It’s a question we all have dealt with at least once or twice, and one that rarely has a satisfying answer: “Why did my Google rankings suddenly drop?”

Sometimes, a simple audit will reveal a technical hiccup or issue that is downgrading your rankings. Just as often, though, it appears everything is working as it should but you are suddenly further down the page or not even on the first page anymore. 

In this situation, Google’s John Mueller says there are four major reasons for sites to lose rankings. 

John Mueller Explains Why Sites Lose Rankings

In a recent Google Webmaster Central chat, Mueller was asked why a publisher who had ranked well for “seven or eight years” had suddenly lost rankings for three different sites. Notably, the person asking the question couldn’t find any signs of problems in their inbound or outbound links, and all the sites used the same keywords (they sell similar products by different brands). 

Of course, Mueller couldn’t get too specific with his answer because he didn’t have actual data or analytics on the sites. Still, he did his best to address four general reasons sites may suddenly rank worse.

1) Rankings Are Temporary

Once a site is ranking at the top for its ideal keywords, many site owners feel like they have accomplished their mission and will continue to rank there. Unfortunately, John Mueller says that rankings are malleable and change constantly.

Mueller explained:

“In general, just because the site was appearing well in search results for a number of years does not mean that it will continue to appear well in search results in the future.

These kinds of changes are essentially to be expected on the web, it’s a very common dynamic environment”

2) The Internet Is Always Changing

The reason why rankings are so prone to fluctuations is that the internet itself is always changing. New sites are being created every day, links might die, competitors might improve their own SEO, and people’s interests change.

Each and every one of these can have a big impact on the search results people see at any given time. 

As Mueller put it:

“On the one hand, things on the web change with your competitors, with other sites…”

3) Google Changes Its Algorithms

To keep up with the constantly changing internet, Google itself has to regularly overhaul how its search engine interprets and ranks websites. 

To give you one idea how this plays out, a few years ago search results were absolutely dominated by “listicles” (short top 5 or top 10 lists). Over time, people got tired of the shallow information these types of lists provided and how easily they could be abused as clickbait. Google recognized this and tweaked its algorithm to better prioritize in-depth information hyper-focusing on a single topic or issue. Now, though a listicle can still rank on Google, it is considerably harder than it used to be.

As Mueller simply explained:

“On the other hand, things on our side change with our algorithms in search.”

4) People Change

This is one that has been touched upon throughout the list Mueller gave, but it really gets to the heart of what Google does. What people expect out of the internet is constantly changing, and it is Google’s job to keep up with these shifts. 

In some cases, this can mean that people outright change how they search. For example, simple keywords like “restaurants near me” or “fix Samsung TV” were the main tool people used to find information for years and years. As voice search has become widespread and people have gotten more accustomed to using search engines all the time, queries have expanded to frequently include full sentences or phrases like “What is the best Chinese restaurant in midtown?”

At the same time, what people expect out of the same queries is also shifting with technological innovation and content trends. 

Mueller describes the situation by saying:

“And finally on the user side as well, the expectations change over time. So, just because something performed well in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to perform well in search in the future.”

Always Be Monitoring and Improving

The big theme behind all of these reasons sites lose rankings is that they are standing still while the world moves past them. To maintain your high rankings, your site has to be constantly in motion – moving with the trends and providing the content users want and expect from sites at any given time. 

This is why successful sites are also constantly monitoring their analytics to identify upcoming shifts and respond to any drops in rankings as soon as they happen.

If you want to see the full response, watch the video below (it starts with Mueller’s response but you can choose to watch the entire Webmaster Central office-hours discussion if you wish).

Bing has officially completed the launch of its new Bing Webmaster Tools, which streamlines the old tool suite while offering a number of new features. 

According to the announcement, the process managed to condense the old version’s 47 unique links to just 17 different links without losing any of the functionality previously available. This was done by bundling redundant or related functions into more powerful tools.

At the same time, Bing announced it had introduced a new URL inspection tool, a Robots.txt testing feature, a site scan tool, and revamped webmaster guidelines. 

Choose Your Bing Webmaster Tools

For now, webmasters can choose to use the new or old version of Bing Webmaster Tools. The old suite is available at https://www.bing.com/webmaster/. The new version can be found at https://www.bing.com/webmasters/

However, the old version won’t be sticking around for too long. The announcement says it will be disabled sometime next month. 

Enhanced Tools

While streamlining the platform, Bing expanded the functionality of several tools. These updates include:

  • Backlinks lists backlinks for any site, including similar websites.
  • Keyword Research lets you filter data by countries, languages, and devices. 
  • URL Submission is better streamlined for easier navigation. This includes simplifying URL submission via the Bing WordPress plugin for faster indexing. 
  • SEO Reports provides improved classification of errors or issues. 

