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Analyzing a Sudden Drop in Google Rankings



10:40 pm on Feb 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

I was wondering if any of you had a process for researching why a site would experience a sudden drop in Google's ranks. From one week to the next we experienced about a 50% drop in traffic.

I've check Google webmaster tools for warning and have not received any notifications about unnatural links to the site. We don't have a very large backlink profile as the site is only about 6 months old and have just now started to get serious about content.


11:24 pm on Feb 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

just went through this with a clients wordpress site- someone hacked it and added a bunch of links in a hidden div right below the </HEAD> tag - view source on your site and see if there's anything hidden there

even if your site isn't wordpress, check the source and see if there's anything there that shouldn't be


11:27 pm on Feb 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

This can be a very touchy analysis. It depends on how far your URLs fell on various keyword searches.

1) If you dropped 10 or more positions, then something in the algorithm probably decided to demote your site. Looking for that factor is one kind of analysis. It could be either a recent change that you made, or it could be a change in the algorithm that Google made.

2) If just one of your big keywords dropped just a few positions (say from #1 to ##4 or 5) then it may be about a different kind of algorithm change - one that is rewarding your competitors' sites for some factor rather than demoting your site.

The second type can be very difficult to analyze if you haven't been keeping a detailed record of your competition. However, an eyes-open inspection of the sites that moved up may show you what they are doing well on that you are not. Don;t think about only technical factors in this inspection, think about how happy the site is making its visitors.

Robert Charlton

12:40 am on Feb 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

even if your site isn't wordpress, check the source and see if there's anything there that shouldn't be

In checking for a hack, be sure to use view as Googlebot. Many of these hacks are cloaked so that only Google sees the hacked version.


12:46 am on Feb 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

In checking for a hack, be sure to use view as Googlebot

Good point - you can also check the google cache for your site to see what Google had cached for the pages - the text only view is handy for this too.


1:34 am on Feb 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

site is only about 6 months old ....

Was a time when the above quote might have been considered an answer to your issue, 50% traffic drop not being unusual for a brand new site after a good initial period, but i guess that no longer applies,


9:58 am on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Even i am facing the same problem.. all keywords ranking for my site has been dropped?


10:22 am on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Puf, have the same problems, for main keyword,
and was tying to view the cache in google as said above,
however for my site it says Preview not available.
There are previews for other sites...
why can this be?

Bah, the preview is back, suppose was a hickup


2:09 pm on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

@canuckseo - Thanks for the tip, I will look into that.

The time of the drop in rankings doesn't seem to point to anything that I did on the site. Currently I have two suspects:

1. I used a couple of blog posts to link some important keywords to some of our product and service pages.

2. I recently reached out and requested a link from another website. It was one of those hard to get links. I had to offer something in exchange to the site owner. The link I was requesting was in their "Directory of Useful Links" area. It seemed like a nice place to get a simple link. It looks like they have a random generator in the footer that offers a sample of the links that are in the directory. Checking Open site explorer we went from 50 links to 137 links.

I'm wondering if I now just have too many links coming from one domain.


2:42 pm on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

I should also note that the open site explorer index was recently refreshed and our domain and page authority went up. So as much as I would like to blame all of the links from one site, open site explorers score would not indicate that.

Although as accurate as I'm sure it is, I know it's just an indicator.


5:17 pm on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Some things to consider when trying to pinpoint a root cause of such a drop:

Were there any messages in Webmaster Tools from Google?

Google has gotten much more transparent than they were in the past. They are frequently notifying webmasters via WMT when a site has issues that might lead to a filter or penalty. In the past there was zero communication between webmasters and Google. While it's still not ideal, something is better than nothing these days.

Did your traffic suddenly drop 50% on a given date? or did it gradually drop to 90%, 80%, 70%, 60%, 50% over weeks or months?

If it dropped on a given date then that is a BIG clue. Look to see if there were any major updates at Google on that specific date (Panda? Penguin? EMD? Above the Fold, etc.)... (Mods note: Take a look at our Hot Topics [webmasterworld.com] section, pinned to the top of the Google SEO forum home page, which will lead you to our various breakdowns of the Google Update History [webmasterworld.com].)

Did you lose traffic for a very small set of keywords (1, 2, 3, for example)? Or did you seem to lose traffic for most of the keyword phrases for which you were previously ranking?

