Keyword Ranking Fluctuations

person using a laptop computer

It happens all the time. You finally start to see your website or page in the top search results for your keyword phrase only to have it disappear faster than it took to get there. You panic. You’ll have forgotten the warnings of your SEO professional that there is bound to be some fluctuations as things get ranking. You’re worried and frustrated. You think something must be wrong. The good news is that in most cases, this sort of fluctuation is perfectly normal as the search engines work behind the scenes to determine a website’s natural place in the order of things.

SEO is a long-term affair, and can sometimes be quite tumultuous. As a business owner, you likely receive a variety of email sales-pitches telling you that you can get first page search engine results in a short amount of time. Or, they tell you that your website is not performing well on the search engines and they can very quickly turn this around for you.

It can be easy to get caught up in this offer, while questioning your current SEO efforts.

First, unless you are going for obscure or unpopular keywords (that are not being widely searched by your target audience), ranking well on the search engines takes time. For some very competitive industries and keywords this can be months, or even years of working a well-strategized SEO plan. And, just because your site may get to the illusive page-1 ranking, doesn’t mean it will stay there forever.

Keyword rankings fluctuate.

From an SEO professional’s standpoint, there is nothing more upsetting than finally getting a client’s website where it belongs in the search results only to have it disappear again. But, this is part of the game.

Top 6 Reasons Keyword Rankings Fluctuate

1. Site is New / Content is New – When you publish a new website or new piece of content, Google will test-drop you into the search results, in a variety of different positions. Google even has people who help index content by hand. This means they manually look at a website’s content and how it matches a particular search query.

New content is especially prone to fluctuations and can even jump on and off the results until the search engine can determine the most natural fit for a specific result.

How to Overcome This? Continue to create good content that is based on what your user is looking for. By determining your authority in the industry, your website content will speak for itself and you may find the fluctuations lessen.

Content really is KING. After all, the job of a search engine is to deliver the top related pages to a specific query.

2. Algorithm Update – Google makes minor updates to their algorithms on a regular basis. Even the most minor change in their programming can sometimes affect the positioning of a website or piece of content. Then, there are the bigger updates that can sometimes work amateur SEO professionals into a frenzy. They can even, sometimes, catch the most experienced SEO professionals off guard.

Over the years, the updates that have wreaked the most havoc on search results were:

2009 – Vince – While Google explained Vince was a minor update, the Vince update seemingly favoured big brands and some small businesses reported a negative long-term impact on their positioning and traffic.

2010 – May Day – This update was targeting long-tail keywords and content. Websites with thin content were hardest hit. </span

2011 – Panda – About 12% of search results were hit by the Panda update. Panda targeted content farms and weak, thin content. Additional Panda updates have happened in years since.  

2012 – Penguin – Penguin targeted websites that were over-SEO’d. Websites that had poorly written, keyword-stuffed content were hardest hit.

2014 – Pigeon – Pigeon saw some drastic search result changes for local query results.

2018 – Medic Core Update – Health and wellness sites were reportedly hardest hit, but change in results affected queries in all verticals.

How to Overcome This? First, a website built on a foundation of good SEO principals is best set to withstand algorithm updates. While no website is immune, if your content and website is built with your user in mind, which in itself will help because it will mean your website likely will not include many of the things that Google penalizes (spam, too much advertising, thin content etc.).

3. Search Engine Penalty – Break the rules and you can be penalized. Generally speaking, Google will let you know when you’ve been assessed a penalty within your Google Search Console. Overcoming a search engine penalty can be quite time consuming so it is best to play by the rules.

How to Overcome This? Keep an eye on your Google Search Console so if you ever are assessed a penalty you can begin the recovery process right away. Ideally, if your website is built by experienced professionals and is based on a sound SEO strategy, the chances of being assessed a search engine penalty are low.

4. New Players in the Game – Competition! A new related business may open up shop, or an old business may take on a new SEO strategy. Chances are, if your website ranks well, your site will be their goal. A good SEO professional will analyze what all the competitors are doing and then strive to do all of that, and then more (and better). Staying ahead of your competition is possible with a continuous SEO strategy.

How to Overcome This? Your ongoing SEO maintenance should include competition research. This way, you can keep an eye on the new players to the game and stay one step ahead. Once again, if you can continue to publish quality content that your target visitors want, you will have a head start over newcomers to the game.

5. Spidering Issues – If Google has a hard time spidering your website, you may notice fluctuations. In addition, in some website platforms such as WordPress there is a button “Do Not Index” and this can be for the page or the entire website. Many an SEO-professional has found this button turned on, generally from an inexperienced web developer who was building ‘live’ and forgot to turn the button off once the site was released to the general public.

