Resolving Ranking Issues – 5 Things to Know
When organic rankings start to slip it’s easy to panic and take action as soon as possible, without identifying the cause. We recommend taking an extra few minutes out to look around analytics/search console and re-crawling your site with a tool such as Screaming Frog. Look at what’s changed recently and assess any unexpected impact it may have had.
I would also recommend, for your sanity, taking a longer view at rankings. There’s so much search personalisation these days that, combined with near daily algorithm tweaks, looking at the rankings of specific keywords every day is a sure route to madness. The best digital marketing tools will give you an idea of the average, of the trend of a keyword. That’s much more important as it gives you an idea of where it will usually be found and whether your work is having a positive, neutral or negative effect. I also believe that it attempts to temper the effects of search personalisation.
With that in mind here are five key areas to start with:
1. Manual & Algorithmic Penalties
The first thing to do is look at ‘Manual Actions’ in Search Console under ‘Search Traffic’. If you have a notification here it could actually be a good thing for you. Sounds crazy, but at least you have some specific instructions from Google on why you’re being punished.
It therefore follows that having ‘No manual webspam actions found’ isn’t necessarily good news. It just means that a Googler hasn’t sat down, looked at your site, looked at your backlinks and decided to whack you.
So the next thing to do is scour the SEO forums and blogs to see if there’s chatter of major algorithm updates/changes. I like to keep an eye on Search Engine Roundtable, owned by Barry Schwarz, though it’s worth noting that the forums that Barry monitors are pretty much always on high alert, so be a little wary.
If you feel your rankings have been under the weather for a while you can dig into analytics to see if you’ve taken a hit from an historical algorithm change.
The basic method is to set your date range around a known algorithm change. For example, you can compare the six weeks before the change with the six weeks that followed it. Go to Acquisition – All Traffic – Channels and select Organic Search. This may show you broadly if you were affected.
A more in-depth technique is from there to go back to Channels and set your primary dimension to ‘Source/Medium’ and go into ‘Google / organic’. Now we’re looking at just the changes in your Google organic traffic which, for most, will be your main source of organic traffic. Next set your secondary dimension to ‘Landing Page’. Now you can see if any particular pages, or sets of pages, have lost significant amounts of organic traffic from Google.
These could be the pages with dodgy links or thin/duplicated content that are causing you issues. Make improving these your top priority.
2. Link Reviews
You should know the importance of a good link review, but how long has it been since you’ve done one? Perhaps some well meaning person has found your site lately and linked to you because they like you. However, they’re not a digital marketer and they’ve given you a sitewide link that appears on thousands of pages. To make matters worse, their site isn’t really focussed on your niche.
This shows that you need to be reviewing links regularly. The steps that you take after a link based penalty – outreaching to request changes and disavowing those that you can’t get changed – should really be done now, before you get penalised.
Finally it’s wise to take multiple sources into account when reviewing the links you have. The main SEO tools have great indexes on the whole, and they’re getting better, but will vary from tool to tool. This means if you just use one you may be missing some of your dodgy links.
Don’t forget perhaps the most important (and free!) tool in this task – Search Console. Go into ‘Search Traffic’ and then ‘Links to Your Site’. These links are important because unlike the other tools these are the links we know Google knows about. It also shows you how many links and linked pages there are, this may help you quickly spot the sitewide problem we mentioned earlier.
3. Improper HTTPS implementation
When Google announced that https would be a ranking signal people rushed to get themselves set up with SSL. This unfortunately caused some spectacular fails when the implementations weren’t thought through fully and people were leaving parts of their site in http and parts in https, or worse, leaving two whole copies of the site live. Fortunately most will recover pretty quickly once the issue is fixed.
Bear in mind – https is a minor ranking signal. We still recommend doing it as it may become a stronger signal and is good for users, but clearly not at the risk of your organic rankings. Work it all out in advance, test it and triple check that users will be automatically redirected from the http version to https. Then you need to make new Search Console entries for your https version and set your preferred domain.
4. Relaunch/Domain Move
This is possibly the toughest issue to deal with because you’re only partially in control here. When you relaunch your site you need your SEO involved from the sitemap onwards. There needs to be a full audit of the new design and a full 301 redirect roadmap needs to be in place for any key urls that are changing.
Most sites that I’ve worked with will have a wobble rankings/traffic-wise the first few days after a relaunch. On occasion it can even be quite dramatic. You need to give Google time to crawl your new site, but you can help them out by doing ‘Fetch as Google’ in the Search Console – set this for the homepage and tell it to go to all linked pages.
It may not be palatable to some, but you could also temporarily increase your PPC budget in order to mitigate against a predicted shortfall in traffic. This should be temporary, but if it goes on past a week you need to re-audit your site from both a technical and content standpoint.
5. Spam Traffic
People argue back and forth about various different traffic & behaviour metrics, but whether they are direct or indirect factors you’ll want to address spam traffic if it’s anything other than low volume.
It may slow your site down for legitimate visitors or it may affect things like bounce rate negatively. You’ll need to work with your developers, your hosting company and sometimes even Google to resolve this.
I hope that’s given you a solid start on diagnosing issues and identifying some possible solutions.
But remember: Don’t Panic.