Woman searching online and concerned about her website's search engine rankingQuite regularly here at Mannix Marketing we get phone calls and emails from business owners and marketing staff telling us that their website has just fallen from the #1 organic spot in Google. Many times they will say that they have been at the top for months or even years. Some will talk about how the ‘new #1 site’ isn’t even a competitor.

Invariably, the question that they end the conversation with is, “What happened?”

Why Did Your Site Lose Its #1 Placement in Google’s Search Results?

Unfortunately, without a lot more information we can’t say with great certainty why a website that previously ranked #1 in Google is no longer at the top.

There are a ton of variables that go in to having a site place so high, and if we have not been monitoring what’s been going on with the website in question, the competition and the search engine result pages, it’s difficult to give an educated reason (or reasons) to explain the drop.

There are a few factors, however, that may have impacted the results you’re seeing and the changes that have occurred.

Search Personalization

When we do get these questions from people, one of the first things we talk about is search personalization. Sometimes search engines, and Google in particular, will alter placements on a page based on personalization from the searcher. This most often happens with localized searches as well as results from searches that are related to very recent searches.

When we talk to these folks, we want to find out if:

  1. the person was only seeing their site at #1 because of their prior search history, or
  2. if it’s possible their site is not at the top at that moment because they are currently looking at results that show personalization.

To look at non-personalized results and get a sense of where your site is ranking, open a browser in incognito mode and do a search.

Search Terms & Key Phrases

After that we want to get a feel for if the drop is for one particular phrase, a group of similar phrases or for any phrase related to their website.

If the site has dropped in the results for one particular search term or phrase, that could mean it is a very specific problem. We’ll want to take a look at the page that was ranking #1, and see what recent changes were made to it (i.e., page title, content on page, links to that page). We’ll also want to take a look at the webpage and site for the new #1. What have they been focusing on and what changes have they made? It could be more than this, but that is where we would want to start.

If the drop was for quite a few phrases, it could be indicative of something more widespread. Some of the factors we would want to look at are:

  • Changes to the webpage and overall website

What changes have been made to the specific page and to the overall website? Was there a rewrite of content? Were components of the site changed? Was there a redesign?

Being aware that any changes to the site can have an impact on search engine placements. The goal of changes is to improve placements, but sometimes the opposite can happen.

  • Changes made on competitors’ sites

What have competitors been doing on their sites? Do they have new products? Are they writing tons of new blogs? Did they go through a website redesign recently?

Remember, your efforts for search engine optimization do not occur in a vacuum. Your competition is trying to gain organic traffic, and sometimes their resources to do so can outperform yours.

  • Click through rate

What is the click through rate of your site when you rank #1? How does the result of your site look when it appears in search results?

Google wants to show results that people will like and will click on. If, for whatever reason, your result does not get the expected clicks it should for the position, Google will assume that people don’t find the result relevant. This may cause them to move the result further down in the rankings.

  • Bounce rate

What is the bounce rate of your landing page when visitors come from organic search? Do people stay awhile and click around your site? Or do they leave right away? Google wants to show results that people find useful. If they are clicking on your results, head to your site and then come right back to the search results page, that is not a good signal. It tells Google that they did not find what they were searching for on your site.

  • Changes to the search engine’s algorithm

Just as website owners are constantly looking to improve the experience the visitors have on their sites, Google and other search engines are doing the same. They do this by changing the design and layouts of their search engine result pages, and by continuously updating the algorithm that powers the results. So what may have been an important factor in getting a website ranked a year ago may not by that important today.

Although search engines don’t share what goes into their algorithms, there is information out there that talks about what factors correlate strongly with high rankings, as well as information on when changes to algorithms have happened.

Understanding Changes in Search Engine Results Rankings

Now, sometimes a lost #1 ranking in Google is only for a short period of time. Google could be testing some things out, or the algorithm output changes for just a week or two. That’s the best case scenario, and in our experience it is not the most likely outcome.

If organic traffic is important to your business, it’s always a good idea to keep track of the above factors. It will make it easier for you to see connections between what is happening to improve or harm your placements.

Want to learn how to start monitoring all of this? Talk with one of our SEO strategists today! If you would rather a professional handle this for your business, we can do that as well. You can give us a call at 518-743-9424 to chat about your options.

Curious about which stats you should be tracking to monitor the performance of your website? Get the details on that here.

Seeing fluctuations in your site’s search engine placements? Rankings aren’t the only factor that indicate the success or failure of an SEO program. Here’s how to know if your current SEO program is working.

About Brian McGrath

Over the past 20 years, Brian has experienced many aspects of marketing, including brand management, copywriting, campaign coordination, paid search marketing, social media marketing and internet marketing. Brian now uses this knowledge to help our clients maximize their presence on the internet. His expertise in all things marketing gives our clients – and the Mannix Marketing SEO team – a distinct advantage in all areas of search. His extraordinary analytic skills provide SEO, social media and paid search clients with real, measurable results. To maintain his cutting edge expertise, Brian stays current on the latest trends in social media and digital marketing by reading industry publications, attending conferences, and consulting with peers.Google+ Profile