The last thing a website owner wants is to lose Google search rankings of his website and see his business collapse out of nowhere.
This happened to one of my websites so I know how it feels like. It feels awfully terrible and you will have no clue about what actually happened. Everything was fine and things were rolling pretty smoothly until one day, the tables had turned and most of your website pages who used to get tons of traffic from Google and other search engines are no longer ranking on Search result pages.
So what causes your website to lose Google search rankings? What causes your website’s pages to be removed from the first page of Google which results in little or no traffic coming to your website? In this article, we will explore some of these questions and later on look into ways to ensure this is prevented.
What Causes your Website to Suddenly Lose Google Search Rankings?
The hard reality is that nobody exactly knows the list of factors and there surely is more than one factor (rather a combination of factors) involved which causes the trigger to be pulled.
Google and other search engines regularly update their Algorithms and other systems that evaluate the usefulness of web pages and their relevance to the search queries that are being used by users on the search engine to find content.
It is possible that the page on your website which was relevant at some point in time is no longer relevant today and hence stops getting traffic from Google. It is also possible that the page on your website is still relevant but someone else has created a better page than yours and theirs is ranking on the first position, thereby taking Lion’s share of the traffic. It is also possible that something has gone seriously wrong your website and most of your content has been de-indexed or removed from Google. It is also possible that Google no longer trusts your website because of the presence of malicious content, spyware or adware and hence it has decided to de-list your website from its index.
There can be various reasons why a website or blog can lose Google Search rankings. And this is not applicable for “specific” sites. This is applicable to all the websites since the algorithm that Google and other search engines use evaluates each and every website in the same way. So it is certainly not that only your website was badly affected by a change and rest of the sites were not affected.
That said, I will be listing down the main reasons why a website loses search rankings. Later in the article, I will explain what webmasters, bloggers and website owners need to do to prevent this and ensure they do not lose search ranks from the first page of Google for specific keywords or phrases that are highly profitable for their business.
The main reason why a website loses search rankings on Google are as follows
Google just rolled out a new algorithmic update which affects websites and their rankings in a different way than before. Most of the algorithmic updates are announced on the Google Webmaster Blog, so it would really help if you keep an eye on that website and regularly check for important updates that Google rolls out in their algorithm. If your website has been badly affected just by an algorithmic change, Google will most likely come up with a “Remedial measure” which website owners can follow to fix the issue at their end.
There is no need to panic or be afraid of “Algorithmic updates” if you follow all the best practices and focus your energy on creating a resourceful website which people love reading and referring to.
Spyware, Malware or Malicious Content –
Google does not love websites which has a lot of bloated malware, spyware or malicious items in it. Google loves clean websites which do not try to harm the user’s computer in a forceful way. So it goes without saying that your website needs to be free from spyware, malware or any other infectious software or scripts. If Google detects Spyware on your website, it will try to notify the owner of your website through Google Search console account. Hence, it is a good idea to create a Google search console account and keep an eye on messages and emails from Google search console team. Sometimes, if Google finds malware and spyware on your website, it will immediately notify you that Googlebot has discovered malware and spyware on your website which will affect your search rankings in a negative way.
Duplicate Content or Plagiarised content.
For some reason, if most of the content on your website gets flagged as “Duplicate content” or plagiarized content, then it’s a surefire way to get your website de-listed from Google search. If you do not take preventive measures on your side and wait for things to be fixed automatically, you will be very sorry to know that it does not work like that. If Google detects duplicate content across your website on most of the pages, it will stop showing your website on search result pages, even if you have high-quality content on your website which used to get traffic before.Unlike spyware and malware notifications, Google does not notify website owners of duplicate content from Google search console. However, it will notify the webmaster of duplicate title tags and duplicate meta descriptions in Google search console but it won’t notify website owners of duplicate content at all. The best way to check for duplicate content is to check all the pages on your website on your own and ensure that no content on the website is plagiarised, stolen or copied from another source.
Too many Sponsored links or Text link ads across most of the website.
A sponsored link is not bad if you put it in one or two pages of your website. However, if your website has 300 pages and each and every page on your website has more than one sponsored link in it, that is seriously going to get your website in serious trouble. Putting a whole bunch of Text link ads on your website and not using the “Rel=nofollow” attribute for paid links is a very grey area and should be avoided at all costs.
High Page Loading Time.
