Checklist if your Google rankings have dropped

Whenever anyone asks me to try and find out why their website has dropped in rankings I go through a quick mental checklist to see what may be occurring. This can save loads of time and faffing about as you can zero in on the problem efficiently.

Some of these checks can be simple to do but in a few cases if you do find that the problem is one of these you should probably seek professional advice to avoid making further problems.

In no particular order of ease or importance:

Have you checked your htaccess file?
If you don’t know if you have a htaccess file, as a rough guide you only get them on apache servers. To see what your website is running look at netcraft.

Next, log into the server and look for any unusual lines in the htaccess file. If you don’t feel confident doing this, get your web developer to check for you. What you should look for is a rule based around the most common user agents :

RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !googlebot|slurp|msnbot [nc]
RewriteRule (.*) [R,L]

What this does is tell Googlebot and other search spiders that the page has moved to so the gets the benefits of the links, but the page still shows to the average user.

I have seen this tactic used, very sneaky, but very real.

Have you checked your robots.txt file?
As with the htaccess file the robots.txt file may or may not be present, but it can be used on all webhosts and tells the search engine spiders what they can and can’t index. Robots.txt information page.

I saw on instance where a server was hacked and the only change made was to add one disallow directive, that basically told Google NOT to index and entire folder. Now this was 1000’s of pages and they all started slipping out of the Google index.

We could not trace the hack when we found it, however it was sadly, rather beautiful.

Have you made any changes to what you do?
Have you recently changed your SEO or added some new links, or done something new. For example, I have seen instances where a website owner employed someone else to get them links, but they went mental and got them 1000’s of links, links which were far from clean, they were blog comment links. So if you have had some SEO work done, find out exactly what they did and if you are lucky you might be able to rectify what has been done.

Have you made any technical changes, like hosting upgrades or change of IP/DNS etc?
Since you last had ranking have you moved hosts, or changed IP or it could be as simple as the server being down. So ask your technical person if you don’t know yourself.

Of course there is the damn right weird, like when Godaddy blocked GoogleBot, but you can get to that when this list of checks is fruitless.

Have you redesigned the layout or internal linking structure?
Have you recently updated the site, either in terms of design or the whole navigation. What can happen is pages are lost by creating broken links or you may have shifted the weight of a page by altering the internal anchor text.

Have you got any redirects in place?
Redirects can cause problems. More often than not, check out my 6 simple tips to protect your website.

Do you have duplicate content issues?
Duplicate content on a website can cause a drop in rankings, by basically filtering out your website from the SERPs. To see if you may have duplicate content issues, then take sentence from a page that may have been affected and do as search on Google for that exact string. If your listing no longer appears you may have issues. It is possible for someone else to create duplicate content on your site.

Are you having server header issues?
Have you changed anything on a server level that may have altered the headers served from your pages. If you don’t know what server headers are, they are part of the http protocol. For example a 404 code is the server telling the visitor or Googlebot that the page does not exist. So mixing up these headers and serving the wrong ones can deeply impact what gets indexed. In one case I worked on the CMS adopted a method of making dynamic content appear static with mod_rewrite but even when the page was really there the response header was saying that is wasn’t. So the page never got indexed, or it could mean that is got dropped from the index after a change.

Did the ranking drop occur after a Google ranking update?
Have you checked the forums, is there a lot of chatter about sites losing rankings. If there is you may be onto to something. For the moment though ….do nothing… quickly changing what might be the problem may be the worst thing you can do if you are not sure exactly what the issue is. If you are not sure get professional help. Sometimes it can be as simply a blip or burp in the Google algorithm and well worth waiting for things to settle.

Have you completely disappeared from the SERPs or dropped 30 places or some other tangible drop?
There can be a whole host of reasons why a website has dropped in the rankings, but getting the correct diagnosis is not always easy. One to check for is the +30 penalty. Have you dropped exactly 30 places in the SERP’s? Maybe you have the +30 penalty/filter. You should be able to fix this by looking at your linking patterns and cleaning up some stuff you may have added lately.

To be honest the penalty issue is so vast it deserves a post of it’s own. Same old advice, get some pro help if you are not sure.

Are Google messing with something?
Maybe you are falling foul of something like geo-filtering, which in its simplest format is where Google filter you out of appearing in the search results, because your server is located in a different country. So check local variations of the Google search.

Well that is it for now. I hope you don’t have the need for these, but my guess is that at some point you may encounter one of these. The same advice goes with most things, if you are not sure get qualified professional advice.



10 Comments on “Checklist if your Google rankings have dropped

  1. Excellent posting! Bookmarked this 🙂

    I have one question, will change of IP affect the website rankings? Please advise.


