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.
“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).