In an ideal world, your SEO strategy would be on a constant, steadily forward-moving trajectory. As you invest more time and effort into your online presence, your rankings would gradually increase–with no interruptions. However, this is almost never the case. Eventually, no matter how careful or experienced you are, you’ll run into a ranking drop that leaves you frustrated and confused.
The problem is, SEO and online visibility are such complicated topics that they’re impossible to reduce to single variables. Everything, from the type of hosting you use to the type of social media marketing you pursue, can affect your organic search rankings.
Where do you start when troubleshooting a ranking dive?
Technical vs. Non-Technical Issues
Generally, there are two categories of factors that can cause a dive:
- Quantitative, technical factors. Sometimes, there’s a simple, technical factor affecting how your site is ranking. On many levels, Google’s algorithm is simple and mathematical in its approach. For example, if your site isn’t structured in a way that Google can see and readily interpret, it won’t be able to index your site, and your rankings will drop. These tend to be obvious once spotted, but they require a degree of technical expertise to solve.
- Qualitative, non-technical factors. Other times, you’ll be dealing with more subjective, non-technical factors. Google has a number of qualitative evaluating segments to its algorithm, such as Panda, which evaluates the quality of your content, and Penguin, which evaluates the quality of your inbound links. Sometimes, a drop in content quality–which is hard to objectively identify–can be responsible for your ranking drop.
Technical Factors to Check When Your Rankings Drop
Your first course of action, after seeing a major drop in your rankings, should be to check for technical factors that might be affecting your positions. These are plain to see and often simple to fix–and once repaired, there’s a good chance your positions will be restored quickly (if not instantly).
Here are things to check:
1. Your hosting.
The first place you should look is your hosting. A lot of things can happen with your hosting provider–your site may be temporarily unavailable, or your site may not be served properly. You might even be experiencing page loading problems because of your hosting provider. Run an audit on your hosting situation and consider switching if you’re not receiving consistent service.
2. Your robots.txt file.
The robots.txt file is a meta data file that instructs Google how to view and index your site. You can use it to prevent certain pages from being indexed, which is highly useful for canonizing duplicate content pages. However, many people end up making mistakes in the robots.txt file, masking the entire site (or entire sections) from being indexed.
3. Improperly set up 301 redirects.
301 redirects are an important and powerful tool in online visibility, but they’re often misused. If you set up a 301 redirect improperly, it could result in a number of different errors, such as duplicate indexing or the complete loss of certain pages of your site. Be sure you’re actually using 301 redirects, and not 302 (temporary) redirects or any other means of forwarding traffic.
4. A content loading issue.
Sometimes, technical hiccups are simple and easy to identify. If some of your content isn’t loading properly, it could cause your rankings to tank. For example, if none of the images or videos on your site are loading on mobile devices, you could suffer a massive blow to your mobile rankings and traffic.
5. Functional errors.
You may also find functional errors throughout your site, which can influence how your site is ranked. These can range from very small, such as broken internal links, to very large, such as entire sections of your site that aren’t loading or running properly. Some of these functional errors can bleed into qualitative factors, such as pages not loading quickly enough, or poor user experience factors. Run performance tests on multiple devices to check for these errors proactively.
If none of these technical factors seem to be affecting your site, you’ll have to start looking for qualitative, non-technical issues that might be wrong with your site. Or, if there’s a specific type of ranking drop you’ve seen (like a drop in local rankings), you can seek your next troubleshooting targets accordingly.