Search Engine Results Page (SERP) volatility can feel like the great unknown. It’s hard to know what might change — and when. And if you don’t have the right strategies in place, it can cause your rankings to drop unexpectedly and seriously disrupt your business’s visibility online. That’s why it’s so essential for decision-makers to properly understand SERP volatility and how to manage it effectively.
Let’s explore the key concepts around SERP volatility and best practices for actively managing and optimizing for search engine results pages in today’s highly-variable environment.
What Is SERP Volatility?
SERP volatility refers to significant and frequent changes in the rankings of pages in SERP results, usually caused by algorithm updates or online marketing pivots from competitors. When a page is subject to SERP volatility, it can lead to a decrease in search visibility and organic traffic.
It’s no secret that businesses that rely on organic search engine traffic need to know how to understand and manage SERP volatility. In today’s digital environment, failure to strategically monitor SERP variability can lead to significant losses in valuable website visitors, resulting in decreased revenue.
What Causes SERP Volatility?
A variety of different factors can cause SERP volatility. These include changes in the search engine algorithms, such as new ranking criteria, or shifting emphasis on certain types of content versus other types. SERPs can also become volatile due to new competitors entering the market and increasing keyword competition, or as more users create content with similar topics and keywords.
Google Algorithm Updates
SERP volatility is often an indicator that Google has changed its algorithm. While the search giant advertises large updates, it often rolls out smaller updates without any fanfare. Instead, SEOs who monitor SERP volatility notice a shift in rankings and spread the word that an update may have been released.
Two updates in 2022 caused lots of SERP volatility: The Helpful Content update and the October Spam update. The first prioritized content created for humans by humans, and the second discounted spammy content that only aimed to rank.
If you’ve been negatively impacted by an algorithm update, research the update itself to see what factors Google looked at. For example, if your keywords and traffic took a nosedive after the Helpful Content update, take a look at what the company said it was looking for. Then compare their best practices against your website. Is it full of thin content that wasn’t really helping people? If so, a change in your content strategy could help you recapture some of your search visibility.
Changes in User Behavior & Search Queries
Google wants to provide the best experience possible for searchers. Sometimes that means shaking things up as it finetunes how it interprets different queries. For example, Google may note that searches for “XYZ” aren’t seeking information but are actually looking for a transactional page. This shift in search intent could lead it to shuffle up the search to test whether its hypothesis is correct.
To see whether search intent has shifted for your targeted keyword, simply google it. If the SERP is mixed — if there are some informational blog posts and some service pages, for example — this probably means that Google is attempting to determine the search intent of the keyword. This will lead to continued keyword rank changes.
Competitors’ Content Updates
Seeing ranking drops for particular keywords? It may be that your competitors are creating new content or improving their existing content. Since other content can impact how well your pages rank, competitors publishing quality content could lead to keyword rank changes for posts targeting the same keywords. If only certain keywords are affected, google them to see if there is new content knocking your pieces down a notch.
Technical Changes on Your Website
Technical errors leading to ranking drops could appear to be SERP volatility at first glance. However, if your rankings remain low and don’t recover, you may want to run a technical SEO audit to verify that nothing is holding your website back. Broken links, redirect chains, slow page speed times, and other technical SEO issues can impact both rankings and UX.
One thing I’ve noticed more of lately is SERP features. Helpful features like featured snippets, knowledge graphs, and people also ask boxes can impact where your rank in SERP. And Google seems to be testing out more and more features lately — which could lead to high-ranking pages dropping a rank or two. This has happened to Victorious’ own content. Upon investigating rank changes, I noticed a new SERP feature that didn’t appear previously. While Ahrefs said our blog post dropped a rank, really, Google decided that a SERP feature may serve users better and inserted it before our SERP result. Unfortunately, not much can be done about this. However, you can try to capture the featured snippet or get featured in the people also ask box.
Tracking SERP Volatility
To identify SERP volatility, you need to track and monitor your keywords over time.
Monitor SERP Rankings
Use a tool to monitor keyword performance and quickly identify SERP volatility. Tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs allow you to save important keywords and track them over time. You can also compare keyword performance to see whether particular words or phrases are losing or gaining momentum.
Every website will have keywords that fluctuate. Keep an eye out for keywords that decrease in rank and stay low or those that rapidly cycle from being on page ten to page one and back again.
Analyze Traffic & Engagement Metrics
Another way to identify SERP volatility is to look for spikes and dips in your organic search traffic and your engagement metrics. Ranking drops will lead to fewer visitors, fewer clicks, and fewer conversions. By consistently tracking your traffic and engagement metrics over your time, you’ll be better able to spot changes caused by algorithm updates and competing content.
Best Practices for Managing SERP Volatility
Stay Up To Date
SEO news sites are quick to publish both confirmed updates and unconfirmed Google updates. Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, and others will share information about high SERP volatility due to suspected algorithm changes. Knowing that your website is not the only one affected can allay fears and also guidance regarding the effects of particular updates.
Participating in forums and communities can also be a great way to gain insights from others in the same field, improving your overall knowledge for successful SEO management.
Create High-Quality Content
Google never complains about high-quality, relevant, and helpful content. So, one effective way to stay ahead of SERP volatility is to create valuable content for your target audience.
Quality and relevance should be at the forefront of your content creation strategy. Investing in optimization techniques like keyword research, metadata optimization, and internal linking will help you improve your chances of ranking well.
Following SEO best practices when implementing your content strategy can help protect it from SERP variability.
Regularly Audit Your Site
Taking the time to audit your site regularly can often be a thankless job, but doing so is critical for uncovering issues that may impact performance. Auditing your website and addressing technical issues should be a recurring task on your digital marketing calendar. While an SEO audit takes a small investment of time, it will pay off in terms of improved organic visibility. Regular content audits and competitor analyses can also help you maintain and grow your search visibility while minimizing the impact of SERP volatility.
Update Your SEO Strategy as Needed
Keeping up with SERP volatility also requires proper planning and maintenance of your SEO strategy by continually updating and adjusting your SEO as needed. Your SEO strategy should evolve over time. Using data-driven insights and regular tracking and evaluating your site’s performance will help you pinpoint parts of your strategy that need to be improved, deprioritized, or escalated. Make sure your strategy is robust — compare it to our SEO checklist.
Partner With an SEO Agency
In today’s highly-competitive digital landscape, businesses need to be agile and proactive with their SEO strategies to stay ahead of the curve. The best way to ensure that your website remains a force to be reckoned with is to partner with an SEO agency like Victorious, which has the experience and expertise necessary to help you handle SERP volatility.
Ease the Stress of SERP Volatility
Victorious can help you identify where SERP volatility is impacting your search engine rankings and develop effective strategies for minimizing further volatility and creating sustainable SEO success over time. With our expert guidance, you can rest easy knowing that your website performs at its absolute best while staying ahead of the competition. Schedule a free consultation with our team today to get started.