New Tools

Along with the consolidated and enhanced tools from the old version of Bing Webmaster Tools, the company revealed several new tools. These include:

  • URL Inspection: A beta feature that allows Bing to inspect crawled versions of your site for potential indexing issues.
  • Site Scan: A site audit tool that crawls and checks your site for common SEO issues which may affect your search ranking. 
  • Robots.txt Tester: Check your robots.txt file using the same inspection tools Bing uses to verify your URLs.

Google appears to be testing the idea of “upgrading” Google My Business profiles with a special “Google Guaranteed” badge for a $50 monthly fee.

Twitter user Tom Waddington shared a screenshot for a promotional page within the GMB dashboard offering the profile upgrade.

What Is Google Guaranteed?

The search engine has been playing with the “Google Guaranteed” badge since last year, though it has typically been used in Local Service Ads for home services businesses. 

To be eligible for the badge, businesses must meet a number of criteria including certification, licensing, and background checks. 

The idea appears to be to inspire more confidence in brands listed in Google’s local results by highlighting those who have been vetted. 

Why Would Anyone Pay For This?

On its face, the idea of paying $50 a month for what amounts to a stamp of approval sounds a little silly. However, the badge comes with some backing which may help customers feel more at ease.

Along with the Google Guarantee badge, businesses which pass the screening process are also backed with a customer satisfaction guarantee. If a customer finds your business through the search engine and is not satisfied with the results, Google will refund the amount paid up to $2,000.

Along with this aspect, there is always the issue of getting ahead of your competition. Any little advantage can be the key to standing apart from your competitors.

Just an “Experiment” … For Now

When asked about the program via email, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Journal:

“We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers, merchants, and users. This experiment will show the Google Guaranteed badge on the business profile. We don’t have anything additional to announce right now.”

A lot has changed at Google over the past few years, but one thing remains the same – the majority of people will click the top link on any search result page. 

A new study of over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that an average of 28.5% of users will click the top organic result for a given search. 

From there, the average CTR for results sharply declines. Listings in the second place receive an average of 15% of clicks, while third place falls to 11%. 

By the time you get to the last listing of a results page, links receive only a 2.5% click-through rate. 

You can imagine what the CTRs for anything after the first page would be like. 

Other Factors Influencing Search CTRs

Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of variance in the actual click-through rates for some results pages. In the study, Sistrix found click-through rates for listings in the first position swung from 13.7% to almost 50%. 

While the relevance of the top listing has some effect on its CTR, the study suggests another major factor is the SERP layout. 

For example, search results including sitelinks extensions significantly outperformed those without. 

On the other hand, the study found that search results including featured snippets had a significant negative impact, dropping click-through rates by at least 5% on average. 

Similarly knowledge panels reduced the average CTR from 28% to 16%.

In these situations, the researchers believe users don’t feel the need to investigate further when provided with quick answers directly within the search results pages:

“The CTR in the first two organic positions drops significantly compared to the average. Many users appear to find the information they are looking for in the Knowledge Panel – especially on their smartphones, where each time a page is loaded it takes a lot of time.“

For more information, you can explore the full study report here.

Google is making a change to how featured some featured snippets function by taking users directly to the associated text when clicked. 

Featured snippets are the highlighted search results that appear at the top of some results pages, showing a specifically relevant bit of text.

The company announced the update through its Google SearchLiason Twitter account, which posted:

“As we have done with AMP pages since December 2018, clicking on a featured snippet now takes users to the exact text highlighted for HTML pages, when we can confidently determine where the text is.”

While it is a relatively small change, it makes featured snippets even more useful to searchers (and thus, more essential for businesses to put in place). 

Surprisingly, the company says there is no additional code or special markup needed to prepare your featured snippets for this change. 

Instead, the search engine is essentially using a trick that highlights specific text by tweaking the URL for each snippet.

As Roger Montti explained over at Search Engine Journal, this is a feature previously used for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which has the dual benefits of being easy to implement and trackable.

Google appears to be testing the idea of integrating its normal web search into search results on YouTube. 

Reddit users have been reporting seeing results and links to traditional web pages when doing searches on the video platform, as you can see in the screenshot below:

YouTube Showing Google Search Result

As you can see, Google places a single web page result among the video results, with an option to click the link or jump to a search directly on Google. 

The test appears to be limited, with many (including myself) being unable to replicate it. However, there are enough reports to conclude this is a legitimate test and not a glitch or hoax. 

So far, reaction to the move has been mixed. Many have decried the potential new feature as “annoying” and said they would “ryin the YouTube experience.”

However, there have also been those who see potential in the concept, saying it could make it easier to leap to Google when YouTube doesn’t provide the results someone is hoping for.

As one user described:

“Sometimes I’m looking for a tutorial but I want a video explaining it, and if it doesn’t exist now I have the option to do a quick Google search in the app.”

