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.


August 25, 2009





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.





Comments(26)

I'll be referring your article to some of my clients. It's really weird how much of a "black box" search engines are to my older clients. I usually just tell them that their rankings drop means that they've angered Google, and get them to give me a chicken or goat to give a blood sacrifice to the great god Google. (Google sure is a blood thirsty deity)

Thanks for the post, Stoney. To remain competitive today, we must stay visible. If a few tweaks every once in a while can make that happen, then they are essential to make. Most smaller sites don't realize the importance of uptime when it comes to rankings . . . I'm glad you put it out there.

Good info for sure. I get this questions a lot as well. When it comes to ranking data you should look for trends over time. How many terms were you ranking for 3 months ago vs. today? How many terms were you on page 1 for 3 months ago vs. today? How has your average rank changed over time? What about across relevant groups of keywords?

If you drop a bunch of positions or don't even show up in the top 100 one day it's not something to worry about because most likely you'll be ranking again the next day. If you disappear for two weeks, or drop significantly then there may be an issue.

Great post, it's definitely worth noting some of the points you made. I usually ignore minor changes on a day-to-day basis just 'cause of the above, sometimes uncontrollable causes. It's the long-term trends and amendments that are important.

One more point
Some time its changed when you do not update your content or website for a long time.

It is really frustrating for the website owner to find out that the ranking of their website is decreasing. Especially for me, as a promoter of my client's website (Beta 1,3D Glucan), it is really a challenge for me to get the highest rank as we can.

@ Dhiraj - I'll disagree with that. Not changing your site does not cause rankings. The rankings are caused by other factors changing such as other sites and the algorithm, which I'll address in subsequent posts.

Search engines give more value to those websites who update frequently or adds new information. A website which list more information frequent turns out to increase the ranking faster than other websites :-)

Another great article and some good points to note down. I agree with Edwin because search engines like websites that add new content regularly as it means that the sites are still going and will also help them rank higher but also keeping up to date with new SEO techniques helps to stay up in the top listings of Google.

I always tell my clients it's all about the trend. Search engine traffic will always change, and what you really need to look at is the long term trend.

Hey i'm just happy to go from a PR '0' to a '1' ......big accomplishment for a seo newbie like me:) I still think i need to add more content and more frequently like some of you guys suggest, thanks

I really agree the three above said points are really very important points that can have a drastic impact on anyone's site. The best way to prevent all these is to take the service of SEO masters so that you can help your site to flourish.

SEO masters not only can help you regarding attaining your Search Engine ranking but they can provide the best possible suggestions for keep sustain the ranking position in the search engines.

But there is one more thing that I would like to grab attention of all comment readers that -

SEARCH ENGINE RANKING IS NOT ENOUGH, to know why please visit -

http://www.bigblogacademy.com/blogging-tips/search-engine-ranking-is-not-enough-for-a-successful-blog.html

You can take help of your best SEO masters in this regard.

A good article with lots of food for thought. However, any idea when search engines will be able to evaluate the value of "content" on a site instead of the number of links to it? My site has gone down in rank because of link changes. Site content is good, Alexa rankings are good but Google seems to have a problem with it. Also, how much does a TLD other than a .com REALLY affect a website? http://www.leisurezone.es

Some very good points made here only you mention the three things that could happen and then miss out the main point about algorithm changes. How do you respond to that? Other than reading blogs and forums, do you have any other ideas?

I've seen rankings fluctuate between 2-3 positions very regularly but have little idea why this happens other than what I assume to be ongoing Google algo changes. How do you approach things other than keep on with the onsite and offsite things as mentioned? Interested to know...

Yeah it can be a problem trying to explain to clients why their site has dropped in the rankings or even worse why the SEO work you did for them didn't do as well as you and them expected. I always try and emphasis that there are no guarenttes (unlike the dodgy SEO companies) and we just do the best we can really.

SEO can be a pain, would be nice to know what we could do to guarentte good rankings.

Andy, I just posted part II (linked from this article now) that addresses algorithm changes.

Jill, Search engines have always looked at content. You just have to make sure your content properly uses the keywords. Problem is that anybody can write content they think is good and keyword rich. The engines then have to rely on what others think about that content, which is where links come in.

all TLDs are essentially equal (except maybe .gov and .edu), so I wouldn't worry about that much.

I'm finding that fresh content, added twice a week really helps me keep my rankings up. I have a writer that pumps out 2 new articles every week. I've been adding them to the site for over 6 months and now Google crawls my site every single day and keeps everything up to date.

Good content is the key, not only do you get natural linking from people who love your articles but it also raises trust in the eyes of search engines. And as for buying links well many people say "don't" but then go ahead and buy them themselves.

Is it just me or has everyone noticed that Bing's Algo seems to be changing faster than ever. My website is stable on Google Rankings but on Bing is started on the 3rd rank and then suddenly disappeared from the first 10 pages! It later reappeared at result 11 and then again disappeared, it came back on the 10th result few days later and now it seems to have disappeared again.

I liked the point that you brought up about - inaccessibility and the site going down repeatedly while the search engines attempt to spider pages - a reliable web host does become necessary.

Thanks for the post. Your ideas are very informative, and greatly offers useful suggestions in (how to) dealing with ranking changes in our websites. It is good to see the interplay among the possible reasons that affect my site's ranking. This being boiled down into three: (1) my site changes, (2) my competitors' site changes, and (3) search engine algorithm changes. This basic information will sure prove to be helpful to many. Keep up the good work :)

Some very good points made here only you mention the three things that could happen and then miss out the main point about algorithm changes. How do you respond to that? Other than reading blogs and forums, do you have any other ideas?

I've seen rankings fluctuate between 2-3 positions very regularly but have little idea why this happens other than what I assume to be ongoing Google algo changes. How do you approach things other than keep on with the onsite and offsite things as mentioned? Interested to know....

Clavier, part 2 of this article went into the algorithm change details: http://www.searchengineguide.com/stoney-degeyter/rankings-change-heres-how-to-deal-with-i-1.php

It's so easy to drop / rise a few spots with changes to content without really understanding why. If you have multiple websites with multiple changes or updates, keeping track of what has been changed can become increasingly difficult.

Many Thanks,
Darren.

I have also seen my site jump around within the first few spots..and I can't agree more it is hard to determine why this is so....especially when you have a lot of sites that you are making changes too, it's hard to keep track of it all

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