Sometimes, no matter how hard you work to rank for certain terms, you could see a sudden drop in rankings. Conversely, you might be surprised to find that keywords you struggled to target suddenly land you at the top of search results.
These unexpected changes are the result of something called SERP volatility, which is a critical consideration in digital marketing. If you’re not familiar with this concept, it can benefit you to learn more about it and what it means for search engine optimization.
It’s a particularly important element to consider amid Google’s recent algorithm updates, some of which have led to a serious increase in SERP volatility. As search engines like Google continue to change and update, it’s crucial to know how to navigate the challenges you’re likely to face.
In this blog post, we’ll cover every aspect of SERP volatility. You’ll find out what it is, what causes it, how to anticipate it, and how to get on its good side.
What You’ll Learn
- What is SERP Volatility?
- What Causes SERP Volatility?
- Tracking SERP Volatility
- What You Can Do to Improve Your SERP Volatility
What is SERP Volatility?
You might be familiar with search engine results pages, or SERPs. Well, SERP volatility refers to dramatic increases or decreases in rankings for pages targeting certain search terms.
The more search results there are, the more volatile rankings will get. With so many websites competing for the top spot in SERPs, there are inevitably going to be some extreme fluctuations among them.
It might seem either very hopeful or alarming when seeing this in action. However, these fluctuations are rarely long-lasting and there are ways to anticipate them.
Breaking It Down: 6 Causes of SERP Volatility
1. Algorithm Updates
One of the main causes of SERP volatility is a big algorithm update. Some updates, like the recent March 2023 Core Update to Google, can lead to high volatility. That update, in particular, saw a bigger emphasis on ranking quality content, which had a significant effect on rankings in SERPs.
In fact, Google algorithm updates tend to be the central cause of SERP volatility. The platform is always working to improve the platform for end users. Some updates that have an impact on rankings may also go unannounced because they’re smaller. However, you can keep an eye out for larger updates that Google tends to announce or confirm.
Ultimately, Google wants to give its users the best experience with every search. In the process, it will place more relevant, high-quality results much higher than others.
2. User Behavior
Another factor contributing to SERP volatility is user behavior. End users may engage in different behaviors and start or continue search trends. This type of engagement could increase SERP volatility.
Remember, Google is always trying to cater to its users with the best experience. To do so, Google wants to push the most relevant results for every search. As such, user behavior will dictate relevance in certain ways.
For instance, Google might see that people spend a lot of time on a specific page after entering a search query. Based on this engagement, Google could decide to rank that page higher due to its perceived relevance.
You can monitor user behavior on your end, too. Doing so will help you determine how it could influence your rankings. Some user behavior metrics to watch and optimize for include:
- Click-Through Rate — This metric measures the percentage of people who click through a link after seeing it. You can optimize for this in search engines by writing compelling and keyword-targeted title tags and meta descriptions that people see in search results.
- Engagement Rate — Engagement rates can help you determine how many people are actively engaging with your site and content. For example, you can track how many likes and shares a post is getting on your site or on social media.
- Time on Site or Average Engagement Time Per Session — Use these metrics to see how long people stay on a page or your entire site. You can increase this metric by making your web pages more interactive and publishing compelling video or image content.
- Bounce Rate — This is one metric you’ll want to lower, as it indicates how many people are leaving your site immediately after landing on it. If your page has a high bounce rate, make sure it’s relevant based on what people are searching to find it. Also, take steps to make the content more engaging and helpful to keep people hooked.
3. Mixed User Intent
Some of Google’s most recent updates have attempted to more closely align SERPs with user intent. However, some SERPs have mixed intent where people might enter a term for different reasons.
One example of this would be something broad like “PPC advertising.” People could be seeking basic information about this model, a guide to help them get started, or a platform to help them set up PPC ad campaigns.
As Google works to keep pages relevant in SERPs, you must ensure your content matches the intent of users who find it. Ideally, you’ll want to target more specific long-tail keywords with clear intent behind them.
4. High Keyword Difficulty and Competition
Of course, the more difficult the keywords you want to target, the stiffer the competition. These terms naturally have more volatility. Because of this, you should carefully strategize around them and regularly track them.
5. Trending Topics and Changing SERP Features
SERPs often change, especially as Google tests more SERP features, leading to SERP feature volatility. These features could include Rich Snippets and others that reconfigure results. Meanwhile, ever-changing trending topics also affect search results.
6. SEO Technical Errors
Some instances of SERP volatility could also result from technical errors. These could include:
- Cannibalization — Google may get confused when you create multiple pieces of content that appear similar in context and keyword targeting, forcing the platform to rank one over the other. Try to avoid this by
- Indexing Issues — Another technical issue could have to do with indexing. Check to see if robots.txt files are blocked or if there’s another reason your pages aren’t appearing in search engines. A site audit using a technical analysis tool can help identify the specific indexing issue.
- URL Changes — Changing your URL could also lead to a drop in rankings as Google needs to re-crawl and re-index them. Only change URLs when needed to avoid this issue.
- Changed Canonical Tags — Google chooses a canonical tag to direct people to a page when there are multiple versions of a URL for a page. Changing this could negatively impact your rankings as Google needs to find the new URL.
- Editing Content — Making changes to your content may also lead to drops in rankings. Make sure any changes are necessary and try to avoid any changes that could hurt rankings for a particular high-ranking term.
- Site Migrations — Moving to a new site with a new domain will force Google to re-index the entire site, but you can avoid this by optimizing pages the right way and redirecting old pages to new corresponding URLs.
- Site Speed Issues — If your site takes too long to load, people will stop engaging, which could hurt your rankings. Find out why your pages might load too slowly and address them as soon as possible.
Start Tracking SERP Volatility
Want to get a better handle on SERP volatility? One of our favorite tools to use is the Semrush Sensor. This tool allows you to manage SERP volatility by helping you monitor SERP changes, such as Google algorithm updates. You can also determine the effect of SERP fluctuations and find out how these changes impacted competitors while comparing different volatility periods.
What Can You Do About SERP Volatility?
If you’re noticing any instances of SERP volatility affecting you, there are some steps you can take to manage it.
The first step is to look into why you might be experiencing SERP volatility. The root cause could include recent site changes, Google algorithm updates, and changing search intent, among others.
Conduct a site audit to ensure technical errors aren’t the cause. Also, consider waiting about a week for things to settle—it may only be temporary.
Stay Proactive With SEO
You can also take other steps to stay proactive and adapt to changes in rankings. These precautions could include regular SEO audits, a solid backlinking strategy, and frequent optimizations that keep you competitive.
Create High-Quality, Helpful Content Using E-E-A-T Guidelines
In giving users what they want, you should adhere to Google’s Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust (E-E-A-T) guidelines. Google looks for sites with these attributes to rank, meaning you need to keep your content authoritative, trustworthy, and exemplary of experience and expertise. On the other hand, creating unhelpful and manipulative content will only serve to hurt you.
Diversifying Your Digital Marketing Efforts
Try to diversify your strategy by generating multiple sources of traffic instead of putting all eggs in one basket. For instance, you might try getting traffic from social media, streaming platforms, and email marketing to supplement SEO efforts.
Having a multi-channel approach will help maintain stability during periods of more extreme SERP volatility.
Wrapping It Up
SERP volatility can greatly affect your website and rankings, but you can keep it from hurting your site. Through continuous monitoring, the production of great content, and adaptability, you can stay above competitors.
With the right approach, SERP volatility can be a lucrative opportunity for you. You could have the chance to improve your rankings and overall site performance during these periods.
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