Personally I see some utility in integrating a single, non-obtrusive link within video search results. Obviously, those searching on YouTube are primarily looking for exclusively video content, but there are certainly scenarios where users are moving back and forth between YouTube and Google. This would be a convenient option for those situations.

Google will soon be updating their search ranking algorithm with a new ranking signal. This new signal will combine a number of existing signals with a recently introduced metric known as Core Web Vitals. 

The search engine says the goal of the new update is to better rank pages based on the quality of users’ experiences with the site. 

In addition to the new ranking signal, the company announced a few other changes it will be making to its systems in the coming future:

  • Incorporating page experience metrics into rankings for Top Stories in Search on mobile
  • Removing the AMP requirement for content to be shown in Top Stories

The “New” Ranking Signal

While the new signal is being called the Page Experience Signal, it actually combines a few existing search ranking signals with the recently introduced Core Web Vitals details. The metrics being brought under the umbrella of Core Web Vitals include:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPS-security certification
  • Following intrusive interstitial guidelines

As the company said in its announcement

“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.”

How To Monitor Your Core Web Vitals

To help prepare webmasters for the coming update, Google has also created a new report section within Search Console. The goal is for the new report to replace the need for a suite of tools aimed at specific issues such as page speed and mobile-friendliness.

The tool can also filter data based on those which are “Poor,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Good.”

When Will The Update Happen

While the update doesn’t really change all that much regarding how webmasters and SEO specialists should approach managing sites, the company sees it as important enough to give a significant notice ahead of the release. 

In fact, Google says these changes to the algorithm will not be happening before 2021. Additionally, the search engine will provide another notice 6 months before it is rolled out.

In recent weeks, LinkedIn has been updating its algorithm it uses to rank content with new signals like “dwell time” or how long users spend with each piece of content. 

Even more, the company has also revealed its secret ranking recipe by using a blog post to dig deep into exactly how it ranks content. 

How LinkedIn Ranks Content

Similar to other major algorithms like those used by Facebook, YouTube, and Google, LinkedIn tries to tailor users’ feeds to their specific interests and niches. To do this, LinkedIn follows a specific process.

When a user logs on, there tend to be tens of thousands of potential posts the social network could choose to show you. To filter these down, the algorithm first applies a lightweight ranking algorithm referred to as a “first-pass candidate generation layer”. This helps choose specifically which posts you might see based on a number of factors including connections and keywords. 

From here, the algorithm now has to determine what order these posts will be shown in. 

As the company describes, “If Alice’s connection Bob recently shared an interesting article, what determines where Bob’s post will appear in Alice’s feed?”

For this, LinkedIn looks at what it calls “viral actions” which include:

  • Reacts
  • Shares
  • Comments

Based on individual users’ actions, the algorithm weighs these interactions with content to determine which content is most likely to create user engagement.

How Dwell Time Fits Into This

While LinkedIn’s algorithm has largely been successful at curating a feed with content most likely to generate user actions, the company says it has noticed some downsides to this approach. 

Specifically, actions like clicks and shares are relatively rare when compared to the total number of people seeing each piece of content. In the grand scheme, focusing on some binary metrics like clicks may miss out on other more passive forms of engagement which may reflect quality content. 

In other words, LinkedIn’s old system could see simple measures like whether someone clicked a post, but it wasn’t factoring in more complex metrics like how long a person was spending with a piece of content after taking action. 

This creates problems when content simply doesn’t live up to its promise or users could potentially share misleading posts to drive clicks.

When this happens, people might click on a post and almost immediately return to their feed.

With the old system, these posts would get rewarded for the number of clicks made, despite the content being unsatisfying. 

Because of these issues, LinkedIn says accounting for dwell time provides numerous advantages for its algorithm:

LinkedIn Dwell Time Benefits

How This Affects You

Overall, this update should have very little negative impact on those already creating informative and engaging content on the professional social network. If anything, you may benefit as the new algorithm punishes those sharing clickbait.

However, it is unclear if LinkedIn’s latest system also accounts for the overall length of content. This could potentially create issues where shorter updates might be downplayed over more in-depth content simply because people spend less time with each individual post. This may be something to keep in mind as the impact of this update takes effect.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted or changed almost every part of our daily lives in some way, and that holds very true when it comes to online search. 

Google has been tracking these shifts from the initial outbreak to our current time where over 4 billion people are staying home around the world and many in America are returning to work. 

In particular, Google says it has seen five key trends reflecting how online search behavior, consumers’ interests, and purchasing behavior have shifted over the past few months.

