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September 1, 2011

Rankings Dropped? 9 Possible Reasons and 9 Ways Out – A SPN Exclusive Article

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Sometimes SEOs and site owners encounter the problem of their sites suddenly going down in the search engine results pages for no particular reason, it seems. When this happens, it is often hard to figure out why your rankings nosedived.

So, let’s consider possible reasons for and solutions to the problem. I arranged them by relevance, starting with the most common ones.

1. Your Site Got Penalized for Using Black-Hat SEO Techniques

Google has Webmaster Guidelines by which all SEOs and webmasters must abide. If Google finds out (or your site gets reported) that you are not playing by the rules, your rankings may drop substantially, or your site may get removed from Google’s index altogether.

As stated in Google Webmaster Guidelines, one must not “participate in link schemes” (buying/selling links is basically meant here), create “doorway pages”, or use “hidden text” on a site. These are considered illegitimate (Black-Hat) SEO practices and may incur Google’s wrath.

The Way Out

Well, if your site does get penalized, find out what might have caused this. Re-read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and remove whatever is in violation from your site – then file a reconsideration request.

2. The Search Engine Algorithm Has Changed

On the one hand, search engines are trying to keep their search results as relevant and SPAM-free as possible. On the other hand, there are people who are trying to game the system or just take advantage of the existing loopholes. And, with the ever increasing number of websites on the Internet today, search engines are forced to tweak their search algos every once in a while to keep spammers at bay.

For example, Google’s latest big algorithm update known as Panda (or Farmer) was intended to do away with sites that offer poor-quality content and, as a result, provide poor user experience. However, it also affected groups of sites that have significant duplicate content by nature, such as e-commerce sites, online directories, etc.

The Way Out

First of all, if you are doing SEO and you really mean it, you should be informed about what’s new in the Search Engine Land at all times. The online resources to keep an eye on are Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land [http://searchengineland.com/] (yes, I did it on purpose :) ) , the official Google Blog (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/), and the inside-Google Matt Cutts’ blog (http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/).

If the rules change, and there is no way you can continue using the same SEO techniques you’ve been using before the algorithm update – you have to change your ways then. However, if you think your site was not supposed to get affected by the algo change but it did – you can write about it on Google Webmaster Forum – that often solves the problem.

3. Your Website’s Content Got “Scraped”

If your rankings suddenly deteriorate, that could be because someone has stolen (or “scraped”) the content from your site and posted it somewhere else on the Web. In this case, search engines sometimes lower both sites’ rankings – then look deeper into the matter. Eventually, they are likely to start ranking your site as high as they used to before the incident, once they realize who copied whose content. However, this may take some time.

The Way Out

Dealing with content thieves normally involves locating the site that posted your content, contacting their webmaster, emailing their host, filing a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) request or taking the matter to court – whatever helps. It’s recommended to start with contacting the scrapers. If this does not help – take the other measures mentioned here.

4. Your Site Got Penalized for Copyright Infringement

For various reasons, this may happen as well. It can be that your in-house SEO or a third-party firm you hired to promote your site used somebody else’s content to boost your site’s rankings in which case the owner of the content may have filed a DMCA request (the request is normally filed in written form) or reported your site to Google for copyright infringement.

The Way Out

Remove the duplicate content, hire a new SEO or an SEO services provider and submit your site for re-inclusion (just follow the same procedure that’s described in way out 1 of this post) (http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35843)

5. Competitors Beat You in the SERPs

Sometimes your rankings may go down just because a competing site (or sites) manages to boost their rankings to a substantial degree.

The Way Out

If this is the case, analyze competitors’ sites and see in what way they are better than yours. Pay attention to their backlinks, keyword density, social media popularity and act accordingly, depending on what your site is missing.

6. Your Site’s Structure Got Crippled

Spotless site architecture is crucial to high rankings. If there are broken links, HTML code errors or other structural discrepancies on your site, search engine bots might not be able to crawl it within a reasonable span of time, and thus, your site’s rankings may deteriorate.

The Way Out

Run an audit and fix all the flaws that may hold back your site’s rankings. Sometimes a site may not be visible in search results for the simple reason that the host is down and the server is not responding. A thorough site audit will show that.

7. Important Backlinks Got Removed from Your Site

Sometimes it’s due to “juicy” backlinks with top Google positions pointing to your site being removed, resulting in a rankings drop for your site.

The Way Out

Check the backlinks pointing to your site. Experienced SEOs run such checkups from time to time to see whether any of the links got assigned the “nofollow” attribute, were hidden from search engines because of the robot txt file or were simply removed. If this happens, you should get these links back or get similar backlinks from other websites.

8. This is Google’s QDF Algo at Work

QDF stands for “query deserves freshness” and is the algo Google uses to balance its appreciation of older content. Google applies it to trendy queries that all of a sudden become popular on the Web.

The Way Out

The way out is simple – just don’t do anything. The query will eventually stop being trendy and Google will resume giving more power to older sites with time-tested content. You can always check what topics are popular/trendy at the moment at surchur.com, www.buzzfeed.com or similar sites. Let’s say, your site is optimized for the word “silver spoons”. All of a sudden, a hot topic about a cafe called “Silver Spoon” appears on the Web, and millions of people start looking up “silver spoon” on Google. Google will most likely decide that “query deserves freshness” and will serve users new pieces of content at the top of its search results.

