I have been building websites and generating massive amounts of traffic from the search engines for years now, but errors often occur and all of a sudden you notice that your website rankings dropped out like a lead balloon! The feeling is of sheer sadness and you almost feel like you are falling down a big black hole yourself. You actually start to grasp at each and every troubleshooting method out there.
Trust me, I have learned the hard way.
Website Rankings Dropped – 10 Possible Causes
The error I am about to list have actually caused my website rankings to drop when they occurred. Many webmasters just keep adding content, hoping that the problems will go away, but if you jump in and fix these errors your ranking will return like fire.
#1. Broken links
Broken links were my first lesson to losing website rankings fast. In fact when this happened, the rankings dropped so fast that I could hardly find my website in the search engines. This was a shock for me as the site I was looking for ranked high for everything I posted.
I think this error went on for days and the whole time I studied, read everything possible, and tried to fix the problem. I asked questions all over the internet but not one person could help me, not even on the Google Webmaster forums (where all the experts apparently hang out ). I even employed an expensive top SEO guy to help but he couldn’t even find the problem. It was a nightmare. I wanted to check the site for broken links, but in those days it was not as easy as installing a plugin like we do now days. No way! It was a difficult task, but to my surprise, my site was riddled with broken links. As soon as I repaired the broken links the site began to move back into the rankings fast! That was a great feeling!
The broken links came from:
- Changing my content management system to WordPress.
- Posts I had deleted in the move when other pages still linked to them.
- Links I had placed that had since died. (Sites had shut down)
- People commenting and leaving broken links. (Still happens today)
- Permalinks changed in the move.
#2. Server Problems
What if the search engine spiders try to access your site and it does not respond or loads slowly? If this happens too often what do you think happens? Yes you are right in thinking that your site will be dropped from the search results.
If you have a planned downtime you can setup a 503 code which tells the search engines that you’re aware of the situation and that they should try again later. You can even set a return time for the search engines to crawl your site. This is pretty technical for the average webmaster but you can see more details from the Google blog. Another technical resource is this post.
If you are using WordPress you can use “Site Maintenance” plugin which automatically creates a 503 page for you. This is an easier option and all you need to do is activate this plugin for the 503 error code to be working. When your maintenance or downtime is over then deactivate the plugin. Unfortunately you cannot use this plugin when your server is completely down.
You will also find that some premium WordPress themes have an option to go into maintenance mode.
#3. Robot Text File
What is in your robot text file. Did you know that you can block the search engines from accessing your site with one stupid mistake?
This tiny little text file that lives in the root of your domain can do a lot of damage.
Simply adding something like:
The user-agent part means who you want to block. In this case * means all search engines. Then on the next line we have disallow: * which means block access to the entire website.
If you had:
This would tell the search engines to index everything. This is a tiny mistake that can hurt your search engine rankings.
Also you might want to block one file in a certain directory on your site but by accident, you might block the entire directory. For example a forward slash like this / by itself, after the word disallow, can cause your entire site to be excluded from the search engines.
See my robot text tutorial for more important information.
#4. Errors in Your Sitemap
I had a site map plugin that I used on a WordPress website. You know the ones where they auto generate a list of your website URL’s and send it to the search engines?
I decided to tick a box in the settings section and it actually added the category name into the url that it listed. Then the plugin sent a copy of this sitemap to various search engines with completely the wrong URLS.
The sitemap URLs had a category in the link and my permalink structure was set to only have the post name and no category.
That actually caused the search engines to index a set of urls that were in fact 404 errors. As soon as I repaired the sitemap, my rankings came back.
#5. Duplicate Site Title
This just recently happen to me, an experienced web master! Look at the screenshot below.
There is a duplicate site title causing a drop in rankings. Ouch!
The stupid thing is that I am just so busy with all my work that I seriously thought that me neglecting the site made it drop from the search engines. This site ranks well for anything it posts so I probably should have investigated earlier?
What caused this? It seems that the theme I had was adding a site title and so was Yoast’s SEO plugin. I have not had much luck with SEO plugins, except SEOPressor of course, so now I am very wary of what they are actually doing. You can see my SEOpressor review here.
#6. The Bloody Algorithms
To tell the truth, I am not worried about algorithms any longer, after experiencing these various errors, an algorithm loss of rankings would be almost welcome. I also think that most sites drop in rankings because of errors and blame the change in algorithms as they have no real idea what the cause is.
I have survived without Google traffic when my sites have dropped from the search engines so I know that Google is not god. I like the traffic though, don’t get me wrong, but the smart thing to do is not rely on it.
#7. Links Disappear
Links to your site help you rank.
But your links can disappear as fast as they are made and many webmasters get a few links and then sit back thinking this will do. No, not at all. Link building is fuel for the fire and if you do not feed it the fire dies out. It burns what is on the fire and anything else you put on. Link Building is ongoing and you need to constantly stoke the fire.
A big log ( a great link) will stay and help the fire stay alive but it will not last if it is the only log. Weird way to put it, but true.
#8. Your Site is Hacked
Your site could have malware. This is an awful experience because when people try to click on your site in the search engines a big malware warning comes up. If that does not scare your traffic away nothing will.
I have had malware on a website and I simply contacted my web hosting company and told them (Hostgator of course). But not all web hosts fix this for you because securing your website is really your job and the biggest security threat is not having regular updates installed. If your web hosting company will not help, Google has some free tips to remove malware from your site.
#9. Canonicalization Problems
If you plan to be a serious website owner, maybe even creating an authority website, you will certainly need to know about the how SEO works under the hood of your website. It is not enough to look at the surface of your website as errors can form from within.
Canonicalization problems are one of those sneaky errors that need to be dealt with swiftly. Most pages on a site can have a few versions. For example, when people comment on your site, a URL for that comment is then created. You really do not want the search engines to index every comment URL as this would look like duplicate content and cause problems. Therefore you only want to index the original post.
When Google finds duplicate pages with the same meta descriptions and content, it has to choose which copy to serve in the search engines and then devalues all other copies.
There can also be two versions of your domain name like www and no www. You need to choose one and stick to it!
If you use WordPress the Thesis framework is one theme that has an option to fix this canonical URL problem. Also the Yoast SEO plugin has a similar option.
#10. Your Competition is Just Better
Yeah lets face it. You site has dropped from the rankings in the search engines because other sites have come along and have bigger and better content. If you have thin content you will not stand a chance when the competition decides to cover the same topic. They will wipe the floor with you.
This is the first and most important error on a website, not having awesome quality content. Why bother doing something if you are not going to do it properly?
Of course I could go into each error in full detail as they may seem simple now, but when you are going your website rankings dropped from existence, they are far from simple then. I have consulted so called experts about these errors and they have been no help whatsoever.
Therefore if your website rankings dropped tomorrow, you will not doubt be fixing these errors yourself.