What to Do When Your Rankings Drop in Google and How to Fix it

So your rankings are dropping in Google faster than characters are being killed off in Game of Thrones and you have absolutely no idea why. By now you’re probably unsure whether you should cry, skull a bottle of Rum or punch someone in the face.

Look, I know its not cool, but unless something has gone seriously pear shaped, such as being slapped with a penalty, this can usually be fixed.

So before you call Larry Page at Google and threaten to throw eggs at his house, there are a few things you can do.

I’m going to share with you some of the most common issues that I’ve seen that can cause you to lose rankings in Google, along of course, with how to fix them.

So as usual, let’s not muck around, I’m sure if you’re reading this article, time may be of the essence.

Okay, let’s get into it.

Diagnosing the cause

The first thing you’ll should do is try to “diagnose” the cause. This isn’t always easy, but it’s something you should always investigate FIRST, before you do anything. You don’t want to be guessing. You’ll want to have a pretty good idea of what might be causing the problem, before you start pulling your site apart. Don’t just make assumptions, because if you’re taking action, and you don’t know what the problem is, you could be making shit a lot worse.

I’m now going to touch on some of the most common reasons your rankings and traffic might be falling off a cliff, along with how to diagnose and potentially correct the problem.

1. Robots.txt

Your robots.txt file is used primarily as a way of controlling search crawler access to your site. I don’t have time to go into detail about how robots.txt works in this article, but you can check it out over here.

Now when it comes to robots.txt affecting your rankings, its usually pretty straight forward. Often site owners make settings changes and accidentally mess with the robots.txt file unknowingly. This can be the case when working with WordPress. Site owners may also block access during an upgrade or site redesign, and forget to unblock afterwards.  If you’ve blocked Google from accessing your site, either in part or full, then your rankings are going to disappear pretty damn fast.

How to diagnose and fix

To check your robots.txt, you’ll need to have an active Google account, and have your website setup in Webmaster tools.

Log into Webmaster tools, select the property you want to check, and on the left hand side, navigate to “crawl”, then select “robots.txt Tester”.

Google with then check your robots.txt and display its findings.

This may not make much sense to you, but you’ll want to make sure that anything set to “Disallow” is infact meant to be disallowed.

If your robots.txt comes back looking like this, you’ve got to fix it, because this is blocking, EVERYTHING, across your entire site.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

 

If you’re using WordPress, make sure this checkbox ISN’T ticked.

By the way, you can usually check your robots.txt file by typing the URL directly into the browser. eg yourdomain.com.au/robots.txt

2. Hacked site

On a few rare occasions, I’ve dealt with hacked sites, that start rewriting URLs and meta description tags, which show up in the SERPS. This results in your CTR being affected immediately, and of course, screws up your onpage pretty bad. Infact, a hacked site can result in all sorts of nasties going on, which can hurt your rankings. Often your rankings will tank pretty quickly, so I would advise that you get on top of it fast.

How to diagnose and fix

If your site has been hacked, it should be pretty obvious. If you’re unsure, or you know for certain your site has been hacked, I highly recommend Securi. These guys are the pros in their field and will have your site fixed quickly. They also offer protective services to ensure your site remains secure once fixed.

Always make sure you keep your site secure – update plugins etc if you’re using WordPress and install the latest versions of the software. Use a strong password too.

3. Mobile responsiveness

Google has been going on about this for years now. Your site MUST be mobile friendly. This really goes without saying. People are trying to view your content on their phones, tablets, and god knows what else – and if you’re site isn’t responsive, then you’re going to lose out big time. Not just rankings, but sales and customer enquiries also, because users will bail out from your site and find one that they can actually read on their mobile.

How to diagnose and fix

Look, there’s a shit load of tools you can use online to see whether or not your site is responsive. One that I really like is Screenfly by Quicktools. It allows you to enter in your URL and check to see how your website looks on a variety of devices. Pretty cool. Of course it makes sense to pick up your phone and look at your site on that, too.

In order to fix this, you’ve GOT to fix your site and make it responsive. I can help with that if you like. Give me a call.

4. Competition is kicking your ass

It’s funny to note just how many site owners abandon SEO completely once they’ve hit first page for a lot of their target terms. Theyll hit first page, say thank you, then do absolutely nothing for 2 years, then wonder why competition is outranking them.

This is why – SEO is always ongoing.

