On SEO chat and other web master forums, there are almost always multiple posts about “my rankings have disappeared,” “Google hates me” or “my competitor has only 2 links and is beating my 23 thousand links!”

I am going to attempt to explain some of the reasons for a loss in ranking and hope that in doing so will eliminate excessive same question postings. If you are unclear about something here, please ask, if it’s about your site in particular please start a new thread.

Here are just a few of the numerous reasons for rankings to drop and/or fluctuate:

1. Some of the “back links” pointing to your website have been devalued or are no longer active which, in turn, causes a “link juice loss” that will drop your rankings.
2. A competitor has the edge on you and has taken your site’s positions, but this generally results in the loss of only a couple of ranking positions.
3. New algorithmic changes are being utilized that put more value on factors that your particular website is lacking.
4. Slow server, off-line too long or poor site structure.
5. Penalization, banned or a huge drop from Penguin and/or Panda.

Now, let’s dig dipper into each of these scenarios:

1. Some of the back links to your website have been devalued. Where do the majority of your website’s back links come from: reciprocal, link pages or directories? These are the easiest forms of link building and, as such, are considered low quality by Google and its devaluing of those links will cause your rankings to drop. How much they drop depends on how many of these types of links are included on your website.

The relevancy of directory/link pages on your website has a great impact on how much value is originally assessed and whether the link will ultimately be devalued. As more and more irrelevant links are added to directories or link pages within your website, your site’s rankings will appear to fluctuate or drop lower and lower. Directories and link pages that have only a few links that are directly related to the website’s niche are considered high quality links, hold the most authority and value and are not likely to be devalued. This is why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your back link profile and where you get your links. Be selective and don’t get a link just because it’s easy because good links are not easy to get.

There are numerous websites created for the sole purpose of building links. These sites put up some makeshift content and then allow web masters to add links. These pages tend to lose value quite quickly as more and more sites are added to their “resources.” Sites that are hard to get a link on are the best links to go after. Take your time and spend 5 hours getting that one good link and it will prove more valuable than 50 FFA links (links from websites that contain a long list of web links or only a few products that allow anyone to add their own products or links).

When reciprocating links, you should look for high quality sites that are selective about exchanging links and only exchange a few rather than accepting anybody and everybody’s links. You will get much more out of the link exchange by using websites with only a few link exchanges that hold their value much better than those that exchange multiple links, with anybody. Websites that exchange links directly on content pages have a much higher value and tend to retain or not lose that value. In fact, the value is likely to rise if the content is good and draws links from other sites.

You have to be very careful about knowing who you’re linking to and what, if anything, you’re paying for that link. Don’t waste time exchanging links if all you get is a link on a links page. This type of link will start out as a greatly devalued link and will continue to lose value as more low quality links are added.

Also, you should never, ever exchange links with any website that is not related to your site’s niche or for which you cannot be assured of a quality resource. Be safe, stay relevant and stick to high quality links only.

2. A competitor has gotten the edge on you. These scenarios will usually only result in the loss or dropping of 1, 2 or 3 rank positions. However, if you have been slacking and not working as hard as you should to keep your rankings high, then many of your competitors could rise above you just because they are still working and you are not. In this case, you will likely see a slow and steady loss of rankings.

Many business websites pay for ongoing and continued SEO/link building so, if you stop working, it is highly unlikely that you will stay where you are for long…unless you have high quality link baits which act as high-powered link magnets, in which case you will always be maintaining a quality site but will have a far more secure position. BUT, don't let this convince you that you can sit still because even high quality link baits can be beaten...by higher quality link baits.

When some of these factors are combined, a lot of damage can ensue. For example, if you are slacking on your links and/or only acquiring low quality links (which many have already been devalued by Google) while your competitor has developed a tool that is in very high demand and acts as powerful link baiting for high quality/valuable links for their website, you could lose a lot of ground. This happens because, not only are you using a very poor system of link building, but at least one of your competitors is using very good system of link building. That’s why it is always a good idea to focus on the quality of your website, after which the back links will follow. Without a good quality site, you are going nowhere!

3. New algorithmic changes that place more value on a certain factor or devalue another factor. This scenario is similar to the first and is actually the same, in a way. Changes in algorithms can put more or less value on certain factors, resulting in loss of rankings literally overnight. It seems lately that Google updates as often as it pleases and that means that you can see changes at any time. Massive updates such as Panda and Penguin have caused a lot of unhappy webmasters and website owners, but you must remember that this is generally because of the devaluation of low quality links and that devaluation means those links are no longer passing any juice to your website.

