Google Office Hours Hangouts are never dull – particularly when you have the likes of John Mueller involved, answering the questions every SEO firm is asking. In a recent installment, two people taking part in the session stated that after making adjustments on their websites their SERP rankings dropped immediately.

After which, they reversed the changes and their current positions were restored.

Understandably, it appeared to be cause and effect in motion. But while logic suggested that their alterations (and reversals) immediately triggered a noticeable change in their rankings, Mueller said this was not actually the case at all.

Instead, he said that understanding the kinds of ranking factors that cause shifts in placement is not quite as simple as basic alterations and observations like these.

Content Above the Fold

One of those who questioned the shift in their rankings was interested to find out whether Google shows preference to sites that present more content above the fold. They experimented with the theory by pushing a bunch of their existing content above the fold on their website, after which they noted an immediate drop in their ranking position.

Mueller was asked directly whether this alteration caused their slide in the rankings, to which he said the two events were not related. Even when the website owner stated that their higher position had been restored after they undid the changes, Mueller said it was not a case of cause and effect as it appeared on the surface.

In relation to content above the fold being a strong ranking factor, Mueller said outright that it is most likely no such thing.

“I don’t think we have strong preferences in that regard,” he said.

A Natural and Coincidental Shift?

More specifically, the website indicated that their position had shifted from number-one in the rankings to a number-two, then back again after the changes were reversed. Mueller maintained that their content adjustments were not the cause of the shift, instead suggesting it was normal and entirely coincidental movement.

“I think if you make that kind of design change on your website, where suddenly the content moves up or suddenly the content moves down, you would generally see that as a fairly soft change, like a very small change. I don’t think you would be able to… tie it back to that change,” he said.

“That feels like… a subtle, normal change in search that can always happen, that a site moves from position one to position two or position three and then to position two and then position one. These kinds of changes are fairly common.”

If so, this would suggest that individual alterations to content positioning have no major impact on rankings in their own right. Mueller made it clear that reading too much into seemingly ‘soft’ changes like these risks losing sight of the big picture, but it is nonetheless a striking coincidence that is difficult to ignore.