Nobody likes websites that do not load fast. People do not have the patience and time to wait for a webpage to load since they have a plethora of options to choose from. If your site does not load in less than 4 seconds, it is unlikely that people will be satisfied with the experience of your website. Google and other search engines pay a very high importance to webpage loading time and if most of the pages of your website are slow and take more than 6 seconds to load, it is almost guaranteed that your website will lose rankings to websites who have similar content but load blazing fast.
Too many ads above the fold.
Advertisements aren’t bad if you use them diligently and make sure the placement of ads do not hinder the user experience of your website visitors. Lots of bloggers and website owners have this idea of placing all the ads above the fold which creates a really bad user experience for most visitors. People come to your website for the content that you have, not for the ads which make you money. Sure, monetization is a key aspect of running a business but it should not become the only aspect, then it defeats the very purpose of creating a website people love.
Too many pop-ups, interstitials or scripts hindering the user to read the content.
Similar to ads, pop-up windows and interstitials also create a very bad first impression and is a major turn off for most users. The moment you open a webpage, you see the – “Subscribe to newsletter” “You have won a major discount” and other interstitials which hinders with the experience of reading or consuming content for which the user visited your website. It is okay to try to convert some of your users into buying products or subscribing them to your email newsletter but if you practice it loudly without even thinking about your user’s expectations, it creates a bad user experience.
Now, what happens when the user experience is bad? People come to your page and then don’t spend their time there, they quickly close the browser tab and perform the search again. Then they go and find what they are looking for on another website and practically abandon you as a service provider or information resource.
Google and other search engines take note of this behavior and they will correct themselves to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Hence, they will reduce the possibility of a website to rank which has lots of pop-ups, interstitials and other intrusive scripts which hinders the user experience of reading or browsing content.
Bad user experience.
User experience is considered a very strong signal to search engines when evaluating rankings. Google and other search engines no longer rely on just links and keywords to assess the usefulness of a webpage. They go beyond these primitive metrics and look for user specific signals to determine which page makes users happier, content and provides what the user is looking for.
If there are two pages on different websites with the same type of content, Google will prefer that page where the user experience is better. Now you may wonder, how does Google measure user experience of a specific page? There are lots of ways Google and other search engines can figure out the user experience. Some very obvious signals are – time spent on page, number of returning visits, pages viewed per session, bounce rate and so on.
In short, Google and other search engines love “sticky” sites. Sites where people stick and the websites which bring people back over and over again are the ones which are considered the “Good boys”.
In order to ensure your site does not lose search rankings, you have to pay close attention to the user experience on your website. You have to ensure that people who come to your website, stay on your website for as long as you can keep them. You have to ensure that people browse through different pages of your site and do not bounce off just after reading one page. You have to ensure that people get what they are looking for and they are no longer performing the same search over and over again. In short, you have to do whatever it takes to satisfy every possible need of the consumer and make them come back, over and over again.
Bad content quality.
The quality and usefulness of content is the strongest signal used by search engines to determine whether the content in question is relevant, useful and serves the purpose or not. Low-quality sites and sites with thin, shallow content are no longer entertained in Google search results. There was a time when you could rank on the first page of Google by writing a shallow copy without enough research.
Not anymore, since search engines have gotten smarter and with time, they will continue to get smarter and promote sites with great content that is useful, resourceful, exclusive and serves the purpose.Pay close attention to the quality of the content that is published on your website. If your website is an editorial blog with many authors contributing, ensure you hire a good Editor who supervises the work of all the writers and pays close attention to the context of each blog post.
Ensure the copy is error-free, free of grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes and easy to read and understand. Ensure that the content makes sense and gives the user what he wants. Don’t just write a poor copy and publish it on the website, it will harm your site’s rankings in the long haul.Also, bear in mind that low-quality content on one part of the site will affect the rankings of the site as a whole. Hence, it is important to completely eliminate low-quality content from your site and focus your efforts in creating high-quality content which is resourceful, useful, exclusive and provides every possible solution to the reader which we desperately want.
Content not relevant anymore.
After usefulness and quality, relevancy is a very important signal.
The content on your website or blog can be resourceful, useful and exclusive but it has to be relevant as well. It is possible that the content was relevant when it was published but at the same time, it is also possible that the content is no longer relevant because something else has changed and the content does not make sense anymore.
Hence, it is a good practice to go back to your old content and look for areas of improvement. See if the content is still relevant and if it is not, figure out areas where you should improve the content. For example, if you wrote a tutorial on a specific subject 5 years ago, there is a high chance that the tutorial has become outdated today because lots of additional parameters have changed. Hence, it is indeed a good idea to update that article to incorporate the changes and make sure it is relevant today.
