Why Google Can’t Tell You About Every Ranking Drop

In a recent Twitter exchange, Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, provided insight into how the search engine handles algorithmic spam actions and ranking drops.

The discussion was sparked by a website owner’s complaint about a significant traffic loss and the inability to request a manual review.

Sullivan clarified that a site could be affected by an algorithmic spam action or simply not ranking well due to other factors.

He emphasized that many sites experiencing ranking drops mistakenly attribute it to an algorithmic spam action when that may not be the case.

“I’ve looked at many sites where people have complained about losing rankings and decide they have a algorithmic spam action against them, but they don’t. “

Sullivan’s full statement will help you understand Google’s transparency challenges.

Additionally, he explains why the desire for manual review to override automated rankings may be misguided.

Challenges In Transparency & Manual Intervention

Sullivan acknowledged the idea of providing more transparency in Search Console, potentially notifying site owners of algorithmic actions similar to manual actions.

However, he highlighted two key challenges:

  1. Revealing algorithmic spam indicators could allow bad actors to game the system.
  2. Algorithmic actions are not site-specific and cannot be manually lifted.

Sullivan expressed sympathy for the frustration of not knowing the cause of a traffic drop and the inability to communicate with someone about it.

However, he cautioned against the desire for a manual intervention to override the automated systems’ rankings.

Sullivan states:

“…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 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 change but hasn’t really.”

Determining Content Helpfulness & Reliability

Moving beyond spam, Sullivan discussed various systems that assess the helpfulness, usefulness, and reliability of individual content and sites.

He acknowledged that these systems are imperfect and some high-quality sites may not be recognized as well as they should be.

“Some of them ranking really well. But they’ve moved down a bit in small positions enough that the traffic drop is notable. They assume they have fundamental issues but don’t, really — which is why we added a whole section about this to our debugging traffic drops page.”

Sullivan revealed ongoing discussions about providing more indicators in Search Console to help creators understand their content’s performance.

“Another thing I’ve been discussing, and I’m not alone in this, is could we do more in Search Console to show some of these indicators. This is all challenging similar to all the stuff I said about spam, about how not wanting to let the systems get gamed, and also how there’s then no button we would push that’s like “actually more useful than our automated systems think — rank it better!” But maybe there’s a way we can find to share more, in a way that helps everyone and coupled with better guidance, would help creators.”

Advocacy For Small Publishers & Positive Progress

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

He mentioned exploring ideas such as self-declaration through structured data for small publishers and learning from that information to make positive changes.

“I have some thoughts I’ve been exploring and proposing on what we might do with small publishers and self-declaring with structured data and how we might learn from that and use that in various ways. Which is getting way ahead of myself and the usual no promises but yes, I think and hope for ways to move ahead more positively.”

Sullivan said he can’t make promises or implement changes overnight, but he expressed hope for finding ways to move forward positively.

Featured Image: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

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