4 Tips to Identify the Cause of Google SEO Ranking Drops


Most websites would be quite familiar with suffering from an SEO ranking drop at one point or another.

This could be from small keyword fluctuations on Google, to complete website penalisations.

Naturally, when major search engines like Google have detected any form of algorithmic ranking manipulation, the offending website will suffer from a minor or major form of penalisation.

By penalisation, I mean a decrease or total loss of SEO rankings.

While some ranking drops are only temporary, others may be permanent. The severity of the penalisation all depends on the depth of manipulation.

Causes of SEO ranking drops

SEO ranking drops can be the result of a wide range of different things.

Below, I’ve covered some of the most common types of penalties and reasons why your website’s ranking may have dropped.

The most common causes include:

1. Manipulation of backlinks

If Google has detected that you are receiving excessive backlinks from low quality websites, you may be penalised. Additionally, if you are caught actively paying for backlinks, you will also be punished.

The penalisation dealt forth, will come in the form of Google’s Penguin. With the release of Google’s latest Penguin 4.0 algorithmic update, Google can devalue and penalise offending websites at a much faster rate.

2. Excessive spammy, low quality or duplicate content

It is always in your best interest to ensure your website is populated with valuable information your target market is looking searching for.

Populating your website with excessive duplicate content or low quality content may trigger a penalisation from Google. This penalisation comes in the form of Google’s Panda.

Always ensure your website’s content is grammatically correct, structured correctly and doesn’t contain duplicated content from other websites.

In addition to content, also keep in mind that website loading speed is also essential. Not only do should your content be engaging, but the pages loading the content should also be lightning fast. This adds to the overall, user experience and ensures their time on your time is a pleasant one.

3. Anchor text and keyword over optimisation

Over optimisation involves the practice of excessively targeting a few select anchor keywords on backlinks. This relates back to the first point of manipulation of backlinks and could get you penalised by Google Penguin.

Also, not only does over optimisation apply to anchor text, but also to on-page keyword stuffing. This may be an old spammy practice, however, I feel this something that always comes up.

Do not stuff keywords into your web page as this does nothing to help improve your website’s SEO. Insert keywords where you find appropriate and that makes sense.

4. Google SERP fluctuations

It’s important to understand that ranking changes are always naturally going to happen, especially if your website is new.

If you’ve noticed this, don’t panic. Keyword ranking changes occur on a daily basis as search engines like Google are always trying to appropriately source and rank the most relevant websites for each individual search query.

If you’re confident you haven’t engaged in any of the top 3 listed points, and you are still noticing a loss of rankings then it may be Google trying to determine where your website best fits in.

Closely monitor your tracked keywords to make sure it’s not a continuous downward trend.

How to combat and prevent the loss of SEO rankings

To recap on what we’ve covered, SEO ranking drops are caused by any form of algorithm manipulation or Google trying to slot your website into its search results.

I’ve compiled a few actionable steps into finding out why your rankings may have dropped.

By first figuring out the cause of ranking drops, we can then work to formulate strategies to raise them back up and rank even higher than before.

1. Monitor Incoming Links

Using Ahrefs, punch in your website’s URL into the search command. You’ll then be shown a graph of the website’s total backlink count.

The graph will showcase a month-to-month chart of exactly how many links your website has lost or gained.

Since links are a vital part of Google high rankings, your backlink profile should be monitored on a continual basis.

Understanding that backlinks play a huge part in high Google rankings, your backlink profile should be monitored on a continual basis to ensure nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Eg. Any significant loss of backlinks or maybe a negative SEO attack.

The below graph is an example of a website that has experienced a consistent decline of incoming links.

It’s fair to assume that as a result of the loss of backlinks, the website’s SEO rankings are no longer as high as they were on January 1st.

Referring Pages Graph Example

2. Anchor Text Over Optimisation

As we’ve covered, over optimisation relates to excessive optimisation of a particular anchor text.

Google doesn’t like to be manipulated with unnatural links. To combat this they’ve placed a priority on penalising websites that are over optimised with exact match anchor texts.

To track whether your loss of rankings could be related to anchor text over optimisation, make your way over to Majestic SEO.

Majestic’s graph showcases the percentage of most anchor keywords linking to your website. Ahrefs’ Anchors Cloud isn’t too bad either. However, Majestic quite easily takes the cake by presenting their data in pie chart form.

Once you’ve made your way to Majestic’s homepage, punch your website URL into the search command and scroll down.

Anchor Over Optimisation Example Graph

From the example above, we can see that the website contains a very well diversified anchor text ratio. This is an excellent example of a clean anchor text profile.

The main anchor text is seen sitting on a very comfortable 12% and comprises of the website’s URL which theoretically looks perfectly natural.

Also, 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 so.

Over Optimisation Graph Example

With 49% of the website’s overall anchor ratio as the main keyword, this would appear to be a clear sign of over optimisation.

The website is apparently trying to rank for the search term ‘roof restoration‘. They’ve acquired an excessive amount backlinks with ‘roof restoration‘ as the anchor text. This is a clear case of backlink manipulation.

If your website’s anchor profile looks similar to this and you suspect Google has penalised you as a result, then it may be a good time to contact us for a recovery strategy.

3. Google Manual Penalty Notice

Checking for Panda or Penguin is never a fun task. If your website has been hit by one of 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 Google’s Search Console, they will notify you of exactly what you’ve been penalised for, and as a result the cause of your ranking drop.

To confirm your suspicions, check whether 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 seen something different to the image above, then your website may have been penalised.

Manual actions can be revoked if the proper steps are taken. It’d be best to speak with an SEO expert about your individual case and then working together to come up with an appropriate recovery strategy.

4. Google Algorithmic Penalty

Ranking drops as a result of an algorithmic change may be harder to determine in comparison with been dealt manual penalties.

This is because you won’t receive any notice regarding the penalisation. And secondly, if you’re trying to do SEO yourself without the proper tools or insights, then this will be the case of finding a needle in a haystack.

In most cases, algorithmic penalties are either caused by over-optimisation or dodgy backlinks. You can quickly identify the two potential causes by doing a quick lookup through Majestic or Ahrefs using the instructions covered above.


If you follow the four points listed, this will undoubtedly point you in the right direction into determining why your rankings have dropped.

In some cases, a deeper analysis may be required to determine exactly what has caused the drop. Every website has been built and marketed differently, so each will require a custom analysis.

Brush up on general SEO knowledge or ask for a free consultation with an SEO expert before diving into paying hefty fees for a recovery strategy that just might not even work.

Daniel Law
Written by

Daniel Law

Daniel Law is Managing Director at Red Search, an SEO agency based in Sydney. With over 10 years of experience in SEO, I've grown a burning passion to help Australian brands achieve their business growth goals by leveraging powerful SEO and content strategies.

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