A recent glitch in Google Search caused panic among business owners and the SEO community as rankings dropped for websites across the board. I first noticed the drop in rankings on August 6th, while regularly tracking the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a particular keyword for my client.
Unfortunately, my client noticed the drop in rankings during this time and began to panic. This, of course, caused me to panic and I suggested the drop in rankings might have been a reflection of Google testing their results. At this point, I had noticed several changes occurring in the SERPs that could support this suggestion – the rich results were changing, the ad placement was changing, and the position of his website was changing between positions.
I learned several lessons from this experience and thought it might be helpful to share.
Here’s a quick overview of the Google glitch during the summer of 2020 and 5 things to do next time something like this happens.
The Google Glitch, Summer 2020
Despite the majority of the SEO community expressing concern that their rankings were dropping around August 11th, I suspect this Google glitch actually rolled out as early as August 6th. That was the date I noticed the change and began looking into the issue.
Based on the dramatic drop in rankings, the SEO community suspected Googled rolled out a major algorithm update. It was strange. The SEO community knows Google regularly rolls out updates, but this one seemed big … more along the lines of their older updates.
At this point, unaware of the glitch, the only suggestion I could offer my client was that Google must be testing the results. I promised to look into the matter and conduct an audit of his closest competitors. I kept an eye on the changes in his rankings and performed the audit with close attention to recent changes made by his competitors. I found a few things we could work on, but nothing major had changed.
Clients don’t like to hear that.
He offered several ideas that included major changes to the website and strategy. Still suspecting Google was merely testing the results and his rankings would return, I suggested it wasn’t a good idea at the time. From my perspective, making any changes during a test could backfire and prevent his rankings from returning if Google concluded his website was still one of the best results for his target keyword.
I don't have all the details yet, but it seems like this was a glitch on our side and has been fixed in the meantime.
If someone could fix the other 2020-issues, that would be great.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) August 11, 2020
Shortly after, Google addressed the glitch and restored rankings to their normal positions.
Apparently, Google makes mistakes just like us. The important thing to remember here is that you shouldn’t jump to conclusions, whether you’re the business owner or SEO specialist. Even if your client is worried about a sudden drop in their money-making keyword rankings, it’s best to be patient before making major changes.
With that said, there are a few things you can do to be proactive if something like this happens again.
Here are 6 lessons I learned from the recent Google glitch.
Lesson 1) Don’t Panic
Google runs tests all the time in order to improve their results. This often causes results to shift around in the SERP, which can be alarming. It’s important not to panic if you notice this. We often refer to this as “the Google dance” because results can bounce up and down in the SERP regularly until Google figures out which results are best for any given keyword.
In this case, the changes in results were so alarming to both business owners and SEOs that it caused panic. Business owners were concerned their website wasn’t going to generate the money they needed and SEOs were concerned they did something horribly wrong.
At first, I suspected Google might have rolled out a major update that caused a major change in rankings. If you’ve been around long enough, you know just how damning major updates can be. With that said, it’s been a long time since we’ve experienced a major update like this … these days, Google usually rolls out smaller, targeted updates focused on making highly focused improvements.
Panic clouds the mind and prevents us from making rational decisions. If you notice a sudden change in rankings like this in the future, don’t panic. It’s most likely a test or a mistake.
Lesson 2) Check Trade Publications
When in doubt, check the trades.
The SEO trade publications, like Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable, are great resources for the latest SEO news. If an algorithm update rolled out, the trades would likely know about it because they keep in touch with key people at Google and other search engines.
You’d likely hear about an update from these sources before you heard about it from Google.
At the time, none of the trades had published anything about an update so it was still a mystery to me. I still suspected the changes were a reflection of Google testing their results and my client’s rankings would be restored once completed.
Lesson 3) Patience and Reassurance
It’s easy to jump to conclusions and point blame.
If you’re optimizing your website correctly and still notice a sudden drop in rankings, please consider the fact that Google is a 3rd-party company that does what it wants. It has its own agenda and makes constantly strives to make its results better for its users. A sudden drop may not be a reflection of your SEO.
If you’re not patient, you may make changes that negatively impact your rankings once things settle down.
It’s not easy, I understand that – but it’s important that you avoid making major changes until you understand what’s happening. At this point, my client was worried that his drop in rankings would affect his traffic (correct) and that he wouldn’t be able to attract as many customers (also correct). However, this was still just 1-2 days after noticing the drop. Keep in mind, this was before the major trade publications, like Search Engine Land, covered the issue so it was still a mystery.
Give it some time.
I understand my client’s panic but still believed Google might have been shifting rankings in order to test for the best arrangement. I didn’t want to take action yet. It was early.
To help calm my client, I promised to re-evaluate his competition in an effort to discover what they were doing to out-rank him in the search results for his target keyword. This didn’t yield any new insight, but it did reveal one idea I could lean on to make him feel a little better. It was extra-curricular and would require help from a developer, but at least it was something. I shared my findings with the client and it made him feel a little better.
Still, his website was 5 positions lower than it was yesterday.
Lesson 4) Evaluate Competition
Keeping an eye on your competition is always a good idea.
It can reveal certain strategies that you can adopt and issues that you may need to address in order to step up your game. In this case, there wasn’t much I didn’t already know … nothing I could do on-page to out-perform the competition.
Still, doing the research and providing my findings to my client provided some reassurance. It related to making improvements behind-the-scenes as opposed to on-page optimization.
Taking a closer look at the competition is always a good idea, but particularly helpful when experiencing a major drop in rankings. Get out there and do the research.
Lesson 5) Don’t Make Changes
When experiencing a sudden drop in rankings, it’s easy to suggest making major changes in order to correct the problem. However, this might not be the best way forward because changes could backfire.
I suspected Google was running a test … making changes could impact that test and alter results. In my opinion, it’s best to at least allow the test to complete before making changes. Making changes could make it more difficult to identify the problem and resolve it effectively.
It’s tempting to make a knee-jerk decision in order to fix a problem, but sometimes it better to let things settle first.
Lesson 6) Follow Up
After several days of confusion and research, it became clear the drop in rankings was caused by a Google glitch. My client’s rankings returned to their normal positions and he was happy about that.
Still, those days of intense stress and confusion remain and I wanted to take a moment to reflect and share what I’ve learned. This will likely happen again sometime in the future, so I hope these lessons I learned help you in some way.
I think the most important thing here is patience.
There’s only so much we can do. Even then, we’re working with a 3rd-party company that is free to test, make changes, or otherwise cause panic. Be calm. If you’re doing a good job as an SEO, you don’t need to worry that much. It’s always a bit frightening to see a sudden drop in rankings, but you can rest assured Google will figure it out and make corrections if necessary.