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What to do if your Google rankings drop

By Will Stevens - October 8, 2021

One day you’re riding high in the Google rankings. The next thing you know, your site seems to have dropped.

It can be a major worry, especially if Google drives a significant amount of your website traffic.

Here’s what you can do right now if your Google rankings have dropped.

1. Use a rank checker to see what your Google rankings actually are

Google doesn’t show the same results to everyone. That means you can’t reliably check your rankings by Googling terms relating to your business and seeing what positions you’re in.

You need to use a rank checking tool to see what the average person sees.

If you’ve already got one set up, log in and check your rankings to see what’s going on.

For those of you who don’t have rank checking set up, now’s the time to start. There are plenty of tools out there, with prices starting at around £15 a month for the basics.

There are more advanced rank trackers out there, such as SEMRush, which are great if you’re managing a large site or more than one site.

However, these tend to be more expensive with prices starting at around the £80 a month mark.

Once you’ve got your chosen tool set up, you’ll be able to view your current rankings and see what’s going on.

Unfortunately, you won’t have access to historical data from before you set up your tool, but the current data should help you pinpoint any pages that you knew used to drive traffic through Google but no longer do.

If you have Google Search Console (GSC) set up, you can also use that to help identify any ranking falls.

GSC is free and if it was activated on your site when it was created, you will have access to historical data.

GSC isn’t as detailed as specialist SEO tools, but it can help give you a broad picture of what’s happening with your rankings.

Once you’ve confirmed that your rankings have dropped, you can start to investigate what’s happened and what you can do to put things right.

2. Check if you have a Google penalty

If you’ve confirmed a rankings drop, head into GSC to see if you’ve been penalised by Google.

There are a couple of reasons Google might decide to penalise a website.

The first is if it believes a site owner has used search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques that go against its rules. This includes things like buying links. You can find Google’s rules for SEO in its Webmaster Guidelines.

The second reason is if your site has been hacked. If Google detects that your site has been hacked, it will remove it from its search results to protect its users.

In both these cases, you’ll get a notification from Google via GSC telling you that there’s a problem, along with guidance on what you can do to address the issue. This is another reason it’s important to have GSC set up.

This guide will help you recover from a Google SEO penalty, while this guide deals with fixing a hacked website.

3. Check for website errors that could impact your Google rankings

While you’re in GSC, you can also check for errors that might have had a negative impact on your Google rankings.

These are the errors that are most likely to affect your Google rankings:

404 errors

A 404 error means that your trying to visit a webpage that can’t be found on a particular server. Often, this is because that page has been deleted or its address has been changed. You can learn more about 404 errors here.

404 errors can negatively impact your Google rankings both directly and indirectly.

If you’ve deleted or changed the address of a page that was ranking well in Google and that page starts to return a 404 error, then it will quickly disappear from search results.

Alternatively, if you’ve deleted or changed the address of a page that was linking to another page that ranked well in Google search results, then the 404 error on the first page could have a knock-on effect the page that was ranking well.

This is because, much like users, Google follows links to discover webpages, so if you’ve deleted the only page that was linking to another page, Google may no longer be able to discover the second page.

Also, if you’ve deleted or changed the address of a page that had lots of links from external websites, then the benefit of those external links will no longer affect your site, another potential reason for a drop in rankings.

If you’re deleting or changing the address of pages on your website, make sure you follow best practice and use 301 redirects where required.

Indexing errors

GSC also provides an Index Coverage report, which lets you see which parts of your website it knows about and has included in its index.

If you’re seeing lots of errors here, then that could be the reason your rankings have dropped.

On the other hand, a small number of errors indicates that Google doesn’t have an issue with indexing your site and any ranking drop is down to something else.

If you’re worry that Google has stopped indexing one or two key pages (and you’re sure you haven’t got a penalty), you can either use the URL inspection tool in Google, or simply run a Google search for the page(s) in question.

Indexing errors can have complex causes and be difficult to fix. This guide will help you understand more about them, but you may need expert help to resolve any issues.

4. Look to see if your rankings fall coincided with a Google update

Google regularly updates the way it ranks websites and when it rolls out a major change to the way it does things, it can impact millions of sites worldwide.

You won’t get a notification from Google if your rankings fall because of one of its updates, so you need to stay on the ball.

Following SEO news is a good way to learn about future updates and there may be steps you can take to prepare ahead of the change.

If you want to know whether your rankings have been impacted by a past Google update, then try the Panguin tool.

It overlays your Google Analytics data with all of the updates that there have been to the Google search algorithm.

If you can there was a particular update on a certain day, and then after that day your traffic started to fall, then that’s a strong indication of the cause. Especially if you’ve ruled out other reasons.

Once you know which Google update (they all have names) negatively affected your rankings, you can find out what you need to do to recover from the fall. Look on respected SEO blogs such as Moz.com for advice relating to the update you’re interested in.

5. Check to see if your competitors have improved

If you’re sure that your ranking drop isn’t down to something going wrong with your website, then it may be that it’s happened because your rivals have improved.

SEO is a competitive field, so if you’re ranking well for a high-traffic keyword then its likely that other websites have their sights set on replacing you.

Take a look at the sites that are now ranking above you.

Try to understand why these pages and these websites are ranking above yours.

Analyse the pages that now outrank you.

Do they have better SEO metrics?

Is their content more informative, is it better written?

Is their usability better, do they provide a nicer place for their users?

If the answer is yes, then you’ll need to up your game to stand a chance of getting those lost rankings back.

Summing up

SEO is an ongoing process. You need to track your rankings, keep an eye on your competitors and keep up with best practice.

If you do that, you’ll give your site the best chance of recovering from a rankings fall and avoiding another one in the future.