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Founder, CEO
Date: 24 August 2018
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Reasons Why Your Search Ranking & Traffic Might Drop

Every business I know of wants to increase sales and make more money.

In today’s technical and online environment, the only way to be successful is to have a steady flow of traffic to your website.

Because Google is a major source of traffic, ranking high in the search results is critical.

You need to set up your website correctly to bring in qualified leads that can then be converted into paying customers.

If you rank better in organic search, then you should get more website traffic from search engines.

But when your website experiences a significant drop in organic search rankings, you will lose traffic, business, and revenue.

There are many causes of sudden drops in website traffic.

Being able to diagnose and identify the reasons will determine whether your business suffers what could be a disaster or you get your web traffic back on track.

1. You’re Tracking the Wrong Rankings

If your site has been online for many years, you might have used keywords that are no longer relevant or are outdated.

Think about your own searching behavior. Have you ever tried to use fancy or more sophisticated language to find the answer to your question in a search query only to get frustrated because you don’t get the desired results?

Many people will search different variations of the same question and still be unable to find an answer or solution to their problem.

Then, as a last resort, they simply type their problem in very simple or more natural language and up pops their answer in the top search results.

The search engines also picked up on this phenomenon in recent years. Rather than relying on just a few keywords, complete sentences with language that is more natural are the way search engines are ranking websites.

Look at your keywords and keyword phrases. If you are using old or more generic keywords, then you’re tracking the wrong rankings and need to update your strategy.

2. Lost Links

Another reason your site ranking might have dropped is that you have lost links.

Check your site for lost links over the last 90 days, using a tool like Majestic or Ahrefs.

CognitiveSEO also offers a free backlink checker that will produce near real-time information where you can analyze your links profile.

If you see that you have lost a lot of links, this might be the reason for your drop in rankings. You will need to delve deeper into more specifics about lost links such as:

  • Is the link drop sitewide?
  • Are the lost links located on the same pages of your site where you have seen a drop in rankings?
  • Has there been a drop in inbound links to your pages that have lost their ranking?
  • Do you see dropped links to pages on your website that link other pages that have lower rankings?

If inbound links to your site are broken or lost, you will need to determine exactly where those links are coming from and why they are broken. You can then either remove, replace, or retain them.

Each link should be checked individually to determine your next steps:

  • If the links were removed intentionally, it could indicate that they were not natural links and could, if they weren’t already, be flagged and penalized by Google. Let these links go.
  • Sometimes links break or change during a site update. In these cases, you might have a chance of convincing the site owner to restore them.
  • If the internal links were replaced with new links to a different source, you have the option to link to the new source, too.
  • You can always replace the old links with new ones that work.

To prevent lost links affecting your rankings in the future, it is worth the effort to invest in link monitoring software or programs to actively track lost links. This way you can be proactive and take corrective measures before you lose your rankings.

3. Broken Redirects

If you are launching a new website, migrating to a new server, or do any structural changes to your site, unless you have a proper 301 redirect plan in place, you are likely to see a drop in your rankings.

When using a 301-redirect, you must make sure that XML sitemaps, canonical tags, and links are also updated.

A 301 redirect is akin to a change of address notice for the web. This notice tells search engines that a page, several pages, or your entire website has been moved. You are asking that your website visitors be sent to your new address and not your old one.

If done correctly, you won’t lose your rankings, nor will you get penalized for duplicate content because search engines are indexing both your old and new web address.

4. Manual Actions

If you see an abrupt and significant drop in your website rankings, it could indicate that Google is penalizing your site. Manual actions are ones that are applied by an employee rather than the result of algorithmic updates.

If your site continues to rank on other search engines like Yahoo or Bing, this is an almost sure sign that you are suffering from a Google penalty.

Whether your penalty is manual or automatic, you will want to fix the problem and get the penalty removed.

The best way place to start is to look at notifications from inside your Google Search Console account.

Look for warnings in the messages menu and the Manual Actions Section. Here you will find listed in a report instances where a Google employee has found that certain pages of your website are not in compliance with their guidelines. You will be able to find suggestions and information on how to fix the problems.

