Search results generally appear to be stable, but the reality is that Google’s SERPs can be more dynamic and volatile than is commonly understood.
In this article, you will learn the reasons for volatility in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and the steps to take to improve your chances of avoiding disruptions in search presence.
What Is SERP Volatility?
Search rankings can change quickly and unpredictably – a phenomenon known as SERP volatility.
There are multiple explanations for SERP volatility:
- Search personalization.
- Algorithm changes – both announced and unannounced.
- News and current events.
- Mediocre quality signals.
Google offers personalized search results for users based on previous searches and activities.
Previous search history can influence the SERPs for subsequent searches. This can cause the search results to change as Google predicts what the user wants to see.
For example, searches for a recommendation can cause Google to personalize the search results to show information that is specific to that user.
Search personalization can cause a site to receive unpredictable levels of traffic, creating a sense of instability in search performance.
This kind of instability is normal and isn’t anything to worry about.
Algorithm Changes & Experiments Impact On SERPs
Google introduces thousands of changes and experiments to its algorithm every year. Some of these changes are announced, and some of them are not.
Both kinds of algorithm updates can introduce instability in the search results.
The reason why changes to Google’s algorithms cause volatility in the search results is because the changes are tied to improvements to how relevance or site quality are determined.
An important thing to remember is that a change in search rankings does not mean there’s something wrong with the quality of the webpage that lost rankings.
It could simply be that another webpage is more relevant, and the change has nothing to do with quality.
Mediocre Quality Signals
Quality signals can relate to how helpful (or unhelpful) a site is and influence indexing and ranking.
Factors related to site quality, such as site speed, have less impact than the content itself.
Expertise and authoritativeness are qualities of the content, so try to zero in on the content qualities that align with Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) to see where your site content is lacking.
Sometimes, in my experience, there may be times when a site is borderline relevant, has borderline site quality, or maybe doesn’t have enough of the on-topic content.
Bouncing around in the search results is sometimes, in my opinion, a symptom of sites that are borderline relevant to a query or are lacking something in site quality, authoritativeness, or expertise.
But don’t forget that SERP volatility could be caused by another site that is lacking in something that is bouncing up and then falling down.
News And Current Events
News and events that are related to keyword phrases can cause changes to what kinds of webpages are ranked.
These changes can trigger rapid changes in what was previously ranked in the regular SERPs.
News results tend to hang on for a week or so, then disappear.
Articles about current events can behave unpredictably in the SERPs, especially if it’s about something new in the product, entertainment, or technology space.
Being first to publish is super helpful for avoiding ranking instability because other publications will cite the original post, and Google aspires to promote the publication that is first to publish.
Afterward, it may be helpful to get the word out aggressively as long as possible in order to maintain top rankings after other publications catch up in coverage.
What Tools Can You Use To Track SERP Volatility?
Many of the top SEO data platforms offer keyword position tracking tools that monitor the ranking positions for different keyword phrases.
Popular tools are:
Many of the above tools offer free and paid versions of their keyword rank trackers.
Give them a try and learn which one is best for you.
WordPress Rank Tracker Plugins
There are WordPress plugins that connect to Google Search Console through an API in order to display easy-to-understand keyword ranking data.
However, many of the plugins haven’t been updated in a long while or aren’t used by many websites, which makes them difficult to recommend.
Two SEO plugins that are trusted and used by millions stand out and are recommended for displaying keyword ranking information. The following two WordPress plugins can track keyword rankings:
What Can You Do To Avoid Issues From SERP Volatility?
The reasons for volatile SERPs are numerous, so the response should be appropriate for the cause of the ranking instability.
Analyze To Understand Algorithm Updates
The best response to ranking fluctuations due to algorithm changes is to wait. SERP volatility during updates is often temporary.
Take note of the announced goals of the update and check the site for possible weaknesses.
But again, there might not be anything wrong with the site. It could be that the definition of what’s relevant has changed.
That means analyzing the top three ranked websites and comparing them to the ones that lost ranking positions, paying close to attention to how the top sites cover a topic.
Remember: webpages that are precise can outrank webpages that are comprehensive. Covering a topic in a wider scope can cause the page to be less precise and overly general.
Identify Mediocre Quality Signals
Improving SERP volatility due to mediocre site quality depends on accurately assessing webpages for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
It’s also useful to objectively judge whether the webpages are helpful to users.
In my opinion, a large reason for SERP volatility due to quality factors is when the publisher or SEO pro focuses too hard on keyword phrases at the expense of thinking of webpages in terms of precise topic coverage.
More Actions To Take To Avoid SERP Volatility
Keep Webpages Up To Date
Review all articles to make sure they are current and relevant to how the page topics have evolved and changed. Quickly update articles that have changed due to current events.
Yearly/Quarterly Site Audits
At least once a year or as often as quarterly, crawl the entire website with a SaaS or desktop tool and evaluate for technical issues that may affect crawling and indexing.
Focus On User Satisfaction
Don’t wait for Google to tell everyone to publish helpful content. Anticipate that.
Several years before Google initiated the Review Updates, I was already counseling clients to produce experience signals for review sites, including publishing original photos of the actual products.
Those clients were already practicing everything Google advised for the Helpful Content System and the Reviews Update when both of those were released by Google.
How did I know ahead of time?
I knew because, as a user, I was frustrated with fake product reviews and unhelpful content – i.e. I was thinking like a user, not an SEO pro, when performing site audits.
A concept is an abstract idea that forms a plan.
Google’s concept of what to rank is centered on pleasing its users. That concept is the foundation for virtually every algorithm update Google has ever released.
Understanding Google’s stated concept for satisfying users offers clues as to what to anticipate in order to stay several steps ahead of SERP volatility.
Featured Image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock