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 engine results 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 with these rapid keyword rank changes?!
Keyword Ranking Fluctuations
Rapid keyword rank changes may happen when Google processes where a new or updated web page belongs in search results.
These keyword ranking fluctuations are normal.
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.
Why Do Keyword Rankings Fluctuate?
Keyword rankings fluctuate for a variety of reasons. Understanding why keyword rank changes happen can help you determine whether the fluctuations you see are normal or whether you need to take action. Here are a few of the most common reasons a page may undergo keyword rank changes.
Google’s Rank Transition Function
According to U.S. patent documents, after applying an initial rank to a page, Google will then use a rank transition function to vary a page’s position over time — independently of any other ranking factors for the page.
In other words, regardless of search engine optimization (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.
New Algorithm Update
Google algorithm updates are a fact of life. If your ranking positions have changed, check to see if there were any recent Google updates. While there are some small updates every day, these generally don’t have a big impact on keyword rankings. However, larger algorithm updates can. The most recently publicized update was the May 2022 core algorithm update, which focused on content. If you were impacted by it, you’ll need to revisit the affected pages and improve their copy.
Search Intent Has Changed
Google wants to provide users with the most relevant results. As part of this goal, it looks at the reason people are running a particular search, i.e., the search intent. Over time, the search intent of a particular keyword can change as Google attempts to realign results with searcher needs. This could lead to high-ranking content sliding down the SERPs.
Run a search to verify the search intent of your targeted keywords hasn’t changed. For example, if you have a blog post about dog grooming that has seen a significant ranking drop, google the keyword for that post. You may find the search intent is no longer about how to groom a dog but for dog grooming services.
If your page has suffered a rankings drop because of a change in search intent, you can either find a more suitable keyword to optimize your page around or rework your content to meet the keyword’s new search intent.
Technical SEO Issues on Your Site
Google has over 200 ranking factors, some of which involve the technical functionality of your site. If any of these are negatively impacted, it could lead to a rank drop.
To identify potential issues affecting your site, sign in to your Google Search Console. If there is a security issue on your site, it will be identified right when you sign in.
You should also check your Page Experience report to see how well your site’s core web vitals are performing. If a new plugin has impacted your site speed or a pop-up is obstructing too much of your mobile view, you’ll be able to spot the performance drop in your Page Experience report and Core Web Vitals reports. You may need to engage your SEO web developer to help you address any issues.
Google Manual Action Penalties
You may be subject to a Google manual action penalty if you practice black-hat SEO techniques or get hacked.
Keyword stuffing, content cloaking, overuse of pop-ups, and spammy backlinks can all lead to a manual action, and subsequent rankings drop. Use Google Search Console to identify whether your site has any manual action penalties against it. Just log in and scroll down to the ‘Security & Manual Actions’ subheading in the menu and click ‘Manual actions.’
Address any issues detected, and then appeal your penalty. This won’t instantly fix your rankings — it’s a slow process. Avoid black-hat tactics in the future, and you should be able to rebuild your reputation and rank higher over time.
Better Content Elsewhere
Of course, there’s always a chance a competitor has created a great piece of content that has knocked your page further down the search results. If you google your target keyword and a competitor has outranked you, check out their content to see why Google believes their page is a better result for a query. If you’re able, update your content with additional information to improve your ranking.
Issues with Your Keyword Tracking Tool
SEO keyword tools are great, but they aren’t always reliable. Recently, a bug impacted the keyword rankings in an SEO tool. Customers who relied on this tool saw declining rankings that weren’t actually reflected in search results.
If you think your keyword ranking drops may be the result of a bug, you can check your keyword rankings in another SEO tool to see if they show similar drops. If you don’t have access to another tool, try googling your targeted keywords in incognito mode to see where you’re actually showing up in search results.
An Example of Google Rankings Volatility
This screenshot is a great example of Google’s random ranking factor at work. Over the course of a month, this particular page has traveled 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.
Again, this is totally natural, though it can be nerve-racking after you’ve invested in creating great content and optimizing your site. When you engage in a data-driven SEO strategy, you can weather algorithm updates more easily and ride out keyword rank changes without worry.
FAQs About Fluctuation Search Rankings
How often do Google ranking fluctuations happen?
In the past, Google would push a group of algorithm changes about once a month, which would shake up the SERPs for three to five 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, which may include a ranking drop.
Why Does the Google Algorithm Purposely Make Rankings Fluctuate?
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 considers when assigning rank.
How Do You Avoid Keyword Ranking Fluctuations?
You cannot avoid keyword ranking fluctuations. They are part and parcel of search engine optimization.
Is search volatility the same for all pages?
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 keyword rank changes than industries 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 tries to mitigate lower listing quality in local search. If you’re trying to rank in a Local Pack, optimize your Google Business Profile (GBP) with local keywords and keep it updated with accurate information and focus on getting positive reviews on your GBP.
Why does my Google ranking keep changing?
There are a variety of factors that may lead to keyword rank changes. 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 may even release several updates in one day. These micro-adjustments tend to be small and don’t usually impact the rank of existing pages. Larger algorithm updates — which may be announced before or after they happen — can lead to more significant ranking changes. Consistent monitoring of your keyword performance as part of your SEO strategy can help you identify whether such an update has impacted your pages.
How long does the Google ranking volatility?
How long your page jumps up and down in SERPs depends on the same factors that incite the fluctuations — factors like competitiveness, age, and backlinks (see above).
Does search volatility occur on other search engines?
Yes, search volatility can occur on other search engines. SEOs tend to focus on Google since it’s the world’s most used search engine.
Patience With Google Search Changes Pays Off
Like I said before, if you’re engaged in solid, upstanding SEO practices, keyword rank changes are 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 technical SEO issues haven’t caused 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 to 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.