The Panda algorithm looked at the overall quality of the website itself and affected many sites that are low in good, quality content or have stuffed spammy titles, etc.

The Penguin algorithm devalued many spammy- type links, which, in turn, caused sites to drop in rankings. You could have a good link from a good website but, if that site had some bad links that Google devalued, it could result in a loss of ranking for them which can drop your site’s rankings, as well. It’s a trickle down affect so, if you lost your rankings due to an unnatural link notice, check your back links in WMT.

According to Google’s Matt Cutts “We recently launched the ability to download backlinks to your site sorted by date. If you get this new link message, you may want to check your most recent links to spot anything unusual going on.”

If you are using low quality link building methods and Google devalues them, you can and will lose a lot of ground. You should focus on quality, not quantity, and strive to build fewer links of higher quality.

If you can check your traffic or know when you lost your rankings you can check the Google’s algorithm history changes here

4. Site structure or disruption. If a page on your website used to rank but suddenly disappears due to being off line or structure changes, it needs to be fixed immediately or the rankings are also likely to disappear. When moving to new pages or renaming your sub-pages, use 301 redirects from the old to the new but, if at all possible, keep the old pages.

5. Penalization or banning. Understanding the difference between a site being banned or penalized is the first step. Search for your site on site:mydomain.com and, if your site appears in that query, you are not banned. However, this does not apply to a new site since they can also appear that way until indexed unless you know for a fact that the site was once indexed. Even if only one page is indexed, you are not banned.

Your site can be penalized for only one reason that I know of and that is the dreaded Penguin “manual penalty” that can drop any number of pages from Google’s index. Many website owners or webmasters think they have been penalized when, in fact, their site no longer conforms to the latest algorithmic changes, which is not really a penalty.

Some of the techniques covered in the Panda algorithm that can result in dropping your ratings include keyword stuffed titles and content, weak content, horribly written content, hidden text, cloaking or other black hat SEO techniques. Some sites rank well using some of these methods, but not because of them. Removing black hat methods could improve your rankings so you should build your site as though search engines don’t exist. Make your site for the visitor, not the spider and you will find that your site has more quality and will actually rank much better because links are more easily obtained.

Google is striving to improve its search engine and make it even more relevant than it already is by making quality content a high priority, the indirect benefits of which cannot be over-estimated because of the links it attracts. “Quality content” means that which is comparable to “Wiki” content, but completely unique and informative. Because of quality of information contained therein, such content attracts links very well. You don’t have to build your own “Wiki,” just “Wiki-quality” articles pertaining to your niche.

Don’t create a “mesothelioma” website just because it has high adsense earnings. Instead, try and build a site based on your own personal knowledge of subjects about which you are passionate and can provide useful information to others. These types of websites perform very well in Google, but those sites that are low quality (either in content or link building) are devalued by Google and will continue to drop in the search engine rankings.

In summary, if your website recently lost rankings, it is probably a result of one of the above-mentioned factors. You should build up the quality of your site as a whole by individually creating link-baiting resources, creating and adding new content regularly and writing unique articles about subjects within your niche that other bloggers may not have fully covered or missed altogether. Provide answers to questions not easily found and make your site easy to navigate for both your visitors and robot friends. Also, create a HTML sitemap – the xml version is not needed.

Instead of blaming Google for your website’s loss of ranking, use the tips above to create and maintain websites that will continue to perform well in search engine rankings. By following the above suggestions, you will improve chances of using your site to create “virtual link bait.” This will cause webmasters to link to you without even being asked to do so and this type of link building is the most valuable, effective and easy to get.

I’m sure I’ve missed some points in this discussion, but wanted to give a general answer to all the “I lost my rankings, what do I do” threads.

By reading previous posts here at SeoChat forums, you can learn a great deal and, when you do have questions, they will be unique ones that we can debate in fun and not these repetitious questions that get asked and answered all the time.

If you have a suggestion for this thread, please PM me and, if anything is unclear, post your question in this thread.

Please no questions about your sites or your own scenarios in this thread. Create a new thread for that...just ask questions directly related to this thread. Any other questions may be removed. Thank you and Happy Ranking!