For large or complex websites, it’s not uncommon for keyword rankings to behave erratically. Positions can drop, switch, and hop between pages overnight.
This frequently occurs when Google struggles to identify the most relevant page for a query, or when multiple pages overlap or compete with each other for a specific topic. Your rankings fluctuate, and your content under-performs — and often, you don’t even know that it’s happening.
This is called ranking flux, and it can be a tricky thing to spot, diagnose, and resolve.
Why is this a big deal?
When consumers search and visit your website, they often have a specific intent or question. When the page they reach doesn’t answer that question, visitors are more likely to leave, or to have poor experiences — and poor experiences mean lost revenue, and further ranking reductions. When visitors never see the landing page you crafted to meet their needs, everybody loses out.
And so, ensuring that searchers find the best answer to their questions and for their requirements, quickly and without friction, is often a critical component of a successful SEO strategy. Managing ranking flux, and the issues which cause it, helps you provide the best possible experience to your visitors.
What causes ranking flux?
It’s common for websites to have pages which are about similar or related topics, and for there to be overlap on these in terms of relevant keywords and topics. Most of the time, that’s fine, and perfectly normal. However, if you don’t put measures in place to manage how search engines infer which is the ‘preferred’ page — if you don’t differentiate pages by intent, or don’t utilise tools like canonical tags — you risk experiencing flux.
Change over time
When pages are moved or deleted, when content is changed or updated, and as competitors and markets shift, your rankings can shift with them. Without keeping a close eye on your content, topics and site structure, you can easily get into a position where your pages are competing for relevancy and your rankings fragment as a result.
If you have an international site targeting multiple languages or territories, a blog or content area which is separated to your main product or service offering, or if you’re part of a group of similar websites, chances are that you may be suffering from content cannibalization, and experiencing ranking flux. Your pages may be competing with each other as search engines struggle to understand the role and relevance of each based on user’s needs and context, and your rankings will suffer as a result.
What can I do about ranking flux?
Managing ranking flux is all about planning, visibility and content management.
It starts by defining a clear vision of which pages should be associated which topics, and then crafting the content and promotion accordingly.
Once you have a content plan, you need to manage performance and watch out for cannibalization. As multiple keywords and pages compete, there are some tactics you can deploy to bring things back into line:
- Increase topical relevance: Improve the depth, breadth, and quality of content on your preferred page, to make it obviously more relevant and useful to searches than the other, similar pages.
- Audit content: Question why you have other similar pages, or content discussing the same or closely related topics, and explore whether you can merge, redirect, or otherwise un-clutter competing pages.
- Canonization: When there’s a strong, strategic reason for similar pages to exist, you can use canonical tags to indicate the ‘primary’ version, and consolidate value and relevance.
- Manage crawl and indexation directives: In some cases, you may wish to prevent Google from crawling or indexing competing pages, using tools like robots.txt files or meta directives.
- Information Architecture: Consider your information architecture — your navigation, site structure, and information hierarchy — and look for opportunities to alter how value and link signals flow through your pages.
- External relevance signals: Improve link, social and other authority/relevance signals to the preferred page, to reinforce that it’s the optimal destination for the topic in question.
- Hreflang: For international sites with content competing cross-language and/or territory, use hreflang tagging to explicitly signpost the relationship between those pages, and keep things tidy.
And of course we’re biased, but Linkdex is designed to help you to manage these scenarios — to identify where ranking flux is happening through structured research and processes, and to create and manage tasks to get things cleaned up.