9 Reasons Google Rankings Suddenly Dropped: Find-and-Fix SEO Guide

Imagine you wake up one morning, look at your ranking report, and see that your site's hard-earned rankings have changed completely. It disappeared from Google's top 10 and top 100, not a trace left. I bet it's not the best feeling in the world.

The list of find-and-fix SEO tips will help you stay on the safe side. No panic, no messing things up — just be ready to recover from whatever caused your website ranking to drop.

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Why may your rankings drop on Google?

Reasons for sudden ranking drops vary: it can be Google updating its algorithms, rich features changing in the SERP, or you have implemented site changes with errors. Another reason can also be that a crucial site authority factor might have gotten weaker. For example, your site might have lost backlinks, its page speed has deteriorated, or a new design impedes user experience.

Overall, here are the 9 reasons why your Google ranking suddenly dropped:

In the guide, you will learn the most common reasons for a sudden ranking drop, with symptoms, recovery tips, and prevention methods for each. But before you start learning them…

Check your data accuracy

When dealing with SEO traffic drops, the main thing you’ve got to check twice is your data accuracy. Make sure you are not barking up the wrong tree, missing a piece of data for a certain period, a device, or a page type. The good news is that those lapses are easy to detect and prevent in the future.

What is more, there's nothing abnormal about organic traffic swings. Just to calm yourself down, you can compare the stats by calculating an average SEO traffic fluctuation. For instance, you can plot your weekly SEO traffic and the average position for the past 12 months and calculate the deviation. If the drop is still dramatic – you've come to the right page!

And finally, see if the drop sticks. Above is Google Search Console data for one of our pages, and you can see that there was some turmoil, but the page recovered on its own. No idea what caused the shifts, probably, Google was doing something about its algorithms. In such cases, it's important to keep a cool head and see if the situation resolves itself.

Check your pages’ indexing

When your tools report a ranking drop, you will surely want to do something urgently. But here, don’t give way to panicking – start investigating the scope of the problem. First, search for a site: domain name to quickly check if your website is still indexed.

If you still find your pages in search results, that’s good news. But if most of the pages suddenly dropped out of search engines’ indices, it could mean a manual penalty.

Next, you will need a few tools to dig deeper and understand the cause of the ranking drop. Mostly, you’ll be looking for answers in your Google Search Console. Additionally, you can use site audit tools to run a more in-depth inspection. If your website is on WordPress, I highly recommend using AIOSEO plugin. In this guide, I’ll show how to use SEO PowerSuite tools to identify and fix the issues.

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Now, step by step, let’s go through the list of reasons for the rankings drop and see how to determine whether it’s your case. And if so, how to bring your pages back to the top of Google.

1. Manual penalty from Google

Manual actions are imposed by human reviewers at Google when they decide that something on your website is not compliant with Google’s guidelines. The reasons for manual penalties vary, from a site containing user-generated spam or cloaking to unnatural backlinks coming from someone else’s negative SEO attacks.

Diagnosis

If you notice a big drop in rankings overnight (over 10 positions) for a substantial number of keywords, manual penalties are the first thing to check.

These are easy to find: log in to your Search Console account and go to the Security & Manual Actions > Manual Actions section. If the site has indeed received a manual penalty, there will be a notification about it. Here is an example of a manual penalty warning in Search Console.

The next thing to do is to identify what exactly harmed your site rankings. Well, Google won't be too specific, but they'll give you a solid idea of where to look for the culprit. The notice also says whether the action affects the whole site or only certain pages or subdomains.

For every kind of warning, you may need a different approach to fix it.

Note: Types of issues leading to manual penalties

Off-page issues, such as unnatural or paid links, may result from either wrong link-building tactics or someone else’s intentional tricks aimed at harming your rankings. Successful negative SEO attacks are rare, but when they do happen, they may cause a massive ranking drop across many keywords.

