SEO performance drops can happen as suddenly and frequently as algorithm updates, depending on the website.
These days, algorithm updates happen so frequently that it could be easy to point fingers at Google and say they caused your rankings and organic traffic to drop.
Sometimes, it’s true!
However, more often than not, performance drops can occur for different reasons.
Some common reasons for organic performance drops include:
– Newly discovered technical issues on the site
– Significant content changes
– Competitor changes
– Manual actions.
Keeping those possibilities in mind, it’s important that we don’t take the easy way out and blame a Google algorithm update for our rankings dropping.
Some drops can be expected…
If your website just recently took a hit, don’t panic.
Somethings things just happen, and your traffic will return on its own.
What you don’t want to do is start making significant changes to your site. This may lead to even more complications with your organic performance.
But there is always more than one solution.
Here are some quick tips on how to investigate whether your site was truly hit by an algorithm.
1) Did Google discover new technical issues?
A technical issue is one of the more common reasons why a site’s performance may drop.
This usually happens when a site admin unknowingly updates various parts of the site and creates significant technical issues.
Investigate this issue by checking the following places:
– Check the coverage report in Google Search Console
– Run a Screaming Frog or Sitebulb crawl to check for structural changes and crawl traps
– Run an automated audit in your SEO tool of choice to look for any hidden errors
– Check robots.txt for any new disallow directives
– Run a fetch and render to see how Google may be rendering your site.
2) Significant content changes
This is another common cause for significant ranking fluctuations. Some sites, such as eCommerce, frequently change content.
If your site rarely updates content and experiences a dip in organic traffic or rankings, then you may want to investigate if your client or another site admin made some unexpected changes.
Some ways you can investigate site changes include:
– Check the Changes tool in the Wayback Machine
– Install an activity log plugin to track your site changes
– Investigate which pages in Google Analytics took the biggest hit and analyze those pages.
It’s rare to find sites that are unaffected by some sort of seasonality.
Whenever a stakeholder comes to you freaking out about site performance dips, make sure to check your year-over-year benchmarks.
Compare quarterly trend lines on top of each other so you can show your stakeholders that these dips may not be unusual.
Additionally, you should forecast ahead to let them know of any future expected dips based on previous year’s trends.
The key here is that you’re still improving year-over-year.
4) Competitor changes
Some traffic changes can occur because of a competitor improving their organic strategy.
Typically, this will be indicated by a steady decline in organic performance and is unusual for it to occur with sharp drops in performance.
If you think that your competitors are starting to steal your rankings from you, don’t panic!
5) Manual actions
Manual actions are not a frequent as they used to be, but they still happen.
If your site has experienced a steep drop in traffic, take a look at Google Search Console for any manual actions.