Thursday, April 07, 2005

$1 for Your Lost Rank

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked why their site dropped down in (or out of) search engine ranking, I would have all the money I need. I am tired of reading this question on every webmaster-type forum I visit. Therefore, I will now sarcastically answer this question in a generic manner that will apply to most cases:

1. Most search engine results are born out of a complex algorithm which is subject to change at any time. If the algo changed, that might explain the drop (and your site is doomed).

1.5 Even without a change to the algo, SE's can (and do) alter their results by other means. We do not know why, because they do not tell us. SE's are not here to serve webmasters, they are here to serve searchers.

2. You may have made a change to your site that the SE's didn't like, thereby causing your downfall. You should document the changes that you make to your site in order to test this possibility (i.e. retract your last change and see if that helps).

3. The web is changing all the time. It is different right now, than it is right now (or right now). Did you catch that? It changes fast. Perhaps the SE's little spider has found a few sites that are more relevant than yours. Perhaps it found 450 of them. This is quite possible.

3.3 The scenario in #4 is all the more likely because most SE's do not update dynamically. That is, they go around collecting sites but don't add them to the index as they find them. Instead, they add them at a later date, all in a big clump. Complicating this process even more is the fact that large SE's, like Google, don't have just one database, they have many spread all over the world. Updating that beast of a system is no small task.

3.6 In addition to new sites, spiders also pick up on new links, which are created at an even faster rate than sites. Your competitors may have gotten some shiny new links over the weekend that pushed them up top.

3.9 Spiders also note removed links. Do you know where your links are? Maybe your buddy with that PR8 site stopped linking to you. Maybe you should give him a call.

As you can see, there are almost four possible reasons why your site may not be where it was this morning. The SE's aren't going to tell you why it's gone (they probably don't even know themselves), so all you've got is guesses. The best you can do to educate your guesses is to track your major backlinks and all of your site changes. That way you might not be completely in the dark.

Note: Tracking the search results (amount returned as well as order) can also yield insights, but only the truly obsessed (or very well paid) can put in the time required.

I hope that your question has been answered and that I will never see it in a forum again.


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