Getting your pages to show up at the top of the search engine results page (SERPs) is a really big deal. Having it suddenly drop several spots—or worse, fall off completely—is a much bigger deal. Ranking drops are a valid fear because they can end up costing you a lot of money.
That’s because the effect of a significant ranking drop is two-fold. First, you lose the ability to generate as much organic traffic as before. Second, the resources you spent on creating the content are now going to waste.
While losing a top-ranking spot is a frustrating experience, there are plenty of website changes you can make to gain it back. With the right tweaks, you may even rank in a higher spot than you did before. Here, we’ll go over the most common reasons for ranking drops and give you a detailed guide on how to fix them, along with links to helpful tools to get it done right.
SERP Rankings Drops—Explained and Corrected
Sometimes a drop occurs, and it’s not a mystery, such as if you reorganized your URL structure or made other significant changes to your website.
However, if you’re checking the Google Search Console (GSC) and find an unexpected drop, there are several possible causes. Here are the top 10, along with their solutions.
#1: Page loading speed
If you aren’t able to pass the Core Web Vitals test, you’ll see a drop in your SERP rankings. Even if your rankings don’t drop, slow loading times will negatively affect your bounce rate and dwell time—as modern internet users won’t want to wait more than three seconds for your content to load.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a huge help. It will let you know how fast your loading times are and make recommendations for speeding things up. You’ll find that tweaks like compressing images, using browser caching, and minimizing code are all great ways to speed up your site if things have slowed down.
#2: Your keywords are losing popularity
Another cause for a rankings drop is the target keyword you used for the web page isn’t as popular as it once was.
It’s normal for search terms to rise and fall in popularity, and most keywords won’t stay on top forever. Keywords that pertain to trending topics, fad products, and current events tend to fizzle out after a few months, which can cause significant ranking drops.
In this scenario, your best bet is to find another related keyword to target that still has a decent search volume. Our free keyword planner tool from The HOTH is your best friend in this regard, as it includes the trend for each query—so you’ll know if a keyword is gaining or falling in popularity before choosing to target it.
#3: Domain/hosting issues
If you don’t have an active domain name or hosting plan, all your content will disappear from the SERPs entirely. This could be an issue with your web hosting company, such as a DDoS attack, or it could simply be that your domain name has expired.
If you’re lucky and it’s just the latter, renewing your domain will resolve it quickly. If it’s a DDoS attack, though, your hands are tied until your host can get it under control.
#4: Improperly formatted robots.txt file
If you’re experiencing a ranking drop—or if your site is very new and it’s not getting any traction—it could be that some of your most important URLs aren’t getting crawled because your robots.txt file isn’t granting them access.
Crawling URLs takes a lot of bandwidth, and search engine bots will only crawl a limited number of URLs to avoid overloading their servers. This is called the “crawl budget,” and it tends to matter more for large websites.
So if a piece of content you spent a lot of time and money on isn’t appearing in the SERPs, you should check your robots.txt file to ensure that it’s not keeping search engine bots from crawling it.
#5: Competitors have outranked you
Sometimes an SEO rankings drop occurs because one of your competitors outperformed you and dethroned your content. After all, that’s what we’re all trying to do every day, right?
One of the biggest clues that your drop is due to competition is that you’ll see multiple pages drop at the same time. Instead of looking for clues, you can find out by simply searching for your target keyword and then clicking on the website that’s in your old spot.
Once you find them, you might be able to reclaim your spot by identifying what they’re doing that you aren’t… and then do it better. You should look at their backlinks and consider the authority of those sites giving them cred. Also, consider the quality of their content and UX on their site because that is Google’s top priority for rankings right now.
To get a clear picture of a competitor’s metrics, you can plug them into this free SEO Audit tool. It’ll give you an overview of their backlink profile, on-page SEO factors, technical factors, and more.
