How To Understand Sudden Drops In Rankings


It is almost inevitable for most businesses to see a drop in search rankings at some point, however most ranking drops are temporary and can be easily reversed. As Google continues to change its algorithms in a mission to provide search users with the most relevant content, it is timely to consider doing an SEO audit on your site and seeing where you rank versus your competitors. Here are some of the most common reasons for a drop in search rankings, and tips on how to fix these issues:

  1. Problems with your site status or indexing

If you’ve noticed a drop in search rankings your first port of call should be to make sure your site is still working technically. Try loading your site on a few different devices including desktop, mobile and tablet. If it loads correctly, nothing to worry about. If it returns error messages such as a 503 error or 404 error this indicates a significant problem with your site which you will need to fix as soon as possible.

Even if your site status is fine, it may be that you have an indexing issue instead. Log into Google Search Console and click Google Index > Index Status. This will tell you how many pages Google has indexed recently relative to in previous months and weeks.

  1. Bad inbound links

The second potential problem is bad inbound links. In the early days of SEO we were told that quantity of links was what was mattered. However as time has gone on and Google has got smarter this is no longer true. Nowadays it is all about the quality of the links you use, not the quantity.

There are many types of harmful inbound links including:

  • Links from link farms or link directories with no useful content
  • Links from sites with explicit or spam content
  • Irrelevant non-industry links (i.e. a pet food company linking to a manufacturer of stockings)
  • Broken links

If you have opted for any of these types of links in the past you will need to check your link profile using Google Search Console, hunt out the problem links and get them removed using Google’s Disavow Links Tool. This can be a tedious process, but it is necessary to avoid falling even further down the search engine results page.

  1. Time to update your keywords

How people are searching in Google is changing so a drop in rankings may mean that your keyword strategy is outdated. Whereas, up until recently, people searched phrases using one or two words e.g. “running shoes”, now people are moving towards longer more natural sounding phrases in searches to try to get more relevant results e.g. “where can I order running shoes online?”. To stay competitive it may mean that you need to optimise your content for long-tail keywords (complete sentences often based around a question) as well as short keywords.

  1. Bad hosting/slow load times

Google’s algorithms now penalise websites who deliver bad user experiences such as slow load times. Ideally your website and each internal page should load within 3 seconds or less. If your site is taking longer to load consider switching away from old technology such as flash which slows down your site, or switch to a higher quality hosting company who can guarantee quicker load times.

  1. Duplicate, plagiarised or low quality content

Search engines want to return the most useful, informative and relevant content first in the search results. This means that if your content is a duplicate of something found elsewhere (either on your site or another site) your website will be perceived as less relevant. Copyscape is a great tool you can use to check for duplicate or plagiarised content.

Often just as damaging as having plagiarised content, is having low quality content. You can easily detect if the quality of your content has dropped if you are getting less engagement from your audience, through likes, comments, and social shares. If this is the case, consider revisiting some of your most popular content to find clues as to what your audience is most interested in.

  1. Competitors

Finally, sometimes your rankings will drop through no fault of your own, but simply because your competitors have upped their game. If none of the other reasons above seem relevant to you then this may be the reason behind your sudden drop. In this case you may need to consult with an SEO professional to develop a longer-term plan for improving and regaining your higher search rankings.

Luke Chaffey is a Digital Marketing Specialist with KBB Digital. For advice on Digital Marketing, including SEO services and Digital Strategy, visit