You don’t just “stop” doing SEO. That’s like spending 12 months in the gym, getting yourself into shape, looking in the mirror and saying “Yep, I look pretty good now, think I’m done”, then heading home for a pizza.

Chances are you’re not losing rankings, but your competitors are gaining them. Because they’re investing heavily into kicking your ass.

How to diagnose and fix

Well there’s really no need to diagnose anything here, it should be pretty obvious.

Lift your game and at the very least, start publishing HIGH END quality content. Alternatively, you can reach out to me, and we’ll kick their asses together.

5. Lost or broken links

Let’s talk about lost backlinks first.

This can happen for any number of reasons –

  • Site owners no longer want to link to you because your content is outdated or low quality compared to others
  • Websites linking in have had pages removed
  • The website has been taken down, or they’ve undergone a major upgrade
  • or just because

There’s really no real way of knowing for sure. You need to be mindful that the web is dynamic, its ever changing.

Lets now talk about broken backlinks

Broken backlinks can happen for any number of reasons also –

  • You’ve changed your domain name and not updated your links
  • You’ve updated your website and removed pages with inbound links
  • Another site owner links to a URL but screws up the link
  • and a whole bunch of other reasons

How to diagnose and fix

The process for finding lost or broken backlinks is very similar. We can simply fire up Ahrefs and run a search against our site to see what the hell is going on. Infact Ahrefs helps us find both broken and lost links, which makes it real easy.

Simply enter in your URL and click on either Lost or Broken backlinks.

Ahrefs will then spit out a listing of all the links that need attention.

We can then take a look through our list and determine what course of action to take.

To fix this problem you may have to –

  • Set redirects to capture lost link equity pointing to redundant pages
  • Perform outreach and ask site owners to update/fix their links
  • Fix/update your backlinks

In any case, you’ll want to regain as much link equity as possible. So it makes sense to fix up any lost or broken links as best you can. This should see your rankings stabilize or improve.

6. Technical issues

Technical issues such as poor hosting, network outages, server downtime, or slow connectivity can all cause havoc on your sites rankings. If Google is constantly abandoning attempted crawls on your site, over time, your positioning will suffer. Google understands that servers go down, so there’s no need to concern yourself about a short outage, but certainly, if your site is constantly going offline, or it’s incredibly slow due to poor hosting, then I would strongly recommend changing hosts.

Infact, I’ve changed hosts for numerous clients as part of my recommendation for their SEO campaign and seen almost instant improvements.

How to diagnose and fix

Whilst it can be difficult to identify a technical problem, it should be pretty obvious if your site is going down every 5 minutes. There’s a great online tool you can use here to see if your sites up or down. Always check to make sure the problem is with your host, and not your internet connection before you pick up the phone and blast their support team. Also, don’t use $9 a month hosting – seriously. It’s just not worth it.

Believe it or not, I’ve worked with clients doing over a quarter of a million dollars a month who use cheap hosting, and they wonder why their email is down every 5 minutes.

Use decent hosting. Ive been online since 1997 and I highly recommend Liquidweb. They are by far the best hosting company I know of. Seriously, don’t consider using anyone else.

7. Your site speed sucks

This kind of touches on the above point about technical issues, but it’s still worth mentioning. Site speed can be related to poor hosting yes, but it can also be related to –

  • Crappy code
  • Overloaded plugins
  • Outdated software
  • Huge images
  • Resource heavy features – videos, animated gifs, sliders etc

Again, site speed might be related to lousy hosting. You’ll need to know your site is tip top, before you consider shifting to a decent host if this is the case, but remember – using quality hosting with a shit site is pointless. Both need to be tip top. A clean, efficient site, on a server that kicks ass.

How to diagnose and fix

The first thing you’ll want to do is use some common sense. Take a look over your site and ask yourself, “Is there any nonsense on this site that I could get rid of that would help improve my site speed?” Chances are you could probably get rid of that useless popup, or that slider, or the dancing chicken on the homepage that takes 12 minutes to load.

Do that first, then head over to Google insights and perform a site speed test.

Simply enter in your URL and click on Analyze. Google will then scan your site and give you a rating out of 100.

Here’s mine.

You can see mine came back at 87/100 for desktop and it actually scored a little lower for mobile, but these numbers are okay. I can make a few adjustments to improve this.

You’ll want to work towards anything higher than say, 80 where possible. If your site is down in the 40s, 50s, or 60s then you might want to consider –

  • Using a better host
  • Reducing resource heavy features (images, photos, videos, slides etc)
  • Implementing a CDN or enabling caching.

