It all starts with a possible George Romero horror movie scene:

Early in the morning, you do a Google search for your site to find out that your site’s hard-earned rankings have suddenly succumbed.

In most cases, you should only blame yourself that you didn’t do your best to avoid getting into this dreaded situation. But in some cases, you just can’t be aware of all the possible scenarios in which your site might lose organic search traffic.

Important: Whenever your site’s rankings start dropping, keep calm and start looking for causes and solutions.

Surely it’s a motive to panic, but it’s not the end of the world, and most definitely not the end of your site. It’s just like the case of Wile E. Coyote, the beloved cartoon character that ran after Roadrunner; finally  he ended falling from a cliff or something, but that didn’t stop him.

Wile Coyote Falling

You need to understand why your site might be bleeding. It could be either because:

  • Google penalized the site.
  • The site has some issues that led to the ranking drop.

The first thing you need to do is to asses the situation and understand what’s broken on your site. I’m going to cover some of the methods which could save your site from “falling off the Google’s SERPs” (these are only some of the major reasons, as it’s impossible to encapsulate every possible situation in one article).

Here are 6 important reasons way you site may have lost its Google Ranking and how you should address the drop.

1. Manual or Algorithmic Penalty Rank Drop

1.1. How to Diagnose a Google Penalty?

This is usually a big drop in rankings, that happens over-night. If you notice that your site drops more than 10-20 positions on a multitude of keywords, this could indicate a penalty. A big difference between algorithmic and manual penalties is that the first ones are automatic and are usually released with various Google Updates, while the second ones are manually applied by a Google employee. Given the fact that Google made a habit out of making updates without clearly stating it, you should constantly monitor for ranking changes. You know you’ve been penalized by Google if the drop is harsh and swift, and you can see that your site continues to rank on other search engines like Bing or Yahoo.

Big Drop in Google Search Visits

1.2 How to Identify & Recover from Google Penalty?

Your best bet at identifying exactly what happened would be to first check  your Google Webmaster Tools account. There you’ll have notifications from Google regarding manual actions they’ve taken against your site.
First you’ll have to see if there are notifications in the Site Messages menu. Here you’ll be alerted if there are any issues that GoogleBot detected.

Google Webmaster Tools Manual Action Penalty

You should also check the Manual Actions section from Google Webmaster Tools, since that is the only place you’re going to be announced of the Google penalties that have been applied to your site. You need to accept the decision with calm and proceed to solving the issue. Identifying exactly what harmed your site is the first thing you have to do. If it is on-page, you need to reconsider your content and linking. Check for duplicate content. If it is off-page, you need to detect and remove the links which were considered unnatural. For the remaining links that still point to your site and weren’t removed, you can simply disavow them. In order to recover from manual penalties, you’ll have to submit a reconsideration request. Be aware that it may take some time till you’re going to regain your position in the SERPs.

1.3 How to Prevent Being Hit by a Google Penalty?

Continuously track your links and risk of being penalized with specialized tools that alert you when something starts to happen on your link profile.

2. You Got OutRanked by a Competitor

2.1. How to Diagnose This?

This is usually a slight drop in ranking. You will see your competitors site that outranked you and the other sites will usually be in the same positions as before.

2.2. How a Identify a Competitor Outranking Issue?

You should constantly monitor and analyze your competitors sites and social profiles to better understand what are they doing.

3.3. How a Prevent Yourself From Being Outranked by a Competitor?

Tracking your main competitors and understanding their link building strategies could predict their next moves.

  • Keep a close eye on their content tactics and link building strategies.
  • If they are steadily growing it means they’re doing something right. Understand and adapt your strategies accordingly. You should try to be very diverse and creative with your content marketing strategies if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition.

3. Your Site was Demoted due to On-page Issues

3.1. How to Spot if the Demotion is due to an On-page Issue?

This is either a big drop or your site can not grow in rankings. It may be a sign of concern when your rankings start to slowly fall behind other sites, even though you’re seriously trying your best to create content and building links.

3.2. Where to look and how to Identify & Solve an On-page Optimization Problem?

Check your site in GWT and understand if there are any problems from there first of all.

Onpage Errors GWT

Maybe you get a lot of broken links, or bad internal linking. Use the HTML Improvements feature to detect any problems with tags. “Abuse” the PageSpeed Insights as it gives you valuable information on what problems you may have with your site and how to fix them. Or maybe your site got hacked. All of these can be found in Google Webmaster Tools.

3.3. How to Prevent On-page problems?

Always track your site in GWT and have GWT notifications enabled and sent to your email address. If you do this the chances of being a victim of on-page issues will drastically decrease.

4. Your Site Dropped Because it is Losing Links

4.1. How does this Demotion look like?

This is either a slight or big drop. You will see huge spikes in link velocity, as you’ll have a lot of inbound links disappearing from your link profile.

Lost Link Rank Dropping

4.2. How to Identify and Solve such a Drop due to Lost Links?

Check your site’s lost links in the last 90 days. If you see a lot of lost links this might indicate the ranking drop. Check those links individually. If those links were intentionally removed by webmasters this might be a red flag to Google that those were unnatural links. I can not advise you here to ask them back, as Google may penalize you in the future. This drop might have happened sooner or later without those webmasters dropping those links.

You need to build more organic and HQ links to your site.

4.3. How to Prevent Demotions due to Lost Links?

Track your lost links actively with specialized software. When this things happen, you will be aware of the issue before it is too late. By monitoring the link velocity you can figure out if things are out of the ordinary, and act accordingly.

5. Google Just Updated Their Algorithm

5.1. How does a Google Algorithm Update look like?

This is either a slight or big drop. You might be scratched a little or you might be in serious trouble. In either cases, you might suspect an update if you’re rankings are suddenly and rapidly dropping.

Google Updates Timeline

5.2. How to Identify a Google Update?

Check the SEO news sites for news related to a possible update in that timeframe. After this is cleared apply those findings to your own site. You need to identify what’s changed in the algorithm and how your site might violate the Google guidelines.

5.3. How to Prevent being hit by a Google Update?

Be as organic as possible and build a brand. Focus on your product, community and technical issues with your site.

6. Google Flux

6.1. How does a Google Flux look like?

This is either a slight or big drop. One of the things that you have no power over is the Google flux. This issue is very unpredictable and volatile, so you shouldn’t be on the lookout for any signs.

2 Day Recovery Lastminute

This is a classic example of a Google Flux that might have been interpreted incorrectly as a negative seo attack.

6.2. How to Identify a Google Flux?

This is usually harder to spot. Everything should be looking ok:

  • No on-page issues
  • No linking issues
  • No competitor issues
  • No known update

It isn’t any rule of thumb on how to handle these kind of situations and you just have to hold tight. You might be back in a few days.

6.3. How to Prevent?

You simply can’t! Like I’ve previously mentioned, it is out of your control and you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to find the reason. These fluxes are normal for any site. If it is a Flux you will be back up in a few days.

Conclusion

Everywhere you look on the Internet, you’ll find that the smartest website owners are one step ahead, being precautions on how they build and market their sites. Skipping the temptation of quickly jumping to the first position through shady SEO strategies, and by keeping up with the current updates are by far the best things you can do to protect and grow your visibility in the search engines.

To make a quick recap, this article isn’t meant only for those of you who had their rankings destroyed, but it’s also for those lucky webmasters that didn’t had any problems with the Google algorithm or the Webspam team. The most surprising tactic that seems to be fruitful in this volatile SEO world is to always be informed.

Today’s top ranking sites may be tomorrow’s bottom dwellers!

Do you have any other demotions that you would want to add to this list?

Photo credits: 1, 2
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