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What Causes Search Rankings to Drop?

If you’ve noticed a sudden decrease in traffic coming to a popular landing page or evergreen content on your website, you’re probably wondering why that is. What causes search rankings to drop?

In most situations, there is no one single event that causes a webpage to drop off the first page of Google search results. Understanding why a webpage ranks well, or doesn’t rank at all, is very complex.

If you’re wondering what causes search rankings to drop, then having a clear understanding of SEO is a good place to begin. Basic keyword optimization can help nearly any landing page improve in the search rankings. Using a WordPress plugin like Yoast can help, as well.

What is less clear is why certain webpages that are ranking on the first page of Google search results will suddenly drop. What causes the drop, and what can publishers do to prevent similar drops across other landing pages?

Without knowing the ins and outs of Google’s search algorithm, it’s impossible to predict with certainty when webpage rankings will drop. We can try making adjustments to a page, like adding more keywords, moving content above the fold, or putting more links in the content, but we still don’t know exactly which of these factors will lead to an improvement in search rankings, or even when that improvement will occur. We do know that content, keywords, and linking all play a role in Google’s algorithm. We can see patterns in SEO improvement, usually after adding an SEO WordPress plugin like Yoast.

If you’ve noticed that one or more of your landing pages has recently fallen off the first page of Google search results, and you’re wondering what causes search rankings to drop, these are some of the most likely culprits:

Common Reasons Why Website Traffic Drops

1. Big website changes
Did you recently migrate your website or roll out a new website design? Major website changes can cause a temporary drop in search. The good news is that these drops usually resolve on their own within a matter of weeks. Your webpage rankings should return to their previous levels, depending on the extent of the updates that were made.

2. Search engines stopped crawling
If the search engines have stopped crawling and indexing your website, you will see your search rankings plummet. Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve. If your canonical URLs have recently changed, or if certain redirects are no longer in place, then you need to ask your web developer for assistance. A web developer like Web Publisher PRO can determine whether the search engines have stopped crawling your website and immediately make the necessary adjustments to fix this issue.

3. Slow page load times
Have your page load times slowed down recently? Significant increases in load times can trigger a webpage to drop in the search rankings. To tell whether this is happening to you, take a look at your crawl stats in the Google Search Console and check the page load time in Google Analytics.

4. Google’s algorithm updates
Algorithm updates are one of the hardest issues to manage as a web publisher. Google makes thousands of minor updates to its search algorithm each year, and most publishers don’t realize when they occur. However, there are times when even a small update could have major ramifications for certain publishers. Changes in search ranking due to algorithm updates can happen suddenly or slowly over time. If you’ve noticed a change, take a look at whether Google recently made any updates. Check out Was There A Google Update to see if there have been any reports of an algorithm update, keeping in mind that drops don’t always happen immediately when an update is pushed out.

6. Outdated content
When was the last time you updated the content on your website? If you’ve noticed a drop in traffic to certain evergreen articles or landing pages, there’s a chance it’s because the content is outdated. Having old or inaccurate content can drag down the authority of a website. If the old content is high-quality, then it’s worth updating it rather than removing it entirely from your website. Removing outdated content is a dangerous SEO strategy. Although there are cases where publishers have seen an increase in organic traffic after deleting old articles from their archives, this is a risky approach. A safer approach is to update the information in older articles so that it’s accurate and to keep it on the same URL whenever possible.

7. Backlinks gone bad
Backlinks are a real gray area for Google. Having links to your content improves your rankings, but having people disavow backlinks can hurt. Similarly, disavowing spam backlinks on your own website can have a negative impact on your search performance. Thankfully, this is usually a temporary issue. If you noticed a drop immediately after disavowing certain spam backlinks, this is an issue that will likely resolve on its own.

To learn more about the latest SEO strategies for digital publishers, click here.