There’s no doubt that SEO is one of the most effective digital marketing channels out there today.
Paid and organic search are the two most dominant sources of traffic online, with both accounting for 68% of trackable website traffic.
Beyond that, there’s a ton of value in securing a top-ranked spot on Google (#5 or above). That’s because the first 5 organic Google search results account for 67.6% of all clicks.
Yet, you likely already know this if you’ve implemented a successful SEO strategy for your website.
You’re also likely aware of the fierce competition out there and the 200+ factors that Google’s algorithms use to rank search results.
While it’s clear that SEO is effective, that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely straightforward.
For instance, you may pull up Google Search Console one day to discover that your Google ranking dropped by a significant margin.
You’ve been knocked off your top spot, and you don’t have a clue why it happened.
If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place. There are many reasons why your ranking may suddenly change, including Google algorithm updates, manual penalties, competitors outranking you, and many more.
Beyond that, SEO is notorious for taking a long time before you see a return on your investment.
Stay tuned to learn some quick fixes for ranking issues, as well as ways to obtain quick boosts in traffic while you wait for your SEO efforts to kick in.
How Can You Tell if You’re Ranking on Google?
First, you’ll need a way to tell if your content is being properly crawled, indexed, and ranked on Google and other search engines.
This is an essential step because if there are any indexing issues you aren’t aware of, your content won’t show up on Google – which will mean all your SEO efforts were for nothing.
Beyond that, you’ll need a way to monitor your rankings as you roll out your SEO strategy.
For example, if you’re engaged in content marketing, you’ll want to know how your blogs are ranking for your targeted keywords on search engine results pages (SERPs).
That way, you’ll be able to make any necessary tweaks on the fly whenever you don’t reach your desired ranking (after giving your efforts plenty of time to take effect).
Using Google Search Console
There are also essential SEO metrics that you’ll need to pay attention to ensure your success, including the following:
- Click-through rate (CTR)
- Total number of clicks
- Total number of impressions
- Average position (ranking)
The best way to keep track of all these metrics is to use Google Search Console (GSC) for your website. To start using it, you’ll need to validate your site either by domain name or URL prefix. If you have multiple websites, you’ll want to list each domain here.
GSC contains all the metrics listed above, and it’s a great way to see if there are any Google ranking issues plaguing your web pages.
For instance, checking GSC will let you know if any indexing errors are occurring on your site via its Page Indexing Report.
There, you’ll see a complete breakdown of all the pages Google has indexed, which it doesn’t, and a list of reasons why. It’s important to note that it’s normal for most websites not to index every single web page.
Why is that?
It’s because not every page needs to rank on search engines to help your SEO, only very specific ones.
As an example, you won’t benefit from indexing admin and login pages, as there’s no need to drive organic traffic to them. In fact, indexing them can take attention away from the pages you DO want to rank in the top 5.
Index vs. noindex
How do you know which pages to index and which to exclude with a noindex tag on your website?
It all comes down to your end goal of ranking a web page in the top 5 Google search results.
For example, you’ll have a lot of incentive to get your blog posts, product pages, and landing pages to the top of the SERPs, as they can generate traffic, leads, and sales for you.
eCommerce websites face a unique challenge with indexing their content as well.
That’s because most eCommerce pages have dozens of duplicate pages for different product colors, attributes, and sizes – such as 12 different pages for each shoe color.
The problem they face is that Google’s algorithm views each color page as a duplicate of the original, which is an SEO no-no.
Enter canonical tags, which can make indexing (and not indexing) your content far easier.
In the case of the eCommerce shoe page, the webmaster would designate the original shoe page as canon (the version Google will rank in the SERPs), and all the duplicates get a noindex tag.
Here are some other examples of web pages you should noindex:
- Internal search results
- Thank you pages
- Custom post types
- Duplicate product pages for colors and attributes
- Login pages
- Admin pages
- Author archives on a one-author blog
Getting all your ducks in a row regarding page indexing is a crucial part of any SEO strategy, so it’s crucial not to forget about it.
