How a drop in Google Ranking can be good

How a drop in Google Ranking can be good

Sunset at Sea

The Average Position reported in Search Analytics (part of Google’s Search Console) is similar to what many people think of as ranking in Google. In simple terms, if your website’s Average Position is 1, then you have top spot on Google. Many would consider a change in Average Position from 4 to 28 a bad thing, and often it is. However once you realise that Average Position is really just a summary of a complex data set, you might actually look at the data deeply enough to be able to understand when such a drop in ranking is actually good news.

A good position gets "worse"

A client came to us because they believed they were ranking well in Google, but this was not being reflected in traffic and sales.

After a full analysis we believed we understood at least some of problem, and started implementing a plan designed to address the issues. One of the first actions we took was to rework some of the wording of their content, and to add extensive Structured Data.

Not long afterwards, the client’s average position in the Google search results began to drop, as measured by Search Analytics. Of course, we didn’t panic. Instead we analysed the data, with the aim of understanding what was happening. We explained our findings to the client, along with the evidence, and then we all celebrated. Step one of our plan was clearly successful.

What is Average Position?

Essentially, Google calculates Average Position by measuring and recording the position each time your website is displayed in the results, and converting all those measurements to an average.

Position, and Average Position

An important input to understanding Average Position in Search Analytics is how Position is actually measured. Is position 1 really at the top of the first page? Is position 11 at the top of the second page?

While often important, how position is measured turned out to be irrelevant in this case. So I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

Averages, and Average Position

The Average Position reported in Search Analytics is, as the name suggests, an average. So all the usual warnings about using averages do apply.

For example, if 70% of the time your website is listed at position 1, and the rest of the time at position 100, then your average position will be around 30.

In which case both these statements are true.

70% of the time, your website is ranked in position 1
Your website is ranked 30th (on average)

In this case, the averaging turned out to be a key factor.

Why was worse ranking a good thing?

By digging into the Search Analytics data I could see what search terms the website was displaying for, and the average position for each. What I found before our changes was something like this (data invented):

Search TermAverage Position

super size shoe soles


replacement boot soles


pet sole


large sole fish tanks


waterproof sole


sole water conditioner


fish food


how to make shoe sole


how to fish for sole


Can you guess what this (fictitious) website is about? Google clearly can’t.

Our rewording and structured data was aimed at making it easier for Google to work out that the business dealt with fish, not footwear. Once the average position dropped, we looked at this data again. Now it looked more like:

Search TermAverage Position

super size shoe soles


replacement boot soles


pet sole


sole fish tanks


waterproof sole


sole water conditioner


fish food


how to make shoe sole


how to fish for sole


The website’s position for relevant search terms has noticeably improved, though there’s a lot more work yet to do. The irrelevant terms the website previously ranked well for have dropped significantly. That means the average has been pulled upwards slightly by the good terms, and down significantly by the "bad" terms.

This is clear evidence that Google now better understands the website. The drop in rankings is good, because we’re losing the well-ranked but irrelevant terms.

What about other measures?

You might be wondering if we saw any other evidence that the drop in position was actually good. Not immediately, but it wasn’t long before conversions began to improve. Before long, the conversion rate went up significantly. Despite the drop in traffic, total conversion value also increased.

Author: Anne Jessel

Categories: keywordsrankingsearch-consolesearch-analyticsgoogleseo