Google Search Console
Add your website to Google search console immediately. This allows you to see if any manual action has been taken against your website by Google, for example if your website used a spammy re-direct was given a manual action and therefore de-listed from Google’s index.
Google issues a manual action against a site when a human reviewer at Google has determined that pages on the site are not compliant with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. Most manual actions address attempts to manipulate our search index. Most issues reported here will result in pages or sites being ranked lower or omitted from search results without any visual indication to the user.
If your site is affected by a manual action, we will notify you in the Manual Actions report and in the Search Console message center.
Learn more at https://support.google.com
If you don’t see a manual action, it looks like you have simply dropped in ranking due to other issues. So now it is time to see if any pages are marked as duplicates.
Check for duplicate content, 404’s, redirects
Click into Index > Coverage in search console.
Here you will see Google index coverage for all known pages to Google. You see valid and excluded pages, excluded pages is where you may find info on why your website lost ranking. Below are some of the reasons that may be listed under excluded pages that you can further investigate.
- Crawled – currently not indexed
- Duplicate without user-selected canonical
- Alternate page with proper canonical tag
- Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user
- Page with redirect
- Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical
- Not found (404)
- Crawl anomaly
Crawled currently not indexed
This should consist of rss/atom feed url’s which you have purposefully excluded from search. Some people may see category pages or pagination pages listed here depending how their webmaster set up the url structure. Most recent advice today (May 2019) is to not to create noindex tags for category or pagination pages. You may experience an ongoing issue with older blog articles not being crawled as a noindex tag will make the Googlebot fall away from those pages and effect the ranking of individual blog articles.
Duplicate without user-selected canonical
Not to panic, this can be corrected with the correct use of canonical’s on your page. Also, you need to check the url’s listed under this category. You may find that although this particular page is not listed in the index, that Google selected a more appropriate url to use instead which is correct in the overall website structure. Look out for messages like the below, where a url has been de-indexed but also no canonical at all has been chosen for that.
Canonical’s are easy to implement, but you need to think about your site structure carefully before implementing them. Does your top navigation link to pages with a trailing slash? Then your canonical would be better off to also have a trailing slash as consistency is what is important to Google to determine url structure.
Alternate page with proper canonical tag
If you have structured your website to deal with url structures, you might see url’s here without a trailing slash if you have, for example, link tags directing towards pages with the trailing slash (or without), in a way that provides consistency in url structure on your site. If you click into the individual url’s listed you should see the user declared url, the Google declared url and whether they match.
Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user
If you have recently implemented 301 redirects on your website, in particular if you moved from http to https, you may see the older url listed here. Google may not have had a chance to update it’s index for your 301 redirects yet. If something has happened here for url’s listed that are not the result of a 301, it’s time to implement them and then request re-indexing for those new pages with Google. Google will update it’s records from 301’s over time.
Page with redirect
If you have existing 301 redirects on your website this is where they will be listed. It’s good for an old url to be excluded based on a re-direct and this means Google should have by now indexed your new page you were re-directing to.
Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical
Again this may happen for url’s which have been re-directed but Google has not updated it’s records yet. In particular when an entire website has moved from http to https it can take Google a while to update those url’s. Click into each result to check whether this is the case. If so, and your 301’s are in place, it’s only a matter of time before Google updates it’s index for you.
Not found (404)
This excerpt is from Google themselves on 404’s:
Q: Do the 404 errors reported in Webmaster Tools affect my site’s ranking?
A: 404s are a perfectly normal part of the web; the Internet is always changing, new content is born, old content dies, and when it dies it (ideally) returns a 404 HTTP response code. Search engines are aware of this; we have 404 errors on our own sites, as you can see above, and we find them all over the web. In fact, we actually prefer that, when you get rid of a page on your site, you make sure that it returns a proper 404 or 410 response code (rather than a “soft 404”). Keep in mind that in order for our crawler to see the HTTP response code of a URL, it has to be able to crawl that URL—if the URL is blocked by your robots.txt file we won’t be able to crawl it and see its response code. The fact that some URLs on your site no longer exist / return 404s does not affect how your site’s other URLs (the ones that return 200 (Successful)) perform in our search results.
Learn more at https://webmasters.googleblog.com
Take a look at the 404’s and make sure they are from old deleted content. If someone is consistently spelling something wrong in order to try and access a specific page that’s good information for you, maybe you can simplify the page url to be easier to type in. Otherwise, 404’s are a necessary part of running any website and it’s a good thing to clear out old content that isn’t relevant anymore if it’s not suitable for updating. Always check if you have a post with traffic that can be updated over deleting, updating posts to be high quality is a great thing to do for the overall health of your site.
Crawl anomaly: An unspecified anomaly occurred when fetching this URL. This could mean a 4xx- or 5xx-level response code; try fetching the page using the URL Inspection tool to see if it encounters any fetch issues. The page was not indexed.
This would commonly be some kind of server misconfiguration issue, nothing to worry about if you have the occasional but not at all frequent error here. Otherwise it would be worth going into server logs or emailing your hosting company to investigate any uptick in server logs on 4xx or 5xx error codes being generated.
Read more on Index Coverage status reports at https://support.google.com/webmasters
There’s a really helpful Google Webmasters channel on YouTube where you can interact with the search team directly, and a video series to ‘SEO Mythbusting’ which should be super helpful!
Have you had an SEO disaster? Feel free to contact me, check out my web design page or give me a tweet @proximowebs I’d be happy to help. :)