Of course, you should become concerned if a page you intended to index and rank isn’t because of an issue. In that case, GSC will let you know why the page isn’t indexing, as well as what you can do to fix it.
Page experience report
In addition to the indexing and performance reports, GSC also provides a page experience report for your website.
It combines Google’s Core Web Vitals test data with other essential page experience metrics, such as whether your web pages use HTTPS or not.
You’ll get to see how many ‘good’ URLs you have on your site, which means they passed the Core Web Vitals test – which checks each web page for loading speed, responsiveness, and interactivity.
The report will also notify you of any security issues that will negatively affect your page experience and checks your website for mobile usability.
Google uses mobile-first indexing, so if your site doesn’t have a mobile version, you’ll likely run into indexing issues.
Opt for a responsive website design, where the dimensions and aspect ratio automatically change depending on the user’s device.
Page experience metrics drastically affect SEO rankings, so you should check this report as often as possible.
Alternative rank checker tool
It’s always a good idea to use more than one SEO tool to see if there’s anything you might have missed, and a rank tracker is no different.
In addition to GSC, you can also use The HOTH’s Rank Checker tool to keep an eye on your search rankings and keyword rankings.
The best part?
It’s a completely free tool, and you can use it whenever you want as well as how many times you want.
Simply enter the URL or URLs you want to check for search rankings, and the tool will handle the rest. Using our tool in tandem with GSC will help you stay on top of any ranking changes that may occur, which will help you avoid Google ranking issues.
Fixes for Sudden Google Ranking Issues
Every webmaster’s worst nightmare is to pull up a rank checker tool to discover that a competitor has overtaken their #1 ranking.
What’s even worse is if your website disappears from the rankings entirely.
What happened? How come you aren’t ranked in the top spot anymore?
It can be easy to panic when these things happen, but staying calm is essential. That’s because, believe it or not, these things happen to even the best SEO experts.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to fix the ranking issue and resume your top spot or at least get back into the top 5.
Here are the most common fixes for Google ranking issues.
Check the accuracy of your data
As a rule of thumb, the first thing you should do whenever you notice a falloff in rankings or traffic is to sit back and wait.
While it may seem counterintuitive, traffic swings are not abnormal. So if you are experiencing a drop in traffic, check your SEO traffic for the last 12 months and compare the fluctuations. If the drop is in line with past traffic swings, there’s likely no cause for concern.
More often than not, a temporary drop in traffic or rank will resolve itself after a month or two.
What causes these fluctuations?
It could be anything, but it’s likely that Google algorithm changes are the culprit. The engineers at Google are always experimenting with and tweaking their algorithm, which can cause some temporary traffic/rankings changes.
Yet, if the dip is vast and doesn’t recover, then you know there’s cause for concern – and the first thing you should check is your data accuracy.
Run an SEO audit to ensure your keywords, metadata, URL structure, internal links, and sitemap are properly in place. To help, you can use the free SEO Audit Tool from The HOTH.
Enter your website URL and name to use the tool, and you’ll get a full breakdown of your website’s SEO performance.
Are your pages still indexed?
Next, you’ll need to discover if Google still has your pages indexed, as that’s a surefire way to disappear from the SERPs.
To find out, head to Google search and perform a search query for ‘site:domain name’ (using your domain name, of course) to see if your website shows up.
If not, you’ll know that Google isn’t indexing your web pages, which means it’s time to head over to GSC’s Page Indexing Report to find out what’s wrong.
If a large chunk of your web pages suddenly vanishes from the Google SERPs, it could mean a few things. It could be due to technical issues, such as a problem with your sitemap, URL structure, or because you don’t have a mobile version of your site (Google uses mobile-first indexing).
Your website may suddenly disappear from the results pages because you incurred a Google penalty.
Google algorithm updates
There are two types of algorithm updates that can affect your site rankings. First, it could be a new algorithm that Google just rolled out. The other possibility is that Google is refreshing one of its algorithms.
