How to reduce SEO ranking fluctuations

December 13, 2018

Search engine ranking fluctuations can cause panic among healthcare SEO consultants. Learn the factors that cause search result ranking fluctuations and how you should react to them.

Your Google rankings are climbing higher and higher, then bam! You’re knocked down. So, what happened?

Ranking fluctuations are the movement of websites’ positions in search engine results pages (SERPs). At the beginning of your search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, ranking fluctuation is normal and natural, especially on the bottom half of the first page. But if your website is appearing on the top half of the first page, that does not mean it is going to stay there for a long time. 

Fluctuations occur less frequently on the top half of the first page because those websites have already proven themselves to search engines, including Google, as credible results. So, regardless of the placement of your healthcare website on SERPs, the fluctuation is normal, and you cannot avoid it. 

Why do rankings fluctuate?

For SEO experts who track their website’s search engine ranking on a daily basis, it is not surprising to see the ranking move from position one to seven. The SERPs fluctuate depending on visitors’ search criteria and intent. Some days, you will notice the ranking sticking to the same position and moving on others. 

In order to protect your website rankings, we will first look into the factors that cause shifts in search engine results:

1. Search engine algorithm updates: This is one of the most frequent causes of fluctuations in website positions. It may be a new algorithm, upgrade of an older algorithm, or refresh of an existing algorithm. Any change in the search engine’s algorithm can cause rankings to fluctuate for a few weeks after the rollout. Although less disruptive now than they used to be, extreme ranking fluctuations may still occur when Google makes a significant algorithm update. While fluctuations are an essential part of Google’s algorithm, this does not always mean you have to be taken by surprise each time the algorithm updates.

2. Search engine penalties: There are many possible reasons for search engine penalties, both on-page and off-page. For instance, you may be penalized because of low-quality content, user-generated spam, irrelevant content, spammy links, or using any black hat SEO methods.

3. Technical issues: Any changes in the website, including redirects, redesigns or HTTP/HTTPS migrations, may cause crawl problems. You may also notice a dip in the rankings if you incorporate complicated code that slows down your website speed. This happens because the crawlers lack accessibility to your website. In addition, some of the web hosting services may not give you a good uptime. A website that is down most of the time may send a signal to search engines that it is not a credible site.

4. Inbound links: Hyperlinking strategies can cause significant ranking fluctuations. If you are trying to implement outreach strategies to point to specific pages, the unexpected flood of links can cause a rise in ranking. The absence of links pointing to your medical practice website can cause a drop as well. However, if lost links are resulting in a ranking drop, the fall will usually be moderate.

5. Competitors: Competition in the healthcare SEO arena is intense, and no matter how current your strategies are, your competitors can still outdo you. The best thing you can do is to focus on implementing effective SEO strategies. By doing this, your overall ranking will stay up even though you might lose positions for some of your web pages. 

How to react to ranking fluctuations

Above all else, do not panic. It is important to learn why there has been a sudden drop in the rankings. You should investigate the amount of fluctuation and explore reasons that could have caused a drop in positions. It may just be a temporary change and after a few days your web page rankings will rebound.

It’s also a good idea to check your competitors’ web page rankings using the Google keyword position checker. If your competitors also have a position drop, then you have no reason to panic. However, if your competitors are running fast, that could be a reason why your rankings fell. 

Fortunately, you can take proactive and preventive measures to minimize ranking changes. It is important to implement the appropriate SEO tactics and be consistent and patient while those changes take effect. Although the problem of ranking fluctuations will still occur, you can consider implementing the following strategies to minimize the impact:

1. Use internal linking to help leverage keyword targeting. Avoid using rich anchor text.

2. Keep an eye on your website speed. If your website is loading slowly, the visitor might exit and click another result. This will signal to search engines that your website is not valuable. 

3. Counterbalance a decline in rankings by building links. However, search engines will catch if your website is building links at an abnormal rate. This may set off red flags and ultimately result in ranking drops.

4. Refresh content on your website. Updating content on a page that is already ranking well is a good idea. You want to ensure that your content is refreshed once a year at a minimum. You will find that having updated content will help improve your rankings. When content gets stale or no longer relevant, you will start to see a large bounce rate or a drop in your rankings. Although content updates are only one part of an overall SEO strategy, they are key to maintaining those high rankings. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of updating to rank above your competitors. 

Is ranking fluctuation a serious problem?

If you notice rankings are falling abruptly within a very short time, there is likely to be a severe problem. For instance, if you ranked in the top three but the website has suddenly dropped 20 or 50 pages, you should immediately investigate. Google might have caught something devious and devalued your links within days.

So, the next time your website’s rankings fluctuate, do not panic-and do not let these changes spook you. Focus on your content marketing and technical SEO strategies. Review and revise your plan for ways to keep improving your web page rankings over the long term.

Alex Mangrolia has been in digital marketing for more than 15 years to drive new profitable growth as well as techniques to boost website traffic and leads. He works as director of marketing and product development for Practice Builders, a healthcare marketing and consulting firm for physician practices, hospitals, and clinics. Learn more about Alex's capabilities at PracticeBuilders.com.