With on-page issues, like keyword stuffing or thin content, you'll easily guess what caused it, since you probably realized the dangers when you tried this or that gray-hat technique. On-page violations often come as wrong SEO moves, and this is something you can and have to control.

Here are a few ways to identify the causes of manual penalties:

Detect unnatural incoming links

Negative SEO tactics typically come in the form of spikes of spammy, low-quality backlinks pointing to the site. And this may impact your website ranking dramatically.

Analyze your backlink profile with ease
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Use SEO SpyGlass to analyze your backlink profile and check for two things — a recent spike in the number of backlinks and a penalty risk for each of your backlink sources.

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To see the links that contributed to a spike, go to the Backlinks dashboard and sort the links by First Found Date in descending order. It will make the newest links appear at the top of the list so you can investigate them quickly. 

Also, you can switch to the Penalty Risk section and revise all links with a score over 50%.  By clicking on the Info icon, you will open explanations of the factors contributing to the bad score.

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Reveal scraped content

When somebody copies (often automatically) a site's content, Google may discover and rank up the “stolen” version first.

Use Copyscape Plagiarism Checker to see if someone is copying your content to other websites or if your writers copy content from other websites — both are equally bad for SEO. All you need to do is enter the URL of your page to find out if there are any duplicates of it online.

Check if the site’s been hacked

Google wants to show only trusted content, that’s why it scans websites for malware. Hacking will not be followed by any ranking penalty, but in search results, a red alert will say that the site has been hacked. Users are unlikely to click on such URLs, which will lead to a traffic drop.

If Google sees your site’s been hacked, it’ll inform you about it in your Search Console account in the Security issues section.

Detect sneaky redirects

Another penalized tactic is cloaking when visitors bump on the page they did not expect to see because of a redirect on the ranking URL.

Running a WordPress website?

Use the AIOSEO plugin for WordPress websites. It will help you find & fix any redirect issues with ease.

Use WebSite Auditor to look for redirects that take users “somewhere other than expected”. Go to Site Structure > Site Audit > Redirects and examine the pages with 301 and 302 redirects, and meta refresh. It will show you a list of redirected URLs along with their destination.

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Find unnatural outbound links

The most common problem is having paid links, including when they are part of link exchange schemes. If a site gets caught buying or selling links, it may be entirely banned from search results.

In this case, you can probably guess which links have spoiled your rankings. If not, use WebSite Auditor to identify pages that may look suspicious to Google because of many outbound links.

Go to the Site Structure > Site Audit module. In the Links section, check the Pages with excessive number of links factor.

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Audit your content

There are also content-related issues that can measurably impact your rankings. For example, issues may come up with comment spam, thin content, or duplications.

To check if content is the reason for your rankings drop, use WebSite Auditor. Check the errors in the Site audit > On-page section, paying attention to Duplicate titles, Duplicate meta descriptions, etc.

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As for thin pages, you will need to review each page’s word count. Find it in Site Structure > Pages > All pages. Double-click on the Word count column to sort pages by the metric.

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Mind that word count is a relative thing, and you will probably need to review each page or category individually. What you’ve got to check is whether the pages satisfy the search intent they have been created for.

Also, pay attention there is the All Resources section to examine all types of files in the HTML. And you can use the Custom Search tool to find practically anything you want in your content.

How to fix

After you’ve defined the exact culprit of your ranking drop, you need to fix it and ask Google to reconsider the penalty.

Neutralize spammy backlinks

If the reason for the penalty was a negative SEO attack through toxic backlinks, there is a way to tell Google to ignore them with a Google disavow tool.

Before you disavow backlinks that appear risky, it's best to examine each of them manually in SEO SpyGlass

Quickly neutralize spammy backlinks
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Besides, you should try contacting the webmasters of the linking domains first and ask them to take the links down. Next, if it doesn’t help, you can disavow the backlinks. Here is a quick guide on how to create a disavowal file with the help of SEO SpyGlass.