Did you lose traffic to one URL? Or did you seem to lose traffic site-wide for all of your URLs?

What changes were made to the site on the weeks leading up to the drop? Navigational changes and/or changes to the link text used in your internal linking structure? Design changes? Were URLs changed/deleted (and did you 301 redirect them if so)? Was content changed, added, or deleted? etc.

What type of link building was done in the weeks leading up to that drop? What link text was used in the links? Which URLs were being promoted? Do the URLs previously promoted with those associated link text coincide with the URLs and keyword phrases for which you have lost traffic?

These are the types of questions I try to answer when tracking down such drops in traffic. Hopefully, you have a web analytics package installed (prior to the drop).

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 6:20 pm (utc) on Feb 14, 2013]
[edit reason] add reference to Google Update History [/edit]


6:26 am on Feb 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

I agree, you should consider all the possibilities. What are the cause of the sudden drop that happened to your website depends on: if you make some changes within the content. If it happened for one day, it just drop like that then check for Google updates. You should have other tools to check the changes.


4:52 pm on Feb 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Also consider the possibility of Google's ever changing landscape (Everflux). I have found that they appear to do things for virtually no reason at all and it's usually not intentional towards any particular site, but some sites (like my own) are positioned in such a way that they suffer regularly, but also recover regularly.

I think of it like the reels on a slot machine; you have to get many to line up in order to start ranking high. One reel off and you can drop. The problem is, nobody will ever tell you what metric each reel represents and there could be thousands of them.

They like to keep us guessing. It's part of the plan to avoid gaming their system. I don't think even the MIT blackjack team has a chance at deciphering their algo.


12:53 am on Feb 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I'm not sure google have any interest in the rankings of websites via links anymore...


2:01 am on Feb 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Hmmm I would have to disagree.

While Google may be changing how they interpret links, what they see as "natural" vs. "unnatural", which links they count, which they discount, which they totally ignore, which trigger penalties and filters, etc., links have always been, are, and likely always will be an important part of their algorithm. Why would they ignore the VERY thing that makes the "web" a "web"?

Try building a site and getting it to rank beyond the honeymoon period for even a moderately competitive keyword phrase WITHOUT a single link to that site? I simply don't see it happening.


10:51 am on Feb 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Is there a service online presently that will analyse a site for best SEO practise. I have been away from tracking my websites search results lately - but notice today that we seem to be OFF THE PAGE for many key terms - whereas in the past ;) I have enjoyed mayn #1 results on my 14 year old site. Is there a Best Practise guidleines documents on the site somewhere? I would realyl like to catch up with current thinking. ta, TJ

seo company chennai

11:34 am on Feb 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

Actually my site was hacked and when i use fetch as Googlebot. It didn't show me any errors. How can I develop a site so that it cannot be hacked by others


12:11 pm on Feb 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

Hey there seo company chennai,

Looks like we both just joined. I've been readin here for a long time though and one day when I was surfin around I found a bunch of what looked like useful site security stuff in the php library [webmasterworld.com...] idk if it'll help or not but I thought it might give you a place to start.

Maybe if it doesn't help you someone else can use it? idk


11:27 pm on Feb 19, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Good post on how to track down potential ranking problems.

One thing that I've done in the past when I'm tweaking a site is to date and log the tweaks. Comparing rankings changes and logs from different sites make after the fact analysis easier.


4:14 am on Feb 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I agree 4serendipity that it is important to date and log all major changes to your site. It's great when others might ask later what was going on with the site at a particular time.

If you're using Google Analytics, you can make notations in the GA timeline so you can maintain a history of all major changes to the site right there within GA. I also use those notations to log major Google changes as well when I can correlate them to a drop in rankings/traffic.


2:02 pm on Feb 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

It is unfortunate that your ranking has gone down.I had the same experience with my site once but i was advised by a SEO expert to use an rank analying and monitoring tool which not only analyses my page rank but also helps to monitor my ranking on daily basis.That is how i can to know about GeoRanker. With this tool,you even get a report on a daily,weekly or even monthly basis.This analyzer has helped me to know when my new SEO strategies are not working and i can therefore rectify them before my ranking falls significantly.

Good luck !


