Decoding SERP Volatility: How to Get Back on Top

SUSO 14 August 2023

Find out how to decode and tackle SERP volatility, and get your site back on top of Google’s results page.

Author: Hadi Waqar, SEO Analyst

Hadi Waqar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the world of SEO, SERP volatility is very normal and almost every website has seen days of significant fluctuations in keyword rankings. SERP volatility is something that occasionally leaves even the seasoned SEO experts perplexed. 

If your website is facing this situation and losing traffic and keywords ranking it’s important to not panic and create a plan after analysing all the available data.

In this blog post, I will help you in comprehending the methodology behind crafting an efficient strategy for your website, analysing its performance, and navigating the actions necessary to regain the lost visibility and stabilise your rankings.

What is SERP Volatility?

SERP volatility occurs when significant or recurrent changes are observed in the first page of Google’s search results.

Given the millions of websites catalogued within Google’s extensive index that are competing against each other to rank on the top of page one, SERP volatility is a common occurrence.

For businesses that depend heavily on the organic traffic funnelled from Google to generate traffic and leads, it’s important to craft a robust and foolproof strategy to manage the SERP volatility.

What Causes SERP Volatility & How to Combat It?

There are plenty of different factors that may instigate SERP volatility and many strategies are available to counteract these, each tailored to the specific situation at hand.

Primarily, you should conduct a comprehensive review of all the available data to ascertain the underlying cause of the volatility in SERPs. 

  • Evaluate fluctuations in keyword positions, specifically any keywords that have lost or experienced a decrease in ranking.
  • Examine any significant shifts in the search intent i.e. has Google changed the types of pages that are served to searchers?
  • Check for any recent algorithm updates that may have negatively impacted your website’s performance.
  • Check for other technical issues with the website that might’ve led to a decrease in keyword visibility such as keyword cannibalisation or the ranking page accidentally being blocked from Google’s crawlers.

Let’s look at the most common factors that trigger SERP volatility, along with solutions to combat sudden declines in visibility or keywords ranking.

Changes in User Behaviour & Search Intent

Periodically, Google refines its understanding of diverse search queries. The objective remains to provide users with the most suitable results for their search query. 

Google may notice that a specific query is not providing users with the best possible results. If users are bouncing back to the search results after opening the first few results, it’s a sign that the pages aren’t providing what the users are expecting to find.

For example, a user may be only seeking information related to a specific product before making the decision to buy. However, they are only presented with product or collection pages in their search results. 

In these circumstances, Google might choose to reorganise the search results (i.e. by including blog posts and guides in the results page) to verify the correctness of this supposition.

Example Keyword: nvidia graphics card

SERP results for keyword nvidia graphics card

As you can see, the above results have a mixed search intent as Google cannot precisely determine the specific results the searcher is looking for.

Shift in SERP Features

Google has multiples Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features such as:

  • Featured Snippets
  • Knowledge Graphs
  • Knowledge Cards
  • Knowledge Panel
  • People Also Ask

These can impact how your page appears in the results page.

While these features may initially appear detrimental to top-ranking pages, often resulting in a slight dip in position, they also provide a chance to benefit from the potential traffic.

For example, Google may decide to insert a Featured Snippet for a keyword where there wasn’t one before.

Example Keyword: what is a rich snippet

Shift in SERP : Featured Snippet

In cases like these, websites should try to optimise their content to try and  rank in the featured snippet position.

Seasonality & Trends

Another important factor to consider if you notice volatility in SERP is looking at the seasonality and trends related to the keywords that saw a decline or dropped from the results page index.

Seasonality

These are mostly short term trends that can generate massive traffic gains. 

For instance, during the Halloween season (between September & October), you’ll see a tremendous surge in traffic to Halloween-related keywords.

Keyword: halloween costume ideas

Seasonality in Trends

Trends

Trends evolve over time. This could be best illustrated through an example.

Notably, the search term “Twitter” has experienced a surge in search volume, which can be attributed to the recent Twitter rebranding as ‘X’.

