Why Your Site’s Search Rank May Be Falling (And 4 Simple Ways to Fix it)

man falling

This isn’t supposed to be happening.

Your 8-year old website with the domain registered 10 years out is getting outranked by websites less than a year old with auto-renewal on.

And you thought the age of your website meant authority.

But the problem is this: domain age alone doesn’t grant you authority, and your domain registration strategy doesn’t impact your search rankings quite like you think it might. Your site’s content and the links coming to those pages are what matters.

What’s that you say? You have quality content and quality links and you’re still dropping in search rankings?

Well then the reason is clear …

You are not making users happy.

User experience matters (a lot)

Seems odd, doesn’t it … user happiness impacting your search rankings?

But it’s exactly what Matt Cutts said in this recent video. (Don’t worry, we still disagree with him about guest blogging.)

See, when you have a site with a stale design, sluggish load times, bloated code, and crappy mobile experience, you are going to get outranked by newer sites with a fresh, contemporary design, blazing fast speeds, and orderly, clean code.

In other words, those newer sites are going to have a better user experience … which makes visitors happy.

Let’s see how we can fix these mistakes.

1. Stale design

For some sites, outdated design is a badge of distinction. It’s like you know you are gaudy — and proud of it.

A hipster might be able to get by with that, but not a business owner. At least not a business owner who wants to make a profit.

A user wants to land on your site and feel like they can trust you. An outdated design is going to raise an eyebrow and probably drive a visitor away.

So, here are the essentials of web design that works.

2. Sluggish load times

People will abandon your site if it takes longer than four seconds to load. How fast does it take your site to load? Test it with these six tools.

And get this: a website built on our Genesis framework measures load times in milliseconds.

And let’s not forget how hosting plays a huge part in fast load times.

3. Bloated code

The number of SEO changes in the last couple of years are legion. So, an older website that hasn’t been updated is probably sporting a chaotic mess of old code, not to mention missing out on the benefits of HTML5 and Schema.

Instead, present search engine crawlers with an orderly, squeaky-clean page of code, and you’ll be well on your way to a solid ranking for your chosen words.

4. Crappy mobile experience

People will not tolerate bad mobile experiences. And with more phones than people, it pays to have a superb mobile site.

But that doesn’t mean you have to design a separate site for mobile users. You just need to get mobile responsive. Here’s a beginner’s guide to get you started.

The good news about redesigning your site

Ten years ago updating your website was a pain in the neck.

You needed to know how to code, work your way through PHP files without blanking your site, and dish out a few hundred dollars.

Not today.

It’s almost as easy as pushing a button. Take it from this writer (who I know for a fact can’t code his way out of a wet paper bag).

Yes, even I updated two personal blogs in eight hours over two days. Most of that time was spent fussing over the position of buttons or rewriting the tagline to make it snap on the page.

And on a scale of one to 10, my anxiety level while messing with this “technology” was about a … one. I get more anxious trying to request a book from my library.

So, long story short, there really are no more excuses not to update your website … right?

Flickr Creative Commons Image by Ben Salter

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Reader Comments (37)

  1. says

    Damian, How about high bounce rates because of weak content that does not engage or answer the search query leading to the site? Could that also be a reason for ranking drops? And the fix: Better content.. right?

    • says

      It’s safe to say that Google looks at how quickly someone bounces out of a link after they have clicked on a SERP … and that usually indicates irrelevant content (based on the search phrase), bad content, bad design, or all of the above.

      • says

        This is a hard one.

        I have two posts in particular that bring in around 1,000 unique visitors per day each. The average bounce rate is above 90% but the time on page is on average over 5 minutes. That’s really long, right?

        So sometimes I think bounce rate is not an indicator of bad content. Perhaps it is not relevant enough to the rest of the content on my site, or perhaps it is just solving the evergreen problem that people are searching for?

        Sometimes I think it would be better to change bounce rate to a more meaningful stat like time on page or something.



        • says

          I hear you Ramsay.

          Did you see Upworthy’s post on measuring ‘attention minutes’?

          Don’t want to dump the link here but here’s the title:

          What Uniques And Pageviews Leave Out (And Why We’re Measuring Attention Minutes Instead)

          Contently just published an interesting take on it too:

          Why Brands Need to Pay Attention to Upworthy’s Battle With Facebook

          I’ll be honest – a lot of it goes over my head but I’d love to get yours/Demian’s thoughts on this idea of an ‘attention’ metric.

          • says

            I like the direction they are heading. Page views, shares, etc. only tell half of the story. As a writer I look at the vanity metrics, but I also look under the hood at time on page, did they read it, where did they go from here, what other content did they read, and did they convert.

