When rankings vacillate and a website loses position for a conversion-critical keyword, it can be sheer pandemonium for businesses owners, corporate giants or affiliates alike.
There are three things to be said about SEO and search engines (1) they work together wonderfully (like Reese’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate) and you rise to the top unchecked (2) you can fly high for weeks, months or years without so much as a snag, then wake up to find your website on page 2 or beyond or (3) when search algorithms change, like oil and water they don’t mix and need time to “work out” their differences.
Just when you think you nailed down the perfect position in search engines and you’re on page one, right when you least expect it, Google does what they do best – they churn the index (to protect the integrity of results) and shake up the SERPs again.
Whether that means the Florida Update, the Big Daddy Update, the Austin Update, Jagger Update, the May Day Update (where long-tail traffic was clipped) or others. The fact is, some sites make it back to their prior position (usually the page that ranked may get swapped out with another page more conducive to the new algorithm) while other websites and pages do not.
In many ways, its a matter of chance and multiple variables. While there is comfort in stability and keeping things stationary, the only constant in SEO is knowing that search engines are always changing.
Which Tweak Was it?
You never know which metric can cause a slip in the SERPs. While tracking things rankings on the way up is easy enough, if you push a metric too far you can get slapped with a footprint of on page over-optimization or violate a natural trajectory of link velocity.
Too Many Links, Not Enough Links?
The word of the day here is delicacy, you have to tread lightly and hold the balance of on page and off page SEO in check. Use one without the other and you could tip the scales out of balance and either slip in the SERPs or cement your online position.
Also, word to the wise, if you have a top ranking (such as the #1 position for a competitive keyword) then leave your site alone, so you don’t do anything to create disparity.
I have acquired multiple #1 positions for extremely competitive keywords for clients, only to see them tinker with something and unravel the results. Without knowing which layers of optimization are in play, since SEO is holistic, it takes days, weeks or months to create results, but only one haphazard mistake to lose them.
Was it The SEO Butterfly Effect?
The “SEO butterfly effect” is real, and whether it was some metric you employed (internal links, changes to site architecture, links from other websites, adding additional content that is so similar it creates duplicate content, etc.) kicking in and tripping a filter.
You can never determine completely if the ranking factor for your pages is being provided strictly from (a) domain or page strength and trust (b) on page theme relevance via content development (c) internal links or external links or (d) all of the above.
Aside from the things you are aware of, you never know if your competitors turning up their SEO game as well and gaining a higher relevance score than your website (which may have been dormant or resting on its laurels).
If your livelihood is directly tied to the performance of your website (especially if you only have one site), there is nothing more frightening than an algorithm change.
The takeaway here is (1) document changes, so if you break anything you can always flip it back to how it was (2) use moderation when making changes (search engines are not fond of change) such as entire site segments being redirected, pages being deleted or adding 100,000 pages in 1 week and (3) acknowledge the natural order of things and use moderation when making changes.
Sometimes you never know how things with shuffle in the SERPs, but as long as you are creating a constant flow of fresh/relevant pages, your pool of defense increases as your websites ability to stave off competitors increases as your website insulates itself with relevance.
If a Page is Ranking Well, Leave it Alone!
A word of wisdom in passing, before you tinker with old pages which are grandfathered into the index for a specific ranking, tread lightly, think long-term, but pay attention to the signals of an on page push from competitors or a link barrage of inbound links, so you can determine which changes are absolutely critical for your websites longevity and present ranking trajectory.
Get it right, you stay grounded regardless of what happens, blow it and change too much or fail to counter with the right method and you could get jumped and find yourself looking up to the site that passed you scratching your head in bewilderment.
The moral of the story, change is imminent, embrace it and rather than obsess myopically over a keyword, create 10 more rankings to hedge and augment your online presence instead. That way, if you encounter temporal setbacks, they are minimized by not being overly dependent on one keyword or another.