Google Top Stories

After the Top stories, the highest-ranking results also revolve around Twitter’s rebranding to ‘X’.

Top ranking results in SERPs

With the dynamic nature of trends, it becomes imperative to develop a consistently updated SEO content strategy that effectively targets the evolving intent behind specific terms.

Increase in Marketing Competition

At times, your competitors’ SEO strategy can also push them at the top of the results page thereby causing fluctuations in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

If your competitors are continuously publishing new content or refreshing existing content pertaining to a specific topic, this sends a strong signal to Google’s algorithms that their website offers value for users.

In doing so, they accumulate considerable topical authority related to the topic which in return helps them surpass your website within the results page.

If you notice volatility within the search engine results page, resulting in a demotion or drop of your page’s ranking, it’s important to analyse the competitors who experienced an increase in traffic or keyword visibility during the same period.

Keyword Cannibalisation

Keyword cannibalisation is a prevalent issue that arises within websites when multiple pages are targeting the same keyword. The noteworthy consequence of this competition is that none of these pages can achieve their optimal ranking potential.

keyword cannibalisation

This creates a scenario where the internal competition hinders the overall search engine visibility and effectiveness of the website.

Indexation Issues

Even the most optimised websites that provide an exceptional user experience (UX) can be hindered by indexing issues that can effectively nullify potential traffic generation. 

Despite your best SEO efforts, if search engines cannot index your pages, they become invisible to the organic audience.

There are plenty of indexing issues that can affect your website. This includes but not limited to:

  • URLs with a “noindex” tag – this instructs Google’s crawlers not to index and rank your page.
  • 404 Not found pages i.e. broken URLs
  • Soft 404 pages i.e. pages that return a 200 response code but Google cannot find its content and considers it as a 404
  •  401 error i.e. pages that requires authorisation for access
  • 403 pages i.e. pages where access is forbidden
  • URLs blocked by robots.txt

It’s important to regularly audit your website for indexing issues as proper indexing is integral to your site’s visibility and overall success.

Google Algorithm Updates & Penalties

Google makes significant changes to their ranking system several times a year – these are known as core algorithm updates. The objective of these changes are to present helpful results for searchers, while simultaneously imposing a penalty on websites seeking to exploit their ranking system.

If you see volatility in SERP’s during an ongoing algorithm update, look out for which factors the new algorithm is impacting. For example, in February 2023, Google released a new iteration of their Product Reviews update. 

By comparing your website you can gain an insightful perspective on how this algorithm update might impact you and help you create a better plan to recover from the decline in visibility or from a Google penalty.

Google Tests

SEO A/B testing allows Google to make informed judgements if modifications in the SERP leads to positive impact on user experience.

During SERP volatility, it’s crucial that a historical record of your website’s data – tracked keywords positions, average keywords ranking data, and so forth – be readily available for a minimum of three to six months. This is because Google may be just tweaking and testing its algorithm with minimal impact on your website. 

In such instances, it’s worth monitoring the rankings, wait for a reversal (upturn in visibility) without implementing any major change to the website.

On the other hand, if you notice a substantial decline in organic visibility and keyword ranking, it serves as a clear indication that your site requires optimisation and Google is giving preference to some other website as a result of the test.

How to Track SERP Volatility

Being part of SEO communities and forums furnishes you with immediate information when there is volatility in the SERPs.  

Furthermore, SEO blogs like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal & Google Search Central serve as invaluable resources, providing detailed updates about algorithm changes or instability in the SERPs.

In addition to this, it is important that you partner with an SEO agency that proactively monitors, performs detailed SEO tests and evaluates SERP volatility to maintain a competitive edge in the rapidly evolving SEO world.

The Bottom Line

I trust this post will provide valuable insights and enable you to craft an effective plan of action, particularly if your website or important pages have experienced a drop in rankings and visibility as a consequence of volatility in the SERPs.

Should you require assistance in decoding your website’s lost rankings, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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