Either way, these issues can dramatically affect your search engine rankings.
If you suspect that an algorithm update is the reason why you saw a drop in rank, the first thing you should do is check the online news about search engines. Google is always forthright about when it rolls out new algorithms or refreshes old ones, so you should be able to find out about it relatively quickly.
Even better, these news sources will often provide information on what you need to do to recover your rankings.
If you can’t find any information there, you can take to SEO forums on Reddit, as there are plenty of SEO gurus ready to share their expertise with others, and algorithm updates are no exception.
You were outranked by competitors
Another possibility is that a competing website worked some SEO magic and was able to outrank you.
To find out if competitors are the culprit, take to our Rank Tracker tool to find out where you stand in the SERPs.
If you notice that one website has outranked you for numerous keywords, it’s a sign that they’ve made some site-wide enhancements.
Next, you can use our SEO Site Audit tool to take an in-depth look at their SEO profile. More importantly, you’ll be able to see where your competitors are outdoing you, either in terms of technical optimization or on-page tweaks.
The good news is you can use the tool to find out what they did to outrank you and then take some of their ideas to reclaim your spot.
Manual penalties on Google
Google has a team of human reviewers that manually review websites to ensure compliance with the company’s webmaster guidelines.
If they find any violations, you’ll receive a manual penalty, also referred to as manual actions.
There are many different types of manual actions, but the most common are the following:
- Your site was hacked
- The website contains user-generated spam
- There’s too much thin content (pages with less than 300 words that provide little-to-no value for users)
- You’re using cloaking (providing different content for users and search engines to manipulate rankings)
If you drop over 10 positions in one night for a significant number of keywords, you should check for Google penalties first.
How do you do that?
You can do this by going to Google Search Console and going to the Security & Manual Actions page, and selecting Manual Actions.
If you’ve been issued any manual penalties, you’ll see a notice for them on this page. Google will let you know that someone has manually flagged your content and will provide the reason. While their explanation won’t get too specific, you’ll have a general idea of where to look and what to do to resolve the issue.
You’ll also get to know if the penalty affects your entire website or only specific pages & subdomains.
Why does Google use manual actions?
Search engines face unique challenges when contending with specific SEO tactics.
That’s because there is no shortage of ways to ‘trick’ your way to the top of the results pages, even if your content doesn’t deserve it.
While SEO as a practice is completely acceptable, there’s a line that one should not cross.
That’s because Google and other search engines have to preserve their credibility and reputation for providing the most trustworthy, relevant, and accurate results for user queries.
As such, if sites containing low-quality content use shady practices like cloaking, keyword spam, and link farms – all the top spots on search engines will feature poor and irrelevant content and maybe even harmful to users.
That’s why there’s long been a line drawn in the sand between white hat (good) and black hat (bad) SEO.
Manual actions are one of Google’s ways of separating the good from the bad. That way, they can remove nearly all spam from their search results, thus retaining their top-tier reputation. Besides manual actions, Google’s algorithm is also highly adept at tracking down spam, and Google’s engineers are always making tweaks to improve it.
As long as you stick to white hat SEO techniques (i.e., creating valuable content for users, honestly acquiring backlinks, and using keywords in a relevant way instead of spamming them), you shouldn’t run into any problems.
Which ‘Black Hat SEO’ Techniques Should You Avoid?
You need to know what can get you in trouble to avoid manual actions from Google. That’s why it’s beneficial to know what qualifies as black hat SEO techniques, so you can avoid them like the plague.
It’s a real hassle and a setback to incur a penalty that drops your ranking, and it can be a lengthy process to correct (more on this is a bit).
That’s why the best defense is prevention.
Here’s a list of the worst SEO techniques that you should avoid at all costs.
Link-building accounts for a large portion of any SEO strategy, regardless of industry. That’s because high-authority backlinks will boost your rankings like nothing else.
Yet, link-building is a time-consuming and difficult process to master.
