SEO Rankings Drop: A Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery

Posted by KristinaKledzik

A few weeks ago, rankings for pages on a key section of my site dropped an average of a full position in one day. I’ve been an SEO for 7 years now, but I still ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, panicked that I wouldn’t be able to figure out my mistake. There are so many things that could’ve gone wrong: Did I or my team unintentionally mess with internal link equity? Did we lose links? Did one of Google’s now-constant algorithm updates screw me over?

Since the drop happened to a group of pages, I made the assumption it had to do with our site or page structure (it didn’t). I wasted a good day focused on technical SEO. Once I realized my error, I decided to put together a guide to make sure that next time, I’ll do my research effectively. And you, my friends, will reap the rewards.

First, make sure there’s actually a rankings change

Okay, I have to start with this: before you go down this rabbit hole of rankings changes, make sure there was actually a rankings change. Your rankings tracker may not have localized properly, or have picked up on one of Google’s rankings experiments or personalization.

Find out:

  • Has organic traffic dropped to the affected page(s)?
    • We’re starting here because this is the most reliable data you have about your site. Google Search Console and rankings trackers are trying to look at what Google’s doing; your web analytics tool is just tracking user counts.
    • Compare organic traffic to the affected page(s) week-over-week both before and after the drop, making sure to compare similar days of the week.
    • Is the drop more significant than most week-over-week changes?
    • Is the drop over a holiday weekend? Is there any reason search volume could’ve dropped?
  • Does Google Search Console show a similar rankings drop?
    • Use the Search Analytics section to see clicks, impressions, and average position for a given keyword, page, or combo.
    • Does GSC show a similar rankings drop to what you saw in your rankings tracker? (Make sure to run the report with the selected keyword(s).)
  • Does your rankings tracker show a sustained rankings drop?
    • I recommend tracking rankings daily for your important keywords, so you’ll know if the rankings drop is sustained within a few days.
    • If you’re looking for a tool recommendation, I’m loving Stat.

If you’ve just seen a drop in your rankings tool and your traffic and GSC clicks are still up, keep an eye on things and try not to panic. I’ve seen too many natural fluctuations to go to my boss as soon as I see an issue.

But if you’re seeing that there’s a rankings change, start going through this guide.

Figure out what went wrong

1. Did Google update their algorithm?

Google rolls out a new algorithm update at least every day, most silently. Good news is, there are leagues of SEOs dedicated to documenting those changes.

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