SEO Rankings - What to expect
This guide on what to expect with SEO rankings has been written to set expectations correctly and hopefully to reduce a little stress that Google and friends like to throw at us sometimes. We want to explain the different routes a keyword can take to get to the top, because it's rarely a straight climb to the top Ė in fact itís more of a ďbounceĒ to the top with many factors attributing to this.
When your keyword ranking gets higher it's a great feeling, we feel it just like you with our own DesignWeb rankings, but when there's a drop, big or small, it can add be anything but a great feeling.
We prepared this short guide to hopefully put those drops into context. Of course sometimes a drop is something to be concerned about and needs further attention but please remember that we are watching and reviewing your keywords regularly so if you've not been contacted its not because of a major issue; itís likely the drop will be due to the following factors.
- Natural bounce
- The Google Slap
- On-page changes
- Competition changes
- Things are getting stale
- Heading into tougher battles
- Tech issues
- Slow move to your dropped position
- Foul play
- It's all in the timing
1. Natural bounce
This is the most common cause of a drop. If your site starts to receive increased backlink attention, or has any change to the site code that will increase the rankings the keyword will often bounce. By bounce we mean move up the rankings in a bouncy way, ie,
position: 20, 18, 15, 17, 29, 11, 6, 11, 3, 4, 4, 2, 5, 2, 2, 4, 1, 1, 2, 1, 5, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1
This bounce to the top is pretty common. Taking the above example, a client would be very happy until the 15-17-29 situation, at this point they may start to worry. The time scales in between these movements can also vary from days, to many weeks. We see many variations on this bouncy route to the top so such drops donít concern us, however we do realise that if you havenít experienced this 1,000s of times then it can cause stress.
However the good news is, the older the site, the longer backlinks have been consistently generated and the more high ranking keywords a site achieves the shorter the bounce and shorter the frequency of the bounces.
2. The Google slap
Sometimes the drop will be dramatic,
dropping anything from a few pages to many pages. If the keyword and
page are still ranking, albeit much lower, then itís not a Google
penalty but a Google "slap".
A Google penalty is a very bad thing, but a slap is for one of two reasons...
- Google saw something that either devalued your position or something they didnít like but not enough for a full penalty, or
- Youíve moved up faster than the average speed on this keyword and Google wants to take a closer look at you.
With our strategies for clients, the slap has always been because of reason 2, ie youíve moved up a little faster than the norm and Google want to see if we're legit.
3. On the page changes
If you make any medium to large html changes and/or page structure changes this can cause a drop whilst Google evaluates the changes and then any positive / negative from this action taken into account. Any such changes should always be planned in advance with SEO in mind to reduce any potential drops. If you ever plan to do such activities please contact us in advance so we may be able to assist.
4. Competition changes
Please remember that we're not trying to beat Google, but weíre trying to beat your competitors ie all those above your current page ranking. Sometimes a drop can be due to the fact that Google has updated one or some of the competitors for your keyword and they have become more "powerful" than you at this present time.
Although Google likes to claim that its results are very up to date, and they have increased the speed of their updates vastly, medium to big changes / updates donít happen as fast as you would think.
There are 3 types of updates of the search results which are...
a) Daily / hourly Ė these are small updates that happen, where Google is looking at low level SEO data
b) Medium updates Ė these are where Google takes more data they have found about you and your competitors and does more dramatic reshuffling
c) Big updates Ė these are typically an algorithm change such as the Feb 2011 Farmer / Panda algorithm change Google did. Sometimes these updates change the rules and the game has new and / or edited strategies. Of course, such updates also apply to your competitors as well.
Itís the medium updates where you tend to find the decent jumps up (or down).
5. Things are getting stale
A big factor for Google these days is how active / fresh is your site. If Google sees you are adding good quality, unique content regularly you will be awarded more trust and more trust means better SEO results. The other extreme is that you never edit or update your website, then, over time Google sees that your content is stale and probably out of date and will prefer to award higher rankings to your competitors that are adding fresh content to their site.
6. Heading into tougher battles
As you can imagine, the strength of your competition on page 10 on Google will be less than that on page 1. For example, as your keywords battle out those competitors on page 10 and win, they may now find themselves in a battle on page 3, where their opponents are tougher and thus require more of a "fight" (ie more backlinks, time for them to be found and the power awarded to them by Google, tighter "on the page" tactics etc) to win and move onto the next, harder battle.
Once on page 1, the battle can be on a per competitor level, for example, the power of the site at position 3 on page 1 could be 10 times more powerful than the site at position 4. Because of this, as the keywords more closer and closer to the top, finding themselves in tougher and tougher battles, it can look as those results are slowing down but in reality they arenít, they are just involved in battles that will take more power and time to win.
7. Tech issues.
There are two potential tech issues that can have a negative impact on your SEO rankings...
a) Server issues
If your server is slow this can have a very negative impact on SEO rankings. Google wants to server its users with fast loading pages so you need to ensure your site loads fast but also monitor it for slowness as well as downtime. There are many monitoring services available and we personally recommend www.alertra.com monitoring.
If your server is down when Google crawls your website this can also have a negative impact. Google will revisit and see your site when itís back up, but depending on how long it has been down could cause a drop in rankings for a short to medium amount of time.
b) Site issues
If Google finds broken links, 404 errors, bad 301/302 redirects, duplicate content, keyword stuffed pages, odd errors from a CMS system having issues etc, then this can also cause a drop in rankings.
8. Slow move to your dropped position
Some times when Google drops your ranking (for any of the reasons in this guide) it will not instantly drop it to the level it will go. For example, if you are position 11 and because of reason X Google wants to put you at position 31, sometimes it will move you down slowly ie 11,18,21,26,28,31. This consistent steady drop looks horrific to the business owner, where as straight drop to 31 would be far less stressful but who are we to argue with Google. Such drops are not overly common but do happen. In such situations we always review the entire strategy, actions etc just to be sure itís a slow
drop that will bounce back, and nothing more serious that needs urgent attention.
9. Foul play
Weíve left this to last as itís very rare but a drop could be due to foul play by your competitors. For obvious ethical reasons we're not going to go into detail on what can be done, because the truth of the matter is that most experienced SEO folk are not aware of the handful of tactics that can be deployed. Please donít have sleepless nights over this though, if in the unlikely event this were to happen to you, we have some strategies that over time will solve any such issues.
10. Itís all in the timing
In addition to what can cause a ranking drop, we thought to mention about timing. Our ranking systems take snapshots of the keywords performance every week, however a week in SEO terms is a very short amount of time. For example, lets say we built 100 backlinks for your site today, Google would first need to find them (naturally without much help), then visit the pages that contain the backlinks, then put the data into their data centres, then update this data, then apply it on a medium update.
So whilst some of the links could be found within hours, 95%* of the links will take 1-2 months to be found so hopefully this shows why taking a weekly drop, or gain, isnít the best way to look at the ranking performance. Itís much better to look at a keyword over the last 1-2 months rather than the weekly ups and downs.
* With backlinking, not all links will be found or indexed by Google, normally around 95% of the backlinks we build will be used by Google, the other 5% are doomed for a life of total loneliness (poor little backlinks).