Checklist for sudden unexplained drops?

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What would you do if your site suddenly dropped in the results, outside known algo changes?

I have a site in that situation. A bunch of pages suddenly plumetting, but other sites and competitors seem to stay in place.

What I check first:
  • Malware/Hacks
  • Indexation issues
  • Mobile usability issues
I check this in Search Console and it comes up clear.

Then what?
  • Speed
I'm thinking it has to be pretty bad for something like that to happen, but possible.
  • Changed internal linking
I decided to index my category pages. I suppose this could explain things, as some of these pages have similar category pages, but not all.
  • Google Update on the way?
Maybe I'm the canary in the coal mine, but probably not.
 
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I think it might be speed related, since some pages very loading very slowly.

After talking to hosting rep, I discovered I had used an old PHP version, probably because of some plugin stuff, and after changing to new PHP, my pages now load much faster.
 

Ryuzaki

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For a select handful of pages, I wouldn't assume anything catastrophic. Beyond doing the things you've mentioned...

Sub-Folders
I'd check to see if these pages are all in the same area of the site. Like do they all belong to the same sub-category (any folder in the hierarchy, basically). This could indicate a Panda problem with that section of the site.

Backlink Profile
I'd also check each page's backlink profile compared to others across the site to see if there's been any out-of-ordinary influx of links. It could be spam, or it could be some good links with targeted anchors causing a bounce.

Content Change
I'd visit the pages and look around to make sure nothing templated got broken and I didn't notice. The content itself could have gotten disrupted and caused a shake-up.

Robots.txt / .htaccess
Something could be off here giving Google problems crawling the URLs.

404 / 5xx Server Errors
Check to see if you've been tossing up 500-level errors from the server or intermittent 404's or anything crazy. Could be server problems or database connection problems.
 
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404 / 5xx Server Errors
Check to see if you've been tossing up 500-level errors from the server or intermittent 404's or anything crazy. Could be server problems or database connection problems.
How do I see this?
 
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If you are using cPanel, log into it and type "error" on the search box. In the error log section you can see the last 300 errors for your site.
 
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Robots.txt / .htaccess
Something could be off here giving Google problems crawling the URLs.
Upon checking, I found 4 pages that had disallow https://site.com/page/* in Robots.txt.

Which is very weird.

I think they must be from some ppc landing pages that I made, but the URL's got mixed up, so that "pageR" being the ppc lander, became "page", became the original.

No idea how that happened. Very weird.

Even so, it was only 4 pages, but of course they were major pages, so I suppose it could have sitewide impact.

Don't know if this is really what's causing it or why it happened.

I'm suspecting some foul play with a plugin update, maybe All in One SEO. I've been tinkering with some Canonical stuff there as well (paginated archives) along with indexing categories.

Hmm...
 
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Maybe it's just a regular Google shakeup, seeing a lot of new sites now. It's possible I got chucked due to having less authority/links than the competition. Some real weird sites showing up now though ahead of me. I'm going to go ahead and trust that they don't deliver on user metrics.
 
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Check countries and languages of visitors year on year (or month on month if your niche is non-seasonal) as well, if you have analytics on the site. There has been some odd stuff going on there with Google over the past year or so...
 
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I think it might be speed related, since some pages very loading very slowly.

After talking to hosting rep, I discovered I had used an old PHP version, probably because of some plugin stuff, and after changing to new PHP, my pages now load much faster.
Interesting you say this, earlier this week (maybe Tuesday) I downgraded my PHP version to do some testing with Mautic - and yesterday/today I am seeing some massive drops sitewide too! - Same deal no competitors have dropped either.

This particular sites speed is quite average - in Consoles experimental 'Speed' enhancements report every page (143 pages) are sitting under moderate.

Going to change my PHP version back and see if that makes any positive movements.
 

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I think the BERT update also had the effect of limiting search results focused on by country. So there seems to be less UK pages talking about the price of product X, appearing in US based results. This seems to be true of European countries also, at least in the niches I'm closely following.

Something to consider when you are investigating.
 
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I think it might be speed related, since some pages very loading very slowly.