  2. Hi.

    My site is over a year old, and I got on 1st and 2nd page results on Google for all of my keywords (even without many back links).
    Then I have created and submitted Google site-map, with top priority for main page (it vent like that 1, 0.9, 0.8, 0.7, 0.6, 0.6, 0.6, 0.5,) And then I was drooped to about 10th page results for 90% of my keywords.
    Thinking that something is wrong with the site-map I have submitted another one, that vent like that (0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, for all pages) that didn’t help either.
    So I deleted entirely site-map from my server, hoping that I can at least get back on 2nd page results, as I was before without sitemaps, especially now when I have about 50 good back links and PR-2, and that also didn’t help.
    I opened Google Webmaster Tools account and Google Analytics along with submitting the Site-map, and I found a lot of posts from people that did the same thing and they also got dropped right after doing so?!

    I’m really confused right now, please help me! Thank you.

  3. Hello Christopher

    I would consider looking at the site itself first. Your front page has a lot of kw stuffing on it imho.

    Your in a position now that may require a little waiting. Whilst waiting though, don’t rest, get more links and add more content.

    How long have you been dropped?

  4. ukgimp

    Heres a problem I did not see addressed. Our site was consistantly ranking 2nd page for the last month when doing a specific keyword search (auto body parts). Today at 9am same results. When I checked back again at 11am the site was nowhere to be found. After going through 87 pages I found this –

    “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 864 already displayed.
    If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.”

    After I repeated the search with omitted results, the site came up again on the second page. I am stumped as to what could have caused this. No changes were made to the site during this time (or the day before). Now the site will not show unless the link is clicked to show omitted resutls.

    Please help. I’m not sure where to procede with this. Thank you.

  5. Hello Craig

    Is certfit the site you are talking about?

    Have you viewed the source of your site, it have virtually no content, is is a frame page.

    For me the first step would be to get the site out of the frames, this is quite easy from the looks of it.

    Take out the non www version and redirect in to the www version using a 301.

    After you have done this you can make sure you have good title on each page, that mirrors the content of that specific page.

    As a wild guess you sort of have duplicate content issues which you should try and take care of and when fixed you can review and see if you have any other issues.

  6. Hi

    First time here, great post

    My wife and I run a website and we are about to move servers will this have an effect on our search engine results?

    Thanks for your advice

  7. Hi Chris

    Thanks for the comments.

    It should’nt do, if you make sure you cover as many bases as possible.

    Set the whole site up on the new servers and test it. To do this without changing the DNS, you can stuff your hosts file with the new websites IP, so you can see how it would look and work.

    See where they have : localhost

    well add your ip and domain name:

    Then when you go to that url windows will force where it looks.

    Once you are happy with the site, you can change the DNS over, make sure you leave the old site up as DNS and domain changes can take a couple of days to propagate. So if someone with old DNS will see the old server (this can be an issue if they can update the site somehow, but that is a different issue). Then check your web forms and generally look through your site.

    Make sure that you have all the packages on the new server as well, like php5 or whatever your chosen is.

    If you have any specific Q’s shout them up.


  8. sometimes it can be the backlink directorys that place you as a featured link; you suddenly get 60+ links,(depending on how many pages the directory has), for the same keyword. Not good

  9. Hello there,

    Recently I have done a lot of SEO work on my website and http://www, My work in the first phase was mainly to improve my ranking in search engines and I managed to get OK results. The hits were not thousands but about 700 highly targeted visits mainly from Google searches for our services such as estate agent web design and Joomla development.

    After a while it has stagnated and started going down in spite of our continued efforts in adding genuine new content on our website nd press releases. IS it just a temporary fall or are we over optimsing.

  10. Hi, ukgimp

    Fantastic post. I just love it. I update my knowledge through this articles. Thanks man.

    But, I am in trouble.
    Need help.

    Currently I am working on website called Before 3 months it was on 1st page in Google, yahoo & msn for my targeted keywords.

    But, the problem is before 3 month suddenly ranking is gone in Google search engine for my targeted keywords. Now the scenario is Google can not display this site, even not in 600.

    If you type domain name in Google then site is coming i.e. it’s not a spam. So, what happened to my website? Please help me out.

    One more thing I like to share after loses my ranking in Google; I check my back links, all pages and done on-page optimization for whole website. But, still it can’t come in Google.

    So, please check this site and tell me, what should I do to achieve my ranking in Google? I want my site again in 1st page in Google on my target keyword which is data processing.

    Eagerly waiting your positive response.
    Thanking you.

    Harvesh Modh