In a discussion with one of clients over the weekend, they mentioned that they had dropped in search engine rankings about six weeks ago. They were on the first page for several crucial keywords, but noticed over a month ago that they had been bumped back to the third page. They didn't know what happened, and neither did we. We couldn't think of any major Google updates that happened over the past month, so we decided to look into it and to figure out why our client (and maybe others in a similar situation) may have suddenly dropped in search engine rankings:
Detection of Low Content
Search engines will penalize your website if there is a lack of content, a lack of quality content, or if there are too many adds. We do not think this is the case with our client, although we could create more content on a regular basis to help with keeping our top search engine rankings when we do have them. We don't think this is the case because some of the websites that are ahead of us in rankings are not creating new content (one site is a blog that hasn't been updated since October 2011) or were news articles and web pages that were published in 2009 or 2010. Many factors go into search engine rankings, but it is confusing as to why these older sites that haven't been updated at all are getting priority.
Google's Panda #25 Update
It turns out there was a major Google algorithm update that happened right around the time our client complained about dropping in search engine rankings. We were able to find only one article that explained the specific changes and how they could have impacted our client's site. According to the article, older sites regained their search engine rankings, and many of the changes gave priority to older sites. These changes include favoring older backlinks and correlating older sites with a stronger trust factor. This explains why some of these older sites that haven't been updated have overtaken our client, where the blog is only two years old, so those backlinks and those blog posts are younger than the sites that are currently on the first page of our target keywords.
Future Search Engine Algorithm Updates
However, part of the announcement about this update is that all future Panda and Penguin updates will be less transaparent (rolling updates instead of a one-time comprehensive change), so it will be tougher to know when they happen and how they will affect your website. To accomodate this update, and all future updates, it looks like we'll just need to continue practicing good SEO practices and creating content.
Malware or Hacking
Fortunately, this wasn't the case with our client, but if your site does get hacked and/or does end up spreading malware, then your search engine rankings will drop. It's also possible that the search engines will blacklist your site until you have the malware removed, and once you do you will need to notify the search engines that your problem is fixed. A malware infection or a hack can happen at anytime, so pay attention if you see a drop or if someone reports a problem with your site.
Search engine rankings are a constant struggle. If you aren't giving the search engines reason to keep your website on the first page of results through tactics like content creation, website audits, and keyword research, then you are opening up the opportunity for a competitor to take over. It's good to monitor your seach engine rankings regularly, as well as see what websites are competing for your keywords, as you might find misinformation or a negative review of your company competing with you.