Beyond that, competing with larger companies with rock-solid backlink profiles can be challenging. In fact, legacy websites like Amazon and Wikipedia have millions of backlinks with domain ratings so high it’s nearly impossible for anyone to compete.
That’s why many SEO experts choose to focus on keywords that have high search volume but not much in the way of competition.
Still, the steep competition and often slow progress rate of organically acquiring backlinks lead some to buy backlinks instead.
However, buying backlinks is in direct violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. That’s because they don’t want unworthy content buying their way to the top – tarnishing Google’s reputation as a result.
They’ve also become savvy at detecting which links are bought and which aren’t, so buying backlinks is a definite way to incur a manual action/penalty.
Links in exchange for free products/gifts
Another tactic seen as shady by Google is offering free products to webmasters in exchange for backlinks – as this qualifies as a link scheme.
Why is that?
It’s because you’re not acquiring backlinks based on the merit and relevancy of your content; you’re acquiring them in exchange for gifts and products, which is technically a bribe.
As a result, websites using this technique will incur a manual penalty from Google, so it’s best not to engage in this technique whatsoever.
Yet, there is a way to make this practice okay, and it involves tagging each link you receive as nofollow, which means it won’t affect your SEO profile.
You may be asking yourself, “If the link doesn’t count toward my rankings, why should I bother?”
Well, you really shouldn’t, as tagging them as dofollow will lead to a penalty.
However, there are plenty of other reasons why a company would want to give out free products, and you may find that someone gives you a backlink in return as a way of thanking you. In that scenario, your best bet is to tag it as nofollow to avoid a penalty.
Some webmasters think they’re clever by hiding links within lines of code or making it appear the same color as the background.
Like with the other black hat tactics on this list, Google eventually picked up on this, and now its algorithm actively looks for hidden links. You’ll incur a penalty if you get caught, so it’s not worth trying to game the system.
Here’s what Google is on the lookout for:
- Links hidden behind images
- Using CSS to keep text off-screen
- Using a font size of 0 to conceal links
- Using punctuation (like a period) to conceal a link
To maintain your rankings and avoid penalties, it’s best to play by the rules and avoid deceptive tactics such as hiding links.
Reusing the same anchor text
Every time you link to a page in the body text of a post, it needs to have a unique anchor text, even if you’re linking to the same page multiple times.
That’s because Google will view repeat instances of the same anchor text as link spamming.
This one is trickier because some web publishers do this without any ill intentions; they just don’t know any better. To them, they’re staying consistent by reusing anchor text, but they’re doing more harm than good.
Instead, strive to make every instance of anchor text unique, keyword-rich, and relevant for users. You need to make every link appear like it’s a natural part of its surroundings to squeeze the most value out of it – and that goes for both internal and external links.
Not all backlinks are created equal, and some will do more harm than good for your SEO profile.
In particular, when building backlinks, you’ll want to avoid the following:
- Links from spam sites
- Links from sites that aren’t indexed by Google
- Links from sites that contain thin content and a low-quality design
While you can actively avoid acquiring these links, sometimes other websites will link to you without your knowledge.
In that scenario, you may experience Google ranking issues due to malicious backlinks that you unknowingly acquired.
Luckily, Google has a way to fix this.
If you discover that you do have links coming from undesirable websites, you can disavow them.
Disavowing a link means that it will no longer affect your SEO, which is what you want in the case of malicious backlinks.
So if you can’t figure out why your ranking suddenly dropped, conducting an audit of your backlinks may uncover the culprit.
This tactic is pretty antiquated, but some websites still haven’t gotten the memo yet.
In the early days of SEO (we’re talking pre-Google here), search engine algorithms were much simpler.
Back then, ranking websites tended to rely on keyword usage alone. As such, many websites began stuffing their content with as many keywords as possible in hopes of rising through the ranks.
Yet, it’s been many, many years since this technique has yielded any fruit.
Not only that, but Google now considers keyword stuffing a black hat tactic worthy of landing you a manual penalty.
