The bombshell dropped: you just searched for one of your ranking keywords and you’re now listed at #9. What happened to your long-held #4 ranking?

“GOOGLE DID THIS!” you fume.

Maybe Google did. Maybe your competitors kicked up their SEO strategy. On the other hand, maybe you just need to step up your own SEO game.

Dropping in the SERPs is like watching all your hard work go down the SEO drain. Luckily, search rankings are an ever-changing game. With a little investigation and a lot of determination, you’ll reclaim your SERP spot once again.

Ready to do a little diagnostic work on your site? Here are the most common reasons your site may have experienced a rankings drop.

The Search Engines Changed Their Algorithms

The algorithms are an ever-shifting, ever-changing game. One little tweak can cause a rankings shift. There’s no way to predict when the search engines are about to start tweaking, but you should always try to stay abreast of major algorithm changes (such as Google Panda or Google’s recent freshness update). You can always follow the official Google blog to stay updated on any major changes.

You’re Slacking on Fresh Content

The search engines have always favored websites with frequent updates, but Google’s recent “fresher is better” algorithm update meant that fresh content is more important than ever before. Search engines are naturally wary of non-updated sites: the fewer updates you have, the more outdated your information might be. As an added benefit, fresh content encourages social sharing and links (both essential to any SEO strategy).

Your Competitors Are Beating You

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing: if your competitors are doing it better, you’re going to take a fall. Analyze your competition to learn what they’re doing that you’re not (Bigger social presence? More links? An easier-to-navigate site layout?).

You Lost a Link (or You Need More Links)

If another site deleted its link to your website, you may take a fall in the SERPs. Get some more links from reputable sites and you’ll rise again. Unfortunately, as any SEO will tell you, linkbuilding campaigns are some of the most difficult parts of SEO. Many companies hire an online marketing service company to carry out their linkbuilding campaigns.

You can also drop in rankings if you have broken or outdated external links on your site. Linking to an external site is like a vote of confidence for that site: only link to an external site if you have 100 percent confidence in that site.

You’ve Been Penalized or Banned

If your site isn’t appearing where it used to, you may have been penalized or banned by the search engines. You may be using illegal meta or title tags, spam-level keyword densities (keyword stuffing), or something on your site may just look suspicious or spammy to the search engines. SEOmoz has a handy flow chart for figuring out if your site’s been banned or penalized.

Comb Through Your Site

Analyze your site to look for spots where your site may be lacking. Get a second opinion by asking someone you trust to look at your site to look for trouble spots. Tweak your website and keep checking the SERPs for changes. You’ll reclaim your spot — and in the process, you may rise even higher.

For extra help analyzing your site for potential ranking problems, enter to win our free link audit before January 31st.