A special case: when the disavow tool may affect rankings negatively

Google warns us not to use the disavowal tool when unnecessary. Off-page negative SEO attacks date back to the mid-2010s and seem to be not so commonplace. Moreover, Google says it can now figure out spammy links without the disavowal file.

Besides, some webmasters reported that after disavowal, rankings went down because it might have annulled some links that had contributed to the pages’ strength. In that case, SEOs suggest removing less shady links from the disavowal file.

So, it’s up to you to decide whether to disavow some backlinks. It sounds reasonable to disavow outright spam.

Remove duplicates of your content on the web

Alas, there are no disavow tools for fighting scrapers. You might want to reach out to whoever is stealing your content, but you probably realize they are unlikely to reply. A more effective way of dealing with the issue — especially if the scraping is systematic — is to report the scraper using Google's copyright infringement report.

Fix bad redirects

Remove all unnecessary redirects. Ideally, use only 301s and only when the redirect makes sense for users. Consult this guide to URL redirection to choose the best redirection method.

Remove user-generated spam

Go through the pages of your site that allow user-generated content (product reviews, blog post comments, forums) and check for spammy comments. Simply remove such comments and ban the spam accounts.

Fix hacked websites

If that has happened, you will need advice from security specialists and tools to secure your site. Consider this guide on preventing and monitoring abuse. It tells what measures prevent malware from appearing on your website in the future.

Nofollow unnatural links

Link exchange schemes are unlikely to happen without you knowing, at least as long as you manage your site yourself. In case you accept content contributions, make sure each of them is reviewed, and that included links are editorial and preferably marked with a nofollow or sponsored tag.

Finally, after you’ve fixed everything, submit a reconsideration request to Google.

You can do that by clicking Request review in the Manual Actions section in your Search Console account. It's a good idea to submit a comment with the request where you describe the steps you've taken to fix the issue. The ranking ban should be removed in a week or two, after Google reviews your request.

Prevention

To spare yourself the trouble, try to make your SEO as white hat as possible. Write helpful content, make your link-building game fair, and work over your website’s authority and relevance to gain good rankings naturally.

To secure your site from negative SEO attacks, take measures to enhance its security and run regular backlink audits to stay safe from a ranking drop related to spammy backlinks. Mind that keeping your backlink profile healthy is an ongoing effort, even after the SEO attack is over. 

SEO SpyGlass is a great help to get updates on your backlink profile. Just set up an automatic task and receive an alert to your email once an unnatural backlink influx happens.

Download SEO SpyGlass

SEO SpyGlass will give you a historical overview of the number of backlinks and referring domains. You'll find these stats in the Backlink profile module. An unusual spike in either of those is a reason enough to look into the links that your site has suddenly gained.

Besides, you should keep an eye on other stats about your backlinks, such as anchor text diversity, penalty risk, etc.

For more information, refer to this guide on different types of Google manual actions and how to deal with them.

2. Google algorithm updates

An algorithm update can hit your site rankings in two ways. First, it may be a new algorithm (or a major update of an older known algorithm) released by Google. Second, it may be one of the continuous refreshes of the core algorithms.

Diagnosis

If you suspect there may have been an algorithmic update rollout that affected your rankings, check the search engine news to see if there's any info about it or if other webmasters are experiencing something similar.

Google normally announces massive updates, and this information immediately makes it into SEO news platforms, like Search Engine Roundtable. Keep in mind that the update may also be niche-related and affect a small number of sites. In this case, the news might not get covered right away.

Keep track of Google algorithm updates
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Also, different SEO tools track SERP volatility, i.e., rapid swings in keyword positions for many websites that typically coincide with algorithmic updates. Rank Tracker displays such changes on the Fluctuation Graph. The graph can show SERP volatility for your tracked keywords individually or for the whole project.

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How to fix

Once the update gets covered in the news, you will find the information on what it is about and what you need to do to recover. Otherwise, try asking the SEO community on Reddit and our user group on Facebook — the folks there are always helpful and quick to respond.

