Okay it seems like a trend hitting us lately. "My rankings have disappeared", "Google hates me", "my competitor who only has 2 links is beating my 23 billion links"
I am going to attempt to explain some of this in the hopes it might help clear out some of these excess threads. I hope I do a good job of it. Please let me know if I am unclear about something.
First I should explain what causes rankings to drop and/or fluctuate. There are a variety of reasons. Here are a few:
1. Some of backlinks to the site have been disvalued or are no longer around
2. A competitor has gotten the edge on you and taken your positions. Generally only a loss of a couple of positions is effected by this.
3. New algo changes that put more value on a certain factor or dis value another factor.
4. Earthquake... site structure disrupted causing pages to be down/missing etc
5. Penalization or banning
Okay I will not attempt to explain each one.
1 - Some of backlinks to the site have been disvalued
Where are the majority of your backlinks coming from? Reciprocal, links pages, directories? If so it is likely they have been disvalued/discredited by Google. This happens overtime. These are the easiest forms of linkbuilding and as such are not seen as very high quality by Google.
The relevancy of the directory/links page has a great deal to do with how much value is originally passed and whether it will be disvalued. Directories or links pages that allow irrelevant, low quality trash to be listed will lower the value of your link. As more of such links are added the value of your link drops even lower. This can cause rankings to drop. Directories and links pages which only have a few links which are related, preferably authority and high quality will have the most value and are not likely to be disvalued that much. That is why it is a good idea to watch where you get your links and to make sure it is quality and selective.
There are sites created for the sole purpose of building links. They put up some make-shift content and then allow webmasters to add links. Such pages generally lose value quite quickly as more and more sites are added. A good many of these are lower quality sites as well.
When reciprocating links look for quality sites which are particular about who they exchange links with. Sites that have only a few link exchanges instead of 500 pages of links.
Sites who are careful who they exchange with will hold their value much better and you will get more out of the exchange. Sites which exchange links directly on content pages have a much higher value and tend to not lose value, instead the value is likely to rise if the content is good and draws links from other sites.
You must be very careful that you know who your linking to.
2 - A competitor has gotten the edge on you
This generally only effects a few position changes. Such as a drop of 1-2-3 positions. However if you are slacking and haven't been working as hard as you should to keep your rankings then a good many of your competitors could rise above you just because they are still working and you aren't.
A good many sites in business fields pay for continued seo/link building so if you stop working you will likely go backward.
Also some of these factors I am mentioning combined may do alot of damage. Say you are slacking on your links and not only that but the links you are getting are low quality links which are being disvalued overtime. Your competitor on the other hand is building up linkbait, or content/tools which are attracting a huge amount of link love. Some of these links are of very high value. In such a situation you could lose alot of ground. That is why I always suggest building up the quality of the site. The backlinks will follow. Without a good quality site you are going NOWHERE!
3 - New algo changes that put more value on a certain factor or disvalue another factor.
This factor is similiar to the first, actually it is the same in a way. Algo changes can put more or less value on a certain factor resulting in lose of rankings.
Google seems to be updating as they please lately which means you will see changes all the time. Massive updates such as the bigdaddy can cause alot of unhappy webmasters though. But again this is generally because of disvalution of low quality links or because Google is finding new ways of deciding your site is not as good as they once thought. Google is getting smarter.
4 - Site structure disruption
If the page that used to rank well suddenly disappears and is not immediately fixed the ranking is likely to also disappear.
When moving to new pages use 301 redirects from the old to the new but if at all possible keep the old pages as it is better safe than sorry.
5 - Penalization or banning
You need to understand the difference here. When your site is banned a site:mydomain.com query will show no site. However a new site will also appear this way until indexed so you can't be sure a site is banned unless you know for a fact it once was indexed. Also as long as there is atleast ONE PAGE indexed you are not banned.
Your site can be penalized without you even knowing.
Don't use methods such as hidden text, cloaking, or other bh techniques. Some sites do rank WHILE using these methods but NOT because of them. When in fact removing them could improve their rankings. -30, -49, -950 and other such penalties are myths IMO. I have yet to see prove of them. Ohh no today my site dropped 7 positions. I got the -7 penalty. This is nonesense.
Design and build your site as though search engines were none existent. Design and build your site for the visitor not the spider. If you do this you will find your sites are more quality and will actually rank much better, because links are more easily obtained.
So to end if you have recently lost rankings it is probably a result of one of the above factors. I suggest you work on building up the quality of your site as a whole and your pages, create new content regularly, write on unique subjects(within your niche) which other bloggers miss. Provide answers to questions not easily found, provide an easy navigation both for your visitors and your robot friends. Create a HTML sitemap - the xml version is not needed.
Google is working at a more relevant search engine than even now. Content is a very high priority. Don't under-estimate that. I can't over-stress that. And I mean content as in Wiki quality content. That is content, it is unique, quality and very informative. As such it attracts links very well. I am not saying create your own wiki. I am saying create wiki-quality article. If you do you will soon find webmasters linking to you because of it.
Doing this will improve your chances of using your site as a linkbait in and of itself. This will cause webmasters to link to you without you even asking. This type of linkbuilding is the most effective, highest value and easiest to get.
Build sites based on your knowledge. Don't start a mesothelioma site JUST BECAUSE it has high CPC. Build sites based on subjects you are very knowledgeable in, are excited about and which you can provide useful information of. These types of sites perform very well in Google.
I see many of the ranking drops for sites that are not following this method. The webmasters of a good many of these sites are not very knowledgeable about the subject they are writing about but they thought there was some good money behind it.
As google develops sites like this will continue to drop. Instead of blaming Google use the tips I gave to create sites on what you know.