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Google’s Gary Illyes On Sudden Keyword Ranking Drops

Learn why websites vanish from Google's search results, learn investigative steps, and explore the causes of keyword ranking drops.

  • It's rare for a website to suddenly lose its Google ranking for a single keyword.
  • To investigate a sudden ranking drop, first, check whether it's a glitch.
  • Possible causes of a site's disappearance from search results include increased competition, technical issues, and link profile changes.

In the latest edition of Google’s SEO Office Hours, Analyst Gary Illyes addressed a concern raised by a website owner regarding their site disappearing from search results for a specific keyword.

Despite ranking first previously, the website owner could no longer find their site, even though the page was still indexed.

Illyes reassured them it’s unusual for a website to lose its ranking for one keyword.

In most cases, he said, competitors have outranked the site.

“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.”

Here are more insights from Illyes on investigating ranking drops.

Investigating Keyword Ranking Issues

To determine whether the ranking drop was an isolated incident or part of a broader trend, Illyes suggests checking if the issue is occurring globally.

To do this, he recommends asking friends that live in other locations to search for the keyword and see if they can find your website.

Search results can be influenced by a user’s location and search history.

If a website’s disappearance for a specific keyword is limited to a particular region or individual users, it could be due to geo-targeting or personalization factors.

Illyes states:

“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.””

You can accomplish the same on your own using a virtual private network (VPN) to change your location and simulate searches from different countries.

This will allow you to see if your website’s ranking is consistent across various locations.

If your site is consistently absent from test searches, you may have a more significant problem.

Illyes continues:

“If they don’t [find your website in search results], then next I would go over my past actions to see if I did anything that might have caused it.

Have I changed my internal link structure or page layout or acquired more links or if I use the disavow tool and so on each of these may have some effect on ranking. So going through them is probably going to help.”

Adding on to Illyes’ advice, there are other reasons why a website might disappear from search results for an individual keyword.

Some of the potential causes include the following:

  • Increased Competition: Your competitors might have improved their content or implemented better SEO strategies, leading them to outrank your website for the targeted keyword.
  • Technical Issues: Crawling or indexing issues can cause your website to disappear from search results. This could be due to problems with your robots.txt file, sitemap, site structure or issues like broken links, duplicate content, or slow page load times.
  • Link Profile Changes: A sudden loss or gain of backlinks can affect your site’s rankings. This could be due to links from low-quality or spammy websites, a manual action taken by Google, or the loss of high-quality links.

In Summary

It’s rare for a website to vanish from Google’s search results for one search term.

If that happens, Illyes thinks it might be a glitch, and you can check by looking up the keyword from various places.

If you discover the ranking loss isn’t a glitch, investigate other issues.

For more insights from the Google Search Relations team, listen to the full episode (this discussion starts at the 10:24 mark).

Featured image generated by Midjourney

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Matt G. Southern Senior News Writer at Search Engine Journal

Matt G. Southern, Senior News Writer, has been with Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a bachelor’s degree in communications, ...

Google’s Gary Illyes On Sudden Keyword Ranking Drops

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