If your site has suffered from a refresh of an older Google update, check this article about the major Google updates for recovery tips.

As for core updates, John Mueller mentioned that their core system took information about each website long-term. So, if you notice your pages plummet after a core update, the issue is about site quality in general rather than some one-time technical setup. 

Usually, drops after a core update imply the website needs improvements over its E-A-T signals, i.e., authority, relevance, and trust. So, the fixes won’t be quick but also, luckily, won’t be short-lived.

Here are a few hacks to help your rankings recover from known Google algorithm updates:

  • Audit your link profile to spot any suspicious links coming your way. As mentioned above, SEO SpyGlass is pretty good at discovering bad backlinks.
  • Employ actionable link-building techniques to recover from link-related algorithm updates (like the now real-time Penguin or Spambrain). Go after editorial links from relevant sites and keep your anchor text diverse.
  • Audit your content and look for duplication, thin content, and other messy stuff to eliminate issues related to the good old Panda algorithm (which is now part of the core ranking system). You can do this with WebSite Auditor by spotting potentially problematic pages.
  • Go through this list of 8 E-A-T signals you can add to your site and quickly strengthen its authority and trust.

Besides, refer to the guide on what website owners should know about core updates, as nobody can help better than Google. And finally, listen to the recent Podcast from Google Search Central explaining how their ranking updates work today – this will make all matters clear.

Prevention

Of course, there's no sure-fire way to stay safe from future Google updates you know nothing about. But one thing you could do is stay away from gray-hat SEO techniques that don't have any purpose other than to manipulate rankings.

Another crucial thing is to watch changes in the SERP for your niche keywords and look for any unusual ranking shifts. If you haven’t set up rank monitoring yet, open Rank Tracker and go to Target Keywords > Rank Tracking.  Then, select any keyword and in the lower part of the dashboard click Record SERP data button.

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Once you do it, Rank Tracker will record the top 30 search results for each of your keywords. By monitoring the SERP history, you can notice if there are any shake-ups on the SERP.

And if you aren't sure what the update was about, get some clues from competitive analysis. Here, Rank Tracker's Competition Rankings report will come to the rescue. 

Look at the competitors that dropped out of the top results along with your site. Examine those pages in-depth, and try to observe patterns common to all of them that you think may have caused the rankings drop.

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Next, look at the pages that have made their way into Google’s top 10. Again, look for any patterns that make these pages stand out: do they have more content? More images? Are those video results? Depending on the patterns you spot, think of how you could improve your site with similar techniques.

3. Competitors’ moves in Google

Nothing may be wrong with your website, it's just that your competitors got better. While rarely a cause of a dramatic drop in rankings, competitor activity is worth investigating if you have dropped a few positions across the board.

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There are a couple of reasons standing behind positions gradually going down because competitors are doing better:

  • Your content gets outdated naturally, as today, Google likes fresher dates, and information has to be up-to-date.
  • Competitors implemented sitewide enhancements: they might have built more backlinks or changed their site structure.
  • The competitor is likely updating their pages one by one, improving content, headers, and HTML tags.

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Diagnosis

Use Rank Tracker's SERP History to see how the rankings have changed for you and your competitors.

If the changes are chaotic (new websites, frequent shifts, a lot of movement), then you are likely experiencing a Google dance — a short period of high SERP volatility due to small algorithm tweaks. In this case, no action is required.

But if you see many of your positions overtaken by the same few websites, it's time for an in-depth investigation.

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How to fix

If you have seen ranking shifts across a few keywords, then, the cause is probably on-page optimization. In this case, visit the pages in question and see how they compare to yours.

Additionally, if the competitor has outranked you across a large number of keywords, run their website through WebSite Auditor and SEO SpyGlass. A thorough website audit will allow you to uncover more strategies that help the competitor perform better. See what they are more focused on – content optimization, backlinks, reviews, site architecture, or anything else.

Prevention

Tracking your main competitors is almost as important as tracking your own site. As you track rankings and run both on-page and off-page audits, do the same with competitor sites to understand their SEO tactics. 

