4 Useful Tips On Identifying The Cause Of Ranking Drops

Google Rankings

We often get asked the question of why a website's Google rankings have dropped. In most cases, ranking drops are caused by either an algorithmic update/fresh or a decline of incoming links. By dropped we mean an incoming link is no longer live or has been removed for whatever reason. Most low quality or spammy links tend to drop rather fast, hence why we'd like to believe that most online marketers place a high emphasis on earning/building high quality links.

To push business owners into the right direction, I've compiled a few actionable steps into finding out why your rankings may have dropped. By figuring out the cause behind the drops we can then formulate strategies accordingly in order to raise them back up.

1. Monitor Incoming Links

Using Ahrefs, punch in your website's URL into the search command and we'll be shown a graph of the website's total backlink count. The graph will showcase a month to month graph of exactly how your website is receiving/losing links. Since links are a vital part to Google high rankings, your backlink profile should be monitored on a continual basis to ensure nothing out of the ordinary occurs eg. Negative SEO. If you don't feel comfortable using Ahrefs, you can always use link exploring alternatives such as Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO.

The below graph is an example of a website which has shown a gradual and consistent decline of incoming links. More than likely the rankings of this website would not be as high as it was compared to 11 months ago on the 1st of January.

Referring Pages Graph Example

2. Anchor Text Over Optimisation

Over optimisation, as you can tell relates to excessive optimisation of a specific anchor text. Google doesn't like to be manipulated with unnnatural links. To combat this they've placed a high priority on devaluing pages which seem to be over optimised with exact match anchor texts.

To track whether your lost of rankings could be related to anchor text over optimisation, make your way over to Majestic SEO. Majestic have a great graph on showcasing exactly how your website's anchor text is broken down. Ahrefs' Anchors Cloud isn't too bad either, but Majestic is very much more user-friendly and visually pleasing.

Once you've made your way to Majestic's homepage, simply punch your website URL into the search command and scroll down. You'll soon come across a very nice colourful pie chart.

Anchor Over Optimisation Example Graph

For privacy reasons I won't be revealing the website above.

From the example we can see that the website contains a very well diversified anchor text ratio and would not be raising any alarms for over optimisation. The main anchor text is seen sitting on a very comfortable 12% and comprises of the website's URL which theoretically looks perfectly natural. In addition, 46% comes from a wide range of various other anchors and would contribute to the diversification of the overall anchor text ratio. From an SEO perspective this website would not be raising any red flags.

On another hand, a website which would be raising flags would look like the following:

Over Optimisation Graph Example

With 49% of the website's overall anchor ratio being the main keyword this would appear to be a clear sign of over optimisation. If your website looks like this, either start by contacting webmasters to remove live links which contain the exact match anchor keyword or start by changing the anchor text of existing built links. Remember, our aim is to ensure our anchor ratio is as even as possible. For best SEO practice, make sure no anchor is above 15%.

3. Google Manual Penalty Notice

Checking for Panda or Penguin is never a fun task. If your website has been hit by Google's algorithm then you may have a harder time determining the cause without an actual expert. However, if you've received a manual penalty notice via Webmaster Tools, Google will notify you of exactly where your site has went wrong and why your rankings have dropped.

If you think your website has been hit, start by examining your Webmaster Tools and checking if you've received a manual penalty notice. If no manual actions have been issued, you'll see the following screen:

No Manual Actions

If you've noticed anything else different to the image above, you'll come to realise in an instance of the reason as to why your rankings have dropped. If you've fallen into this category of receiving a manual action, fear not. Manual actions can be revoked if the proper steps are taken. It'd be best to speak with an expert about your individual case and then working together to devise a proper recovery strategy.

4. Google Algorithmic Penalty

Having your rankings drop as a result of an algorithmic update/refresh may be harder to determine in comparison with dealing with manual penalties. First of all, you won't receive any kind of notice regarding the matter. And secondly, without proper knowledge of the field you won't know where to begin into even thinking about troubleshooting the issue.

For business owners, the best way to start in identifying the issue would be to brush up on fundamental Penguin and Panda knowledge. Understanding the concept of both Panda and Penguin will give you a good idea of which penalty has affected your website. Follow it up with a free consultation with an SEO company and you should gain an even greater idea of exactly what might have went wrong.

In most cases, if you feel that you've been hit by Penguin, follow the process listed in my second point of anchor text over optimisation. If over optimisation doesn't seem to be the case and your website's anchor text ratio looks nice and healthy then you might want to dive into a website link analysis. Link analysis' will help in identifying toxic incoming links and ultimately having them removed or submitted to be disavowed. If you feel low quality or toxic links may have resulted in your drop of rankings, please don't hesitate in giving us a call to confirm.


If you follow the four points listed, this will undoubtedly point you in the right direction into determining why your rankings have dropped. However, in some cases a deeper analysis may be required to determine exactly what has caused the drop. Brush up on general SEO knowledge or consult with an expert before diving into paying hefty fees for a recovery strategy that just might not even work.


Daniel Law is a Managing Director of Big Vision SEO, a Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing firm based in Sydney, Australia. His Big Vision is to shape how small-medium size businesses market themselves online - one client at a time. Follow him on Facebook, and Twitter.

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