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Identifying the Cause of Your SEO Ranking Drop

For many websites, organic traffic is the blood life of their success. Through ranking well in the search engines, a site can bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, and the best part is, you don’t even have to pay for those clicks.  As a result, website owners, developers and content executives spend a huge amount of time tracking where their website ranks for a host of difficult keywords. It’s all these peoples’ worst nightmare to wake up in the morning and suddenly find their website has taken a huge dive in the rankings, and their organic traffic has evaporated into thin air. 

While it’s unlikely that you will experience such a wide scale, cataclysmic drop off overnight, it’s certainly commonplace to experience some form of SEO rankings drop from time to time. While this is, of course, bad news, the best thing to do is not panic and instead figure out what has gone wrong in a logical manner. If you’re trying to find out why your website seems to keep dropping down the rankings, then consider these common causes.

Manual Penalties

As well as the much talked about algorithms, search engines also have humans working for them who carry out manual reviews to make sure websites meet their quality standards. If your website is reviewed and found to be in breach of certain rules, then you might receive a manual penalty that will negatively affect your ability to rank. The good news with manual penalties is that you have the opportunity to communicate with Google about the penalty. You should receive a manual action report in your Google Search Console, detailing your violation, and you will have the chance to explain and fix the problem. 

Although manual penalties sound scary and can obviously have a big effect on your traffic in the short term, they are often easy fixes, and if you’re carrying out good SEO in the first place, then you’re very unlikely to get penalised.  These manual penalties can often be categorised with algorithm updates, but they work in very different ways. Manual penalties, like the name suggests, are designed to penalise sites that don’t meet certain standards, whereas algorithm updates are designed to reward the best content. If you follow good SEO practices and keep an eye on your Google Search Console, then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about with manual penalties. 

Algorithm Updates

If you’ve experienced a widespread ranking drop and it feels like it’s happened overnight, then one of the likely causes is an algorithm update. A recent example of an algorithm update that really hit some websites hard was the so-called Medic or E-A-T Update in March 2019. This update changed the way Google ranked websites that dealt with YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) searches and put a greater emphasis on expertise, authority and trust, hence it was known as EAT. 

This update had huge effects on some websites’ traffic, and it wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last algorithm to do so. It’s difficult to always stay ahead of Google’s algorithm changes, and even massive websites have failed to do so in the past.  One way to be prepared for future algorithm changes is to use the services of a professional SEO management company to protect against an SEO ranking drop.  However, if it’s already too late, there are steps you can take.  When you experience a significant decline in the rankings, you should always check to see if there has been a major update in Google’s algorithm. If you find there has been an update, then do your research and find out how you can begin to please the algorithm once again. It might take a lot of hard work to get back to where you were, but if you got there once, then you can get there again.

Competitors Outranking You 

The internet is a competitive place, and if you stand still, then the chances are, other people are going to overtake you. Just because you’ve ranked number one for a certain keyword for years and year doesn’t give you a guarantee that you’re going to stay there forever. Ranking well in the search engines and getting organic traffic is about offering value to your users, and if your competitors can produce content that offers more value than yours, then they’re going to have a shot at outranking you. 

If you leave your site to sit and age and don’t keep updating the content, then there’s a high chance that someone else will seize the opportunity and produce content that is more up to date than yours and take that top spot away from you.  Google simply wants to send its users to the pages that best answer its users’ questions, and if other pages start to answer those questions better than yours, Google will send its users there. Whereas with algorithm updates, you can see big SEO ranking drops overnight, this one is much more of a slow burner. You might not notice if you drop out of the first page for a few keywords, but when they start to stack up, this can make a big difference to your organic traffic. 

You have to be prepared to keep updating your content and keep improving on your offerings. If you’re not, then you know someone else will be, and eventually, these people are going to start to outrank you. People spend a lot of time tracking rankings because it’s important to know what keywords bring in your traffic. It’s even more important to know where your traffic is coming from when you’re experiencing an SEO ranking drop, because if you know where the drops are coming from, then you can do something about fixing the problem. Sometimes your content just needs a little touching up , and it will start climbing back to the top of the rankings.

