It’s a situation you have probably faced as a content marketer: You publish a piece of content—perhaps a blog post—on your website. After a while it hits Page One in the SERP. It drives traffic and all is going according to plan.
And then, possibly out of nowhere, that ranking drops dramatically—and with it, your site traffic begins to fall. While this can be disappointing, know that the solution may involve simple fixes or updates that could benefit your content (and your business) in the long run.
Why organic search matters when publishing content
The importance of SEO to a content strategy cannot be overstated. In today’s world, consumers and businesses turn to search engines like Google for quick-and-easy answers to whatever questions or problems they have.
For content strategists across industries, SEO can attract potential customers—whether consumers or businesses—to your website. It’s possible that SEO may even be the primary driver of visitors to your blog or site.
Data has also shown that organic search drives significantly more traffic than paid search. In addition, search engine users tend to trust organic results more than ads, which speaks to the importance of creating quality content that Google naturally finds worthy of ranking near the top of Page One.
Your page’s organic SEO ranking dropped. Now what?
Don’t panic if your search rankings suddenly or gradually dive because there’s probably something you can do to resolve the issue. So take a deep breath and follow this action plan, developed from conversations with three SEO experts.
1. Verify that your search rankings truly fell (and by how much)
There are several reasons why this may happen. Before you take action, benchmark the webpage’s new position from its last-known ranking to confirm that your ranking truly fell.
To confirm a search ranking drop of any degree, you can use rank tracker tools on standard SEO tools (think Moz or Semrush). Also, find additional information on Google Search Console, which automatically tracks your average search rankings over time.
Assuming you know what the ranking was before the drop, you can also search for a relevant query on your web browser using Incognito Mode (which doesn’t track your search history) and see where your ranking now sits. Remember: Google can personalize search results based on your search history, web history, or location, so using Incognito Mode is especially important here.
A drop in page traffic can also signal that a search ranking has taken a dive.
2. Wait two weeks
While an SEO ranking drop (especially on a page that drives a lot of traffic) can be disappointing, the first step Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, recommends is taken after confirming the drop is to wait two weeks.
“I wouldn’t make any changes right away if you see a rankings drop because, a lot of times, rankings will drop as an update from Google is being rolled out,” says Dean, who’s also the co-founder of the site Exploding Topics.
If the drop was rapid and dramatic, you might be able to trace it back to a major Google update or a technical issue with your website, Dean says. So wait two weeks before jumping to any conclusions. Then, check whether your ranking returns to its original spot or close to it. The change may very well have been temporary. But if that’s not the case, continue to Step 3.
3. Assess the urgency of correcting the issue
If the ranking drop seems legitimate, ask yourself (or your colleagues) how this drop in ranking might impact your business and whether it might eventually correlate with a decrease in sales or profit or negatively affect another KPI.
Start by analyzing the extent of the situation by taking a page-by-page approach: Did a few blog posts on your site receive 10 percent less traffic year-over-year? Or is it a bigger issue, like traffic to your homepage falling 80 percent from last month?
Having as clear a picture as possible of what’s at stake will help you determine the urgency behind correcting it and how much time, energy, and funding you should invest in taking action.
4. Identify the cause(s) of the ranking drop
There are many SEO tools to help you identify the cause of a ranking drop. However, there may be various factors causing the slide, and they are not always immediately apparent.
A big change or update to Google’s algorithm for determining search rankings could be the culprit, so start there. These changes happen regularly. And while the powers that be often announce more significant updates, that’s not always the case for more minor updates, says Eric Enge, who runs Pilot Holding, a digital marketing and SEO consultancy and co-author of the book The Art of SEO.
You can also ask your colleagues whether any major changes were recently made to your company’s website that may have contributed to a sudden or gradual ranking drop. Plus, you can check on Google Search Console whether Google is having any trouble crawling a page or if you’re facing a Google penalty.
If none of those applies, start checking out your competition for the relevant search queries. Did your SEO competitors make any noticeable changes that may have bumped up their ranking to overtake yours?
“If you don’t have some direct problem causing the drop, then you get to a point where maybe you need to improve the content and invest in making it better,” says Enge, who was previously founder at Stone Temple Consulting.
5. Take action and correct the issues
Once you know what’s causing the problem, you can correct the issue. What you do can vary among web pages, so it’s essential to take a page-by-page approach to remedy a search ranking drop in the first place.
While some resolutions may be more technical in nature, the content often simply needs to be improved and updated, says Bruce Jones, an SEO consultant who also runs 1on1seotraining.com. These improvements can take many forms, like getting more backlinks, adding more list items to a blog post, or upping the word count. “Sometimes it might just be little tweaks that might move the needle,” Jones says.
At this step, you may also want to check on SEO in alt text for images, or you might need to address a keyword density issue. Regardless of the steps you take, remember to keep users’ search intent front of mind. What do the highest-ranked pages for a query provide that you don’t? How can you better meet your audience’s needs?
6. Make additional updates to your content as needed
You can also use this opportunity to improve your content and make it stronger, whether for SEO, user experience, timeliness, or overall quality. Dean says this may involve updating out-of-date statistics, adding more internal links, or updating the writing style to better align with your brand’s voice.
7. Keep a close eye on the data
Remember that it could take some time for Google to re-index your page after making changes. “Once you’re done with the last change, set the calendar for a month,” Dean suggests. Then, go back and check whether your ranking improved.
Continuously monitoring your page rankings on Google Search Console or other rank trackers can also be worthwhile. “(The ranking is) probably not going to go straight up,” Dean explains. “But as long as it’s trending up, that’s a good sign that what you did is working. And you might want to already scale that out to other pages that aren’t even affected yet to get ahead of perhaps the next update.”