The consequences of negative user-signals on Google’s rankings

The homepage of the German domain offers a great example for how much influence user signals can have on Google’s rankings for a specific keyword.

The domain is an old exact-match domain for the keyword “hotel bonn” and the two words “hotel” and “Bonn” (the former German capital) also appear on the homepage and are included in some external backlinks. For Google, these are distinct ranking signals that the website should have a decently prominent ranking position for the keyword “hotel bonn”.

When we take a look at the ranking development for the domain and keyword, we see a constant up and down in the rankings.

Ranking history for the domain and the keyword
Ranking history for the domain and the keyword “hotel bonn”

At certain times, the domain can be found in the top 10 for a few weeks and then it will disappear again from the first search result page, for quite a while. Sometimes, the domain even managed to climb to position 2 for the attractive and competitive search phrase “hotel bonn”.

The problem with this website is that it is not about a hotel in the beautiful former federal capital of Bonn, as the name would suggest, but it belongs to a hotel in the German city of Kassel, more than 250 kilometers away. The hotel belongs to a family with the surname Bonn and is therefore called “Landgasthaus Hotel Bonn” (Country Inn Hotel Bonn).

Most of Google’s users searching for “hotel bonn” are likely looking for a hotel in the city of Bonn (User Intent). A hotel that is a 2.5 hour drive away from Bonn is likely not exactly what most users would consider a satisfactory result.

Result Hotel Bonn

Many users will likely have read the snippet, “hotel and country inn at the outskirts of Kassel”, and refrained from clicking the result, but others will click on it and return to Google shortly thereafter to click on a different result (high Return-to-SERP-Rate). This will happen at a much higher rate as for the other results on the first page.

Thanks to this, we can watch Google’s algorithm at work. Due to the positive ranking signals, Google will test on the first results page for the keyword “hotel bonn, every couple of months. And the users will dissaprove of the result through their search behavior, which will promt Google to remove the result from the first page, again.

This becomes very apparent when we look at the highly unstable Visibility Index history for

Visibility Index history for
Visibility Index history for

Thanks to the simplicity of this example, we get a beautiful view into the problems that can arise for both Google and webmasters when ranking signals and user-intent do not match up. So remember, strong fluctuations in the Visibility may be a sign that your website is simply sending the wrong signals to Google.