How to Overcome This? Keep a close eye on your Google search console to determine what pages are being spidered. As you publish new content, ensure that content has a home on a page of your website that is regularly spidered so Google has an easier time reaching it. Having clean navigation is also key.

As for the “Do Not Index”, mistakes happen. So, if you have a web developer working on your website, which should be the first thing you check when website updates or content additions go live.

6. Personalized Search – Often, a user’s search results are specific to their location and their past behaviour. This can make it difficult to ascertain where you rank for your target audience. You may find that your listing fluctuates depending on the user. You can get a broad overview of your general ranking within Google’s Search Console; however, it doesn’t depict the entire story. For instance, for localized searches, often results will appear that are close to your location. If you have frequented a particular website many times, that website may appear in the top results when you search. As a general rule, your goal should be to average in the top results but not get too worried if certain users do not see your website where others do.

We’ve heard reports of unscrupulous SEOs using this type of search to their advantage when reporting or holding client meetings. Because they work on the website often, the website will show up high on the search results. Note – if you’re in a meeting with your SEO professional, ensure they’re using an incognito window.

How to Overcome This? Open an incognito window with your browser cache cleared to whenever you wish to check on your results personally. This will give you the best understanding of where you rank for the general public. If you do not wish for search engines to collect data on you, use an incognito window for your searches whenever possible.

How to Avoid Keyword Fluctuations?

Keyword rankings are in a constant state of movement, especially beyond page two or three. When new websites or content is launched, generally they will move around the search results for some time before eventually settling into a natural position. Movement from this stage is slow-going.

The websites in the top positions in search results are generally employing an SEO strategy, have the added benefit of having been there longer and usually have good content that web visitors like.

With patience, a solid multi-channel marketing campaign, sound SEO strategy, excellent content, ongoing content edits and even more excellent content you can find your own website in the top positions.

Once there, the last thing you want is to fall back down. Your ongoing SEO strategy will help keep you there.

1. Ongoing SEO edits – it is tempting to leave good, top-ranked content as-is to avoid any potential fall; however, your visitors search queries will see subtle changes over time and it is important your content stay up-to-date with the most popular queries. Do not take on SEO edits in an unorganized manner though. There needs to be a strategy and a reason to make even minor adjustments to content, and, your visitor should be the top priority.

2. Technical Maintenance – Site speed, user-flow and spidering should all be part of an ongoing maintenance program. A site that is performing at its best technically will stand a better chance of avoiding negative SEO impact.

3. More Than Just SEO – While organic search traffic may bring in the most targeted traffic to your website, you’d be remiss to rely solely on this form of visitor. Display advertising, offline advertising, pay-per-click keyword advertising, social media etc. can all nicely round out your visitor chart.

4. Ongoing Content – Your website should have a sound content plan including ongoing edits and publishing new, fresh resources for your visitors. Ongoing Keyword research will help determine what information your target visitor is looking for and can help assist in creating a content calendar.

5. Monitor Google’s Search Console – A lot of information can be had with regular monitoring of Google’s search console. You can see what keywords and content are performing well as well as any technical issues.

6. Monitor Google Analytics – Google Analytics can provide a wealth of information for those so-inclined to study the numbers.

7. Employ Regular SEO Audits – There are a variety of tools that can help you audit your own website and content. SEMRush, WooRank, Web.Dev all provide important insight. <

In Conclusion

Search engine results fluctuate, as can the traffic you receive from them. This is why it is important to embark on an ongoing SEO program that consists of regular keyword research, market research, content edits and a content marketing plan.

Patience is a key trait when it comes to SEO. Determination is also important. When you can stay the course of the strategy, even in the face of keyword fluctuations, you will come out the other side in victory.

Following best practices will help your website survive once it makes it to the top search results. It is important to remember that just because you get to the goal, the job is not finished. There will always be competitors vying for your spot so it is important to stay ahead of the curve.

SEO is a long-term lead generation and marketing approach. Along the way you will run into gains and setbacks. It is not a straight line, but rather a windy road to get to the top of the rankings. If you are looking for quick gains, you may find those with long-tail keywords; however generally speaking, for quick leads SEO will not be your marketing platform of choice.

It is important to have a decisive SEO strategy that incorporates a variety of keyword phrases. While you’re working on the more competitive keywords, you can be seeing faster wins on long-tail keywords. In fact, sometimes the cumulative traffic generated from these highly specific keyword searches can overtake the traffic from the ‘big-win’ keywords you are dreaming of.

Don’t lose hope. Keyword rankings fluctuate; however, an experienced SEO professional understands what to look for and how to stay the course.