5. Algorithm Changes

Google is always looking for ways to improve strategies and results by making algorithm changes.

Many sites have been hurt by these changes and suffered from lower site rankings.

To avoid being crippled by Google’s updates, use an effective cross-channel marketing and traffic strategy that includes social media and other marketing channels.

6. Natural Changes in Google

There are times when you might notice a drop in your search engine rankings that are not a result of anything directly related to your website.

Google has often made changes to the type of results based on user behavior.

For example, if there is a sudden increase in search for a specific topic, Google may bring up newer results first and push the more static content down. If your content falls into the second category, you will see a loss in your ranking.

7. Geolocation Discrepancies

Your rankings will be different depending upon the location where the search was made. If you check your rankings in one geographic area, you will need to check them in several other areas to get a more precise and more accurate understanding of your rankings.

For example, if you rank for a specific keyword or phrase in the top 30, 67 percent of the time your ranking won’t be the same across other locations.

Have you ever noticed that the results you get for a specific search can be entirely different from another person doing the same search?

Also, if you search while logged into your Google account and then repeat the search after logging out, you will get different results.

The reason for this is that Google will look at and take into account sites you have previously visited, where you are located, and even the device you are using before bringing up your search results.

8. Competition from Other Websites

It is possible that you are doing everything right but still lose traffic and see a dip in your rankings. One reason for this might be that your competition is doing a better job.

Keep an eye on your competitors by analyzing and monitoring their social media activity, link building strategies, and content marketing.

You can use tools like Wayback Machine or Versionista to see what changes your competitors have made.

Once you understand what your competition has done to outrank you, make some of the same changes – only do them better.

9. Page Speed

How fast the content on your pages loads will not only affect your rankings, it will also affect your website visitors’ user experience.

When pages take longer to load, the bounce rates are higher because people don’t want to wait to see your content.

To check your page speed, try using Google’s new and improved PageSpeed Tool. The tool was revamped to incorporate real user data. Pages are ranked fast, slow, and average depending upon how quickly they load.

10. Server Issues

If your site encounters server issues, it may be the result of a broken caching function or an empty markup served to Googlebot.

It is critical that you resolve any server issues quickly. You should look for errors in your server logs and use Google’s Fetch and Render tool to test how a URL on your site renders or is crawled.

11. Bad Quality Link Penalties

Not all links are created equal. If you use risky, spammy, or outdated link building strategies, Google will penalize your site.

Google states very clearly what it considers to be a low-quality link in the first paragraph on their search console help section called Link Schemes.

Take the time to develop a high-quality link building strategy to avoid getting penalized by Google and grow your organic search traffic.

Some suggestions for building good links:

  • Fix your broken links by building new and valuable ones.
  • Use PR to get cited in online content or a news article.
  • Write exceptional content and promote it heavily on social media so people can find it.
  • Read SEJ’s Link Building guide.

12. Click-Through Rate Changes

Google is paying more attention to the user experience in how they rank sites. To see if your site’s click-through rate (CTR) has dropped, look in your Google Search Console for the last 90 days.

If your bounce rate is high, it is possible that people are clicking through to your site but leave quickly because they are not satisfied with what they find.

As a result, Google might lower your ranking based on this user feedback.

If you find that your CTR has dropped, check some of the following:

  • Is your page taking too long to load?
  • Did you recently add something like a popup to your site?
  • Have you changed your page titles recently?

13. Recent Website Changes & Redesign

If you decide to redesign your website, the last thing you want to do is lose the traffic and rankings you worked so hard to build.

Some specific steps you can take not to hurt but even help your rankings are:

  • Ensure that all your 301 redirects are mapped out correctly.
  • Check the link structure of your inbound links to make sure they are working correctly on your new site.
  • Before launching your new website, get some baseline metrics reports such as rank tracker, site audit, traffic, and page URL mapping.