5:03 pm on Feb 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

helps to monitor my ranking on daily basis

I'd go crazy if I monitored on a daily basis - with the "everflux" as was noted earlier - you can't be checking daily - weekly perhaps and don't react until you see a trend.

So bran1416 - has there been any improvement or change?


9:42 pm on Feb 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have seen a decline of about 17% in the last month and almost 50% since December. I got slammed on October 31st with Panda, then I spent almost a month correcting pages and climbing back up the ranks slowly. But since December it's been a brutal, steady decline week after week with no upward swings.

I have almost no duplicate content being reported in WMT anymore and have never received any notices of any kind regarding bad links. But it sure seems like some kind of soft demotion of my site or penalty to me.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 5:55 am (utc) on Feb 25, 2013]

Robert Charlton

5:59 am on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

ichthyous - I took a look at an earlier post of yours in a discussion where you talk about Pinterest links providing exposure for your images, and, if this is the same site you were discussing then, I'd venture to guess you've got a very weak backlink profile and content that's not compelling enough to build one....

Are too many links from Pinterest bad for your rankings?
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4510352.htm [webmasterworld.com]

In part, you posted...
...At least Pinterest is driving them up in the rankings and I have each image watermarked with my site's URL so they can always find me. I do wonder if pinning too many images too quickly can create problems though...I started pinning my own images and whammo my site has been hit hard by the last update. Not sure if there is any correlation though.

Again, if this is the same site, you may well have seen the problem coming and answered your own question months ago.


9:25 pm on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

@canuckseo no the site hasn't recovered. I went back to one of the directories that I listed in a few months back and requested that we be removed. Seems that we have been showing up in more categories then I had originally requested so the links from that domain just continue to grow. I also went back to a site that had us in a rotation of links in their sidebar and footer and requested to just have the link from their useful links page. It's a reputable site.

I think I just need to go back and start pushing to have content created on the site. It seems like the thing to do is just create useful content for your customers and just let the links happen naturally. It's very difficult to:

a: Get management to provide resources to create quality content that doesn't directly market a product or service, like "Buy This Today!"

b: It's also difficult to get people talking about your products and services when you don't offer anything besides that.

I feel like I know what needs to be done to get higher rankings, it's just convincing others is where I seem to be having difficulty.



2:07 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Robert Charlton - I'm not sure if too many links from Pinterest is the issue as all of them are nofollowed anyway. Currently I have around 10,000 backlinks from Pinterest, but I've only pinned a little over 2,000 images myself and that includes my repinning other people's images to my boards. I pinned one new image from my site yesterday that had 38 repins in a half hour...so that negates your theory about the content not being compelling enough.

You are correct though that my backlink profile is probably not diversified enough. I currently only have one other site providing more backlinks than Pinterest and that's a Russian blog site called 'mylivepage'...not sure if I even want all those Russian links!

I am very late to the social media party, and never had a blog because I didn't want to divert even more time away from the core of my business to write blog posts. Since Panda I see that all the top spots are crowded with low quality pages of syndicated content that seems to change on a daily basis, and the few remaining small businesses all have a strong blogs and huge social media presence. So I've diverted my attention away from the whims of Google and I'm now focusing on social media. Within a week of turning on Facebook ads I had an $1,800 order from a customer who beamed that she found me on Facebook. Can't say the same for Google ads, which cost 20X more and produce almost no leads or business whatsoever...and never have in the 7 years that I have tried them on and off.

Why? Perhaps because I am in a visual business, and on Facebook people can see the pretty pictures instead of just another text link? Friends of friends carry much more weight than a page crowded with ever more links trying to grab attention. That's why Google is desperately pushing Google+, and not the other way around. I would gladly spend a fortune on Google ads and forget worrying about SEO entirely if I saw a good return, but sadly I just don't.

Tom Hilfinger

1:32 pm on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Same issue here. I've had more than 15000 daily pageviews for years and has a Pagerank of 5. But since 2012, pageviews have been slowly dropping. In 2013 it's been a huge drop (-70%), week by week.

I have 5 websites, only 2 of them had more than 10000 daily pageviews, and are somehow similar (same topic). But the drop has been similar in all of them. All of them are either forums or have a lof of original content.

This is a big problem to my financial situation, since I've been living from advertising from years.

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