Did Your Local Rankings Really Sink, or Are You Just Looking at Them Wrong?


You wanted a fresh look at your local rankings, but now you need fresh pants.

It’s bad.

Or maybe it’s not – at least not the rankings.  Of course, it’s possible somebody involved in your SEO/visibility effort messed up, or that many people joined in a carnival of errors, or that Google got bored.

But it’s also likely you haven’t taken an accurate look at your rankings, and are still OK.  It’s possible your rank-tracker goofed (despite their merits, they often do), or that you’re searching in Google in a way that skews results.

So before you let out a Klingon death scream, check a few more things.  Use this checklist to confirm whether your rankings did in fact take a hit:

Did you:

  • Look beyond your rank-tracker? As in, actually search in Google.  Maybe look in another rank-tracker, too.  (Or in Ahrefs, if you use that.)
  • Sign out of your Google account? Personalized search history works in strange ways.
  • Search in an incognito browser tab?
  • Strip out any parameters in the URL? (Probably won’t be necessary, but it just takes a second.  In the address bar, just remove everything after the search term you typed in.)
  • Empty your browser cache? Then try searching again
  • Check the AdWords “Ad Preview & Diagnosis Tool”? In my experience, it’s not a perfect reflection of your rankings, but it’s pretty accurate.  Be sure to specify your search location.  (FYI, you don’t need to advertise on AdWords to use the tool.)
  • Use the same device you usually use to check your rankings?
  • Try slight variations on your search term? Like by making it plural or singular, or by specifying the state as well as the city.
  • Check Google Analytics? If you used to rank for any terms that brought you any appreciable traffic, you should see some corresponding drop-off in Analytics.
  • Check Google Search Console? Same idea as with Google Analytics, but Search Console will also show you impressions – how many people saw you in the search results (but maybe didn’t click through).  That will probably only help you if you’re concerned about a site-wide rankings nosedive, rather than a drop-off for just a couple search terms.

  • See whether the Google Maps 3-pack still shows up at all? If for a given search term you only had rankings in the local 3-pack, and no organic rankings for that term, and Google stopped showing the 3-pack for that search term, then it’s not exactly a drop in rankings.  Rather, it’s a high-level change you can’t control, didn’t benefit from, and now must adapt to.

  • Make sure your browser’s still using the correct search engine – the one for your country? If you’re in the US, for example, you probably use Google.com and not Google.co.uk.  If you messed up your browser settings or stepped in some malware, you’ll have to reset your settings.  Once you’ve done that, check your rankings again.

If you checked all those items and you still see a drop-off in rankings, you’re probably seeing the real story – and it’s bad news.  But even so, it’s not the end of the world.  Maybe you ranked for useless keywords to begin with, and business is no worse for the wear.  Or maybe you need to fix up your local SEO strategy (see this and this), or need to get professional help.

Any items you’d add to the “before you freak out” checklist?

Any stories about your eyes deceiving you?

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