Lee Odden

5 Ways to Kill Your Search Rankings & Their Solutions

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, SEO Tips

search engine ranking dead One of the biggest fears for web site owners that have long relied on search traffic for new business is a sudden drop in search engine rankings.  Some webmasters are experiencing this very situation as a result of Google’s recent Mayday update (Matt Cutts video).

In most cases, it takes a lot for a tenured web site to mess up it’s search visibility.  In other situations, it doesn’t take much at all. Avoiding mistakes that result in exclusion, penalties and more often confusion for search engines are often overlooked.  Don’t fall victim to carelessness and ignorance when it comes to maintaining the search visibility achieved from years of content and online marketing by avoiding these common mistakes:

1.  Website Redesign

Probably one of the most common situations that result in fluctuations in search visibility involve significant changes to a web site’s design, content, internal linking relationships and the new use Flash, Ajax or JavaScript for navigation. Search engines copy websites and the links between pages. Think of it as taking a picture of your site. If you change your site from what the search engine has a copy of, the new form might not include the same content, keywords and crawlable links.

The worst case scenario is when a company decides to redesign the website and over write all previous SEO work. Upon finding that search visibility has completely tanked, they call up the SEO agency and demand an explanation.

Solution: When significant changes are planned for the company website, work with your SEO to identify how the new design will impact search visibility. Have them map out and prioritize the implications of page layout, content and keyword usage, navigation, links and redirects.

2. New Content Management System (CMS)

Along the lines with a new website design, changing content management systems can create a lot of confusion for search engines. Many companies have had websites long enough that the legacy CMS used to launch the site no longer serves the needs of the organization. Large companies may find that the hodgepodge of CMS used by different business units and acquired companies is inefficient and a common content management system would better serve the organization.

A change in the CMS means a change in the templates that format web pages, navigation and oftentimes the URL structure of pages.  It’s common that major changes in content are rolled out along with new website software and that can spell confusion for search engines. URLs that change can also create confusion. For example, web page file names that previously ended with .asp and now end with .aspx are perceived as completely different.

Solution: While the IT department or web developer will understand the importance of redirecting old URLs to their new counterparts, execution in a search engine friendly manner is another thing entirely. 302 vs. 301 redirects and mapping URLs when there is no logical page in the new system are essential. Identifying the top sources of inbound link traffic to pages and conducting an outreach program to get them to change the URLs other sites use to link to your site is a specialty area for link building SEOs moreso than IT. Simply put, make sure you have a SEO migration plan.

3.  Loss of Inbound Links

In the SEO game content is King and links are the Queen. Or content is the Yin and Links are the Yang. Whatever the metaphor, links are an essential mechanism for search engines to discover pages and signal for ranking them.  Companies that proactively acquire links organically, or that earn vs. buy the links, don’t have much of a problem in this area.  The longer other websites link to your site, the better. But some sites may go offline temporarily or permanently. A blog may decide to remove it’s blogroll or a site may simply decide to remove links to your site. If you change your CMS as noted above, other sites that don’t know this will continue to link to your old URL format (.asp vs .aspx) and that will appear as a loss of links.  If you buy links from other sites and they are detected by search engines, those links may be devalued of any PageRank. There are many reasons for link loss.

Solution: Active content creation, promotion and social participation are essential for building a significant and relevant inbound link footprint on the web. Those links will drive traffic and serve as a signal to search engines for ranking your content in the search results. The key is to monitor your link footprint on an ongoing basis using link building tools that will identify major fluctuations in inbound link counts. Then you can drill down to see where the link loss has occurred and see if you can do something about it. The best defense is offense, so make sure you have an active link acquisition in place so minor to moderate fluctuations in links will have little, if any effect.

4. Duplicate Content

Serving up duplicate content using different URLs confuses search engines. This can happen when sites use queries on a database to display lists of products in a category that can be reached multiple ways. Printer friendly versions of pages, other English language versions of pages or outright copying content from one website to another can all cause duplicate content issues. When an search engine is presented with multiple versions of the same content, it must decide which is the original or canonical version, since engines do not want to show the exact same thing to users in the search results. Anything your website does to make that process confusing or inefficient can result in poor search performance for your web site.

Solution: A professional SEO working with website content managers can help manage broader duplicate content issues for a company website and any microsites they’re publishing. With press releases, RSS feeds or articles that are syndicated, it’s a best practice to make sure the original is published on your site first, then to have any duplicates clearly link back to the original. Ongoing monitoring can also help with unintentional duplicate content issues caused by other sites scraping your site’s content.

5. You’ve Become a SEO Spammer!

As more content is published and promoted online, more websites are launched and more competition comes into the market, companies will be tempted to achieve the coveted first page listing at any cost.  Many companies that succumb to this temptation do so because of seeing their competition get away with tactics that are clearly more aggressive and manipulative than search engines allow.  Webmasters might see suggestions in forums (often disinformation) or get advice from others doing well in the disposable site, content monetization game.

Engaging in simple things like hidden keywords, redirecting pages to present one version to search engine bots and another to site visitors or publishing numerous copies of the exact same web site using search/replace keyword optimization can all result in negative effects. There are far more aggressive tactics considered spam than that of course, but SEO spam isn’t an area we work with and I’m not interested in promoting unsustainable, high risk tactics.

