Search engine optimization is critical for any business at this point. SEO is often described as the most important online marketing strategy for a business, encompassing everything from web design and site architecture to content. When you rank well, preferably on the first page of the search results for any given keyword, it improves your visibility, conveys the concept that you’re an authority in your niche or market, and puts you ahead of your competitors who might not rank as well. Much of what happens with your SEO strategy is within your control, but sudden changes in the Google algorithm can happen without you realizing it, leading to a big drop in your hard-earned top spots. So what should you know if your rankings suddenly drop? Diagnose the Drop If you check your rankings and see a dramatic decline, first and foremost, don’t panic. Start by making sure that your site is actually working. There are some instances where a site might be under attack, for example, so it’s not loading. You also want to make sure there’s not something like expired hosting or an expired domain going on. You want to check and ensure that your webhost didn’t experience a problem leading to your site not being displayed. From there, if your site seems to be in working order, confirm your traffic loss. Tools aren’t always entirely accurate. You can use Google Analytics for verification. Fluctuations are normal, which you’ll see on the chart, but if there’s a significant drop down and it doesn’t come back up, that indicates there is a problem. Google’s information tends to be most accurate, even above SEO tools. You can then go to the Google Search Console to see if there are errors or penalties. Google will automatically let you know if there are errors when its bots crawl the website. If manual action is taken by Google’s human reviewers, they’ll let you know. Did You Make Any Changes? After you’ve confirmed your rankings did indeed drop through the above steps, consider whether you’ve recently made any changes on the backend. Changes could include updating existing plugins, adding new plugins, the addition of new pages, or perhaps changing your theme. A major URL structure change could also be playing a role. If you had a developer or someone working on your site, you want to make sure that they didn’t add a no-index tag, which would disallow crawling from search engines. Research Recent Google Updates If there are no major changes or technical issues, it’s time to do some research. Google often makes updates throughout the year, and it’s possible that’s why your rankings declined. If there is a change in Google, your only real option to reclaim your rankings is to figure out what it’s targeting and try to update your site to reflect those changes. During this time, identify exactly what dropped and when. For example, were all of your pages affected, or was it one page? Were there multiple pages that took a hit or certain keywords? It’s possible, depending on the nature of your decline, that you didn’t drop in the rankings necessarily, but instead, another site is now doing better than you. If this could be the situation, you’ll need to analyze your competitors. For example, if there’s now a particular piece of content outranking yours, see how many backlinks they have. If the site, in general, is doing better than yours now, how much content do they have? How high-quality are these pages? You can do a Domain Comparison on Ahrefs to get an overview of how the other site is performing. Take a Look at On-Page Factors The content on your site obviously affects your rankings, and you may need to do an audit of all of your content and see where you could be lacking. For example, thin content can be a big reason for drops in rankings. Thin content is usually anything less than 500 pages. You should aim to have at least 1000 words on your page. Maybe you find shorter pages and thinner content that aren’t even necessary to have, and you can delete them if it’s not worth your time to add new content. Is Your Problem Related to Links? Links are a huge advantage in some cases for SEO, but they can also be one of the major reasons that you aren’t doing as well as you’d like or that you see a decline in traffic. A weak link profile very often correlates with low rankings. Link problems tend to be tough to spot and diagnose, and they take work to fix as well. You can conduct a link audit of your site using an analysis tool. This will show you where the bad links are that are pointing to your site. You can contact the sites and ask them to remove the link, and if they don’t, you can use the Google Disavow tool, but only when absolutely necessary. There can even be link problems related to your internal linking. If you redesign your site, relaunch it or rebrand it, you could lose links. For example, if you delete an old post, links to the post you delete won’t work, which negatively affects your internal linking structure. This can potentially have a negative impact on your SEO. You could also lose an internal link because of a problem with a redirect, like a 301 redirect. Technical Issues We’ve briefly touched on the concept of technical issues, but these can be a reason you experience a decline in rankings.