Possible reasons why your website search ranking changes over time or even overnight.
Updated in 2017 – This post was originally posted in 2010 and has been revised / updated in 2017.
Search engine algorithm
Times change, people change and so does search engine algorithm. If algorithm sounds like a big word to you, as it does to me, then consider it as a giant set of complex [mathematic] formula that search engines like Google, Yahoo! or Bing develop to decide which websites are more relevant to what people search, thus will be displayed at the top, compared to all the sites indexed in their database.
If your website suddenly disappears from search results for certain keywords that it used to rank very well, chances are your site suffers from changes in search algorithm. According to a VP in charge of search quality at Google, there had been about 450 to 500 improvements or updates to the algorithm a year in the past years. The ultimate purpose is to improve the relevancy of search results. Thus, any of those 450-500 changes can easily change your website ranking.
Relevancy, relevancy and relevancy
I emphasize the term relevancy as it’s the core of how search engines work. Search engines will display websites that provide more relevant content based on the users’ search terms at the top of search results. This was true in the past and becomes even more true today. Now, relevancy is not limited to keyword/content relevancy; but it also encompasses the relevancy in terms of location, search habit, and device.
Localization, personalization and much more
To improve relevancy , search and search results have become more and more personalized and localized. You can run a few simple tests with Google to see this. For example, if you are in San Jose, California and search for “pizza san jose,” what you will likely see first is the information from Google Business Listing including a Google map with a list of pizza stores in or near San Jose, CA labelled A, B, C… in red. This is a clear example of localization; Google gives more priority to local listings – in this case pizza stores – compared to general listings. Or if you’re using your mobile device to search, Google will give more priorities to websites that are mobile-compliant.
How about personalization? Continue with the example about the search for pizza stores. If in the past, you’ve performed the same search and/or browsed www.abcpizza.com a few times using the same computer/network you’re using now, you’ll likely see www.abcpizza.com show up at the top of the search results. Your friend, who’s never visited www.abcpizza.com, on the other hand, may see a different set of search results on his computer. This is referred to as Google’s personalized search results, and things may get really complicated from here when you try to do search engine optimization for your website because the perception/definition of ranking or high ranking has been changed: high ranking when you do a search or when I do a search, and whether it’s possible to have high ranking when we both do the same search using different networks or in different locations. A couple of times I thought that visibleranking.com ranks really high for certain keywords; sadly enough :), as you may already know, it’s not the case; Google just displays my website at the top for me because I visit it regularly.
Google has been personalizing the search results based on your recent search engine queries; Yahoo! and Bing are believed to do the same thing, so what’s next?
How to get your site visible in search again
Admist all the changes in search algorithm, the items mentioned in my other post about Simple Ways to Increase Website Traffic & Search Ranking have stood the test of time, so check it out if you haven’t.
If your website just got vanished in search results, you may want to:
- Start using Google Webmaster Tool (Google Search Console) if you haven’t done so. If you’ve had everything properly set up, and your account has data, this tool should be the first place to use. In there you can find out whether your website has security problems (was hacked), and whether it has issues that can block search spiders. Websites that were hacked would see their search ranking and inbound traffic drop dramatically and immediately. Google Search Console will let you know about any potential or ongoing security problems. Through the tool, you can also know what keywords people used to find your site and so on. Very useful tool!
- Stop using any black-hat SEO techniques including keyword stuffing, page and link cloaking and any link exchange scheme. All of these tricks may work at some point, but it’s never a good practice to use.
- Re-evaluate the keywords you chose to optimized in the past. What people used to search in the past may no longer be used anymore
- Re-evaluate your geo target – whether or not your website should become less ambitious and target only certain geo-related keywords such as pizza store in San Jose instead of shooting long range for pizza store
- Review your website content to see if your selected keywords were properly used through the site from the title, to the heading and the rest of the text content
- Add more fresh content using targeted keywords on an ongoing basis. Content was king, still is and will still be king for a long time to come. Don’t just think content as articles; content can be articles, blog posts, case studies, product sheets, social media posts and videos.
- Review your overall coding to see if the title tags, heading tags and so on have been put to best use. This is just to make sure you have best practices of using these tags in place.
- Also, it’s always beneficial if you can keep yourself up-to-date with search engines/Google major algorithm changes. I understand this sounds a bit technical, especially for marketing folks; however, just once in a while try to make yourself aware of the big changes is enough. Here’s brief summary of recent Penguin updates.
If you want to solve the search ranking drop issue a bit more systematically, this related post may be helpful. Although it doesn’t show you how to tackle the problem directly, you can still use the technique and solve your own problem. Read more about What to Do When Your Website Traffic Dropped.
Again, hope this is useful!