I’ve read lots of great articles on website ranking drops, few give you the real world steps at addressing real world problems. Here are the tools on how-to track those factors before it happens, and actionable steps on what to do when a website drops in ranking.
TL;DR 1. Monitor uptime, 2. Confirm drop in GA, 3. Look for GSC errors, 4. Track changes with Git, 5. Check for Google Algorithm updates, 6. Find Lost keywords in Ahrefs, 7. Track lost Backlinks
1. Website Uptime
Server Downtime is costly to your business, in revenue and search ranking. It is important that you check your website every minute to make sure your website is live + fast. You can’t be there every 60 seconds, so best to leave it up to one of these services (each service offers a free tier):
Pingdom is a great service that checks for uptime + performance. It also integrates easily with Klipfolio and has a great website speed testing tool that can identify resources that are slowing down load times.
Newrelic is another company that offers a great service, synthetics, which tracks uptime performance via pings and website rendering. I set the closest city to the server and select Newrelic to load a response validation. This is typically a bit of text that can only load after the PHP has rendered. Which is useful if your website crashes, but your server maintains connectivity.
If you are using WordPress, Jetpack offers free downtime monitoring tool, which continuously watches your site, and alerts you the moment that downtime is detected.
Important side note: any site that takes more than 2 seconds to load greatly affects your business sales and can affect your SEO ranking. So it is very important that you monitor page speed load times with one of these services listed above, and/or with Google Analytics – Site Speed: Page Timing.
2. Confirm the drop
In Google Analytics, you can check for this under Behavior >> Overview.
Services like Ahrefs or SEMrush can only guess what Google is thinking, so take it with a grain of salt. If you are above 1 million ranking, your score can fluctuate greatly. If Ahrefs drops, and stays down, it is a good precursor of what will most likely happen to your traffic in Google.
What to do if you find a significant traffic drop: Check the source of the drop, is it direct traffic, organic, referral? Identify exactly which pages have dropped. What could be causing it? Could it be a broken link, removed link, a sudden content change? Look to see what you can do to get it back to how it once was.
3. Check Google Search Console
Check for crawl errors and manual actions in GSC. Remember to have all sites tracked: https, http, & www; Google Search sees those as separate entities.
If you do encounter errors, perform the fixes outlined by Google.
4. Track Changes
This part is tricky. Trying to remember all the changes you or your team has done to a website in the past month is next to impossible, unless you make very few changes. That is why I rely on:
VerionPress tracks changes in your WP website (theme, plugins, content), FTP can track the last time a file was updated, and GitHub + GitKraken + WPpusher tracks development.
New plugins, pages, themes, or major URL restructuring (moving your website) can greatly affect your ranking.
If you did change something major and can’t go back, use Screaming Frog Log analyzer to find what the Bots have lost and are looking for. Hopefully from that you can fix those issues with 301 redirects in .htaccess.
5. Google Updates
Fixing your EAT score: Add credibility to your website with a kickass About & Contact Page (including a real address + phone number). Then link it Google My Business, Facebook, Twitter + LinkedIn… ask for reviews!
YMYL (Your Money, Your Life):
- Shopping or financial transaction pages: webpages that allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills, etc. online (such as online stores and online banking pages).
- Financial information pages: webpages that provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, paying for college, buying insurance, etc.
- Medical information pages: webpages that provide advice or information about health, drugs, specific diseases or conditions, mental health, nutrition, etc.
- Legal information pages: webpages that provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
- News articles or public/official information pages important for having an informed citizenry: webpages that include information about local/state/national government processes, policies, people, and laws; disaster response services; government programs and social services; news about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, and technology; etc. Please use your judgment and knowledge of your locale. Keep in mind that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL.
- Other: there are many other topics that you may consider YMYL, such as child adoption, car safety information, etc. Please use your judgment.
6. Lost Keywords
Did you lose a high volume, high KD keyword? (KD = Keyword Difficulty estimates how hard it will be to rank in the top 10 organic Google search results for a given keyword in a given country. It’s calculated by taking a weighted average of the number of linking domains to the current top-ranking pages. The result is then plotted on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 (low difficulty to high).
I recently lost a high traffic KD-70 keyword on this blog and it sent my Ahrefs score spiralling down!
You can check your score by going to:
Ahrefs >> Organic Search >> Organic Keywords >> Movement >> Lost >> Volume + KD
If you did lose an important keyword, see what you can do to fix those pages. Refresh the content and share it across social platforms, see how you can increase backlinks.
Look to see how your competition is ranking, maybe you haven’t lost traction, but a competitor has gained it. You can find your competitors with Alexa: https://www.alexa.com/find-similar-sites and/or Google’s related search tool trick: “related:example.com”
7. Check Backlinks
Did you just lose a high ranking backlink?
Dropped backlinks are links from pages that were removed from Ahrefs index due to various reasons.
To find your lost links, go to:
Ahrefs >> Backlink Profile >> Backlinks >> Lost
Lost backlinks are normally due to a change you have made with the website, or a change to the back-linking website. If it’s the latter, see if you can have that link added back to the website.
For this tutorial, I’m using Ahrefs, you can also use Moz, Majestic, or SEOpanel (free).