Typically when a site starts ranking worse for one keyword, the effect is also seen for several of the other keywords it ranks for. So what does it mean when a website only loses rankings for one keyword? According to Google’s Gary Illyes, there are a few reasons a site might experience this rare problem.
In a recent Google SEO Office Hours episode, Illyes addressed the issue while answering a question from a site owner who had effectively disappeared from the search results for a specific keyword – despite ranking at the top of results consistently in the past.
The Most Likely Culprit
Unfortunately, the most common cause of an issue like this is simply that competitors have outranked your website, according to Illyes:
“It’s really uncommon that you would completely lose rankings for just one keyword. Usually, you just get out-ranked by someone else in search results instead if you did indeed disappear for this one particular keyword.”
Other Potential Causes
If you believe the drop in rankings for a specific keyword is the result of something other than increased competition, Illyes recommends investigating if the issue is isolated to a specific area or part of a larger ongoing global problem.
“First, I would check if that’s the case globally. Ask some remote friends to search for that keyword and report back. If they do see your site, then it’s just a ‘glitch in the matrix.’”
Those without friends around the globe can effectively accomplish the same thing by using a VPN to change their search location.
On the other hand, if your site is absent from results around the globe, it may be indicative of a bigger issue – potentially the result of changes to your website:
“If they don’t [find your website], then next I would go over my past actions to see if I did anything that might have caused it.”
Lastly, Gary Illyes offers a few other potential causes of a sudden ranking drop.
Technical issues such as problems with crawling or indexing can prevent your website from appearing in search results.
Sudden changes to your backlink profile – either through mass disavowing links or through the use of low-quality or spammy links can also trigger issues with Google. If you are hit with a manual penalty for low-quality links, it is highly likely your site will stop ranking for at least one keyword (if not several).
To hear the full discussion, check out the video below: