1. SEJ
  2.  ⋅ 
  3. News

Google Offers Reasons for Significant SERP Changes

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller at a Webmaster Hangout

On a Google Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller answered the question of how to get a site that lost rankings back on track. Mueller responded that it’s not possible to give specific advice without reviewing the actual site.

But he did offer some general tips for explaining what could be going on.

Question About Significant Changes

The person asking the question said there had been changes in the search results (SERPs) and wanted to know how to get the site ranking again.

“There seems to be a very significant change that took place on January 14th. My traffic and revenue have been negatively affected despite no penalty or notification of any problems.

While I’m used to ebb and flow of traffic and revenue… are you able to give any advice on specific things to focus on to get back on track?”

January 14, 2020 Update?

John Mueller denied that any special update occurred on January 14th and offered a caveat.

“So first of all I’m not aware of anything specific that happened on January the 14th. So I don’t really know exactly what you’re pointing at there.

I also don’t know your site so it’s really hard to say what might be involved there.”

Mueller Comments on Significant SERP Changes

Mueller now states that there are multiple reasons why search traffic may undergo significant changes, not all of them related to an update. So, he’s trying to get the publisher to step back and widen his perspective on the multiple reasons that can explain why search traffic patterns can vary significantly.

It’s Not Your Site, It’s the Searchers

This is Mueller’s response:

“In general I think there are a few things to keep in mind. On the one hand there are lots of sites in the search results so it’s never the case that everyone is demoted and like no longer visible in search because there are always sites that come up as well. It’s not that we don’t show anything in search.

So these kinds of changes are generally pretty normal and they can come and go and that can be due to changes in our algorithms, they can be due to changes in the way that people search.

So if a topic suddenly is no longer as interesting then maybe you’ll start to have less traffic for those kinds of queries just because it’s something that people don’t search for anymore.”

It is Your Site

Next Mueller suggested that the reason a site can lose traffic could be from a change in site quality (something the publisher changed on their website) or a change on Google’s side where they changed how they identify quality.

This is Mueller’s response:

“It can also be due to changes in quality on the website or the perceived quality of a website based on our algorithms.

But all of these things are really kind of hard to guess at without knowing your website.”


SERPs Change

The search results (SERPs) are in a state of change. Sometimes this could be because a competitor is becoming more active online. Sometimes it’s because there are new competitors.

Don’t expect the search results to stay the same.

Searchers Change

If search habits change, then search traffic will change.

In the offline world, for whatever reason, many supermarkets aren’t carrying soy milk but are stocked with multiple brands of oat milk. It’s possible that “traffic” to the supermarket for “soy milk” has declined. So they stopped carrying it.

Here is a 12 month Google Trends graph showing the relative popularity of soy milk versus oat milk. As you can see, there has been an explosion of search activity for oat milk, double the the search trends for soy milk.

Screenshot of a Google Trends graph showing popularity of soy milk versus oat milk

The supermarket responded to consumer demand by providing more oat milk.

Similarly, you should always try to keep an eye on consumer use of keywords. It could be that consumer popularity has changed. If tastes change then it may be time to update to what users are interested in. This can most definitely cause a negative change in search traffic.

Site Changes

Sometimes a change on your site can cause Google to understand it less. As a hypothetical example, if a business card site begins publishing marketing related content, it’s possible that Google might begin to see the site as being less authoritative about business cards.

Google Changes

Sometimes Google changes how it interprets search queries and web content. This is something that has constantly been changing for the past couple years (Rank Brain, BERT, etc.).

Always check the search results to try to understand why the winners are winning and you are not. And don’t seize on the most obvious reasons as those could be red herrings.

Watch the Google Hangout

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Google Offers Reasons for Significant SERP Changes

Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

Conquer your day with daily search marketing news.