You’ve just Googled yourself and to your ultimate shock and horror, you are no longer on the first page of the Google search results. Panic sets in.
Assuming that there were no major changes made to your website prior to your Googling, it can be safe to say that you have been affected by a change in Google’s search algorithms. Understanding what exactly caused the drop in ranking is critical in avoiding making very costly mistakes, but considering that Google’s search algorithms make up one of the most complex codebases humanity has ever created, that is no small task.
So, to ease your mind, we want to offer you five rules of thumb for dealing with a sudden drop in Google ranking.
Rule 1: Don’t Panic
In today’s web-centric business world, showing up strong on Google is critical to success and any negative change in Google search is worthy of serious concern. Panic, however, can make a seemingly bad situation much worse. Don’t make sudden changes to the website until you have a sound hypothesis as to what caused the sudden drop. Outdated SEO strategies often gravitate into the realm of “black hat” tactics as far as Google is concerned, so reacting without having an understanding of current best practices could get you into even more hot water.
Be thoughtful. Be methodical. Don’t panic.
Rule 2: Understand How Search Works
Everybody wants to be number one on Google, but “number one” on Google is different for different users, on different devices, in different places. Modern internet search is personalized for the user and situation, so no two search experiences are identical.
To complicate things further is the concept of authority and namespace (a way of defining something). When we type keywords or a question into Google, the search engine wants to give us the most relevant result possible: the authority in that namespace. If we type a broad term like “tacos” in Google, the algorithms will produce a variety of results since we have not clearly defined the namespace, such as nearby restaurants, recipes, and even images of tacos.
If, however, we specify our search with “Tex-Mex taco restaurants near me”, the results will reflect only nearby restaurants that are associated with tacos or Tex-Mex cuisine.
This simple example of a very complex concept shows that the exact words and word order you type into Google can dramatically affect the results you get. You may be surprised to find Google has given you more authority in one namespace but less in another, which leads us into rule #3. But first, we suggest some light reading on the basics of internet search: Busting Myths About Search Ranking.
Rule 3: Everything is Give and Take
In our example above, if you own a restaurant that offers a wide variety of cuisines, but serves up some great Tex-Mex tacos, you may find yourself pushed out of the average first page results for “Tex-Mex taco restaurants near me” as new Mexican restaurants open up nearby or the competition ups its internet marketing game. However, you may find that you are top of the list for the more general (and possibly more lucrative) search “restaurants near me”.
A good internet marketing team will recognize the change in namespace and evaluate the best plan of attack to reach those customers who are specifically searching for Tex-Mex tacos. They have a variety of tools at their disposal including blogging, pay-per-click advertising, and social media marketing, all of which can ultimately affect SEO and Google search. Needless to say, internet search is as much an ever-changing landscape as the competitive business world.
Rule 4: Be patient
Sometimes this seemingly big reshuffling of the search results is temporary and disrupted rankings will settle back to their original state over a few days or weeks.
SEO experts have a term for this phenomenon: “Google flux”. When Google makes algorithm changes, especially to its core algorithms, major tweaks are usually made after the rollout and search results can be wildly inconsistent. For example, combinations of ranking signals in the new algorithms could result in a certain type of plugin being downgraded due to similarities in the code with known ‘black hat” SEO strategies – a result Google was not intending. Google engineers would then tweak the algorithms so websites utilizing that plugin would not be penalized. In that short period of time before the tweaks were made, owners of websites utilizing that plugin would be tearing their hair out.
So, if you have done your homework and you are confident that there are no major SEO issues with your website, be patient.
Rule 5: Hire a Professional
All the above is based on the assumption that there is not a major fundamental problem with your website. However, if you are not qualified to make that assessment, hire someone who is.
An expert in SEO will employ a wide variety of tools to assess the health of your website and can make sure your website is utilizing the latest best practices. When Google finds serious violations, they actually will try to communicate with the site admin via Google Search Console – something every site should be employing. Between SEO experts, developers to fix problem code, web copywriters to spruce up dated content, or a DNS expert for issues relating to the domain, there are professionals who are here to help, so don’t risk making a bad situation much worse.
The internet, while having become deeply rooted in our lives and integral to our business, has also become incredibly complex. The TLDR is that there is no TLDR. When dealing with any shake up in your websites search results make sure you have a thorough understanding of what you are perceiving, don’t make rash changes to fix problems, and if you are unsure of what you are doing, once again, hire a professional!