What Causes Google Rankings to Be Highly Volatile?


Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO expert Jenny Halasz. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post! 


Welcome to another edition of Ask an SEO! Today’s question comes from Dwight in Texas. He asks:

Why is it that we see lately our rank on Google for “auto shipping” go from 6 to unranked? Then, in a day or so it shows back up in or around the same rank. We have not done anything to the site that should cause this volatility. We have an SEO service working monthly on the site. Our SEO score is pretty good on RYTE and Moz. We have lost most of our SERP on the high volume keywords over the past 2 years. We can’t seem to recoup our rankings and what we have is highly volatile… Any ideas? Thanks!

Google has been highly volatile lately. There have been a series of updates that have left a lot of sites scrambling.

Depending on the industry, a few of the sites I monitor also saw volatility.

I’m not going to go into details on what we think was in the algorithms themselves (i.e., what types of sites were winners and losers) because others have already done a great job of that.

I’m also not an algo chaser, so I generally look at volatility as something that is temporary, and it usually is.

So while I can’t tell you details about your situation without looking at your data, I can tell you some things it could be.

5 Reasons for Ranking Fluctuations

Here are five primary considerations when you see your traffic or rankings fluctuate or take a dive.

1. Is the Volatility Real?

Eight times out of 10 that a client comes to me in a panic, the problem is with the data itself.

It could be that the tool they use to check rankings is having issues, or that the analytics code somehow got stripped off the pages.

While this may seems obvious, but similar to restarting your computer, check the most obvious things first.

2. What Changes Have Been Made?

If you’ve confirmed that the data is likely valid, the next step is to consider any changes that you have made recently.

  • Did you replatform your site or move to https?
  • Did your server have downtime, or were there other technical issues?
  • Have you added or deleted a lot of content recently?

3. Look at Your Links

Have you lost any big links recently?

Sometimes just the loss of a highly valuable link can send your rankings into a tailspin.

This happens a lot, as other companies change the way they do things too and might do something like move to https and forget to do the proper redirects.

4. What Has Your Agency Been Doing?

What has your agency been doing on your behalf?

Ask them for details.

  • Have they been posting a lot of guest posts or buying links on your behalf?
  • Have they done something else that is outside of Google’s guidelines?
  • Do you have any manual actions as a result? (Remember, no manual action doesn’t mean there isn’t an algorithmic one)

5. Have You Been Hacked?

It isn’t uncommon for me to find that a site has been compromised in some way when their rankings drop.

Hackers are slick and can create significant amounts of user-generated content (UGC) spam, insert links, slow down your site’s response time, or a myriad of other tricks – all of which can hurt you in Google results.

Is Your Site Still Relevant?

If you go through all of the issues above and still feel confident that none of them are to blame, then you may need to simply accept that your website is not as relevant or valuable as it once was.

Google’s algorithms are always designed to elevate the best of the best. That doesn’t always happen in practice, but it’s always the goal.

Therefore if you find your own site losing ground, you may need to rethink your strategy and consider that maybe there’s more you need to do to be considered the best.

Based on your original question, which indicated that you’ve been seeing a gradual but consistent decline, the problem most likely is a relevance issue.

Your strategy may be outdated or not keeping pace with the competition.

Hold your agency to task for this. They should be providing you with a detailed plan for how they’re going to turn this downward trend around.

If they aren’t, they may not be the right agency, or you may need to upgrade to a higher level of service with them.

Also, consider that it is not unusual at all for a consultant or other agency to audit a site and strategy even while they are with another agency.

A good audit by an outsider provides a new perspective and can be done in partnership with your agency in most cases.

(I plan to do another post on how to choose an auditor, because I think there’s a lot of “audits” out there that are not helpful.)

Have a question about SEO for Jenny? Fill out this form or use #AskAnSEO on social media.

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