Add a competitor to track in Rank Tracker, and you will be able to compare ranking progress for your target keywords alongside your competitors. The SERP details tab will provide you with progress graphs and a detailed rank history.

And in SEO dashboards, you can check how overall visibility changes for your and competitors’ sites. If they are steadily growing, it means they're doing something right. Probably, you can adapt your own strategies accordingly, even if they haven't outranked you yet.

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4. SERP changes and shifting intent

If you see a drop in organic traffic for top-ranking pages, it might be because the search intent has shifted, so your snippet doesn't look as relevant to the query as it used to.

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Also, there's a chance that Google started answering some of your target queries directly in the search results.

Google has been constantly testing its search results with knowledge panels, rich snippets, Q&A sections, video clips, product pages, job ads, and a ton of other stuff. While those things are of benefit to the user, they may rip off a good chunk of a website's organic traffic or, on the contrary, bring one particular website in the limelight.

Diagnosis 

First, check the click-through rates of your target queries in Search Console. A drastic drop in CTRs goes side by side with traffic drops and might be resulting from changes in the SERPs.

Next, to figure out if you have fallen victim to one of Google's SERP enhancements, open Rank Tracker and go to Target Keywords. Check the SERP Details tab, showing the history of SERP enhancements. It allows you to see if any of them correspond to your traffic drops or ranking changes.

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How to fix

If your page is gradually coming down the SERP, there are two things to do. First, re-evaluate the search intent and purpose of your page to ensure that it ranks for the right keyword. Next, improve your click-through rate by making your search snippet more enticing.

This isn't a quick fix, and you'll probably need to experiment for a while until your efforts are effective. Whatever the case, go to the SERP in question and see how your snippet measures up to the competitors.

Depending on what you find, some extra on-page optimization will probably help:

  • Optimize your title and meta descriptions with your target keywords and power words. Get some tips from Content Editor – you will be guided through the meta snippet optimization and see how your URL stacks up against your competitors in search results.
  • Test some variations of snippets to experiment with the click-through rates of different search snippets. It is a good PPC-related hack with A/B testing from Google Ads. You can look for patterns affecting your CTR and use these takeaways for your organic listings.
  • Go for long-tail keywords and question-like queries to get better chances of appearing in voice searches.
  • Write concise answers in a snippable format to appear in a featured snippet.
  • Use schema markup to enhance your snippet with rich elements for some types of results (recipes, reviews, products, etc.).
  • Add visuals to get additional clicks from image and video searches.
  • Watch this Google Business Profile tutorial if your site disappeared from the local Maps ranking – it briefly explains what might be the cause.

Prevention

If it looks like new Google enhancements have had an impact on your positions, you can either compete with the rich features introduced by Google or try to become a part of them.

Investigate your SERPs and learn your (and your competitors’) valuable SERP features. Rank Tracker’s Keyword Research module lets you quickly examine the types of rich results available for your website.

Next, you can create a task for alerts to know if your important pages lost rankings by some positions – you make the setup yourself. This way, you will receive a notification once your page drops out of a featured snippet or gets pushed down by a new competitor.

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5. Recent website changes

Making essential changes to your site — such as a redesign or HTTPS migration — is all but guaranteed to mess your rankings. A small oversight may have serious consequences for your SEO performance and result in a measurable drop in Google rankings.

According to John Mueller, a minor technical issue is unlikely to be a cause of dramatic changes in rankings. Issues occur when Googlebot is entirely unable to crawl a site: for example, when the server is inaccessible or it blocks the search bot.

So, one may expect ranking drops in Google after a major overhaul, such as changing the URL structure, website migration, etc.

A special case: Rankings dropped after changing the web host

A site’s rankings declined after it moved to free shared hosting. The website owner came up with the idea that the reason for the spoiled rankings could have been a spammy neighborhood of shared hosting. 

