What’s behind SERP volatility and how to defend your rankings

Posted by Brendan Aw on 21 Aug, 2023
View comments SEO
How to protect your search rankings against - or even take advantage of - SERP volatility.

SERP volatility.

Image: Andrew Gloor Unsplash

SERP volatility can be a real pain.

One day your website ranks high on page one. But it's nowhere to be found, the next.

So what exactly is SERP volatility, and what causes it?

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the concept of SERP volatility, exploring the various contributing factors.

These include:

  • Google algorithm updates
  • Changes in user search behavior
  • Competitor content updates
  • Backlink changes

... and more.

We’ll also provide you with effective strategies to defend against SERP volatility.

So if you're tired of seeing your rankings fluctuate like a roller coaster ride, continue reading.

What is SERP volatility?

SERP volatility refers to fluctuating search engine result pages (SERPs) rankings over time. It measures how stable or unpredictable the rankings are.

High SERP volatility can cause your rankings to change frequently, while low SERP volatility means more stability.

What causes SERP volatility?

SERP volatility can be caused by various factors. Algorithm updates and search engine changes can have a significant impact. Competitor activity, like new content or backlink building, plays a role too. User behavior changes and technical issues on your website also contribute to SERP volatility.

Google algorithm updates

Google algorithm updates can lead to significant fluctuations in search engine ranking positions. These updates aim to improve search results by rewarding better content, so can impact website rankings as new or different sites are moved up and displace others.

To defend against the volatility caused by algorithm updates, website owners need to stay informed about the latest changes and updates to Google’s guidance.

Mitigate the effects and stay ahead of algorithm changes by:

  • Adhering to SEO best practices
  • Providing high-quality and relevant content

This will help you adapt and maintain search visibility amidst any fluctuations.

Changes in user search behavior

Fluctuations in user preferences and trends can lead to significant shifts in search results.

Changes such as:

  • Shifts in interest
  • Adoption of new keywords
  • Technological advancements
  • Increased demand for personalized and localized results

Search engines adapt to these shifts by updating their algorithms to offer relevant results, which can lead to changes in rankings.

That’s why adapting to these changes is absolutely vital for maintaining stable SERP positions.

Google's focus on providing quick answers directly on the SERPs has transformed the first page of results from a simple list of links to a more varied set of results.

Competitor content updates

If a competitor improves their:

  • Content quality
  • Relevance
  • SEO optimization

... their website may gain better visibility or a higher ranking on SERPs, and this can potentially displace your site.

Conversely, if their content quality decreases, their rankings could drop, providing opportunities for yours to move up.

And if they publish new content on topics not previously covered, search engines need to index and rank this new information, adding further variability to SERPs.

This creates a dynamic, ever-shifting landscape on the SERPs which you are competing in.

Technical changes on your website

Technical changes on your website can also have an impact on your rankings.

Factors such as:

... all directly influence how search engines understand and rank your site.

If you make improvements in these areas, your site could potentially climb in rankings.

However, technical changes like altering robots.txt or changing URL structures without proper redirection can negatively affect user experience or impede search engine crawling.

This will cause your site's rankings to drop.

Additionally, major site overhauls or migrations can cause temporary volatility until search engines fully recrawl and reindex your site.

These updates must be implemented carefully to avoid negative impacts on SERP performance. So, unless you have in-house expertise it’s safer to employ a developer to make these changes.

Backlink changes

High-quality backlinks can improve your site's perceived authority and relevance, potentially boosting your rankings.

Conversely, losing them or having low-quality links can negatively impact your site's reputation in the eyes of search engines, leading to a potential drop in rankings.

It’s natural and not uncommon for this to happen.

You’ll also want to avoid sudden spikes or drops in backlinks which can be seen as manipulative tactics, as this might trigger search engine penalties and a drop in rankings.

Therefore, maintaining a healthy backlink profile is essential for stable SERP performance.

How to measure SERP volatility 

You can use various tools and techniques to track fluctuations in search engine rankings for specific keywords or articles.

Here are 5 methods to help you measure SERP volatility:

  1. Use SERP monitoring tools: There are several tools available that can help you monitor SERP volatility, such as Rank Ranger and BrightLocal. These tools track daily changes in search engine rankings and provide insights into possible Google algorithm updates and their impact on your website's performance.
  2. Track keyword rankings: it’s worth doing your own manual checks as there may be discrepancies between reported ranking positions and  manual checks. Monitor your website's keyword rankings regularly using tools like Google Search Console or other rank-tracking software. This will help you identify fluctuations in your rankings and understand how they relate to SERP volatility.
  3. Analyze SERP features: Keep an eye on the occurrence and volatility of various SERP features, such as featured snippets, local packs, shopping results, and reviews. This can provide additional insights into the factors affecting SERP volatility.
  4. Compare desktop and mobile volatility: Analyze the differences between desktop and mobile SERPs volatility to understand how user behavior and search engine algorithms may differ across devices.
  5. Monitor industry-specific volatility: Track SERP volatility for specific industries or categories to identify trends and fluctuations that may be unique to your niche.

How to protect against SERP volatility

Tackling SERP volatility isn't rocket science, but it does need a game plan.

You've got to keep a keen eye on your website's rankings so any sudden dips or spikes don't catch you off guard.

But don't just rely on one SEO strategy. You should use a variety of techniques.

