Ever wonder why search rankings for particular keywords fluctuate for no reason? Perhaps you appeared on the first page of Google last month and now find yourself on the second page. Or maybe the opposite is true: Your search rankings have improved without you doing anything

Don’t worry, these fluctuations are completely normal. In fact, there’s a phrase that describes this phenomenon — SERP volatility. It happens when listings on a search engine results page (SERP) change, for one reason or another, sometimes within a short span of time. Discover how to overcome SERP volatility and remain in a prominent position on Google for the keywords you want to target. 

What is SERP Volatility?

Before you learn about SERP volatility, you need to know what a SERP is. It’s the page a search user sees after typing a query into Google’s search box and hitting “Enter.” A SERP lists organic and paid-for listings based on the user’s query. For example, a SERP for the query “restaurants in Austin, TX,” will display links to different websites that match this term.

Ok, so what is SERP volatility? Well, it’s a phenomenon where listings on a SERP for a particular search query will change over time. Say a restaurant appears at the top of a SERP for “restaurants in Austin, TX” on Monday, but another restaurant appears at the top on Friday, with the original restaurant now in fourth place. That’s SERP volatility! In fact, this extreme fluctuation would be an example of high SERP volatility.

Think of SERP or SEO volatility like the stock market. Stock prices can rise and fall, sometimes on an hourly basis. The same is true for search engine results pages. Your website might appear in a lucrative position on a SERP in the morning and then drop down several places by the evening. 

As previously mentioned, this phenomenon is normal. It’s actually becoming more common as the SEO landscape gets more competitive. Think about it. More businesses are trying to improve their SEO and secure a prominent position on SERPs. As these businesses fight for a limited amount of space on Google, there will naturally be dramatic changes in how websites appear on search results. 

How Does SERP Volatility Happen?

There are two main reasons why websites rise and fall on Google’s search results pages:

New content is published

As businesses try to rank for the most valuable keywords, they create new content for their websites. Google then crawls and indexes this content and places it on SERPs. If this new content is more SEO-friendly than what’s already out there, old content will inevitably drop down a results page. That’s why it’s critical to create new content for your website or, at the least, update your old content, to preserve your positions on SERPs. 

New search algorithms

Google changes its search algorithms — a lot. These algorithms can result in dramatic fluctuations on SERPs and cause search listings to climb and fall quickly. One of Google’s biggest algorithm changes in recent years has been its Helpful Content Update, which prioritizes websites that provide value to search users. After the company rolled out this update, many websites experienced dramatic changes in their search positions. When Google next modifies its algorithms, the same thing might happen again. 

How Does SERP Volatility Affect SEO Performance?

SERP volatility can impact your keyword rankings directly. In the worst-case scenario, dramatic changes to SERPs can mean your website doesn’t rank for a specific keyword any longer. This results in the following: 

Drop in impressions

If you can’t rank for a particular keyword anymore, fewer people will see your website on Google. That means your site receives fewer clicks.

Decrease in organic traffic

With a drop in organic position, you won’t be able to generate as much traffic as before. Less organic traffic means fewer people will visit your website and learn about your products and services.

Decrease in conversions

With less organic traffic than before, you won’t be able to convert as many website visitors. That can result in a decline in sign-ups, sales, and other conversion events. You won’t be able to generate as much revenue, impacting your bottom line. 

What Causes SERP Volatility for Your Keywords?

While new content and search algorithms have a direct impact on SERP volatility, there might be more specific factors that are impacting your rankings:

Keyword difficulty

Many businesses compete for the same keywords on Google, making it difficult to rank for the most popular terms. This is a problem that’s getting worse as more new businesses enter the SEO space. If you are trying to rank for lucrative keywords, it will be harder to land in a prominent position on a SERP when competition is so fierce. 

High market competition

You may be in a market that experiences more volatility than others. For example, several competitors all try to rank for the same terms. The top of SERPs can only accommodate so many businesses, so you might experience fluctuations in your rankings as rivals get better at SEO. 

Trending/current topics

A breaking news story or upcoming event might influence search rankings for a particular keyword, pushing you down a SERP. Say you sell footwear on your website and rank for the term “luxury sneakers” on Google. Then, one day, a major sports star launches a new pair of expensive sneakers. If news stories about this launch dominate Google, you might notice your search rankings fluctuate for a while. 

Vague/mixed search intent

This happens when Google doesn’t know how your website addresses a user’s search query. For example, if you target the keyword “Apple” on your website and Google is uncertain if your content is about Apple devices or apples. Vague or mixed search intent can cause your web pages to change positions on a SERP. 

How to Combat SERP Volatility

You can adapt your SEO strategies to overcome various causes of SERP feature volatility for keywords. Here are some examples:

  • Keyword difficulty: Research the keywords you target and see how many companies are trying to rank for them. It might be worthwhile changing your SEO strategy and targeting less-popular keywords. That can result in higher positions on Google and more organic traffic. 
  • High market competition: If your business is in a saturated market, there’s not a lot you can do about it other than researching your competitors and creating better content than them. Carry out competitive research and find out to differentiate your content from your rivals’. 

  • Trending/current topics: If a recent news story or development dominates a SERP for a keyword, you might want to ride it out. Your search positions might return to normal when the story loses steam. Alternatively, pivot your SEO strategy and target new keywords.

  • Vague/mixed search intent: You can help Google understand the context of ambiguous keywords in your content. For example, if you want to rank for the keyword “Apple” in the context of Apple devices, incorporate other keywords into your strategy that make it clear what your content is about. These keywords might include “iOS,” “iPhone,” and “iPad.”

You can also combat SERP volatility by monitoring SERP changes and search engine algorithm updates with digital tools such as Moz. Alternatively, work with a reputable SEO agency that can help you maintain and increase your positions on search results. The right agency will provide you with a more comprehensive answer to the question, “What is SERP volatility?” 

Why You Must Be Aware of SERP Volatility 

The volatility of search engine results pages can directly impact your search rankings. In worst-case scenarios, SERP changes, brought on by various factors, will result in your rankings dropping, fewer clicks, and less organic traffic. Luckily, there are multiple ways you can overcome this volatility, such as targeting new keywords and adding context to your content. 

For even more successful results, seek guidance from SEO experts who understand SERP volatility. Symphonic Digital will help you rank for your chosen keywords and increase your rankings on Google’s results pages. Request an SEO audit now.