9. Google Started Picking “the wrong” Canonical URL for Your Site

Sometimes, your www homepage may be ranking at position 3 on Google, while the non-www version of your homepage does not have enough link juice and may be ranking at spot 50 at most. If, because of poor canonicalization, Google decides to pick your non-www page to include into its search results, your site will end up at a substantially lower position.

The Way Out

The way out is to get your canonicalization right. Use internal linking, 301 redirects, canonical tags (not always justified) to explicitly point out your canonical URLs to Google, so that it makes no mistake.

So, these are the most widespread reasons for sudden rankings drops. Of course we could not cover all possible causes and situations – sometimes it’s several reasons combined. Besides, sometimes unexpected things happen, like Google ‘removing some 11 million co.cc domains from its index all on one day.

But, if you get armed with the advice provided in this post, it’ll take you far less time to figure out the reason for the sudden rankings drop, and you’ll be able to fix it much quicker.


Alesya is a blogger and a marketing manager at Link-Assistant.Com, a Europe-based SEO software provider and the maker of the celebrated SEO PowerSuite toolset. Link-Assistant.Com’s SEO tools have set industry’s benchmark for automated link building and Web promotion.

25 Responses to “Rankings Dropped? 9 Possible Reasons and 9 Ways Out – A SPN Exclusive Article

    avatar Derek Jones says:

    Excellent article. Not only have you provided the causes which may effect PageRank, but possible solutions too. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

    avatar Shirley Bass says:

    This is an excellent article and one that is appreciated. You explain it all — and give us the resources to fix the problem. Thanks ever so much!

    avatar Better Search Engine Rank says:

    I think the biggest thing people are having trouble with in regards to Panda is the ‘Quality’ issue… Who doesn’t think their site is the best? lol. :)

    I’m confident that the sites that suffered that shouldn’t have will be back soon – perhaps stronger than ever.

    That being said, Panda did indeed dump a huge load of garbage out of SERPs.

    Good description of the problems, good explanation of the cures. Thank you.

    Amazing. I think this is the most beautiful insight about the reasons causing rankings dropped. Thanks for it :D

    Alesya; this is an outstanding article that thousands of site owners and Professional Webmasters should read … thanks for posting that!

    avatar Steven says:

    These are some really useful tips.
    Always remember content is king and never steal people’s content. Build quality and relevant backlinks from time to time.

    Thanks for sharing the great article !!! Actually I was in search for the reasons for sudden drop in ranking of my website. You have provided all the possibilities and the solutions for the problems.

    avatar Alesya Krush says:

    Thanks, guys ;)
    @Ryan Eriksson
    We did a blog post on how to protect content from theft on our corporate blog not long ago. It’s pretty much a step-by-step guide to dealing with content thieves. In case you want to check it out, here is the link – http://www.link-assistant.com/blog/copy-cats-how-to-protect-your-content-from-theft/

    avatar aldz says:

    Thank you for these tips. We are going to use these.

    avatar SEO Bedford says:

    Interesting point on number 3, I’ve never considered the fact that scrappers could work against my website. Thanks for pointing that out.

    avatar Suzanne says:

    Lots of information that I probably could have thought of myself but I certainly needed the refresher. When rankings drop, it is easy to go into a panic. Thanks for putting my mind at ease!

    This just happened to me today and I’m clueless as to what’s causing it! I haven’t made any significant changes lately, other than claim my blog on Alexa yesterday. I’ve also been answering questions on Yahoo Answers with my link as the source. Not spamming off course, providing detailed useful information. Do you think any of these things would cause it?

    I read your article a second time so I could take in all the information. I agree with many of your views. I enjoyed this.

    What if somebody was so nice as to build links pretending he is you – thus making you appear as a spammer?

    avatar Catering supplies says:

    Very useful post which has helped me alot today, thank you for the pointers.

    avatar Jian says:

    I found your posts through google when I try to find a solution to fix the sudden alexa rank drop of m site from half million to 30 million! The only thing I could think of is to add alexa rank to my toolbar, but I thought that’s suppose to help with the ranking instead make it ranking worse! I still got no clue what happens. But thank you for your post abyway. It’s very informational.

    avatar marko says:

    Very nice post! Thank you very much for the great list. Thanks a lot, you helped me optimize my blog..

    its very graet post for me, thanks

    This just happened to me today and I’m clueless as to what’s causing it! I haven’t made any significant changes lately, other than claim my blog on Alexa yesterday. I’ve also been answering questions on Yahoo Answers with my link as the source. Not spamming off course, providing detailed useful information. Do you think any of these things would cause it?

    avatar Alesia Krush says:

    Hi Toko,

    Did you get any messages in Webmaster Tools? If the site was manually penalized, there should be a message there. Plus, you may be able to see samples of “bad” links if it was because of the links.

    Under the new Google Webmaster Guidelines, “Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature” could lead to a penalty. Yahoo Answers posts are technically NOT forum comments, but if you placed those links yourself, it could have been viewed as an attempt to manipulate the site’s rank. However, not knowing how many comments you’ve made, what the anchor texts you used, and what other backlinks you have, it’s barely possible to tell for sure.

    Regards,
    Alesia

    Very nice post! Thank you very much for the great list. Thanks a lot, you helped me optimize my blog..

    Good description of the problems, good explanation of the cures. Thank you.

    avatar sepatu murah says:

    thank you article is very nice

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