However, John Mueller dismissed it as a myth, saying that “Moving hosting results in a temporary slow-down in crawling, but that catches up quickly and doesn't affect rankings”.

Still, it's a must to choose your web hosting provider wisely because it affects the speed, reliability, and security of your website, which in turn influences user experience and trust. 

Diagnosis

If you have recently implemented site changes, open Google Search Console and go to Indexing > Pages. A sharp increase in the number of not-indexed URLs after the date of the site changes should confirm your suspicion.

Scroll down to the Why pages aren’t indexed report. Google logs and describes all discovered crawling and indexing issues right there, so it's fairly easy to identify and fix the problem.

If the reasons remain unclear, crawl your site with WebSite Auditor. Website analysis will reveal some of the typical technical issues that might affect indexation and, ultimately, rankings.

How to fix

If your drop in traffic is minor, probably, you should wait for a couple of weeks to see if the situation resolves itself. But if the drop is sudden and massive, there might be some serious technical errors on your website, which may require urgent SEO fixes.

Take care of your site's technical SEO health
with the Site Audit feature in WebSite Auditor

In WebSite Auditor, consult the Site Structure > Site Audit section. There, you will find the most common technical issues explained.

Make sure to check:

  • HTTP status codes: All crucial URLs must return 200 codes.
  • 301 and 302 redirects: All of them are not broken and point to the right destination.
  • Canonical URL: The right canonical URL is in place.
  • Robots directives: The robots.txt file has been updated and does not disallow your key content.
  • Meta robots and noindex tags: The tags do not block important pages from indexing.
  • Localization: All your hreflang tags correspond to the right language versions.
  • Internal linking: The site architecture in the Visualization is clear, with most internal links leading to all important pages.
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Prevention

In fact, there is no way of avoiding a traffic loss during a website revamp. Be ready to see a dip in its traffic which, anyway, has to bounce back a few weeks afterwards if everything is done right.

Before redesigning a website, you must foresee not only potential benefits but also probable losses. Here are a few things that will help you prevent Google ranking drops after a technical redesign:

Back up your website before adding changes – it is probably easier to roll back and investigate the issue without losing tons of traffic.

Run a complete website audit before and after each change to see the whole picture. You can download the results of your crawl as a Site Audit report.

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Track your activities on a rank tracking graph in Rank Tracker. The functionality is available in the form of Events. Add the date of the site changes, name the event, and see the corresponding dash-line marker along your rankings on the Ranking Progress graph.

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Also, refer to this guide on SEO-friendly website redesign to plan everything without hassle.

6. Lost backlinks

Just as acquiring new low-quality links can harm your performance in SERPs, so can losing the high-quality backlinks you already have.

Diagnosis

To check if lost backlinks are the reason for your rankings drop, open SEO SpyGlass and go to Historical Data > New/Lost Backlinks History. The graph allows you to assess your backlink situation at a glance and see if there are any critical losses.

By clicking on the largest bar, you will select the backlinks lost within a particular week.

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Next, switch to the Lost Links tab and use Filter by Reason to review removed backlinks. Likewise, you can spot broken, redirected backlinks, or those uncrawlable for other reasons. You can also see the Last Found Date when the backlink was last reported to be present on the page.

How to fix

If you're looking to reclaim lost backlinks, the logical thing to do is to contact the site’s webmaster. How you do this depends on the nature of the backlinks. Do you have a relationship with the site owner? If so, a quick message may be all it takes to get the link back. If you aren't familiar with the webmaster, then email, Twitter, or LinkedIn is your best bet. 

Prevention

The possibility of losing your backlinks is yet another reason to monitor your link profile regularly. After all, if you discover a link was lost immediately (and not four months later), the webmaster is far more likely to remember that they removed the link and understand your concern.

Set up regular link profile monitoring in SEO SpyGlass. The tool will alert you once a significant number of backlinks is lost.

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Remember you can also use LinkAssistant for email outreach in case you have too many requests to send. The best part – it allows you to track backlinks and verify if the arranged backlink is in place.

