Google rankings drop diagnosis checklist

This checklist is useful for finding out what exactly went wrong when there is a drop in your Google keyword rankings.

Manual search engine penalties
This is where a human reviewer from Google has determined that pages on your site are not compliant with Google's webmaster quality guidelines.
  • Check if your website was hacked 🔐 : Everyday, millions of websites are compromised. Here's a good article from Google that explains how to check if your website was hacked, and the process for recovering a site from a hack.
  • Check for user-generated spam 🗑️ : If your Google search console warns you about user generated spam, this normally refers to user generated content on your blogs and forums filled with advertisements and irrelevant links. Here is an article which shows you how to prevent this from happening.
  • Check for thin content ✍️ : If you receive this warning on your search console, it means that Google has detected low-quality pages or shallow pages on your site. You'll need to take all the thin and duplicate content down, and spend time to create unique content that provides value.
  • Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects 🏹 : If you receive this warning, it means that your site may be showing different pages to users than are shown to Google, or redirecting users to a different page than Google saw. Use this tool and compare the content fetched by Google to the content seen by a human in a browser. You'll need to fix anything that differs and make sure the same content is served to both search engine bots and users.
  • Unnatural links from your site 🖇️ : This warning means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural or manipulative outbound links originating from your website. Have your bought links or participated in link schemes in the past? Fix this (by removing the links or no-follow) and the warning should disappear.

Google Algorithm changes
This is when Google releases a new algorithm, or updates and refreshes an older algorithm.
  • Check if Google updated their algorithm 💻 : Most times Google does not publicly announce that they have updated their algorithm. But you can follow and check these search engine news to see if Google has officially or unofficially released a new algorithm.

  • Competitor outranking you 📊 : This is when your website gets outranked by a competitor, but most of the other websites in the SERP are in the same positions as before. To fix this use a backlink analysis tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush, and check if your competitors page has more quality backlinks pointing to them than you have pointing to your website? Also check the domain authority and on-page SEO factors to see how you can improve your rankings.

  • Lost backlinks 🔗 : Losing high-quality backlinks can hurt your rankings and keyword positions on Google. Especially, if your site doesn't have a lot of links, the links you lose can have a significant impact on your rankings. Use a backlink analysis tool like SEOspyglass or Ahrefs to check the following:
    • Has there been a noticeable site-wide link drop?
    • Or has there been a noticeable link drop to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
    • To fix this you have to manually evaluate each lost link and contact the webmaster to check if it can be restored.
  • Check for new backlinks 🔗🔗 : A sudden surge in new links pointing to your website can, in some instances, trigger a temporary decline in rankings, especially if the incoming links are of low quality. Again, use a tool like SEOspyglass or Ahrefs to check the newly created backlinks, and disavow them if necessary.

Website changes
Making any changes to your site — such as redesigning it, changing your platform, or moving to HTTPS — can result in a drop of rankings if you make any error.
  • Check for crawl errors 🤖 : Check for crawl errors on your Google search console, and fix them accordingly.
  • Check for changes to URL? 🔗 : Did you update or modify the URLs on your website? Check to see how the URLs were before the drop in rankings, and change back if you removed any significant keywords from the URL.
  • Check changes to meta tags & header tags? 🏷️ : Have you removed any of the target keywords from the meta tags, the page title, H1, or H2s? If yes, usually changing it back to how it was will restore your rankings.
  • Check keyword density? ♨️ : While re-designing the website, or updating the content on the website, did you by mistake change the keyword density for the target keyword? If it is lower now than it used to be, this could be one of the factors that has resulted in the drop of rankings for your keyword.
  • Check changes in internal linking structure ⛩️ : If you added or removed internal links, that could change the way link equity flows through your site, changing Google’s perceived value of the pages on your site.
    • Did you recently update site navigation anywhere?
    • Did you update key pages on your site that link to target pages?
    • Did you update anchor text on links to target pages? Does it still include the target keyword?
    • Go back and check how the internal links were structured before you experienced the drop in rankings. Changing it back to how it was could fix this problem.
  • Content access ⚰️ : Can Google read all of the content on the page? Check the cached version of your website to make sure Google can access all the content properly. E.g.
  • Check your robots.txt file 📁 : Check your robots.txt file to make sure that you haven't blocked the Google web crawlers from crawling important URLs on your website. Use this tool to make sure that everything is properly added in your robots.txt file.
  • Check for server issues 🗄️ : Speak to the team responsible for the server and check the server logs for any unusual errors. The “fetch and render” function within Search Console enables you to see what is served to Google when it makes a request for a particular page. You should look for errors in your server logs and use Google’s Fetch and Render tool to test how a URL on your site renders or is crawled.

Negative SEO
  • Check for un-natural links ⚓ : If you find that someone is using negative SEO and attacking you by building low quality backlinks, your best bet is disavowing the spammy links that are being built for your site. You can use any backlink analysis tool to identify un-natural links pointing to your website.
  • Check for scraped content? ✏️ : This is when someone copies your site’s content and posts it as their own. If Google finds the “stolen” version before they crawl your website, it could lead to de-ranking your website. You can use Copyscape to check if this happened to your site. You can also report the scraper using Google's  copyright infringement report.

Click-Through Rate Changes
The impact of CTR’s on rankings is a controversial topic in the SEO space but google has confirmed this matters in the past.
  • Check to see if CTR's have reduced : You can check on the CTR of your highest ranking terms via the Google Search Console. Did you recently add a popup that is increasing bounce rate? Is the page taking longer to load.

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