After talking to hosting rep, I discovered I had used an old PHP version, probably because of some plugin stuff, and after changing to new PHP, my pages now load much faster.
I found something that might be contributing to the problem - Do you run Yoast? Yoast requires PHP 5.4 (but recommends 7.3 or higher) - I was on 7.3 but downgraded to 5.6 earlier in the week (and has been the only big change I have made on that site lately) I went back to 7.3 a few hours ago *sits refreshing AHREFS for the rest of the weekend*

I think the BERT update also had the effect of limiting search results focused on by country. So there seems to be less UK pages talking about the price of product X, appearing in US based results. This seems to be true of European countries also, at least in the niches I'm closely following.

Something to consider when you are investigating.
For me BERT didn't seem to have any affect on any of my rankings really - I did notice a few SERP features had changed but nothing that caused too much concern.

Im getting a lot of strange things happening in Google Console since maybe 2 weeks before BERT though.
 

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@bernard , Did you check the search console's new speed tab to see if there was a correlation between the pages that saw drops and any pages marked as 'slow' by GSC?
 
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@bernard , Did you check the search console's new speed tab to see if there was a correlation between the pages that saw drops and any pages marked as 'slow' by GSC?
Well, actually a bunch of pages changed from Slow to Moderate recently. A lot of pages.
 
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I have a site that dropped about 40% across the board around Oct 25th. Assumed BERT related but it doesn't make sense to me as the impacted site is all hand-written, personal-experience, natural-language type content. Other rinky-dink affiliate sites with cookie cutter best of lists, majority cheap outsourced content seem to not be impacted at all.

No way to directly connect to BERT but that's the only thing I can find that happened around then. Went through your checklist ideas and didn't find any red flags. Hoping for some kind of BERT 2.0 or reactionary update now..
 

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Looking like there was a possible update yesterday and today even, still rolling out maybe. I don't see anything on the usual trackers thus far. Seems to be hitting people in specific niches, maybe those using certain types of schema. Sound like you on those pages?
 

EyesExist

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Looking like there was a possible update yesterday and today even, still rolling out maybe. I don't see anything on the usual trackers thus far. Seems to be hitting people in specific niches, maybe those using certain types of schema. Sound like you on those pages?
I predicted some corrective 'aftershakes' coming due to some things i saw with my work

It's not done.
 
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Looking like there was a possible update yesterday and today even, still rolling out maybe. I don't see anything on the usual trackers thus far. Seems to be hitting people in specific niches, maybe those using certain types of schema. Sound like you on those pages?
Yes, but I can't figure out what I do different than those who got ahead of me.

I know it's a cliche, but some of those competitors are weird choices to say the least.

If I had to guess, freshness and authority maybe, over topical clustering and relevance? Which could be some kind of Panda?

I'm hoping Google doesn't like the results and does a roll back of some sort.

Search Engine Journal:
Members of the self-described “gray hat” Proper SEO Facebook group are generally positive. This group is focused on Private Blog Network (PBN) links.
Not saying this is the case, but this could explain some of the weirdness in my SERPs.

Most of the sites that won against me are basic affiliate sites using PBNs.

Downgrade of some on-page factors?

Upgrade of some off-page?

Also strange, that only one of my sites are affected yet.
 

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I suggest testing and checking out your Time To First Bytes (TTFB) and see if something drastic has changed. Downgrading PHP is a HUGE problem sine 7.x PHPs are WAY Faster than 5.6, like way way faster:



^^ the above is a measurement of how many requests per second each PHP version can do - you want MORE in this scenario.

Sauce: The Definitive PHP 5.6, 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 & 7.3 Benchmarks

If Yoast is literally telling people to downgrade PHP - I mean WTF are you guys doing with Yoast anyways?
 
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I suggest testing and checking out your Time To First Bytes (TTFB) and see if something drastic has changed. Downgrading PHP is a HUGE problem sine 7.x PHPs are WAY Faster than 5.6, like way way faster:
Yes, I had massive issues with TTFB and that was something I looked at right away.

