Has this ever happened to you?
You publish a new piece of content and wait, with bated breath, for it to rank on Google search result pages (SERPs). Then, lo and behold! It shoots up the charts from the bottom of page ten to one of the top spots on page one. Then, faster than you can rub your eyes in disbelief, it’s plummeting back down to the Hinterland of page six, seven, or worse. No sooner have the tears you’ve shed hit the ground than it’s back up to page one.
What’s going on?!
Welcome to the Google dance — the mysterious search volatility you see when web pages are subjected to rapid Google ranking changes — for no apparent reason.
These search fluctuations may seem random, but rest assured, there is a method to the madness of the Google dance.
Google Dance, Defined
The affectionately-termed Google dance refers to the rapid ranking changes that a new or updated web page experiences while Google is processing where it rightfully belongs in search results.
In essence, shortly after Google indexes a page, it will “audition” it for rank. When your page lands in the spotlight at the top of the search results, Google measures how searchers engage with it there.
If the algorithm registers high engagement through click-throughs and time spent consuming your content, Google factors that audience approval into its “final” (nothing’s ever final in SERPs, am I right?) determination of where to rank the page.
Google changes the rank of your page (without it impacting any other ranking factors), to see what happens, and then it “observes” searcher reaction to it.
What Causes the Google Dance?
According to U.S. patent documents, after applying an initial rank to a page, Google will then use a rank transition function that varies a page’s position over time — independently of any other ranking factors for the page.
In other words, regardless of SEO changes to a page, the Google algorithm applies a random ranking factor to create a transition period of SERP fluctuation before a page settles into its new position.
Why Does the Google Algorithm Purposely Create Search Fluctuations?
These quick-paced search result changes are pretty ingenious. The random ranking factor is designed to short-circuit spammy SEO hacks by effectively “crowdsourcing” appropriate ranking data straight from Google’s users. How users interact with content in the SERPs provides real-time feedback about its quality, which Google takes into consideration when assigning rank.
How Do You Avoid Ranking Fluctuations?
- You don’t.
- You don’t want to.
Fluctuating Search Results Work in Your Favor
While it can be ulcer-inducing to watch your page rank Google-dancing furiously around the search results, the best thing to do is embrace the uncertainty and resolve to ride it out. Why? Because you’ve created content that provides value to searchers, and the system is built to reward you for your efforts.
Are you engaged in less-than-savory SEO tactics? Well then, maybe you should be worried because, with the help of actual human beings, it won’t take long for Google to assess that your content is thin, spammy, or otherwise without value and rank it accordingly.
How to Make the Most of Google SERP Changes
The best thing you can do in reaction to fluctuating search results is to double-check that your online house is in order.
- Rule out any technical issues that would impact your search visibility.
- Check your backlink volume and quality.
- Research the competition – have they usurped your position with content that’s legitimately better than yours?
For more actionable advice about how to respond to rank changes, read 9 Reasons Your Keyword Rankings Dropped & How to Fix It.
An Example of Google Dancing/Search Volatility
This screenshot is a great example of Google’s random ranking factor at work. Over the course of a month, this particular page is traveling up and down in search results, holding steady for a day or two at a time and then continuing to bounce through eleven position changes while Google assesses its value to searchers — finally, ending on an upward trajectory.
FAQs About Ranking Fluctuations
How often does the Google dance happen?
In the past, Google would push a group of algorithm changes about once a month which would shake up the SERPs for the next 3 to 5 days afterward.
With Google’s current algorithm, the search engine constantly updates and analyzes web content, so the fluctuations are less dramatic than they once were, but they happen more frequently.
Any time you change the content of a page significantly or add new pages to your website, you should anticipate some rank volatility.
Is search volatility the same for all pages?
Our experience has taught us that search volatility can be amplified by a number of factors such as:
Newer sites and pages tend to see more fluctuation as Google evaluates the best place to rank them in SERPs.
If your industry, location, or chosen keywords are exceptionally competitive, you’ll likely see more rank changes than situations where fewer sites are vying for position on page one.
- Link Building
A change in backlink volume or quality can prompt Google’s algorithm to reevaluate your site’s authority by shifting it up and down in rank.
- Page and Site Updates
Making significant changes to an individual page or your site as a whole will likely prompt Google to take a second look at your assets to reassess their value to searchers.
Why is there so much volatility in local SERPs?
Local Packs can be highly volatile because Google is trying to mitigate lower listing quality (i.e., more spam) in local search.
Why does my Google ranking keep changing?
For a more in-depth discussion of all the factors that could impact your ranking, read 9 Reasons Your Keyword Rankings Dropped & How to Fix It.
How often does Google change its algorithm?
Google makes minor changes to its algorithm daily. They might even release several updates in one day. These micro-adjustments tend to be small and don’t usually impact the rank of existing pages.
How long does the Google dance last?
How long your page percolates in SERPs is dependent on the same factors that incite the fluctuations to begin with — factors like competitiveness, age, and backlinks (see above).
Patience With Google Search Changes Pays Off
Like I said before if you’re engaged in solid, upstanding SEO practices, the Google dance, while annoying, is nothing to worry about. Yes, periodically updating the pages on your site or adding new content is an essential part of a long-term SEO strategy, but don’t let daily SERP changes scare you into constantly tweaking your site to “fix it.”
Once you’ve established that there are no technical issues causing the dip, take the long view on your search ranking. Downward trends are best addressed with strategic corrections. Reacting too quickly to micro-dips can distract you from your long-term SEO goals.
Having an SEO agency you can count on helps alleviate the uncertainty of search fluctuations. At Victorious, we take the mystery out of SEO with proven methods that will help you ride the waves of algorithm updates and thrive in the long run. Reach out today to talk with an SEO consultant about how we can future-proof your online visibility.