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Why Did Your Google Rankings Drop Suddenly Overnight?

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A drop in your Google ranking can sometimes happen in the blink of an eye: One day, you were showing up on the first page of search results, and by the next day your site could barely be found. If you depend on your visibility in the search engines to bring in the bulk of your visitors, this scenario can be quite frightening. It’s especially terrifying if you have no idea why the drop in rankings happened. There are many reasons why a site’s ranking might suffer an abrupt plunge, and the majority of them can be remedied with a bit of time and effort. Let’s look at some of the most common issues that could cause a site’s ranking to plummet.

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Google Penalties

In an effort to weed out bad content and present users with higher-quality search results, Google has cracked down hard on websites that violate their guidelines. Older SEO techniques that used to be commonplace can now send your site plummeting in the rankings. There are a wide variety of transgressions for which Google will penalize a site; the following list includes some of the most common mistakes:

  1. Keyword stuffing: In the early days of SEO, it was typical to stuff your keywords as densely as possible into your content. Of course, this resulted in some badly-written content that was clearly created for search engines instead of humans. Keyword-stuffed pages won’t get you far in the rankings today; the better strategy is to incorporate your keywords in a natural manner, without sacrificing the quality of the content.
  2. Artificial link-building: Buying links, renting links and participating in too many link exchanges are just a few of the sketchy link-building practices that could earn you a Google penalty. Google frowns on any artificial means of building your link network. If you need to boost your backlink profile, it’s best to do it the old-fashioned way. Reaching out to the webmasters of other reputable sites in your niche and guest-posting on well-known blogs are great ways to build a solid set of links to your site.
  3. Duplicate content: Google doesn’t want its users to see the same content repeated within a list of search results. To avoid the possibility of this poor user experience, they may penalize sites who have identical content across multiple pages. Using tools like Copyscape can help you ensure that all your content is completely original.
  4. Duplicate metadata: Similar to the problem of duplicate content, duplicate metadata can also hurt your rankings with the search engines. Google won’t penalize you for having duplicate metadata alone, but they view it as a signal that your site may have a duplicate content issue. Many content management systems and blogging platforms make it easy to commit this particular transgression by accident. Take care to enter unique, original metadata for each of your site’s individual pages.
  5. Thin content: Google likes to see pages that are rich in information and filled with original content. Pages that exist primarily to serve ads are likely to earn a penalty; similarly, e-commerce sites that copy their product descriptions directly from the manufacturer or another website might also find themselves in trouble.
  6. Abusing anchor text: Using your keywords in the anchor text of your links used to be standard recommendation among SEO experts. The algorithm changes involved in Google’s 2012 Penguin update changed all that, and this practice is no longer advised. Your anchor text should contain genuine phrases, and it should flow naturally with the rest of your content.

 

It takes time to recover from a Google penalty. If you’ve been hit with one, the first thing to do is to clean up the problem: Rewrite any thin or keyword-stuffed content, get those bad links removed if you can, and use the Google Disavow Tool on links you can’t remove on your own. Once you’ve made your best efforts to remedy the problem, you can file a reconsideration request with Google and hope for a positive outcome.

Canonicalization Issues

Problems with canonicalization are somewhat similar to issues with duplicate content. These problems crop up when Google has indexed a page from your site with multiple different URLs. Canonicalization issues can occur when two versions of a domain name are indexed or when a single domain name is indexed with both HTTPS and HTTP. Unfortunately, this type of problem is easy to encounter through no fault of your own. Anyone who links to your site with an incorrect version of the URL can cause canonicalization trouble for you. If this happens, it’s important to reach out to the webmaster of the site with the bad link and attempt to have it changed.

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Server Problems

Google is typically quite forgiving of short-lived server problems on your site: If your website is down for maintenance or experiences a day or two of availability problems, your ranking should be unharmed. However, if the search engines have trouble accessing your site for several days, it could have a negative impact on your ranking. If you’re planning to take your site down for maintenance, you should make changes on your server so that a 503 code is generated; this indicates to the search engines that the outage is temporary.

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Detection of Malware

The presence of malware on your site won’t directly harm your ranking, but the impact it has on the traffic you get from search results is just as significant. If Google observes the presence of malware on your site, it will add a warning for users next to your listing in the search results. Various tools are available for finding and removing malware on your website. Once you succeed in dealing with the infection, Google will be able to remove the malware warning from your search results listing.

Algorithm Changes

If you’ve been playing by the rules with your website, and your site hasn’t been experiencing any technical problems, your drop in ranking may be due to an algorithm change by the search engines. In an effort to improve the overall quality of their results, Google and the other engines have made many adjustments to the way they index and rank web content. Google’s Penguin and Panda updates are two of the most well-known algorithm adjustments, causing sweeping changes in the SEO community. While most of these algorithm tweaks result in a more gradual impact on rankings, an overnight drop could occur if your site is particularly affected by the changes. If this happens to your site, your only recourse is to work on your website’s SEO and attempt to make your website stronger and better.

As you can see, there are multiple factors that could play a part in your site’s sudden decline in search results. Whether a Google penalty, server problems or an algorithm change is the culprit, it’s important to identify the root of the problem. Once you’ve figured out the underlying cause of the issue, it’s easier to take the necessary steps to fix the issue and make your site more visible in the search engines.

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James Parsons

I'm an avid blogger on SEO, social media, and design. When I'm not working with the awesome guys at AudienceBloom, I'm writing for my personal blog at JamesParsons.com or working on my next big project.

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