Instead of keyword stuffing, Google rewards websites that use semantically-linked keywords. In other words, your keywords need to flow into your paragraphs naturally and with relevance.
Here’s a brief example of what we mean:
- Keyword stuffing: Have SEO issues? Then check out our SEO issues guide to solve all your most pressing SEO issues.
- Proper keyword usage: If SEO issues are plaguing your website, then our in-depth guide will help you navigate them with ease.
The first example was able to use the target keyword three times, but it was shoehorned in and didn’t read naturally. The second example only uses the keyword once, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the sentence and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Another frowned-upon SEO tactic is article spinning, where you only make small tweaks to an article’s topic and sentence structure to form a new piece of content.
Webmasters use this technique to quickly fill their blogs with lots of content, but it’s near-duplicate content that adds no real value to readers and clogs up the internet.
Articles can be spun manually or with the assistance of AI software, but Google’s algorithms have become more adept at detecting them.
That’s why Google will penalize any spun articles that it detects, even if the article is readable.
How to Use ‘White Hat SEO’ to Avoid Google Ranking Issues
A great way to avoid Google ranking issues is to implement a rock-solid SEO strategy that avoids black hat tactics altogether.
Of course, there’s no way to know when a competitor may outrank you or when Google is going to update its algorithms. Yet, you can fully avoid ranking issues such as not being indexed, article spinning, and malicious backlinks by following the best practices for white hat SEO.
Optimize all your existing content
Do you have blogs, landing pages, or product pages that you created before you knew about SEO tactics?
If so, you likely have a lot of content that doesn’t contain targeted keywords, optimized meta descriptions, and proper technical tweaks.
Not only that, but you should go back and update your old content to make it relevant again.
For example, if you have a blog entitled ‘The Best Gardening Tools for 2022’, you’ll want to update it for 2023 with new information, images, or relevant gardening tools. Doing so will help you maintain your existing rankings (as well as rank even higher), so taking the time to update your content is well worth it.
If you rank for any SERP features (snippets, local pack, knowledge bar, etc.), you’ll want to update that information to maintain them as well.
That’s because Google wants to display the newest and most relevant results to users. So if your content is outdated by even just a year, don’t expect to dominate the SERP rankings.
Lastly, if you use local SEO tactics like listing your business on Google Business Profile and other online directories, you’ll need to update all that information, too. That includes updating your NAP (name, address, and phone number), especially if there are any significant changes (i.e., moving to a new location).
Use a mobile-friendly website design
In the current era, mobile devices dominate the online space. Google understood this, which is why they moved to mobile-first indexing. Over 90% of the population uses mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to browse the internet.
Your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices to ensure you get a piece of that massive chunk of traffic.
If you’ve ever done any web browsing on a smartphone, you’ve probably run into a website that wasn’t mobile-friendly. The dimensions are all out of whack, specific images and videos don’t appear, and the whole thing is nearly impossible to interact with.
To avoid this, you’ll either need a mobile version of your website or a responsive website design.
A mobile version is literally another version of your website that displays on mobile devices (this is also the version of your website that Google will index and rank).
Yet, it can be cumbersome to maintain a mobile site in addition to your regular site, which is why a responsive design has become so popular. That’s where you only have one version of your website, but it changes depending on the user’s device. The dimensions, images, and everything else will all be reformatted to display correctly on phones and tablets.
Create and upload a sitemap to GSC
To make sure Google always has visibility of your website, you’ll need to upload your sitemap to Google Search Console.
What’s a sitemap?
It’s an XML file that lists all the different pages on your website and acts as a ‘map’ for Google to understand your site and content.
With an XML sitemap, Googlebot and other search engine crawlers will have a much easier time indexing your website. That gives you an excellent chance of boosting your website’s ranking on the SERPs.
Mapping your site and including a robots.txt file will let Google know that your content is relevant to your keywords and target audience.
Find broken and dead links
Broken links will hurt your SEO profile and can cause Google ranking issues, so it’s best to get rid of them as soon as they pop up.
