Why Google Can’t Tell You About Every Ranking Drop

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In a recent Twitter conversation, Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison, shed light on how the search engine addresses algorithmic spam actions and ranking declines. The dialogue began with a website owner expressing frustration over a notable decrease in traffic and the inability to request a manual review.

Sullivan clarified that a site’s downturn in rankings could stem from various reasons, including algorithmic spam actions or other factors impacting visibility.

He stressed that some websites, upon experiencing a drop in rankings, wrongly assume it’s due to algorithmic spam actions when alternative factors might be at play.

“I’ve examined numerous sites where individuals lament losing their rankings and jump to the conclusion that they’ve been hit with an algorithmic spam action, when in fact they haven’t.”

Sullivan’s complete statement illustrates the transparency challenges Google faces. Furthermore, he elaborates on why the inclination to seek manual review to supersede automated rankings might be misdirected.

Challenges In Transparency & Manual Intervention

Sullivan recognized the concept of enhancing transparency in Search Console, which could involve notifying site owners about algorithmic actions akin to manual penalties. Nonetheless, he underscored two significant hurdles:

  1. Disclosing algorithmic spam signals might inadvertently empower malicious entities to exploit the system.
  2. Algorithmic actions lack site-specificity and cannot be manually revoked.

Despite understanding the frustration stemming from uncertain traffic drops and the lack of communication channels, Sullivan expressed sympathy towards such challenges.

However, he cautioned against the inclination for manual intervention to supersede the automated system’s rankings.

Sullivan emphasized, “…you don’t really want to think ‘Oh, I just wish I had a manual action, that would be so much easier.’ You really don’t want your individual site coming to the attention of our spam analysts. First, it’s not like manual actions are somehow instantly processed. Second, it’s just something we know about a site going forward, especially if it says it has changed but hasn’t really.”

Determining Content Helpfulness & Reliability

Moving beyond spam, Sullivan delved into the diverse array of systems designed to evaluate the helpfulness, usefulness, and reliability of individual content and sites.

Acknowledging the imperfections inherent in these systems, he noted that some high-quality sites may not receive the recognition they deserve.

“Some of them rank really well. But they’ve experienced a slight decline in positions significant enough to cause a noticeable traffic drop. They presume there are fundamental issues, when in reality there aren’t — which is why we’ve incorporated an entire section addressing this into our traffic drop troubleshooting page.”

Sullivan disclosed ongoing deliberations regarding the possibility of offering additional indicators in Search Console to assist creators in understanding their content’s performance.

He explained, “Another aspect I’ve been exploring, and I’m not alone in this, is whether we could enhance Search Console to display some of these indicators. However, this presents challenges akin to those I mentioned about spam — the reluctance to inadvertently allow manipulation of the systems, and the absence of a simple button to elevate content deemed more useful than our automated systems perceive. Yet, perhaps there’s a way to share more information that benefits all parties. Paired with improved guidance, it could prove beneficial for creators.”

Advocacy For Small Publishers & Positive Progress

In response to a suggestion from Brandon Saltalamacchia, founder of RetroDodo, regarding manually reviewing “good” sites and providing guidance, Sullivan shared his considerations for potential solutions.

He mentioned delving into ideas like self-declaration via structured data for small publishers and leveraging that data to drive positive developments.

“I’ve been contemplating and proposing some ideas on what we could do with small publishers and their self-declaration through structured data, and how we could glean insights from that to facilitate positive changes. It’s speculative at this point, and there are no guarantees, but I’m optimistic and hopeful about finding ways to progress in a constructive manner.”

Sullivan clarified that implementing changes won’t happen overnight, but he remains hopeful about charting a positive course forward.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal