John Mueller is the head honcho of search at Google. Recently, someone asked him why their site that was successful for seven years, suddenly lost keyword rankings. In-kind, he responded with four reasons why sites can lose rankings.
Don’t take this as a comprehensive list of why a site can lose ranking, but more of the top four reasons why. Also, it helps to keep in mind that this is a quick question-answer and was impromptu.
While his explanation of why sites lose rankings was a general overview, it gives us insight into the inner workings of Google, and it’s search parameters. With that in mind, the answers provide us a rough outline of why a site might lose rankings, and how to fix it.
Situation: Nothing is wrong with the site, and yet it is losing rankings.
This particular question was asked because the site admin had ranked well for seven or eight years. They were evaluating their inbound and outbound links (yes links still matter) and they could not find a problem. They had three sites, all impacted the same.
All three sites were using the same keyword strategy, and all three sites sold similar products. They were all under different brands.
John Mueller was quick to explain that not enough information was given to be able to provide a complete breakdown and give a specific answer. He instead provided a general answer as to why this may have happened.
1: Top rankings are temporary
There is a certain feeling in many business owners heads, that once a site is ranking at the top, it will continue to rank at the top. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“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 exected on the web, it’s a very common dynamic environment.”
2: The internet changes all the time
Almost everything on the web is constantly changing. Links to a site disappear. Sites shut down. Companies go out of business. People move on. (MySpace anyone?)
These things and more affect how relevant a site is, or a single page, and how the queries are affected in search.
How Mueller explained it:
“On one hand, things on the web change with your competitors, with other sites…”
3. Changes to Google’s Algorithm.
This is one of the most common reasons that you can see dramatic changes in ranking. It is not necessarily that the ranking factors change, it is more that when the algorithm changes, Google is changing how it understands web pages.
A few years ago, pages featuring top 5 lists seemed to dominate the search rankings. That might be because of how Google was able to understand web pages. Top 5 pages were easier to understand, especially with user queries like “best Mexican food near me”.
Times have changed, and with that so have Google’s Algorithms. One of the most common mistakes that a content publisher can make after an update is to look at the site to determine what they are doing wrong.
Another common mistake of content creators is to think that Google is “targeting” certain types of sites and that they fall into that targeting.
Many of Google’s search algorithms are about satisfying users’ quest for information. Google focuses on understanding users, as well as understanding web pages, and matching the user to the page.
This is what Mueller had to say about it:
“On the other hand things on our side change with our algorithms in search.”
4 People Change
This is the last reason that Mueller gave on why rankings change. And this is one of the most important things to keep in mind.
How and why people search can change. It can change with the seasons, it can change with popular public opinion and many other factors. If a product that you are selling becomes less popular, then the traffic to your site(s) will drop as well.
This kind of decrease in traffic can appear like a long and gradual decline. It is important to always keep on top of current trends.
Mueller’s take on it:
“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.”
A common quality that successful sites have is that they are always updating and making changes. Those changes can be as simple as technical improvements, user research, user experience improvements, establishing closer relationships with site visitors, and more.
All of these things are critical to a dynamic website. It is no longer enough to simply push out content just to have fresh content. In our experience, it is vitally important to keep an eye on users, and the trends they are following.
Keeping an eye on trends, and what your users are really after can reveal new opportunities and help avoid the loss of traffic to your site.