7. User behavior changes

Google representatives often say that behavioral metrics are too noisy to influence rankings, but a number of search patents and multiple real-life experiments say otherwise.

In a nutshell, if a page does not meet user expectations, the user behavior will signal it. For instance, when visitors view your page for only a few seconds and then return to Google with the same query, it means they have not discovered what they wanted. And such a page will not stay ranking high, at least for a long time.

Here is how Google might use clicks, user attention, and satisfaction to distinguish if the search results are good.

A special case: Above-the-fold content supposedly affected rankings

Somebody noticed that a site started to improve its positions after content on its pages was moved above the fold. Then, John Mueller remarked that Google did not have a strong preference for content above the fold. But at least some crucial content should be present above the fold, which can be beneficial to ‌UX.

Diagnosis

If you are observing a steady descent of your page down the SERP, check out if it serves the purpose for which it has been created. Google Analytics will help you understand it through user engagement, time spent on a page, bounce rate, and more.

To see engagement metrics by landing page in Google Analytics 4, go to Reports > Engagement and select Pages and screens. You will get all your URLs listed and their basic stats like Views, Users, Views per user, and Average engagement time. You can define the date to compare how the stats have changed since the moment your rankings dropped.

You can add any other metric by customizing the Report template. Add the required user behavior metric from the drop-down menu and save the report.

Pay attention to increased bounce rates, decreased engagement rates, conversion rates, or anything else, depending on the goals of your landing pages.

Another place to look at your UX issues is in Search Console’s Page Experience report. It shows warnings related to the Core Web Vitals metrics: slow load times, layout shifts, long response times, and more. If these factors start failing, your pages may gradually decline in rankings.

How to fix

First of all, double-check the issues with WebSite Auditor. The tool allows you to audit your entire website for Core Web Vitals issues. Once you start a crawl, WebSite Auditor will ask you to add a free key from PageSpeed API.

Next, the tool will go through all your pages in bulk and uncover troublesome resources on each.

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By selecting a page, you can see a breakdown of Passed Audits and Opportunities telling you what the issue is about and estimating the potential page size savings.

Here are the aspects to focus on:

  • Work on the Core Web Vitals factors until all your URLs appear green in Search Console (which means they passed the CWV assessment). This improvement can bring some benefit to your rankings.
  • Re-evaluate your landing pages individually to find potential for UX-related improvements.
  • Avoid bad design practices that will guarantee you problems with rankings, such as intrusive pop-ups, confusing navigation, unresponsive layout, and the like.

Prevention

It is difficult to anticipate user behavior changes. What you can do is plan your pages and content and make them adequate to what users may expect. It is a large topic of its own, so you better read this UX research cheat sheet.

8. Lack of optimization for mobile devices

Search engines are particularly keen on making the web mobile-friendly. When it comes to Google rankings, mobile-friendly websites are a lot more prioritized, as today, the mobile search bot crawls the web ahead of desktop. But don't panic, that doesn't mean desktop sites are not participating in the SEO competition.

Simply put, mobile devices must present content in a user-friendly form. Mobile unfriendliness may also account for‌ sudden ranking changes as well as for SEO traffic drops. For instance, one of your competitors could have optimized their site for mobile devices and, as a result, outranked you in mobile search.

Diagnosis

To see if your SEO rankings drop is related to mobile search issues, you can check your audience by the device category with the help of Google Analytics. You can find it under the Reports > User > Tech overview tab. See if the mobile audience is rising or declining. If you see a drop, you need to recheck how your pages perform in mobile search.

How to fix

Mobile-friendliness is less of an issue nowadays, as everybody’s heard of its importance. But, if you have missed this point somehow, make sure to double-check on it:

  • Review each problematic URL with a Mobile-friendly test to see if it is mobile-friendly.
  • Check out Mobile usability under the Experience tab in Search Console. If your pages look bad on mobiles, you will get a warning and an explanation of what to improve.
  • Check with WebSite Auditor to know if a page is not mobile-optimized. You can find the corresponding factor in the Page Audit > Technical Audit section.