If you’re using WordPress, check out this article that covers how to improve site speed.

8. Bad backlinks

There’s no quicker way to destroy your rankings, than to start slamming it with bad backlinks. Whether you’re building them yourself, or you’re paying $99 a month for shitty SEO, crappy links will not only ruin your rankings, but will totally destroy any chance you’ll have of ever ranking that site again.

Why?

Because if the links are toxic enough, and there’s enough of them, the damage becomes irreversible and you’ll be left with no choice but to dump the domain and start over.

How to diagnose and fix

The first thing you’ll want to check is Ahrefs. Log into Ahrefs and check your link profile. Look for an influx of bad links pointing at your site.

You’ll want to ask yourself –

  • Are these links relevant?
  • Are these links coming from quality sites?
  • Do these links look spammy?
  • Where are these links coming from?
  • Why are they appearing?

If you view your link profile, and its full of rubbish, then chances are you’ve got some cleaning up to do. I would advise you consider doing the following –

  • Reach out to site owners and ask them to remove the link
  • Disavow any bad links that you can’t remove manually

8. Lay off the ads

Google has been banging on about this for years now. If your site is stuffed full of ads – especially above the fold – then you can pretty much expect to say goodbye to your rankings. Google hates this shit, and so do users. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I can’t click away from a site fast enough that has 10% content and 90% ads. Its awful.

When users start bouncing from our site, it affects your user experience metrics, and that’s a bad thing (engagement time, time on site, bounce rates, pages per session etc)

Terrible user experience metrics sends a signal to Google saying “Hey, this site sucks balls”, and they’ll slowly over time demote you.

How to diagnose and fix

Diagnosis should be irrelevant here, just get rid of the ads. Seriously.

9. Low quality content

High quality, linkworthy content should be your objective. It’s funny just how many clients I work with that expect to be “first in Google”, yet are too lazy to even write a single blog post. Why should you be first? What value do you provide?

If you aren’t publishing great content, then you can pretty much forget it.

As said above, you’ll want to ensure you’re sending Google the right user experience signals. High engagement times, low bounce rates, social shares and so forth.

How to diagnose and fix

Take a read of this article here. I published this one just recently where I show you how to go about kicking ass in Google with high quality content.

10. Stop being lazy

I spoke with a prospect recently who came to me and asked “John, we used to be first page for all of our keywords, now we’re nowhere. Any idea why?”

Turns out this business owner hadn’t done anything for 5 years. NOTHING.

Not one piece of content, no outreach, no site upgrade, no redesign. They’d done absolutely nothing. Infact their site looked the same as it did back in the late 90’s.

That is absolutely ridiculous.

SEO is constantly moving. If you’re not making an effort and your competitors are, it’s game over.

How to diagnose and fix

Stop being lazy for starters. You don’t just get to first page, kick off the shoes and have a beer. You’ve got to be constantly adding high quality content to your site, or at the very least, updating your site to ensure the information you provide, provides value.

Ask yourself now – when was the the last time you actually published a great piece of shareworthy content? Or updated your site? Or engaged with readers?

Conclusion

When it comes to rectifying a loss in traffic or rankings, it’s incredibly important that you take your time to diagnose the cause BEFORE you take action.

In other words, think twice and act once.

Far too often I see site owners become totally panicked, and they’ll start pulling shit apart before they even know what the problem is. They’ll change sitemaps, change pages, change meta tag information, swap hosts and literally hope and pray that things get better.

When you do this, you’re just going to potentially make things worse.

Until you are pretty sure what the cause is, you’re better off doing nothing. And when you DO start taking corrective action, do it SLOWLY, and incrementally. Keeping notations within Google Analytics as you go.

This way, if things get worse, you have a point of reference, rather than asking yourself afterwards “Oh no, things have gotten worse, what did we change?”

So what do you think?

Have you been in this position before? Perhaps you’re in this position right now.

Post up your thoughts or questions below and I’ll answer them.

4 comments on “What to Do When Your Rankings Drop in Google and How to Fix it

  1. Dan on

    Hi John! Great post indeed, Google continues to develop their algorithm, the best thing that we can do is to adapt to those changes. You have shared a good point here about fixing google rankings dropping and fixing it. Great job John!

    Reply
    • John Romaine on

      It shouldn’t so long as you set correct redirects and ensure everything checks out in Search Console. Always test test test. As for dropped links, go back and assess the reason and fix it.

      Reply

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