First things first, let’s get this out of the way — rankings move all the time. It’s a normal occurrence and it happens to everyone, even those currently in the top spot.
So, should you be concerned about the sudden fluctuation of your rankings? The short answer is no, or more specifically, not yet. If you monitor your Google rankings in the span of a single week and see that some of your pages have moved up or down 2-5 positions, this is common and happens to most search results, especially for the bottom half of the first page and web pages in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pages.
Why Are Ranking Fluctuations Common?
It can be difficult and frustrating to watch your rankings dance around, but fluctuations are all part of the algorithm. Your page could hold a steady position for a few days and then drop, or it could fluctuate hugely in a single day. Both types of movement are normal.
The major reason that fluctuations are common is that Google changes every day. It’s been confirmed by one of Google’s Webmaster Trends analysts. Each day, the search engine releases one or more changes designed to improve overall search results. So in a year, Google updates about 500 times. Most aren’t noticeable, but they all help Google improve in providing users with the best search results.
That’s why when you’re making efforts to improve your rankings, you’ll see a lot of movement on a daily or weekly basis. It’s just the algorithm adjusting.
Another reason why your rankings fluctuate is that Google is yet to crawl (or recrawl) your site. You might have posted your page, or fixed it, and requested a crawl or recrawl recently but don’t expect Google to index or re-index it immediately. Based on various factors, it can take a week more for Google to recrawl a site. If you’ve requested a URL crawl or submitted a sitemap, the key is to be patient.
To briefly summarize, here a few things to keep in mind regarding fluctuating rankings:
- Fluctuations do not mean you’re being penalized or you’re losing out on traffic.
- Fluctuations are often temporary due to Google testing or changing something in the search engine results page
- Algorithmic changes happen, causing pages to fluctuate 2-4 positions
- Google hasn’t crawled or recrawled your site yet
Most of the time, there’s very little that you can do in the moment to lift the drop. What you can do is monitor it for 2-3 weeks to see any improvements or further decline.
When Should I Be Concerned?
Several times a year, Google makes broad and significant changes to their search algorithms and systems. Referred to as “core updates,” they’re designed to ensure that they continue to present authoritative and relevant content to searchers.
These broad core updates typically produce notable effects to search rankings. Some sites may note gains or drops during the updates. Fortunately, a sudden change in rankings due to major core updates is something most SEO specialists are ready for. We’ll tackle more on this in the next section.
Additionally, if you see a gradual decline in your rankings and traffic that have been occurring for more than 3 weeks, then it might be a good time to re-do your SEO strategy. Google’s Panda and Penguin penalties are notorious for impacting rankings and leading to massive traffic losses.
The most common one, the Panda penalty, evaluates the quality of your entire website. If it determines that your website’s content is low-quality, Google will assign your website with a low-quality score, making it difficult for you to rank high again.
The second most common penalty is the Google Penguin, which affects websites with aggressive link building campaigns. If you have created any unnatural link patterns to manipulate search engine rankings, you will be penalized by the algorithm and suffer a huge drop in rankings (example: your page goes from position #3 to position #279).
Google still crawls de-indexed pages and sites, but won’t list you in the search engine until the issues associated with your penalties are resolved. If too many of your site’s pages have breached Google’s guidelines, it’s possible for all the pages on your site to be penalized — even the pages that follow the guidelines.
While the most common scenario is that you’ll drop 10-100 positions in the search results for multiple keywords, there are instances that you’ll be completely removed from Google’s index. At this point, it will be better to build a new website from scratch rather than attempt to remove the penalties.
What Do I Do When My Rankings Fluctuate?
It’s inevitable for sites that experience drops during major core updates to look for a fix. The most effective way to go about this is to focus on offering users with quality and value-adding content. With that said, here are a few content guidelines taken from the Google Webmaster Central Blog.
Quality of Content
- Content should contain original information, research, analysis, and reporting
- Content has substantial or comprehensive explanations of the topic
- Content includes interesting information or insightful analysis that doesn’t state the obvious
- Headline or page titles of the pages offer a descriptive and helpful summary of the content
Expertise of Content
- Content presents authoritative and trustworthy information with evidence of expertise involved
- Content is written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrates a solid knowledge of the topic
- Content is free from factual errors that can be easily verified
Presentation & Production of Content
- Content is free from spelling errors and stylistic issues
- Content does not appear hastily produced
- The page should not have an excessive amount of ads that interfere with or distract from the main content
- Content is optimized for mobile devices
Comparison of Content
- Content provides more valuable information compared to other pages
- Content serves the genuine interest of online users instead of just trying to outrank the top pages
Another way that Google evaluates your site is through E-A-T, which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It has become an important ranking factor, especially given that Google’s new “How Search Works” report mentions that they’re aiming to rank reliable sources, citing E-A-T as a key ranking signal.
To bump your E-A-T, have experts write your content, especially if you’re in industries such as health care. You should also be transparent of who you are, which means having:
- A thorough About Us page
- Easy to find Contact page
- Author by-lines on every article
Additionally, most of Google’s evaluation of your E-A-T happens off-page. This means that you need to get cited on other trusted websites, even if they’re not linked mentions. Bonus points if you’re mentioned by other authorities in your field.
Major Takeaway: Be patient and observe before taking action
A sudden change in rankings isn’t something to panic over. As mentioned, Google fluctuates all the time. Don’t let fluctuations stop you from achieving your SEO goals. There are a lot of factors to consider about ranking fluctuations but as long as you’re practicing good, white-hat SEO, you won’t have anything to worry about, including penalties.
When penalties and major core updates do happen, crack your knuckles and prepare to work the kinks out. You won’t gain anything if you just sit down and not work hard for it.
Remember, good SEO takes time, patience, and determination. Keep implementing quality SEO practices, especially the ones mentioned in this article, and you’ll rise to the first page. With the right strategy, you can even stay at the top.