As a website owner or marketer, you may have experienced the frustration of seeing your organic rankings fluctuate over time. Even after putting months of effort into your SEO strategy, your website’s keyword rankings can drop suddenly or rise unexpectedly. So, what causes these fluctuations, and what can you do about them?
In this blog, we’ll explore the different reasons why SEO rankings fluctuate, from algorithm tweaks to technical issues and changes in search intent. We’ll also share some tips on how to assess your rankings more effectively and improve your overall keyword ranking performance. So, let’s dive in and uncover the mysteries of organic rankings!
What Are SEO Rankings?
Your SEO rankings are the positions of each of the keywords or phrases that your domain appears for in search engines. Your rankings for any given keyword will determine how much traffic you receive from users searching for that keyword, generally, the higher you rank in the results, the more traffic you’ll get, although the number of people clicking on your result will also be influenced by other factors including:
- The layout of the search results page (e.g. the presence of features like news results or instant answers)
- The content and visuals of your search snippet (e.g. is the title and description enticing, does it contain mark up like pricing or reviews?)
- The presence or absence of paid ads – the amount and content of these ads can influence clicks on organic results
Why Do Rankings Fluctuate?
It is not all that uncommon for rankings to go up as well as down over a period of time. Even following prolonged SEO work, there will be some terms that slip for a time before regaining their position. This can be just a few places or, in more extreme cases, dozens of rankings; so why does this happen?
There are a number of reasons for keyword ranking fluctuation.
- Algorithm Tweaks: Search engines constantly adjust their algorithms. Small changes can result in sudden drops or gains in rankings, which will level out and stabilise over time.
- Competitor Activity: Competitor sites doing a lot of marketing work, driving an increase in backlinks, or improving their content can change your position.
- Manipulative Link Building: Violating Google’s guidelines around link schemes (e.g., paying for links, using ‘exact match’ anchor text at scale, participating in guest posting) can lead to an algorithmic or manual penalty.
- Technical SEO Issues: Search engines may lose rankings or drop out of the index altogether if they can’t access, crawl, render, or index the content on your pages. Technical issues can often be the cause of sudden or large drops in rankings affecting one page.
- Changes to Search Intent: Perceived changes in search intent can drastically alter the search results, causing ranking drops for some pages.
Assessing Rankings: A Better Approach
Looking at a snapshot of your rankings for one or a few keywords isn’t necessarily the best performance indicator. An alternative approach is to look at your visibility. Many tools offer a visibility metric, which aggregates all of your keyword rankings (as well as the search volume of each keyword) to give you one score. This allows you to see your overall ‘keyword ranking performance’ across a set of target keywords you decide on or across all of the keywords you rank for.
Visibility does have its limitations. For instance, your visibility may see big drops off the back of a decrease in rankings for a keyword that isn’t particularly relevant to your brand. ‘Average rank’ from Google Search Console is another metric you may want to pay attention to. By monitoring your average rank over time, you can gain insights into the effectiveness of your SEO strategy and identify areas for improvement. For example, if you notice a decline in your average rank, it may indicate that your site’s content needs to be optimised or that your backlink profile needs to be improved. On the other hand, if you see an increase in your average rank, it may mean that your SEO efforts are paying off and that you’re gaining more visibility in the SERPs.
Fluctuations in rankings are normal. It’s crucial to identify the reason for ranking drops and work on solutions to restore your rankings. Keep your content high-quality and well-targeted, ensure your pages load quickly, and maintain a good quality link profile.