Search engine rankings are always in flux. In my last post I mentioned three things that can cause your search engine rankings to change. 1) Your site changes, 2) a competitor's site changes, or 3) a search engine algorithm changes. I addressed the third one here and then in the next installment I'll discuss the second.
(How to) Deal with Changes Made to The Search Algorithms
Search engines are constantly changing. These changes are mostly compromised of small, subtle shifts in how certain on and off page "signals" are interpreted and scored, or by the addition and/or removal of other ranking factors all together. In some instances more extreme algorithm or structural changes are made which can cause more than the usual upheaval of search results.
Changes in weighting and scoring
For the most part the normal everyday algorithm adjustments are not meant to "rock the boat." The search engines are simply fine-tuning certain areas in order to enhance and improve the search results. Most sites weather these changes easily enough, but some don't.
With every change made, each site in the search engine's index is subject to be scored according to the new algorithm in place. If there is something in your site's profile that runs afoul of the new algorithm then your site can get dropped due to the offending issue, whatever that may be. Or it may drop because it's no longer being weighted (considered as valuable for that given keyword search) the same, or another site is weighted as being more valuable.
(How to) Deal With It:
You first need to figure out what is causing the change. Did the search engines change their link scoring? Did they adjust how the view content in bold or italics? Does something new factor in that didn't before? This isn't always easy and is sometimes nearly impossible to know for sure.
The next best thing is to look for things about your site you can improve. You need to get rid of anything that might have fallen into questionable territory, fix issues that you've been putting off, or maybe improve your internal link structure. If your site has no issues then you might need to focus on obtaining more quality links, or producing more valuable content that attracts new visitors.
Every now and then we see search engine hiccups. These hiccups create an unexplained--or unexplainable--drop in rankings that seem to have come from nowhere and have no real purpose, but only for a short period of time. In some cases I've seen sites lose rankings for a few terms and in others they lost rankings for almost all previously ranked keywords.
I've seen sites lose all their rankings for as much as four weeks only to see them all come right back to their previous positions. No changes were made to the site to warrant the drop or return, and no major search engine updates were made. Why does this happen? Who knows. They are likely caused from any of the issues mentioned above, or perhaps a ghost from the historical profile making an appearance in the current algorithm.
(How to) Deal With It:
Whatever their cause, hiccups can be extremely frustrating. But ultimately they are nothing to fret too much about, you simply have to wait them out. The key is to know the difference between a hiccup and a genuine algorithm change. So do you research and make sure there is nothing questionable on your site that may have caused a trigger. If you're confident that you're in the clear, making no changes at all to your site is often the best course of action.
The key to dealing with algorithm changes is keeping up to date with what is going on in the search engine landscape. If you don't know what's happening then you can't know what to do. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to make changes to your site before fully understanding why you are making those changes.
If the ranking change is a hiccup any changes you make can prevent your site from coming back. If the ranking change is due to the algorithm, you may inadvertently change something that had nothing to do with the shift. This too can prevent your rankings from returning because instead of having one thing wrong, you now have two.
Ultimately, its never so cut and dried as all this sounds, which leads me back to what I said above, knowledge is key. Without that, you're really just lost in a sea of changes.
In Part III I'll discuss how to deal with changes made to competitor's sites.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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