Someone asked Google’s John Mueller why their site, successful for seven years, has lost keyword rankings. Mueller responded with four reasons why sites lose rankings.
I believe it will be a mistake to assume this is a comprehensive list of why sites lose rankings.
It’s probably best to understand them in the context in which the information was given, in an impromptu question and answer.
His explanation was a general overview and not necessarily a complete listing of reasons.
That said, the answers provide insights into why a site may have lost rankings and help start the process of formulating a recovery plan.
Nothing Wrong with the Site Yet Loses Rankings
The publisher asking the question related that they had ranked well for seven or eight years.
They evaluated their inbound and outbound links and couldn’t find a problem.
Three sites were impacted.
All three sites used the same keywords because they sell similar products under different brands.
Google’s John Mueller on Why Sites Lose Rankings
John Mueller first explained that there was not enough information in the question for providing a specific answer.
He then provided a general answer.
1. Top Rankings Are Temporary
There’s a certain feeling that once a site is top ranked that it will continue to rank there. Mueller stated that rankings are essentially temporary.
“In general, just because the site was appearing well in search results for a number of years does not mean that it will continue to appear well in search results in the future.
These kinds of changes are essentially to be expected on the web, it’s a very common dynamic environment”
2. The Internet Changes All the Time
Almost everything on the web is constantly changing. Links to a site disappear. Competitors gain links. Content changes. New websites appear.
These things and many more affect how relevant web pages are to search queries.
This is how Mueller explained it:
“On the one hand, things on the web change with your competitors, with other sites…”
3. Google’s Algorithm Changes
This is one of the reasons to explain dramatic changes in rankings. And it’s not like ranking factors change. When the algorithm changes it could be that Google is changing how it understands web pages.
Several years ago, pages featuring top five lists seemed to dominate the search rankings. That might have been because of how Google understood web pages. Top five type pages were easier to understand.
But that’s not happening anymore because the algorithms changed.
A common mistake publishers make after an update is to look inward at the site to find what it is the site is doing wrong.
Another mistake is to think that Google is “targeting” a type of site.
Most algorithms that are the subject of research papers or patents are not about “targeting” types of sites or trying to find sites that are doing things wrong.
Many of the search related algorithms are about satisfying users, understanding users and understanding web pages.
This is what Mueller said:
“On the other hand things on our side change with our algorithms in search.”
4. People Change
This last reason why sites lose traffic or rankings is important.
How and why people search can change. What people search for can change as well. If a type of product becomes less popular then the traffic to sites about that product will tend to wither.
This kind of withering of traffic can appear like a long and gradual decline.
It’s important to always keep on top of user trends.
“And finally on the user side as well, the expectations change over time.
So just because something performed well in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to perform well in search in the future.”
Always Keep Updating
A common quality of successful sites is that they are constantly in movement. Website technical improvements, user research, user experience improvements, establishing a close relationship with site visitors, all of those things are a part of a dynamic website.
It’s not enough to pump out content. In my experience, it’s also super important to keep an eye on the audience and trends related to what they are doing.
Doing that can reveal new opportunities and help avoid the slow attrition of traffic.