Lost Links

Links are one of the ways the search engines decide how authoritative your site is, and they play a big part in how your pages rank. The more quality backlinks you build for your website, the better you DA (domain authority) is going to be, and the more Google and co are likely to see your site as a trustworthy source of information. This is why businesses put a lot of resources into link building, because they know it’s going to give them a better chance of ranking for their keywords. However, in many ways, it’s easier to lose a link than it is to build one. 

If you stop link building for a long period of time, and you start to lose a lot of old links, then this isn’t going to send a good message to the search engines. This effect can be compounded by the fact that not all links are created equal. If you have some links from extremely high authority sites, say your site is about space travel, and you have some links from NASA’s website, then these can act as big indicators.  Unfortunately, if you lose a few of these authoritative backlinks, this can really start to affect your rankings. 

You put a lot of work into building your links, so don’t let them go easily. If you discover that you’ve lost a certain link, work out why that might be and get in touch with the webmaster for the website whose link you’ve lost. It might take a little bit of effort, but it’s less effort than building a completely new link, and you might just be able to salvage the situation.

Page Speeds

Load speeds are only getting more important. The simple fact is, people won’t wait for your site to load if it takes too long. In fact, every second your site spends loading has a significant effect on your bounce rate, not only does this mean you get fewer people viewing your content in the short term, but in the long term, it’s going to hurt your rankings significantly. Let’s think back to Google’s primary aim: to send people to the pages that best answer their queries. If they send people to a page that takes a long time to load, then they’re not doing their job properly because lots of people aren’t even getting to the content. If they see that this keeps happening, then they’re not going to keep sending traffic to your page. 

There are two angles to look at when asking yourself if your load speed is the cause of your SEO ranking drop. The first is the overall speed of your website. Have you made a change to your website that has made it slower? Common causes might be a change in theme or adding lots of plugins that can slow the site down. 

The second option could be that it’s to do with an individual pages’ load time. Different pages load at different speeds depending on several factors. If you have overloaded a page with too many images or you have some problems with your code, then this can cause an individual page to load much slower than the rest of your site. If that page happens to be about an important keyword, then this can be a big problem. 

Making sure your site is always working at peak performance and loading quickly is something you should always be on top of. If all your competitors’ sites are getting faster and yours is standing still, then you’re giving up an advantage before people even get to see your content.

UX problems

One easy explanation for your ranking drop can be that something has simply gone wrong and isn’t working how it is supposed to. The more complicated your website is, the more possibilities there are for something to go wrong, and sometimes this happens. If this is the case, then it can quickly cause SEO rankings to plunge because some of the search engines’ key metrics are directly affected by user experience. 

Google and the other search engines place a lot of importance on metrics like time spent on page because it gives them an idea of how useful or  entertaining your content is. If people are spending a lot of time on your pages, then Google is naturally going to think that your content is good and worthy of ranking highly.

However, if, for some reason, there’s a problem with your user experience and, for example, something isn’t loading properly, then people aren’t going to spend much time on your page, even if the content is very good. Now, if you offer a very poor UX in the first place, then you’re not going to rank very well; but sometimes, you can be ranking well and something goes wrong with your UX without you realising, and your rankings can take a big hit. If there is a big problem with user experience on your page, then it should be easy to spot; you’ve just got to figure out how to fix the problem.


Ranking drops don’t happen for no reason, and there’s always something you can do to get your website back on track. Although it can be completely demoralising to work so hard to get to the top of the rankings only to watch your page fall back down, you’ve got to stay positive and work on finding the fix. There are different reasons why your site might be under performing, but if you can work through things in a logical way, then you can find what’s caused your slide down the rankings, and you can begin to work on turning that around.

The search engines are constantly evolving, so the best way to stop an SEO ranking drop is to keep up with SEO trends and stay one step ahead of the game. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and sometimes, you’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, figure out what has gone wrong and work on implementing the fix.To speak to our SEO experts please click here.