        • says

          When Google implemented authorship markup, one of the changes that they made was if someone clicked on your link from a SERP, went to the page … and the magic number was nebulous … but say the person stayed on your page for at least two minutes … and then backed out of that page back to the SERPs, your rich snippet would then change, adding additional links underneath your listing. I wrote about it hear: http://www.copyblogger.com/claim-google-authorship/ … benefit number #3. I’ve not tested to see if this is still the case.

  2. says

    Damien, I’m using Genesis and my site speed is pretty poor – certainly NOT measured in milliseconds. (average 5.98 seconds). I have hosting with wpengine and yet still have crappy load times?? worst of all – Google chrome is waaaayy over other browsers such as IE. Webmaster tools and analytics tells me my site has several issues with render blocking javascript and css issues with the Generate theme (studiopress).. so , while I agree in principal with your article – in practise (even with an updates design, fast hosting) wordpress can be a BIG pain in the ass at times unless you are an even BIGGER Geek. (and I’m not) :)

  3. says

    I love how SEO is becoming more about the user. I built my site (and most of my client’s sites) using the Genesis framework for WordPress and I love how well it’s optimized for user experience, site speed, etc.

    I also HATE a bad mobile experience which I seem to come into contact with daily. I would so much rather have a responsive site than deal with a mobile website where I can’t find anything I’m looking for…

  4. says

    I totally agree with you about Studiopress. I’ve used their templates for the past few years. The latest “PRO” iteration with HTML 5 and schema, really rocks. I routinely get load times under one second with caching. Traffic is always a battle, but having a good looking, fast website along with great content certainly helps. I haven’t found the magic bullet yet, but the tools you offer certainly help.

  5. says

    This is a general shout-out to StudioPress and the developers of the Genesis framework and child themes. You guys rock it like Led Zeppelin, pure and simple.

    I just updated my website with Genesis and the Metro theme on January 25, 2014. Comparing the 16 days prior to using Genesis to the 16 after, I’ve already seen a 11.19% increase in pageviews, which is what I hoped to see.

    My bounce rate is slowly decreasing and visitors are starting to read my other posts rather than what used to be at the top of the archive. Plus, a nice bonus: the opt-in box included with Metro has been attracting more subscribers. Very nice!

    The new site looks great on my mobile phone and tablet, too. I’m loving it.

    Here’s the thing: many theme developers who design for WordPress don’t keep up with WP’s updated versions. This last one, “Parker,” totally corkscrewed my previous theme that I had been using since September 2012. After weeks of not receiving a response to an issue on the theme’s support board, I was done. I already had been eying Genesis for awhile and finally hit the switch.

    Best business decision I’ve made for 2014. :-)

    A final word: for those who aren’t sure about updating their website, not only will you get better traffic, but an added benefit is that it will motivate you to update your site again! Now that I have a spiffy new theme, I’m enjoying posting new content again. So if you feel stagnant, jump in! You won’t regret it.

    And now… back to creating more content…

      • says

        Demian, thank you! So true. All I knew was that my older theme was frustrating me and hindering productivity. Once I had a theme that excited me and performed well, my desire to update returned.

        Another bonus: the magazine-style theme helped me create a publishing schedule as I realized I had five great categories to choose from for future content creation.

        I’ve been conducting an experiment of sorts since June 2012 where I’m updating my blog 5x a week. Some weeks I’ve missed a day but for the most part, I’ve stayed on track.

        Setting up the tags as categories and sub-categories within my primary nav bar helped me organize the content I offer. I can now clearly see what is resonating with my audience and what isn’t through diving through Google Analytics. All good stuff.

        Thanks for everything you guys do. I’ve continued to learn and grow my business as a result of your solid advice. :-)

          • says

            Absolutely. I started blogging 5x a week in June 2013. I compared Jan – May to June – Dec 2013. My blog visits went from 1810 to
            15,078, a 733.04% increase. Pageviews went from 2,639 to 18,527, a 602.05% increase.

            I had one “viral” post that brought in a bunch of traffic and continues to do so. I think it’s interesting to note that the viral post was written BEFORE I started blogging 5x a week. I’m thinking that Google didn’t really start indexing it until my site showed signs of frequent updating, plus, it started to gather more comments.

            I’ve tacked on updates to that particular post, links to other posts I wrote later that related to the topic and received a bit more traffic on those. I continue to tweak that post to make the most of the traffic coming in to it.

            This whole thing came as a result of listening to a sales training leader, Anthony Iannarino (The Sales Blog), who updates his blog every day. He’s received a lot of opportunities from doing it and I was inspired. But yowza… it is work! However, I consider it one of my marketing tools so I’m glad to do it.

            I’ve received a few clients as a result. And since writing is my business, it’s a great way to keep the creative spigot flowing. :-)

  6. says

    You make a very good point about old code. Most people don’t think their older code could actually be what’s screwing up their rankings.

    In today’s modern world, code is the first thing Google’s bots crawl to determine how fresh and up-to-date your site is. If you’re not using at least some form of Schema markup language, those bots have already determined your site to be outdated.