#6: Your own backlink profile
Your backlink profile plays a huge role in determining your rankings, and the more high-authority websites online that point to your content, the better. However, if you were to lose some of your most powerful backlinks, your content would drop in the SERP rankings, sometimes by a significant margin.
This could happen if a competitor used the skyscraper technique to poach one of your links. It can also happen if that site’s webmaster simply removed it. They may have deleted the content containing the link, redesigned their website, or purged old links. You can use our free backlink checker tool to see if you’ve been losing backlinks.
Spammy and unnatural backlinks can also cause SEO rankings to drop, so you should keep an eye out for them, as well. Things to look for:
- Too many links coming from the same IP address
- An excessive number of links coming from foreign-language websites
- Duplicate content hurting your backlink profile
As long as your backlink profile is spam-free and you didn’t lose any links, you can rule out lost/spammy backlinks as the reason why your rankings dropped.
#7: A Google algorithm update
Google is constantly updating and changing its algorithm to resolve problems and provide a better user experience.
Sometimes these algorithm changes dramatically affect SERP rankings. For example, the Link Spam Update in December 2022 negated the effect paid backlinks had on SEO profiles. That caused many websites to lose rankings virtually overnight due to the lost impact of paid/spammy backlinks.
If you determine that a Google update affected your rankings, the solution is always to optimize your website in accordance with the new update.
#8: On-page SEO factors
Next, you need to check your on-page SEO to ensure that everything is in order.
The top on-page SEO factors that can cause rankings drops include thin content (blogs and articles should be at least 1,000 words), over-optimization or under-optimization of keywords, and lack of a keyword-rich title tag and meta description.
Also, there’s a sweet spot for keyword usage. If you use your keywords too much, it’ll be viewed as spam. If you don’t use them enough, crawler bots may not associate your content with your target keywords. As a rule of thumb, use your keywords in the following places:
- Your title tag and meta description
- Your H1 header
- The first 100 words of the content
- 3 – 7 times in the body content (for a 2,000-word article)
- In a detailed title tag that summarizes what your content is about
Long-form content gets higher rankings and generates more backlinks, so it’s doubly important to do this correctly.
#9: Crawling/Indexing Errors
As mentioned above, if a search engine can’t crawl and index your content, you won’t appear in the SERPs. That means you need to take measures to ensure your most important web pages get successfully crawled and indexed.
The best way to do this is to use the Google Search Console. View its Index Coverage Report and Page Indexing Report. These will show you the exact number of URLs Google has indexed and the presence of any crawling/indexing errors.
#10: Check HTTP status codes
If a page has dropped rankings or disappeared from the SERPs, it could be due to a failed status code such as a 404 not found or a broken redirect.
Checking your HTTP status codes will help you determine if a broken link or redirect is the reason for your lost visibility. You can use this free HTTP status code checker to ensure that all your content is displaying the way it should.
Every piece of content you want to rank & generate traffic should display a 200 OK status code.
Avoid the drop—or fix it fast!
Ranking drops are never fun to deal with, but they’re a regular part of SEO—so you shouldn’t let yourself get too discouraged if you experience them. Regular maintenance, consistent high-quality content, conducting routine checks, and following a solid backlink strategy will help you stay on top.
In the event of a drop, though, it’s easier to regain your status before it gets too bad. Following this guide will give you the tools to make it happen fast.
Need some pro insights for crafting a winning strategy for your business and dominating the SERPs in your industry? Check out HOTH X, our managed SEO service that has yielded impressive results for countless clients.
Rachel Hernandez has been a digital content creator and strategist for close to a decade, using her background in fiction and creative nonfiction to craft stories and content that emotionally resonate and connect with the user. In 2016 she launched The HOTH’s content department, leading in-house teams and 700+ freelancer writers to produce over 20,000 pieces of content per month for businesses and marketing agencies all over the world. She’s currently The HOTH’s Director of Brand Strategy, where she develops and oversees all marketing content and public relations efforts and acts as a brand ambassador, representing The HOTH on webinars, podcasts, and marketing conferences.