Solution: Understand the webmaster guidelines from each search engine: Google, Yahoo, Bing.  Don’t violate those policies with the site(s) that are your bread and butter. If you must test, do so with other websites that are not going to affect your business. Rather than focusing on loopholes and exploits, be a better marketer and understand what your target audience wants, what influentials respond to and develop smarter, more creative marketing that can stand on its own to drive traffic and sales. Include SEO in those “UnGoogled efforts” and you’ll realize the added benefit of great performance from your website in search engines as well.

Do you have dropped search engine ranking stories to share? Is the Mayday update affecting your website? What have you done to avoid losing search traffic and sales?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I think website re-design has been my kryptonite for so much tough seo work

  2. Another issue I see a lot of people doing is changing the domain name

    • Good point – changing domain names can be a very big issue if there's a lot of history to the domain and redirects are not implemented properly.

  3. “Content is the Ying and Linkgs are the Yang” – I haven’t heard that before but I love it!

  4. Avatar dhirajch says

    I always encountered with the first problems 1. Website Redesign. Thanks for the solution.

  5. OMG.. I just changing my wordpress theme today. Lee is there something bad I’ve done? Can it’s disturb my SEO visibility a lot? Anyway I already checked all my URL and nothing like ‘page not found’ or broken link..

    • Changing your WordPress theme from one to another usually won't cause SEO problems. If your URLs change or if you're posting duplicate content via tags, categories etc then you might see an effect. Just monitor closely and watch your Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics.

  6. Good points and tips, you've pin pointed the main areas, like you mentioned when re-designing it would be better not to change the content especially if the site is doing so well.

  7. Good points and tips, you've pin pointed the main areas, like you mentioned when re-designing it would be better not to change the content especially if the site is doing so well.

  8. Duplicate content, or duplicate pages on differing URLs is common with ecommerce websites that place products into multiple categories and uses dynamically generated URLs based on the path taken to get the product. So when search engine noticed it, they just leave it. But I'm not sure how to resolve it.

  9. The points are cleared and redesigning and changing the domain name of the site can be the worst reason.All the solutions described in this post are awesome and helpful..!!

  10. Avatar GMRW Team says

    The webmasters generally make mistakes on one or two points illustrated by the author. These mistakes cause a website downfall in search engine rankings and even getting them penalized by search engines.

  11. Hi friend,
    Thank you for sharing about down search engine ranking's 5 reason. All 5 reason is responsible for decrease search engine ranking.
    Regard :- ecommercewebsitedevelopers.com

  12. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing 5 reason for decrease search engine ranking. All 5 reason is responsible for decrease search engine ranking.

  13. I have a wordpress blog but through a Rapidweaver plugin I show it through a kind of “skin” to make it match the theme of my site. In other words, the blog itself is in a directory named “/me”, but if you go to “/blog” you get the exact content of the blog but with a different theme, is that duplicate content?

    I monitor my site regularly through google Webmaster Tools and it is not giving me any errors at the time, could it do so in the future?

  14. Thanks for the list. The number one way to destroy your PR is to host your web site with a small fly by night web hosting company – that only has one server. When they are down over half the time your PR quickly drops to zero.

  15. Lee, nice work on these points, i have seen in redesign, if you need to change navigation or page names by some reason, 301 is very important, i faced certain thing when i did 301 to new redesigned pages, but still google said that i have around 100 links to any page which are 404 page…….
    Problem was that google has taken index.html and index.php as separate URL while mentioned URL was /foldername/
    I am sure some of us will not note these common mistakes while redesign but they do make sense when you loss 100's of internal inbound links due to small redesign mistakes…

  16. Thank for this post. All 5 reason is responsible for decrease search engine ranking.

  17. On June 19th, I lost all my organic rankings in Google. I was hacked by a grumblar attack and all my internal pages were deleted. I had a security firm fix everything, but my web rankings have not come back. Each and every key word is not ranking, some I had first page, some 2nd, some 3rd. They are fine in Bing and Yahoo. Google has recrawled yesterday and all my pages are indexed in google. I have not done any design updates in months. I do not know what else to do? Anyone have any advice? Tips?

    • If your pages were recently recrawled by Google it may simply be a matter of time before search rankings are restored. If not, there may still be a filter of some kind applied. Inquire with Google via your Webmaster Tools account if that is the case.

      • My website was crawled yesterday. How much time does it usually take for search rankings to be restored?

  18. Avatar KennelMaster says

    The frustrating thing for a new site is the length of time for any changes you make to be noticed and rewarded. We still have a keyword list on our Google Webmasters that dates back over a month. No amount of pinging / changing / sitemaps e.t.c seems to help to get it updated!

  19. I must say something guys , a lot of people discuss and say that duplicate content penalises your website but i have tested that in some products websites that i use duplicate content and it does not affect my rankings at all …

  20. Avatar Google Secret Loophole says

    well, 5 ways to kill your search rankings and their solutions

  21. Very informative article, dear sir i facing a little problem with my blog ranking. I am writing quality and unique content, but still not ranking in google.