loading time of the site. Again, this can easily be spotted in the ‘labs’ section of Google Webmaster Tools. The tool will give you a graph of what is considered acceptable.

Duplicate Content

Google’s algorithm is extremely sensitive to duplicate content and in turn will often penalise your rankings. If you have duplicated content anywhere on the web you are risking a filter being applied to all your listings. ‘Duplicate’ includes publishing your site’s content elsewhere, having two sites, dooryway pages, duplicate Meta, similar addresses or even overusing the same content to build backlinks to your domain. One quick way to spot duplication is to use a plagiarism checker. The other option is to paste your content into Google and sport similar text.

Interlinking

In the past I have seen rankings drop due to extreme interlinking between two separate sites. This is perfectly acceptable if the two domains have separate objectives, but if you’re trying to clog up the search engines with similar domains this will often backfire. For example, it is fine for a business to have a swimming suit domain and a suncream domain and interlink once. The problem would be if the swimsuit site also had a baby swimsuit site which interlinked on every page (with keyword anchor text).  This can quickly be viewed with a review of the links on your site.

Reciprocal Linking

Excessive reciprocal link schemes are a thing of the past and can often hold back your rankings. If you have a high number of reciprocal links which are sitewide and on the same IP address this will appear unnatural to search engine crawlers. To spot this you can use a variety of link analysis software.

Sitemap Spot Checks

It’s worth double checking your ‘on page’ sitemap to check no pages have fallen off the index. Similarly, it is worth checking the sitemap.xml document is still being accepted in Google Webmaster Tools. This can be spotted on the main dashboard.

Robots.txt

It’s relatively easy to exclude pages by mistake in a robots.txt file. If there is a particular section of your site that is not ranking well it may be because the pages have been removed in the robots.txt file. This will take a matter of seconds to double check.

Unnatural Backlinks

Unnatural backlinks can often be the cause of a drop in rankings. Have the links been bought? Are many of the links hosted on the same IP address? Do you have multiple links coming from the same domain? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself. All of the above can be analysed with standard link analysis software. A healthy link profile is often deemed a grey area and what works for one site may not work for another. While a link buying scheme can have short term benefits the gains are never sustainable (see Google Webmaster Guidelines below).

View the Source

Simple yet effective. If your site is on a CRM it can sometimes be weeks or even months before you view the code of the site. A simple view of the source can help you check there is no hidden text or hidden links which could be causing issues. On very rare occasions I have seen sites which have been hacked and hidden links have been placed on the bottom of the page.  If you have any hidden code this can have extreme detrimental effects.

Conclusion

Once you have reviewed all of the above it is worth double checking the Google Webmaster Guidelines. This will help you see if your site is doing anything else which could be deemed unacceptable for the search engine. If a range of rankings suddenly drop I would start ‘on page’ and then look at your link profile. If nothing stands out it may be that you need to reassess your link building strategy and find a new approach to creating a variety of backlinks.

Image Source

Woman with doubtful expression and question marks all over her head via BigStock

Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

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6 Comments

  • Andy Morley 13th October 2011

    Great post, There is another issue i have come across in the past with one of my clients.

    Before taking over their websites management, their site would link out to “more authoritative” sources of similar information. In doing this they were effectively telling Google that the site they were linking to was a more reliable source of information. Which would of course help the other website rank higher, and potentially was damaging their own rankings.

    Once i took over the SEO for the site, i quickly found these links out and “nofollowed” them or removed them completely. This seemed to have a nice effect on my clients rankings, it took a while but slowly they crept back up.

    This may well have been a combination of factors which helped the site return to their previous rankings, but its worth thinking about and looking for.

    Cheers – Andy

    Reply to this comment

  • Katie Saxon 13th October 2011

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me, I’ve just taken on a client who is suffering as a result of a link building package they’ve had before and they’re languishing at pathetic positions in the SERPs.

    From looking at their backlinks, they mostly seem to be low quality free directory listings. Definitely not worth the money they paid the previous agency, but I wouldn’t expect them to have done this much harm. Have you come across this? Is this a case of suffering from an unnatural link profile and with more diversity and better quality links they’ll go back up the rankings?

    Reply to this comment

  • Oliver Ewbank

    Oliver 14th October 2011

    Thank you for your comments.

    Reviewing a site for links out to ‘more authoritative’ sources is certainly worth doing. ‘Nofollowed’ links are an excellent way to solve this problem and help maintain the value of the domain.

    Having lots of links from free directories won’t be an issue unless the directories are hosted on the same IP address. Another problem can be having site wide links from every page in the directory. Better quality links will help improve their rankings but if they have lots of links from the same IP it’s worth removing the source.

    Reply to this comment

    • Andy Morley 14th October 2011

      Thanks for agreeing Oliver.

      You are right with the IP addresses too. When I document a sites link profile (using excel) i always make sure I record not just the IP address but also the originating Country.

      This is really useful when performing “local seo” for clients, if a client is based in the UK and the majority of their links are from sites based in the USA or Europe I have noticed that this may effect the rankings.

      I always try to get a nice mixture when link building, not just with keyworded and branded hyperlinks in the back link, but also the physical location of the server IP addresses.

      :)

      Andy

      Reply to this comment

  • Andy Morley 14th October 2011

    Hi Katie.

    In my opinion it might be one of a few things:

    1) These backlinks have been “detected” either algorithmically by google or manually (unlikely) and a potential penalty has been applied. In which case try to clean these links up and submit a dreaded “reconsideration request” (do these ever work?).

    2) These back links may not have made much difference, and the content may be to blame. If the client’s site is in a sector in which the competitors sites are updated more regularly this may have an effect.

    3) The backlinks are all “keyworded” hyperlinks, indicating to google that something dodgy has been going on, This is the most likely issue i think. Paid link building packages often only target the “keywords” you provide to them. If your client has a huge number of these links i would bet that there are also a lot of these keyworded hyperlinks.

    We all know that a natural link profile which grows slowly and steadily is the key to a successful link building campaign.

    In the past i have had a similar issue, I simply ran another link building campaign, targeting a variety of “keyworded” hyperlinks, hyperlinks with “visit their site” “website” etc.. in the hyperlink and also “Branded and URL” hyperlinks.

    This created a more nautral looking link profile and fixed my issue, thankfully.

    Hope this helps.

    Andy.

    Reply to this comment

  • Melody 19th November 2011

    Thanks for the great article!

    After reading, I realized a couple of mistakes I had made that I wouldn’t have thought of.

    Thank you. :)

    Reply to this comment

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