At times at events, by email and just in casual conversations I may get asked about the changing of a website rankings in the Google search results. I often redirect these questions to an excellent document in the Google Webmaster Help Center titled “my site isn’t doing well in search” but I would like to take this opportunity to also share my thoughts on this topic on this personal blog.
Questions I tend to go like:
- My website is not ranking for my primary keyword anymore, why?
- I must have received a penalty because my website dropped in rankings, can you tell me why?
- Why is my website not ranking for keyword X while I was number one for years on this keyword?
Of course I consider it to be a positive activity to evaluate your website and see if you can be found and by which search queries you are found by your (potential) customers, however it is important to keep a few things in mind.
No Guaranteed Rankings
Yes, you read it right! There are no guaranteed rankings. Just because you were able to rank high for a certain keyword for a certain period, does not mean you are entitled to that position in the future. Just keep in mind that most major search engines will not give any website a fixed position but let their algorithms do all the hard work ;)
Internet is in Continuous Flux
Another thing to remember is that the Internet is growing every minute with possibly thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or more, new documents and media files. A large number of existing documents will also be updated or some may have been removed again. New links and other types of relationships are created or broken down between all these different new, changed and deleted documents.
As Googler Matthew Trewhella mentioned at his presentation at A4U Expo in London (October 2009), every time Google finishes a cycle of crawling the whole Internet, it may find from 10 percent to 25 percent of new content. This is huge! Let me illustrate this through an example: You are going to the cinema on a regular basis (e.g. once per week) and every time you find that the movies you attending have an additional 10 percent of new content. By the end of the year you could be sitting in the cinema for a whole day watching just one movie.
In addition, your competitors websites most probably have changed their websites since the last time you looked at them. Hopefully your website has also added new and compelling content. Even within the confines of your industry or niche, things are in constant motion. Google, like most search engines, will try to its best to accommodate all these changes by updating its algorithms, making sure new content is indexed quickly and update the rankings of every website globally based what its aims to be the best experience for its users.
So how can you check your rankings?
Luckily Google offers a great tool for webmasters that helps you understand how Google sees your website, called the Webmaster Tools. Here you can find an Top Search Queries overview for which search queries you rank best and which search queries result in the best click-through rate. In addition the Webmaster Tools also provides an overview to the most significant keywords that Google has associated with your website. If these are not reflect the subject matter of your website, you can identify this as an area for improvement.
In addition, a few articles were published in 2009 on how to use Google Analytics to check which position you were ranking for which search queries. Track SEO rankings with Google Analytics and Track SEO rankings and Sitelinks with Google Analytics II are some of the more interesting articles, although keep in mind that these may require you to have advanced knowledge of Google Analytics.
How can you improve your rankings?
The most important things for designing your website is to focus your attention on the users and making your website indexable/crawlable for search engines.
From a technical point of view you can analyse your website by -for example- making sure you don’t violate the webmaster guidelines, avoid duplicate content (e.g. use the canonical link element), structure your website using common sense, make your website fast. For more tips read the free SEO Starters Guide from Google.
From a quality point of view make sure that you focus your efforts on making your website a pleasant and useful experience for your users. Use tools like Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer to optimize your website and create a better user experience.
Last but not least I would also suggest you create lots of compelling content and often publish new interesting compelling content so that your website can become an authority in your market/niche and there is a good reason for visitors to return to your website.
If after this whole story you still have questions about your rankings, I suggest you come to the Google Webmaster Help Forums where many helpful and friendly webmasters are willing to help answer your questions. Or you can choose to hire a professional SEO advisor, in which case I recommend you to read Google’s article on Search Engine Optimization.