Why Do Search Positions Fluctuate So Much?

New Content Can Cause Extreme Fluctuations

Google’s John Mueller has recently been discussing the question of SERP fluctuations. And as ever, his comments have lit up the SEO world.

It’s understandable enough that any discussion on search positions is going to attract attention in SEO circles. After all, it is essentially the raison d’être for the entire SEO industry. John Mueller is a man who always provides good value, and some tantalising glimpses of Google’s inner workings. So when he was asked directly about rankings fluctuations during a Google hangout session, it’s no surprise that you could hear a pin drop in the SEO world as he provided his feedback.

We’ve all been in the position where rankings have suddenly bombed or escalated without any obvious trigger, and while for freelance SEO consultants, it can be a stomach-churning experience, it is also something that is extremely common. Mueller was specifically asked about the impact of new content on SERP rankings.

Sorting Through The New Content

The questioner explained that he had added a page to an existing website, in this case an infographic on some specific information that several site visitors had requested. When launched and submitted through Search Console, it instantly showed up at 12th in the applicable long-tail search. However, the next day, on the same search, it had disappeared completely.

Mueller said that this pattern is “completely normal.” He explained that the initial spike is when Google gives a preliminary estimate of where it should rank. However, this is likely to change dramatically as the Google algorithm fully assesses the new content.

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He said sites should expect their SERP rankings for new content to fluctuate dramatically over the first two weeks, adding that it is not uncommon for them to disappear completely from the results for a short period and then reappear.

Content Change Can Also Cause A Site Review

As well as adding fresh content to a site, an overhaul of old content can also result in a review of your site. So if you’ve recently changed titles, headers and added new resources to existing pages, all of which is carried out during on-site SEO work, you may experience fluctuations in the Google SERPs.

What If It’s Not New Content?

That explains some of those dramatic fluctuations if you’ve just added a heap of new content to your site. But what if you haven’t? The truth is, SERP fluctuations are always going to occur, and that’s why SEO is a constant and ongoing discipline and not something you can just do once and then forget.

If you are seeing slight fluctuations – for example ranking 6th one day, 8th the next, then 5th the day after that, then that is totally normal. Even if you see a bigger fluctuation, don’t panic – it’s as likely to be something from Google’s side as from yours, so just give it a day or two and it will most likely be back to normal. The best advice is to take a longer term view and use months as your unit of measure, not days.

Another handy trick is to check if your competitors are fluctuating in the same way. If they are, it is clearly the SERP that is doing something strange, and nothing for you to worry about.

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When To Worry

The point at which you need to really pay attention is if most or all of the pages on your site suddenly take a big hit in rankings all at the same time. If that is the case, it’s highly possible that Google has seen something they don’t like, so you’ll need to get your SEO team to start digging deeper to find out what’s gone wrong and where.

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