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Get a few more helpful tips from this guide on how to make your website mobile-friendly.

Prevention

To spare yourself from issues with mobile ranking drops, build your websites on mobile-friendly themes or use responsive design. This way, you won’t even need to focus on mobile-friendliness too much.

Also, check your SEO rankings separately for desktop and mobile devices to know if any pages’ rankings are strikingly different. You can do it in Rank Tracker, adding Google Mobile Bot as a separate search engine in your project settings.

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If there is much difference in ranking on desktop and mobile devices, some improvement could potentially bring you more users from mobiles.

9. Keyword cannibalization

Sometimes, pages start competing with each other in organic search because they both have been optimized for the same keyword. It may happen when the pages’ search intent is vague or they cover somewhat similar topics.

Diagnosis

In Search Console, compare impressions' biggest difference before and after the date of the drop. This way, you can easily spot which pages compete with the selected one.

For example, this page that had been ranking for years and started to get tons fewer impressions after another page on a similar topic was published.

To get more detail, consult the Rank Tracker’s ranking history. Select the keyword in question and check the Rank Progress > Rank History tab. You will notice that one cannibalizing page is getting in the way of the other, and none of them is ranking high enough to appear in Google’s top.

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You will find detailed tips on how to detect this type of issue in this guide on keyword cannibalization.

How to fix

When rankings and traffic suffer because of pages competing for the same keyword, you must research and optimize them better:

  • Examine the intent and the target keywords for each of the pages; decide whether you would like to consolidate or update them.
  • Use WebSite Auditor to get in-app tips on keyword optimization. The tool uses the TF-IDF algorithm to check the ten best-ranking URLs and prepare keyword usage tips.
  • Cover related topics in your content to make it comprehensive and relevant. Add long-tail keywords, related terms, more topics and questions to make your content better developed.

  • Add internal links to your pages, with relevant keywords in anchor text.

Prevention

To prevent unexpected ranking drops for individual pages because of keyword cannibalization, you should keep a neat keyword map with all your keywords distributed correctly to your landing pages. This can be done easily in spreadsheets or in Rank Tracker.

In your Rank Tracking module, right-click on a keyword and choose Map to Landing page. The tracked page will appear in the Landing Page column, and with every checkup, Rank Tracker will see if the right landing page is ranking for the target query. If not, it will alert you with the orange exclamation mark, showing which URL started ranking instead.

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A special case: SEM traffic cannibalization

Once in a while, site owners report their website has completely disappeared from Google’s organic results after they started a PPC campaign in Google Ads.

However, John Mueller said there shouldn’t be any connection. According to Google, organic search and paid search have two totally different ranking systems. So, one cannot but agree that ranking drops should not be attributed to PPC campaigns.

However, one should keep in mind that SEM traffic cannibalization might be a reason for wasting your organic clicks. Your ads are given priority in the SERP and have no problem stealing a sizable share of traffic from your organic results.

So, every time you set up a PPC campaign, compare the lists of PPC and organic keywords. If you spot overlapping keywords, estimate their traffic potential and costs. Because why pay for the traffic that you can get for free?

To help you out with this task, there is Keyword Map in Rank Tracker. Use its SEO Analysis and PPC Analysis boards to predict expected traffic and costs-per-click. Remember these are just estimates, so your final decision can be made with your Google Ads account.

 

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Final thoughts

Fixing ranking drops is not a straightforward thing. The reasons might be not that obvious, and there is always a chance a coincidence is in play. And the sooner you learn how to recover, the better it is for your site.

Let me know if I have missed any of the causes for a sudden drop in rankings. I'm curious to hear if you've ever experienced a dramatic drop yourself and what has been your course of action. Meanwhile, bookmark this list for a rainy day, and let's hope you’ll never have to actually use it.

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