Being able to determine the reason for a decline in ranking is one of our most consistent and possibly most frustrating tasks as SEOs, especially in 2020. There are an unrecognizable number of factors that go into ranking today, but luckily the method is easily at hand to diagnose these fluctuations. In this popular Whiteboard Friday, the wonderful Kameron Jenkins shows us a structured method for diagnosing a drop in ranking using a flowchart method and critical thinking.

Flowchart method for diagnosing a decline in rank

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video transcription

Hello everybody. Welcome to this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Kameron Jenkins. I am the new SEO Wordsmith here at Moz and I am very happy to be here. Before that, I worked in an agency for about six and a half years. I worked in the SEO department and we often noticed that a client's ranking dropped. What do we do?

This flowchart was built, so to speak, from the mentality that we need a logical workflow to be able to diagnose exactly what happened, so that we can make really targeted recommendations to fix the problem and restore our customers' rankings. Let's dive right in. It will be a flowchart, a little bit non-linear, but hopefully this makes sense and helps you work smarter than harder.

Was it a big drop in the ranking ?: No.

The first question I want to ask is: Has your ranking dropped significantly? Overall, I would say that overnight it is something like page 1 to page 5. Minor would be something like a few positions, like position 3 to position 5.

We'll go this route first. It was minor.

Was there a pattern of decline that lasted about a month or more?

It is not a magic number. A month is something you can use as a benchmark. But if there has been a steady decline and it's been a week, it's position 3 and then position 5 and then position 7, and it continues to fall over time, I would consider that a pattern of decline.

If no, I would actually say wait.

  • Volatility is normal, especially if you are at the end of page 1, maybe page 2 plus. The search results in these positions will shift much more. So volatility is normal.
  • Keep an eye on it although. It’s really good to just take note of it like, "Hey, we fell. Okay, I’ll check again next week and see if it goes further, then maybe we’ll take action.”
  • Just wait. At this point, I would only warn against making major website updates if this is not really justified. So volatility is normal. Expect that. Keep your finger on the pulse of the times, but wait here.

However, if there has been a pattern of decline, you'll jump to the algorithm update section. We'll be right there. But at the moment we are going to follow the most important rankings.

Was it a big drop in the ranking ?: Yes

The first question I want to ask is:

Was there a problem with ranking tracking?

Well, some of them seem pretty simple, how would that ever happen, but believe me, it happens every now and then. Just before we make any important updates to the website, I want to check the ranking.

I. The wrong domain or URL.

It can be something that happens a lot. A site where you may change domains or move a page, and that old page of that old domain will still be listed in your ranking tracker. If this is the case, the rank tracking tool does not know which URL should be used to assess the rankings. So it looks like you dropped from position 1 to position 10 overnight, and that's like, whoa, that's a huge update. But it's just that you have the wrong URL there. Just check that out. If there has been a page update or a domain update, check if you have updated your rank tracker.

II. Glitches.

So it's software, it can break. There are things that can cause it to not work for some reason. I don't know how common it is. It probably depends entirely on what type of software you are using. But there are glitches, so I would check your leaderboard manually.

III. Check rankings manually.

One way to do that is …

  • Go to Incognito on Google and make sure you're signed out so that it's not personalized. I would search for the term you want to rank for and see where you actually rank.
  • Google's ad preview tool. This is also really good if you want to search where you are local so that you can determine your geolocation. You can create mobile or desktop rankings. So it could be really good for such things.
  • Cross check with another toolhow Moz’s ranking tool. You can insert your URLs, see where you rank, and check with your own tool.

So back to that. Ranking problems. Yes, you found your problem. If it's just a ranking tool, that's really great because you don't have to make a lot of changes. Your rankings haven't actually dropped. But if that's not the problem, if there is no ranking problem that you can pinpoint, I would go to Google Search Console.

Problems in the Google Search Console?

The Google Search Console is therefore very helpful to check the condition of the website. One of the most important things I want to check in there if you experience a particularly big drop is …

I. Manual actions.

When you navigate to Manual Actions, notes such as unnatural links that point to your site may appear there. Or maybe you have thin or low quality content on your website. If these things are present in your manual actions, you have a reference point. You have something to do. There is a lot of work involved in lifting a manual penalty, which unfortunately we cannot go into here. Some things you can do to focus on manually lifting punishments …

  • Moz & # 39; s Link Explorer. You can review your inbound links and view their spam score. For example, you can look at anchor text to determine if the links that point to your website may be filled with keywords. So you can use such tools.
  • There are also many good articles in the industry just to lift penalties. Marie Haynes especially has some really good ones. So I would check that out.

