Yesterday, our team of Internet Marketing Consultants met for our weekly meeting and chatted about the current volatility of search engine rankings. As we discussed how best to measure the success of a page with fluctuating data, it became clear that many of our clients had expressed similar concerns. Understandably, upon viewing their monthly rank reports and noticing frequent fluctuation of specific pages linked to priority keywords, clients reach out to us for an explanation. Seeing a lot of flux on your rank report can be alarming, especially when you are investing in monthly SEO services.
Even so, ranking flux is normal; in fact, it is less common that a page remains in one position for an extended period of time.
Search engine optimization is an ongoing effort to recognize and respond to dynamic factors that influence a page’s rank. SEO is not a “set it and forget it” endeavor, precisely because the “recipe” for a high-ranking page is always changing. The recipe’s ingredients are:
- On-page elements we can control
- Off-page elements that we can try to control
- External factors out of our control
External factors are often hard to predict. As such, these factors often contribute to unexpected rank volatility. While you’ve probably heard about the proactive measures we take to optimize both your on-page and off-page presence, we don’t often discuss the external factors that impact rank. So, today I thought I’d give you a rundown of what you need to know to understand – and weather—the storm of ranking flux.
The single most influential external ranking factor is the King of Search Engines itself: Google. The mission of a search engine is to provide the most relevant, authoritative, trusted and informative page that corresponds to a searcher’s query.
Google is constantly updating its algorithm to deliver the best results to the end user – to the tune of 500-600 times per year. And while some of the algorithm updates are confirmed (albeit after the fact), Google is notoriously close-lipped when it comes to methodology. Why? Because it wants to keep companies like us on our toes … and I mean that seriously.
If everyone knew every algorithm update before it happened, every marketer and optimizer worth their salt would be able to bump any page to the top of the search results – regardless of the page’s relevancy to the user’s search. Google answers to the user, and therefore wants to keep the ball in play, so to speak. By constantly changing the rules of the game, Google not only fine-tunes its ability to deliver the best results, but it also ensures the playing field remains level for all pages vying for the top spot.
What Is Your Competition Doing?
In some cases, it’s not what you are doing that impacts your rank, but what your competition is doing. In this day and age, most companies understand the necessity of digital marketing, so it is safe to assume that your competition is matching your efforts to rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs). In some cases, they may be surpassing your efforts.
Your competition’s on-page SEO efforts, like a new website or massive content work, may cause your rank to drop as theirs rises. Off-page ranking factors like engaging on social media, soliciting positive reviews, collaborating with influencers, presenting at conferences, speaking to the media, publishing research and more can also have a notable impact on a page’s rank.
It’s worth exploring in what areas your competition may be putting in additional effort in order to analyze the impact those efforts are having on the SERPs. Conversely, if one of your competitors suddenly falls victim to bad press or bad reviews, you’ll likely notice a boost in your rankings.
For Everything There Is a Season
When a topic or keyword is highly temporal (extremely relevant at that time), there will be much more ranking flux around those terms. For instance, today I did a quick Google search for the terms “breast augmentation,” followed by “class action.” The following results popped up for the respective searches:
The results outlined in red are temporal results, categorized by the gray text that mentions how long ago the piece was published. Temporal results provide timely and newsworthy information relevant to the search query. So if a certain keyword that you target is linked to a news story, you may see a bit of ranking flux on your page due to the change in search traffic. Likewise, if a major event happens in your market – like a hurricane or a recession – and people stop searching for terms related to disposable income, rankings will decline for pages related to those disposable income terms.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Data has shown that typically the most ranking flux occurs with pages that rank at the bottom of page 1, as well as on subsequent pages. Usually pages at the top of page 1 stay within positions 1-5 without much deviation. When pages reach that level, they have essentially proved their worth to the search engines and often remain at the top. But as you climb through the ranks, expect to see a series of gains and falls along the way.
Keep Good Company
Inbound links are one of the first things we look at when a site’s rankings suddenly make a pronounced drop. A site owner is not in control of who links to their site. Therefore, if a spammy site starts linking to yours, your average position will most likely take a hit. Page 1 regularly monitors the sites linking to our clients’ sites, and our optimizers disavow links that are hurting performance.
Monitoring your page rank is like monitoring your investment portfolio: to judge performance, it’s best if you examine the trend over time rather than the day-to-day movement. Even data from week to week can be deceiving. Examine data in chunks – perhaps view your average rank over a 4-6 week timeframe compared to the average ofanother 4-6 week timeframe – to gauge the results of your SEO efforts. Remember that good things take time; like a fine wine, a domain increases in value – and therefore rank – as it ages.
Most importantly, communicate with your IMC if you see rank fluctuations that concern you. I always say: You don’t need to get nervous about the turbulence on a plane if the flight attendant remains calm. The same goes for your SEO. Rest assured that your Page 1 Solutions team is consistently monitoring your site’s performance and SEO success. We will alert you if we feel there is cause for concern. Otherwise, it’s best just to stay calm and optimize on.
To learn more about Page 1 Solutions SEO services, call 800-368-9910