To Google, broken links negatively affect your user experience because users can’t successfully navigate to the content they want.
As such, the more broken links you have, the lower you will fall in the SERP rankings.
To find these broken links, you can use another one of Google’s free tools for webmasters, Google Analytics.
Go to the Behavior tab and select Site content > All Pages.
Here, you’ll be able to see if you have any broken or dead links. You can resolve them by using redirects to direct users to another page with similar content.
It’s a good idea to periodically check for broken links since link rot is a real thing.
Acquire high-authority backlinks instead of malicious ones
As long as you focus on building high-authority backlinks instead of taking shortcuts (think buying links), you’ll enjoy a significant boost to your SEO profile.
Here are some white-hat SEO tactics for acquiring backlinks:
- Make guest posts on other relevant blogs in your niche
- Create detailed infographics containing statistics, facts, and figures
- Write testimonials for third-party products (that you’ve actually used)
- Replace dead and broken links online
- Sponsor scholarships and government programs
These are all legitimate link-building techniques that will help your rankings instead of hurt them. Guest blogging is a popular method, but you need to find the right blogs in your industry.
If you guest post on a blog with low domain authority, it can end up hurting your rankings instead.
To find out if a website is worth acquiring a backlink from, run them through our Domain Authority Checker Tool from The HOTH. It will let you know what their domain authority score is, so avoid backlinks from websites with low scores.
Keep track of your SERP rankings
You need to make a habit of regularly checking your SERP rankings to avoid Google ranking issues.
The best way is to use our free Rank Tracking Tool, which will track your rankings over time. That will let you know if you’ve experienced any dramatic dips in rankings, which will help out a lot.
Analyze your rankings and traffic to measure the impact your SEO efforts are having on your website. This will also help you discover your key strengths and weaknesses, as well as solutions to potential problems.
Check your on-page SEO
On-site SEO or on-page SEO involves tweaking all the elements on your website to increase your search engine rankings.
That includes keyword usage, metadata, internal and external links, word count, images, and more.
You should also revisit all your old content, especially any pages that aren’t optimized for target keywords.
Pro tip: To optimize your headings, you need to make sure your target keyword is an exact match in your title. For instance, if your keyword is ‘Garden Tools in 2022,’ you’ll need to put that phrase word-for-word in your H1. An example would be ‘The Best Garden Tools in 2022.’ Now your target keyword is in the heading, which is what you want.
Besides catering to Google’s algorithms, on-page SEO tweaks will help your audience quickly understand what your content is about and whether or not it will fill their needs. As such, making on-page optimizations can enhance your user experience.
Don’t get too crazy with optimizations
While optimizing your website is crucial, it is possible to get too carried away. In the early days of SEO, many websites went too crazy with keyword stuffing, paying for backlinks, and spinning articles to get ahead.
That led to Google forming manual penalties to preserve its reputation.
Well, the same thing can happen in today’s age, especially if you go too far with your backlink profile.
Less is generally more when it comes to backlinks, as you want to focus on generating high-authority backlinks. You could do more harm than good if you start acquiring dozens of backlinks from all over the web.
In a nutshell, optimization efforts are very important, but it’s essential to know when enough is enough.
Final Thoughts: Google Ranking Issues
By now, you should better understand what causes Google ranking issues. It could be an update to the algorithm, a competitor outranking you, or you received a manual penalty.
By properly optimizing your website, you can enjoy a high page rank without worrying about penalties. Remember, engaging in shady black hat SEO practices isn’t worth it and will likely lead to a devastating penalty that wrecks your rankings.
As long as you follow our guide on how to prevent Google ranking issues, you should be golden.
Do you need expert help forming an SEO strategy for your business?
Then don’t wait to check out our five-star managed SEO services at HOTH X. Our SEO gurus will implement a winning SEO strategy, all while avoiding the Google ranking issues you read about in this post. Our team is also available for consulting services, so feel free to book a call today.