The five key trends in online search after COVID-19 include:

  1. More consumers are relying on multiple devices
  2. Increased reliance on Google search
  3. People are using online tools to create and develop virtual relationships
  4. Routines are adjusting to reflect being at home
  5. People are increasingly practicing self-care

Let’s dig into what these trends really mean and reflect:

Multiple Devices

With the huge jump in people working from home or spending extra time relaxing inside, Google has seen a similar increase in the amount of content consumption. Specifically, the company says staying home has led to at least a 60% increase in the amount of digital content watched in the US.

This means many consumers are relying on one device to indulge in their favorite content online while using another device to browse products, look up information, and connect with friends. 

Increased Reliance On Google

The search engine has seen a massive increase in searches for critical information and a wave of content designed to inform the public about safety, updated business practices, and other essential needs.

For example, Google has seen that online search interest for terms like “online grocery shopping” and “grocery delivery” grew 23% year over year in the US. 

Online medical needs have also skyrocketed, with online search interest in telemedicine climbing by 150% week-over-week. 

Building Virtual Relationships

Businesses may be opening, but many are still practicing social distancing which keeps them away from friends and family. In lieu of being able to spend time with loved ones, people are finding new ways to build relationships online:

As of April, Google Meet has hosted at least 3 billion minutes of video meetings, with nearly 3 million new users joining every day. 

Online search shows increased interest in digital recreations of normal social events, such as a rise in search interest for “virtual happy hour” or “with me” content which shows people doing ordinary tasks like cleaning, studying, or cooking. 

Changing Routines

As social distancing and quarantine continues for many, online search interest has shown that many are adapting their typical routines to be internet-first.

For example, search interest for “stationary bicycles” and “dumbbell set” has continued to rise while many try to stay healthy from home. 

Google also reports that search interest for “telecommuting” in the US has continued to grow since it reached an all-time high on Google and YouTube in March.

Practicing Self-Care

To help cope with the mental and physical toll of the COVID-19 epidemic, many are turning to online search to assist in practicing self-care from home. 

Some examples of this from Google’s report include:

  • Views of mediation-related videos are 51% higher in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Searches for “bored” spiked significantly and have remained heightened since March. 
  • Searches for at-home activities such as “games,” “puzzles,” and “coloring books” have remained increased since March. 

Read the Full Report

The full report includes additional data as well as recommendations for responding to these changes to online search over the past few months. You can read the entire 39-page document here (PDF).

Google has released a detailed document they are calling the COVID-19 Marketing Playbook to help you create a strategy for marketing your brand during and after the ongoing pandemic. 

The recommendations included are based on Google’s own observations of how businesses are responding to the quickly changing situation and the company’s internal data.

The Three Stages of COVID-19 Marketing

According to Google’s guide, there are three stages of marketing as the situation has unfolded:

  1. Respond
  2. Rebuild
  3. Recover/Re-frame

Here is what each of those stages mean and how you can do to help your business during each step:

Respond

What’s Happening?

Businesses are responding and adapting to fast-changing consumer behavior and fluctuations in demand.

What Can You Do?

Solve what matters today to get your business ready to rebuild.

Rebuild

What’s Happening?

Businesses are planning for the recovery and rebuilding their marketing fundamentals, with deeper insights, tools, and measurement.

What Can You Do?

Prepare to capture dynamic demand and position yourself well for the recovery.

Recover/Reframe

What’s Happening?

Businesses are reframing their business models and digital marketing practices to restart or maintain growth.

What Can You Do?

Implement marketing learnings from the crisis into your long term business strategy to drive sustained growth.

The Three Stages of COVID-19 Marketing Strategy

Similarly, Google says there are three steps to marketing your business during the pandemic:

  1. Use consumer insights to drive your approach
  2. Assess the impact on your business
  3. Take action now

How COVID-19 Has Affected Search

Google has identified three specific ways the ongoing COVID-19 situation has affected search patterns so far:

Shock

Sudden change in behavior, unlikely to be sustained

Example: Quick rise and fall in school-related searches as shelter-in-place orders were implemented.

Step-change

Sudden change in behavior that may sustain

Example: Quick increases in exercise-related searches have stabilized at heightened levels during this time.

Speed up

An acceleration of existing behavior that may sustain

Example: Google has seen an acceleration in the growth rate of delivery-related searches that appear to be maintaining for now.

How Google Has Responded To COVID-19

To illustrate how to put these concepts into practice, Google points to its own response to the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights five principles to ensure your strategy remains effective and relevant:

  • Context – Related to localization
  • Constantly Reassess – Being flexible and responding to changing trends
  • Creative Considerations – Evaluate if artwork, tone, words, and other create aspects are appropriate
  • Changing priorities to navigate uncertainty – Being helpful in a way that fits the current reality
  • Contribution at every opportunity – Identifying ways your brand can help that are specific to the pandemic

 

Download Google’s COVID-19 Marketing Strategy Playbook here (PDF) or read the full announcement about the playbook here.