Many small businesses owners keep a more watchful eye on their search engine rankings than a Trekker keeping up with the timeline changes in the Star Trek universe. Search engine rankings can change for one out of several hundred reasons. Your site may gain or lose rankings on a daily bases due to algorithm changes, a dropped or added link, or a site is added or removed from the search engine's index. Some ranking changes can be traced to a particular event while others occur for what seems like no particular reason. In essence, rankings change because change happens.
But understanding what causes typical loss of rankings can give us a better insight into sea of search engine ranking fluctuations. This insight can help you prevent serious long-term effects caused by a sudden drop in search engine rankings. While we can never prevent all losses of search engine rankings, understanding the reasons why changes occur can, at least, help you make your presence in search results more stable.
Reasons for ranking changes can be boiled down to three basic events: 1) Your site changes, 2) a competitor's site changes, or 3) a search engine algorithm changes. Or it could be any combination of the three. Let's look at each individually.
(How to) Deal With Changes Made to Your Website
On site changes
To keep current most businesses must make frequent changes to their websites. This could be a matter of adding new products, removing old products, changing pricing, publishing a blog post, removing out-dated information, adding current information or even something as significant as a total site re-design.
While minor maintenance edits are necessary to make your site better for your visitors, if improperly executed they can have a severely negative effect on your rankings. In most cases small, routine changes will have a minimal effect whatsoever. You'll likely see minor fluctuations in your search engine rankings depending on what was changed and on which page.
But in some cases, even small changes can have a profound impact. When it comes to keyword, or other more significant site changes, you need to proceed carefully and consider the impact any of your planned changes may have. Things such as changing title tags, re-writing content, moving or deleting pages, full site re-designs, or site architecture changes can really screw with your rankings if care is not taken.
(How to) Deal With It:
Don't make drastic site changes unless its absolutely warranted. And if you do, be sure to consult with an SEO. Big site changes don't have to hurt as bad as they often do. Your SEO can help you ensure the process is as easy on your rankings as possible. When making smaller changes, be sure your changes carefully consider your rankings and optimization efforts already in place. Don't make changes you are unsure about how it will affect the engines without consulting someone who knows.
Incoming link changes
Technically, inbound link changes are changes made to other people's website, but it directly changes your site's profile so I'll include it here. Unfortunately, unlike changes made to your website, you don't have direct control over your incoming backlink structure, but that's not to say that you can't have some indirect control over them.
If you've done a good job earning natural links then drastic changes in your backlink profile are rare. More typically, however, your backlink profiles can change significantly when large numbers of paid or bartered links suddenly appear or disappear.
A sudden influx of new links can help out your rankings tremendously. However if those links are determined by the engines to be "paid," or if you lose those links because you do stop paying for them, then this can lead to significant ranking drops. Even worse such a sudden change in your link profile may flag your site for further examination and/or filtering in the search results.
(How to) Deal With It:
Don't buy links unless you're absolutely sure they are undetectable. And if you do, make sure that they will be in place for an indefinite period of time, not set to "expire." Work on building your content to provide information others want to link to naturally, and share that content in your social media circles (without being a spammer.)
Server down time
In some cases ranking drops may be due to nothing more than your website being inaccessible when the search engines try to spider your content. Generally a few single instances of inaccessibility won't have any long-term effect your rankings. However if your site goes down repeatedly while the search engines attempt to spider your pages, your rankings will undoubtedly be harmed.
A good web host provider is essential to prevent this happening. While all web servers have occasional down time, if it happens too frequently you are increasing the odds of it happening at the same time a search engine is trying to crawl your site. Some web servers are slow, this not only reduces visitor performance but also can encourage the search engines to "move on" sooner than they otherwise would.
(How to) Deal With It:
Make sure you find a reliable web host for your site. Ensure that the bandwidth and speed they provide is acceptable and that they not only guarantee up-time, but they back that with proof, not just refunds.
Only you have control of your website. You can oversee all changes being either informed or uninformed over what the affects of those changes will be. Being informed can help you make better decisions in what changes to make, how to get more links or where to host your site. No one else can make these decisions, but once made the overall effect is out of your hands. But thankfully, you can always go back and change things if you don't like the result. That's something you can't do when a competitor's site changes, which I'll discuss in part II.
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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