I don't like that Google PageSpeed still seem to give very low mobile scores, despite my site loading much faster in reality than Google claims. When I load my site from my phone, it's no more than 1 sec TTFB and first paint in like 2 seconds, then fully loaded 3 seconds. That has to be ok. Yet, with Google, the tool says like 7 seconds.

For anyone interested, I also bought WP Rocket and got Cloudfare Pro CDN.

I haven't ever used Yoast, but there was some plugin having an issue, I think it was WP All Import, one of their addons.
 

Ryuzaki

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I don't like that Google PageSpeed still seem to give very low mobile scores
Nobody gets a good mobile score. My site loads in 300ms on desktop and I still get a red score on mobile most of the time. I'm pretty sure, despite their insistence that most of the world uses 4G on mobile, that they're measuring on 3G speeds. "No user left behind" mentality.

When I load my site from my phone, it's no more than 1 sec TTFB and first paint in like 2 seconds, then fully loaded 3 seconds. That has to be ok. Yet, with Google, the tool says like 7 seconds.
If you look at some of their documentation, even in the past they expect you to fully load in under 1 second on mobile:



It's pretty absurd. HTTP/3 and 5G mobile speeds will help out a ton with this nonsense. They don't expect you to have a mobile version of a site, only a responsive version. They're being realistic about what users need, but not realistic in terms of the rest of their suggestions on how to build a site out. I don't want to get into that rant.

I also bought WP Rocket
I'm interested in this, let me know what you think, please, once you get a feel for it. I'm just not interested in annual feels when WP Super Cache exists and also that train wreck W3 Total Cache. The main thing I like about WP Rocket can be had for free too (their lazy loading).
 

CCarter

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I don't like that Google PageSpeed still seem to give very low mobile scores, despite my site loading much faster in reality than Google claims. When I load my site from my phone, it's no more than 1 sec TTFB and first paint in like 2 seconds, then fully loaded 3 seconds. That has to be ok. Yet, with Google, the tool says like 7 seconds.
You are probably in a good location. Google has to account for places like the suburbs, spotty mobile internet, and 3rd world countries. You can't expect Google to base their requirements for ranking world wide or even locally off of just your experience (you might be on WiFi or a fast mobile internet plan) - unless you only want visitors from where you are currently located in a 1 mile radius.

TTFB has to be considered all around your country and around the world if you want international users.
 
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You are probably in a good location.
In a country that doesn't have 3G or slow internet yes. So it would be absurd if Google ran on a 3G lowest common denominator here.

In any case, out of 5 or so sites that I have, ranging from small niche sites, to hobby site, to large authority site, to up and coming authority site, only my large authority site was hit.

And only my large authority site had downgraded PHP and was very slow as a result.

I'm tempted to think that Mobile usability was a part of this update. I don't see why my other sites went clear otherwise. They're largely similar in strategy.
 
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Looking like there was a possible update yesterday and today even, still rolling out maybe. I don't see anything on the usual trackers thus far. Seems to be hitting people in specific niches, maybe those using certain types of schema. Sound like you on those pages?
+1 for an update rolling out.

This particular site has never been hit by an update but seems to be getting hit hard by this one... on a positive note my other sites are looking positive :S
 

CCarter

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In a country that doesn't have 3G or slow internet yes. So it would be absurd if Google ran on a 3G lowest common denominator here.
That’s not reasonable to assume or think Google is going to loosen the mobile speed threshold that you have to pass simply because your country out of the 195 countries on earth that has a bit of a faster internet.

Why would Google sit there and measure the top speed of each country then create custom algorithm to loosen mobile Pagespeed?

If you were Google would you add the complexity to your algorithms? Or would you simply use the simplest factor across the world, cause there are still hundreds of other factors to consider when ranking websites? They are going to use the simplest mobile pagespeed threshold world-wide, otherwise you are asking for each city in the USA to have it’s own mobile pagespeed filter as well cause there are several major cities that have bigger populations than some countries.

That adds way too much overhead. Get your pagespeed in-line with the Google Pagespeed score - wishing for an ideal scenario is not realistic no matter how power people think Google is. They need to use simply algorithms when dealing with trillions of pages that update daily.