  7. Amanda says

    Any thoughts as to why you’d be dropping if you have a newly redesigned responsive website, a high DA, speed it good, clean code, and engaging content? We’ve been around for 13 years and have recently moved down to #2 for a keyphrase we’ve had locked down for years. The company that is out ranking us is fairly new and has a way lower DA.

  8. says

    I think numbers 1 & 2 are the most common mistakes in a site. Having a high quality content doesn’t guarantee a successful result. We should also focus on some important aspects to make the visitors happy every time they visit our site.

  9. says

    I don’t know about updated web design being a factor at all. I have a 5+ year old site that sells jewelry from Asia. It has a FrontPage design that isn’t pretty, all old code. It loads fast because I’m at Knownhost ( I use Pingdom to check speeds). I don’t really update the code at all or add new pages any more. The ranking has grown steadily these 5 years.

    I have another 25 WordPress sites that have drifted off the edge of the earth according to search engines.

    I am actually afraid to convert my html jewelry site to a WordPress site for fear it will tank like all my other WP sites.

    Don’t fix something if it isn’t broken is appropriate in this case. Be careful not to make radical changes to your site if you’re doing well and can’t live without the income.

    Maybe I’m just a fearmonger?

    • says

      Speed and simplicity will remain a factor, don’t change it if its working.

      Perfection comes not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

  10. says

    Great stuff! This is going to sound nuts, but one thing that’s really working well for me now is to forget about Google and concentrate on real humans. Giving people great info about a topic I’m passionate about (and, yes qualified to write about) is what’s driving my new blog. Having said that, I’m definitely going to start paying more attention to technical issues moving forward.

  11. says

    One of the arguments made about podcasts with Itunes is that older podcasts and podcasts that have faded months or even years ago are still ranking. The thing is this has to do with Itunes rather than the podcast itself.
    The difference with a website is that the site is the creators responsibility to make it viable with an audience. New tools and plugins are available. And like you stated it is easier than ever to do.

  12. says

    Great point about crappy mobile experience. That has real high ROI.

    Another thing I find quite helpful is to update links on my blog regularly. I often go back through my old posts and update links regularly.

    So for instance I recently wrote a post on mindfulness( http://buff.ly/1e8VEdk ) and went back through all my old posts and linked all the mentions of mindfulness to that new post.

    As I understand it that helps with rankings for the term mindfulness.

  13. says

    Hi Guys

    Trying hard to understand SEO guys, Matt Cutts admits Google updates their algorithms on average twice a day, That is like you and me playing cricket, and we have some crazy adolescent pulling up the wickets and putting them all over the place, you just cant win. A lot of web designers, some I have never heard off, are above me, yet when I check their sites, it is so easy to see the bought links, unless of course they managed to produce 1500 sites over a weekend… It is all a bit of a giggle.

    • says

      Nick, the updates they make are not that dramatic. True, there are some sites out there who seem to be the exception to the rules (spammy links), but those who create great content for humans are rarely penalized.

  14. says

    Speaking of Matt Cutts and search engine rankings, I immediately leave sites that are too spammy even if the content I see on a specific page as quality potential. Spam and extremely horrible UX are immediate ‘no-no’s for me while I’m surfing the web. Surfing the internet is a hobby (sometimes it’s a full-time job, but that’s usually when it’s not fun.) If web surfing is a hobby, isn’t it supposed to be enjoyable? And what is more enjoyable than a beautiful UX? Must love UX above all else… even if I found goldmine content, I wouldn’t be able to nor even want to dig through poor UX for the gold.

  15. says

    You’re saying that an aged, trusted domain can be smashed to bits by a site with very little authority but that has clean code etc if both have similar content and link quality?

    It is just one of hundreds of factors they take into account in their algo.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, but the black and white nature of your post is way off the mark Demian.

    You would have been better just calling this post “Use Genesis”.

  16. Kevin O'Malley says

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think one can reliably depend on Google’s algorithms anymore. Even in the past few months where Google is supposedly trying to boost great sites and delist crappy sites, I see more poor quality sites with unoriginal content than ever. And sites that are following 100% of Google’s recommended guidelines are suffering. This happens often enough to be a huge problem. Whereas I think many companies are going for a short term fix and are trying to use social media for a boost (see http://www.facebooklikesreviews.com for instance) I think the right approach is to make your existing site better, improve things that Google has zero say in (like your overall design, user experience, site loading times) and give yourself the most pleasant site that you can. There are lots of sites that rank highly in Google that many knowledgable visitors won’t use because they suck in a lot of ways. There are lots of sites that don’t rank highly in Google that people love, but these sites are on the right track and have something positive going for them that nobody else can ever take away from them.

  17. says

    If you’re concerned about your ranking and you have a WordPress site, you should install Yoast’s legendary SEO plugin. It’s the Swiss army knife of SEO.

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