Troubleshooting a Sudden Crash in Google Rankings

The realization that your website has dropped out of Google rankings for all your major keywords is gut wrenching. It’s not unlike watching your stock portfolio value plummet — and it could have similar financial consequences. Search engine rankings can free fall without warning or clear explanation. But in many cases, there are things you can do to get your rankings back up without a lot of hassle or lost time. So try these fixes and don’t panic. We’ll cover the easiest of them first and save Google algorithm updates for last.

Watch for a bounce back.

Occasionally, a site will disappear from rankings and then reappear a short time later with no explanation. You might even get a slight boost in the aftermath. It’s like your rankings were abducted by aliens. You don’t know where they’ve been, they’re no worse for wear, and there’s no apparent long term problem. While this is a hopeful thought, don’t sit back and wait for your rankings to come back on their own. If there’s something more serious going on, you’ll want to get a handle on it as soon as possible.

Check for crawl errors.

If you have Google Webmaster Tools installed on your website, troubleshooting ranking drops will be much easier. It allows you to monitor metrics that affect your site’s rankability. Sometimes errors occur on your website that make it difficult or impossible for search engines to index your site. It would have to be something pretty extreme for you to disappear from rankings altogether, but it’s possible. If something like this happens Google will usually alert you through your Webmaster Tools account. They might also suggest actions to take to correct the problem. Once you fix your crawl errors, you can ask Google to crawl your site again. To do this, log into your Webmaster Tools account, click Health on the left side bar, and Fetch as Google. Leave the open field blank to have your whole site crawled and hit the “Fetch” Button. Once it’s finished, you should see a “Submit to Index” button. Click it. If you’ve solved your problems your site should appear back in the rankings shortly.

Remove black hat tactics.

Google will penalize a site if they perceive deceptive or unnatural practices. This could be shady linking schemes, sneaky redirects, invisible text, or no-value doorway pages. It could also result from malware put into your site by a hacker. If your site is penalized for something like this you may get a message to that effect through Webmaster Tools, but not necessarily. Review your website and linking portfolio carefully to see if there’s anything going on not consistent with Google’s Quality Guidelines. Fix the problems and then submit a reconsideration request. If you’ve addressed the issue, your ranks may be back without too much delay.

Clean up your linking strategy.

The goal of Google’s algorithm is to rank pages highest that give the highest value to human users. The kinds of links going to your site are one tool they use to measure this. While building links is important, certain practices like buying links or overusing “keyword” anchor texts may trigger a sudden fall in rankings. If this is what happened, you may need to remove links from sites Google doesn’t trust, or get link anchor texts changed. Links to your site should have a variety of anchor texts including a substantial percentage of branded terms — your business’s name or website URL. Hopefully, you’ll regain your rankings as soon as you get your link portfolio back to a healthier position.

Did your drop coincide with a Google algorithm update?

Periodically, Google changes its algorithm to improve search results. Panda and penguin are two animals made infamous by the fact that they happen to share names with some of these updates. Most of these changes have an overall positive effect, improving user experiences. But for a small percentage of websites, they can be devastating. They can hurt sites that are apparently doing everything right. If nothing else seems to be restoring your rankings, you may be in this boat. Check to see if your falling rankings coincide with a recent update to Google’s algorithm. Find out what specific areas this update was targeting. Then review your SEO strategy and try to see where you may need to change your practices. It may be a long hike back to the top of the rankings, but presumably you’ll be safe the next time around.