With careful planning and attention to the essential components of your redesign project, you will avoid negatively impacting your SEO and rankings and can even make improvements.

14. Simple Technical Issues

Technical SEO is the foundation you give your website content. It refers to SEO work that affects how well search engines can crawl and index your content.

Search engines are becoming more sophisticated. As a result, technical SEO continues to change.

See Most Common Technical SEO Mistakes: How Severe Are They? for some of the most common issues that could affect your website traffic and rankings.

Being aware of technical SEO issues should help you take better care of your website and keep your rankings up.

15. Internal Navigation

Your website navigation tells your visitors what and where they will find information on your site. Try to have a flat narrow structure of two or at most three levels deep for your internal navigation.

If your visitors have to click too many times to find what they are looking for, they are more likely to leave.

It is possible that search engines will stop crawling content buried deep in your website. This will, in turn, lower your rankings and you will get less traffic to important content areas.

Internal link strategies are not only a part of good search optimization but also integral to your other client retention strategies. Making your internal links and navigation simple and logical improves client retention and boosts other rank metrics like time-on-site.

Using keyword-rich internal links will help search engines quickly determine what your site is about and whether your content is relevant to queries.

16. Server Overload

If your server is not set up for or prepared for sudden surges in traffic, it could overload and crash.

Those who are on a shared server have a higher chance of going down because someone else on the same server might see a sudden increase in traffic.

Many hosting packages will take your site down if you exceed your bandwidth limits. This can happen if your site manages to get featured on a popular site.

If your site experiences too much downtime, it will negatively affect your search rankings.

17. Meta Information

Meta information, or meta tags, are used to tell search engines what information your site provides. One of the most important types of meta data that will help raise your SEO rankings is the title tag.

Other types of meta information that can help your website rankings are headers and meta descriptions.

Avoid being inconsistent when providing your meta information. For example, if you change the date of an article on your site, be sure to change it in the meta description as well.

You want to make sure not to duplicate your meta information or use meaningless and generic titles like “Home”. You should use more specific title tags that include your target keyword.

If you use the same title for multiple pages, not only will you confuse your users, you end up competing with yourself in the SERPs.

18. Source of Traffic

Your website traffic includes not only the number of visits to your site but also the number of pages clicked and the amount of time spent on each page.

Traffic can come from several sources including:

  • Email marketing.
  • Referrals.
  • Direct traffic.
  • Organic search.
  • Paid search.
  • Social media.

Which one is the best? The answer is whichever source produces the most engagement, the lowest bounce rate, and the most conversions.

Direct traffic is when someone types your URL into an address bar.

This may not be crucial for rankings, but it’s important because:

  • Visitors choose to come back to your site because they already know you and want what you are offering.
  • You are already recognized as an industry expert in your niche, so visitors come to your site because they know your brand.
  • Direct traffic isn’t affected by social media or Google changes and serves as an independent source of visitors.

You can track your direct traffic stats in your Google Analytics dashboard. If you want to increase your direct traffic, you should focus on having a clear and memorable brand.

Continuously provide value and expert advice to your website visitors and show them that you are an expert in your industry.

19. Time on Site

User engagement can impact your search rankings.

Though we don’t know exactly what Google looks at, there are a couple metrics (bounce rate and average time spent on your webpages) you can easily measure inside Google Analytics.

These metrics aren’t a direct ranking factor, but they do indicate whether you’re delivering a good experience for your users.

Want to reduce a high bounce rate? Check out: 20 Proven Tactics That Will Reduce Your High Website Bounce Rate.

Want to make people spend longer treading your content? Read 3 Tips to Increase the Time People Spend Reading Your Content.

20. Duplicate Content

Google defines duplicate content as substantial blocks of content that appear across or within domains that are significantly similar or completely match other content.

This is not always considered deceptive or malicious and doesn’t always result in lower search engine rankings.

When content is obviously deliberately duplicated to manipulate rankings and increase traffic, your site will get penalized.

Your rankings will suffer and in the worst-case scenario, your site can be removed entirely from Google’s index and will no longer be found in search.