Why Did My Search Engine Rankings Change?

In the SEO world, the biggest way we measure success is with search engine rankings.  If a client ranks in one of the top spots for important keywords related to their industry, we call that project a success.

Of course, the difficulty with this, (and frankly, the reason most SEO companies don't offer ranking guarantees) is that rankings fluctuate. Sometimes they fluctuate drastically. And often this is due to factors completely outside our control.

We're still looking for that crystal ball that tells us what Google is doing next. Let us know if you find it, will you?


Since around 2/3 of search result clicks go to the top 5 results, those top slots are coveted real estate. For businesses which watch rankings closely, a sudden drop in ranking can be a huge source of frustration. Let's go over some of the reason why your rankings may have changed, and some actions you can take to take the edge off of some of these fluctuations.

The Only Constant Is Change

One thing you can be sure of is that the way Google looks today is not the way it will look tomorrow, or next month, or next year.

Search engines are always changing and improving. During the summer of 2015, we saw a big change that affected a lot of businesses, when Google switched from a 7-pack to a 3-pack maps widget showing in the search results.


This had a huge effect on local businesses. If competition was tough for the top 7 spots, it's now even more fierce for the top 3. Businesses who were previously in the 4-7 positions are now vying for a spot in the top 3, after losing their front page status.

Of course, users can always choose the "more places" button to see the full top 20 maps listings, but with the 3-pack being such a convenience, will they?


With such a valuable prize at stake, businesses are becoming smarter and more sophisticated about their SEO choices. This means that success with do-it-yourself SEO practices has become pretty tough to achieve.

It also means that if your business has landed one of those coveted top 3 spots, you can't count on keeping it. The stiff competition and constant striving for a top 3 position on maps has made the rankings quite volatile. If you keep a close watch, you will see them changing constantly.

Even More Constant Changes

In January of 2016, we began to see some very large movements on Google across all industries. In the space of just a few hours, we watched one client inexplicably move from the number 2 position to number 11 and back to number 2. And these types of drastic fluctuations continued for days.

Google later confirmed that they made an update to their core ranking algorithm. Big updates like this always shake up search results, and usually Google doesn't warn people about what's coming.  Google considers over 200 signals when determining rankings, and makes over 500 algorithm changes per year. That's 1-2 changes per day, and a grundle of complex considerations that determine your specific ranking position.

At this point, fluctuations are a little less volatile, but given the current climate of search, it's likely that fluctuations are now a part of life.

Take a look at this SERP (Search Engine Results Page) Fluctuation graph from Rank Ranger. Any bar with the color red indicates a day with a high number of fluctuations. Blue bars are low numbers of fluctuations.

Widget courtesy of RankRanger

Any way you look at it, some fluctuations will be happening daily.


Organic vs. Maps Results

Google really is quite sophisticated these days, but retains one simple goal. The purpose behind all the changes they make is to give users what they are looking for. A great deal of work goes into understanding user intent.

You may have heard the mantra, "Do, Know, Go." In simple terms, it means that Google considers whether you are looking to DO something, like buying movie tickets or hiring a roofing contractor; KNOW something, like how far the sun is from the earth, or which kind of bear is best; or GO to a specific website.


Google Maps is actually its very own search engine. When Google determines that your intent involves the need for a business in close proximity to your location, it will bring up the top map results.

You'll see these map results if you search for a nearby restaurant, movie theater, or shoe store. You'll also see them if you search for a dentist, appliance repairman, or tow truck. Google understands that you are not interested in a dentist that is located 5 states away, or a towing company that doesn't service the area where you are stranded.

You need someone in town. Someone local.

So, Google Maps rankings are extremely important to businesses that rely on the local community.

It doesn't mean local businesses won't rank in the organic Google results. Very often they will. However, it's common that a business will rank well in one or the other, and far less common to see them rank well in both.

The upshot is: if your maps rankings are good, your organic rankings are likely to drop. If maps rankings drop, organic rankings frequently improve. This can make rankings seem very volatile, especially if competition for the top maps positions is tough.

As mentioned before, rankings can change based on time of day as well. We have noticed a general trend for the top ranking map listings performing well during daytime hours, and dropping during evening and late night hours. It's as if Google is churning the results, giving more companies a chance to show up on the front page.

Afraid of a Little Competition?

Markets that are very saturated and competitive (like SEO!) are especially hard hit. Which is not to say you can't perform well even in a very noisy environment, because you can. It's just requires some work, persistence, and constant vigilance.


Large countries tend to have better athletes (presumably because they have a larger population to draw from), but those that are willing to devote resources to training their athletes do even better. Likewise, making your business excel will make you a serious competitor in your industry, but devoting some of your business resources towards strong SEO campaigns of your competition, no matter how formidable they might be.

Ongoing SEO campaigns, while they take time to gain traction, are the foundation of online marketing strength in the long term. At Be Locally SEO, we are very careful with on-site optimization, website design, link building, content writing, and other SEO strategies that have proven results. We know that these techniques give our clients the best chance of success and stability in a volatile market.

Living with Volatility

It can be daunting for business owners to keep up with the latest changes in search results, but not to worry! Although there is not a permanent solution to stop fluctuations from affecting your website, there are some actions you can take to give you the best chance of success.

Hire a good SEO company. An SEO company that keeps up with changes to Google and understands how to react is worth the price. Choose a reputable firm that only uses white-hat techniques, and can respond to concerns and changes.

Be patient. SEO takes time to really work well, and over time, good SEO practices will gradually and consistently build strength to your website. Even with fluctuations, the strongest websites usually perform the best.

Watch for substantial changes. Keep track of your rankings over time to make sure no permanent changes are happening. At Be Locally SEO, we offer ranking reports for our clients, to help watch for both progress and problems.

In an ever-changing environment, it is important to choose an online marketing company that is knowledgeable and experienced. Trust Be Locally SEO to guide you through the chaotic world of search engine rankings.


Want more? Our expert recommends:

Hyper-Local SEO: The Key to Improving Your Search Engine Ranking
How Long before Marketing Produces Noticeable Results?
Google Reviews: the 2015 Complete Guide

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