Here are some of the best ways to defend against SERP volatility.

Monitoring and tracking SERP volatility

Getting a handle on SERP volatility means staying alert and using the right tools to monitor your website's performance.

SEO tools like Wordtracker can be invaluable here. Ongoing keyword research can help you track how keywords perform and spot changes in keyword popularity in your niche that could impact your site.

Stay on top of algorithm updates and industry trends, which often hold clues to why SERPs might be fluctuating.

And remember to keep an eye on your competitors. What's causing their rankings to go up or down? What strategies are they using?

Answering these questions can offer insights on how to steer your own ship.

Create unique, valuable content

One of the best defenses against SERP volatility is unique, authoritative content. Google specifically tells you this is what it values in ranking content. Check out their E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) guidelines.

Deliver content that answers what your users are searching for. This tells search engines your site is relevant and reliable.

But that’s not nearly enough. For the best results, create content that cannot be found anywhere else.

This can include content such as:

  • Case studies
  • Survey reports
  • Unique statistics roundups
  • Expert opinions

It’s also a good idea to diversify your content formats. Not everyone likes to consume information in the same way, so throw in some videos, infographics, and podcasts to cater to different user preferences.

All of this will naturally attract more backlinks and various engagement metrics that will ultimately signal to Google that your site is authoritative.

You won’t be completely immune to the effects of SERP volatility but it will for sure give you way more stability to weather them.

Maintain consistent backlink velocity

While backlinks aren’t the be-all-and-end-all, they do play a role in rankings. Google doesn’t care so much about the number of backlinks as their quality.  It will discard or even penalize low quality or manipulative links, leading to a drop in rankings.

Consistent acquisition of high-quality backlinks can help buffer your website against SERP fluctuations.

A backlink from a high domain authority site can signal to Google that your content is “trusted”. This can cause a boost in rankings and visibility for your content over an objectively equal quality piece.

However, that will correct itself over time. To keep up with your competitors you must continue to provide useful information to keep up with and better meet users’ changing search intent.

But combining both will give your site more resilience to defend against any fluctuations.

So do pay attention to acquiring diverse and natural backlinks consistently from reputable sources to secure your website's perceived authority.

Carry out regular site audits

Most people don’t dig into the technicalities of their site, partly because it can be intimidating or costly if you’re not technically minded, and also because it’s an easy thing to let slip.

But regular site audits help to maintain stable SERP rankings and serve as a defense against unexpected volatility.

These audits help identify shifts in your ranking, providing insights that can guide strategy adjustments.

They also verify that your website:

  • Is optimized for crawlability
  • Meets search engine technical guidelines
  • Ensures optimal performance

Furthermore, audits can uncover technical issues that might negatively impact your ranking stability.

If you address these issues proactively, you can ensure a more stable SERP presence.

Update content for SEO

Once you’ve achieved your desired rankings, you can't just sit back and think “job done”.

You won’t keep your rankings forever, due to the ever changing nature of the SERPs.

Adapting your website content to align with dynamic search engine algorithms is essential for maintaining visibility.

Optimize your content with fresh, relevant keywords and metadata to boost its visibility in search results.

Strive to create content that is:

  • High-quality
  • Informative
  • Engaging

This will satisfy the needs and interests of your target audience while also pleasing the search algorithms.

Regularly monitoring your website's performance and adjusting your strategies based on these insights helps maintain a competitive edge in search rankings.

Identify opportunities in volatile SERPs

Believe it or not, volatile SERPs aren't all doom and gloom. In fact, they can open doors to new opportunities. By tracking keyword rankings and SERP changes, you can identify gaps in the market that you can step in to fill.

  • Find areas where user search intent isn't sufficiently met by existing content. You can craft tailored content to fill these gaps, thereby claiming visibility for your site.
  • Observe your competitors' responses to these changes. Adapt your SEO strategies to overtake them in areas where they are underperforming.
  • Find trending keywords where low domain authority sites or forums are ranking on page one and you are not. Create high quality SEO-optimized content to provide better content for that spot.

Stay agile and regularly adapt your SEO strategies to capitalize on the ever-changing SERPs.

It’s like the stock market. Money is made when the volatility is high. Use volatility to your advantage.

Increase brand visibility on social media

Social media platforms can be a strategic tool in your quest to maintain visibility, even amidst the chaos of fluctuating SERPs.

They're powerful channels for amplifying your brand and mitigating against the effects of SERP volatility.

Whether you're promoting a blog post or a product, social media posts can drive a significant amount of traffic to your website. This provides an additional buffer against SERP volatility.

It also sends social signals to Google, increasing your credibility and trust.

The key is to be:

  • Active
  • Responsive
  • Informative

So as far as your budget allows, have an omnipresent strategy to diversify your traffic sources.


SERP volatility is an ever-present challenge in the world of SEO.

You must stay vigilant and adapt your strategies accordingly.

Make sure you are:

  • Monitoring and tracking SERP volatility
  • Creating unique and valuable content
  • Maintaining consistent backlink velocity
  • Conducting regular site audits
  • Updating content for SEO
  • Identifying opportunities in volatile SERPs
  • Increasing brand visibility on social media

These are all effective ways to defend against SERP volatility.

By implementing these measures, you can better position your website to maintain or improve its rankings despite the ever-changing search landscape.

Stay proactive and stay ahead of the game to ensure long-term success in SEO.

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