It can be a daunting task to update older pages of your website, especially if your website has thousands of pages. But there is no other way to go about it since if you want your website’s old pages to continue to rank, you have to ensure that the old content is relevant to this day.
Competitors coming up with better content than yours.
Creating good content is a never-ending process. And what makes it even more difficult is that the number of competitors will keep on increasing with time, giving you no peace of mind. If you create some content which ranks for 4-5 months, eventually someone else will come up with even better content and outrank you. There is nothing you can do to prevent this, except creating even better content from your competitor and retaining your search rankings.
And this phenomenon will continue to happen until the end of time, there is no one fixed way to ensure that you have obtained a ranking position in Google and you are going to keep it forever. If you want to keep it, you will have to continuously make your content better, more useful and up to date.
Link Spam – Building Low-Quality Links to Your Website
Backlinks are and will remain one of the signals to assess the authority, credibility, and popularity of a website. Its importance has diminished a bit since the recent algorithmic updates pushed by Google on link farms but note that the importance hasn’t vanished altogether.
A lot of websites involve themselves in shady link building practices. They try to build links in a hurry, they buy links from cheap SEO agencies, do fake PR and end up buying text link ads from several low-quality websites which results in Link Spam. Trying to trick search engines in believing that your website is really popular and authoritative is a very bad idea since Search engines will eventually figure out that those links are “Paid” or “Text link ads” or “Sponsored links” and not “Natural endorsements”. They have a variety of ways to figure if a link is natural or not and if search engines figure that most of the links to your website are not natural, you will get caught in their filter and marked as “Link spammer”.
When your website has been classified as a “Link spammer”, the search rankings will reduce drastically, sometimes even to ZERO. This has happened to so many websites and blogs and people keep complaining about Google and other search engines all the time, not realizing the shady practices they followed themselves which led to this disaster (and there is little you can do to revert it after getting flagged)
Creating Mirror Sites trying to trick the search engines
Webmaster and business owners will go all the way to ensure they don’t lose business. This principle does not apply when you are building websites for profits.
A website is not like a real estate property which increases in value no matter you keep it empty for years. A website needs work and more websites do not necessarily mean more value. More quality and useful websites mean quality and value and creating mirror sites trying to deceive search engines into thinking that a particular site is really valuable is a “Recipe for disaster”.
For example, you have the main website which gets thousands of visitors per day. You have observed the trend that the traffic to your website is dropping and business is getting lowered every quarter. To counter this, you create 50 different websites around the same topic which mirrors your website, thinking that if the main website does not show up in Google, the other smaller sites will. Now you have 51 sites competing for the keywords which are very important for your business.
But the problem with this idea is that Google and other Search engines will soon figure it out that all these sites are mirror copies of the same “Main website” and the business owner is simply trying to game the system by creating as many websites as possible. Another shady way to go about this approach is to build links from mirror sites and trying to trick “Pagerank value”.
At the end of the day, diverting your energy and time in creating hundreds of sites is not worth at all. You can create a few websites if you have different intentions with every single site but often times it is much better to focus your energy, time and research on a single site than having to maintain and update a whole bunch of sites. One thing well trumps over a herd of average mediocre sites with no substantial value.
Cloaking is the process of presenting different content to the user and different content to the search engines for the sole purpose of gaining ranks. “Cloaking” is considered a serious offense wherein the website owner is trying to deceive the search engines into thinking that the website contains specific words while in reality, the website has nothing to do with those words and those words are only presented to the spider to crawl.
If you serve different content to search engines and different content to human visitors, your website is practicing “Cloaking” and this will eventually lead to a violation of Google webmaster search quality guidelines which will eventually lead to a manual action from Google webspam team. The result is that your website will be wiped out of Google search and you won’t receive any traffic from Google Search at all.
Hidden text and other Blackhat SEO practices
Similar to cloaking, website owners should refrain from practicing “Hidden text” or other Blackhat SEO practices. These are really bad ideas and it may result in a permanent ban from Search engines forever. You may get lucky once or twice but eventually, you will get caught for sure. Website owners should not indulge in these practices hoping for short term gains but long term loses.
So there we have a comprehensive list of all the factors and parameters (with explanation) which affects the search rankings of your website and may cause a loss in search rankings. There could be other technical details which may cause your website to lose “Search rankings” but those technical details are rarely the cause of search rank loss while you now know what are the main causes.
Be Sure to read our SEO Guide which contains useful information about SEO and we have discussed in detail key SEO Concepts with examples.