But you found your problem if there is a manual action. So focus on lifting that punishment.

II. Indexing Problems.

However, before you leave the search console, I would also check indexing issues. Maybe you have no manual punishment. However, go to your index report and see if anything you have submitted in your sitemap may have problems. Maybe it is blocked by robots.txt or you have accidentally not indexed it. You could probably see that in the index report. Search console, okay. So yes, you found your problem. No, you will continue with algorithm updates.

Algorithm updates

Algorithm updates are ongoing. Google says that maybe one or two happen a day. Not all of them will be big. However, the most important are listed. They are documented in various places. Moz has a really good list of algorithm updates over time. You can certainly refer to it. There will be many good ones. You can navigate to the exact year and month that your website has seen a decline in ranking and check if this may correlate with an algorithm update.

Assume that your website lost the ranking in January 2017. This is about the time that Google released the Intrusive Interstitials update. So I would go to my website to see if this was the problem and say, "Do I have intrusive interstitials?" Does this affect my website? "

If you can match an algorithm update to when your rankings started to fall, you have the direction. You found a problem. If you can't match it with algorithm updates, it's finally time to continue with site updates.

Site updates

What changes have been made to your website recently? There are many different things that could have happened to your website. Also keep in mind that you may not be the only one who has access to your website. You are SEO, but maybe technical support has access. Even your paid ad manager may have access. There are many different people who could make changes to the website. So keep that in mind when you're dealing with it. It’s not just the changes you’ve made, but changes that someone’s made that can affect the site’s ranking. Just look at all the possible factors.

Other factors that can affect the ranking

As I said, many different things can affect your website's ranking. Many things can happen accidentally that you can pinpoint and say, "Oh, that's definitely the cause."

Some examples of things that I personally experienced on my clients' websites …

I. Rename pages and leave 404 without updating with a 301 redirect.

There was a situation where a customer had a blog. They had hundreds of really good blog posts. They all ranked in nice long-tail terms. A customer emailed technical support to change the name of the blog. Unfortunately, all the posts were alive on the blog, and when he did, he didn't update it with a 301 redirect, so all of those pages that ranked really well dropped out of the index. The ranking went along with it. There is your problem. It was unfortunate, but at least we were able to diagnose what happened.

II. Cutting content.

Perhaps you are working with a UX team, a design team, or someone who looks at the website from a visual perspective and a user experience perspective. In these situations, they often take up a page with really good, valuable content and say, "Oh, that's too bulky. It's too bulky. It contains too many words. So we'll replace it." it with a picture or we'll take out part of the content. "

If this happens, if the content is what made your page rank and you cut it off, it is likely to have a negative impact on your rankings. By the way, if that happens to you, Rand has a really good whiteboard Friday about how to combine user experience and SEO. You should definitely check this out if this is a problem for you.

III. Lost valuable backlinks.

Another situation where I diagnosed a customer and one of his backlinks fell. It was just the only thing that has changed over time. It was a really valuable backlink, and we found that for some reason they just dropped it, and after that time the customer's rankings started to drop. Things like Moz's Tools, Link Explorer, you can go in there and see won and lost backlinks over time. So I would check that out if that might be a problem for you.

IV. No index accidentally.

Depending on the type of CMS you're working with, it may be very easy to accidentally check "No Index" on this page. If you don't index a really important page, Google will remove it from the index. That could happen. Your leaderboard may drop. These are just a few examples of things that can happen. As I said earlier, hundreds and hundreds of things on your website may have changed, but it's really important to try to determine exactly what those changes were and whether they coincided with when your rankings started to drop.

SERP landscape

So we came all the way down. If you've gotten to the point where you've looked at all the site updates and haven't found anything that would have led to a drop in rankings, I'd say look at the SERP landscape at last.

What I mean is just Google, your keyword you want to rank for, or your group of keywords you want to rank for, and to see which websites rank on page 1.

  • What are these pages doing?
  • How many backlinks do you have?
  • How much content do they have?
  • Do they load quickly?
  • What is the experience?

Then make the content better. To rank, so many people just think that they should avoid spam and avoid breaking things on your website. But that's not search engine optimization. It really only helps you to be competitive. You have to have content that is the best answer to the searcher's questions, and that brings you a ranking.

I hope that was helpful. This is a really good way to do some sort of ranking drop diagnosis. By the way, if you have methods that work for you, I would like to hear from you and see what has worked for you in the past. Let me know, drop it in the comments below.

Thank you all. Come back next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Video transcription from


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here