keyword rank change

Understanding The 9 Key Factors Affecting Keyword Rank Change

Keith Desphy
Keith Desphy15 Jan 2024 • 5 MIN READ

Ranking for a keyword and having your site appear on the search engine results page (SERP) isn’t easy, and keeping your position can be even more challenging.

Keyword rank changes or fluctuates; sometimes, you can get knocked off page one entirely. Why does this happen, and what can we do to maintain our ranking? 

Why Does Your Keyword Ranking Fluctuate?

keyword ranking

Search engines use algorithms to determine keyword rank. It considers content quality, what users value most, and several ranking factors we can optimize through SEO fundamentals

These factors are dynamic. Algorithms get updates to improve the user experience. If you’re wondering why your keyword rank fluctuates, here are the factors to look into: 

Core Google Algorithm Updates

Google consistently rolls out new updates for its search engine algorithm. As of writing, the latest core update was on November 2023, which boosted review-focused websites. 

One of the most significant updates last year that affected thousands of web admins was Google’s “Helpful Content Update.” Traffic got decimated on a lot of websites. 

But that’s the nature of the game. If you don’t get up to date with the following core updates, the keyword your business ranks for might take a huge hit. 

Competitor Content Updates

The previous consensus was that websites should publish “evergreen” content that stands the test of time. But search engines will always value updated, fresh, and quality content. 

If you have a blog that’s three years old, you’d want to keep it up-to-date. Competitors can do a quick keyword audit and find weaknesses in your articles.

It can include topics you haven’t discussed, adjacent keywords, or building a more robust topical map for the keyword you’ve been ranking for. 

Search Engine Penalties

Google often hits websites with penalties if they’re caught breaking guidelines. For example, if you’ve been buying backlinks from link farms, you might get affected when Google does a PBN (private blog network) purge. 

Site penalties often happen when you’ve been involved in black hat SEO practices. You might get a traffic boost in the short term. However, these practices are often unsustainable and can lead to detrimental results for your website. 

Losing High Authority and Relevant Backlinks

Backlinks are one of Google’s most important ranking factors. If you’ve seen a significant drop in keyword rank, your website might’ve lost a high authority backlink. 

That’s why it’s essential to do routine backlink audits. If you’ve noticed a lost backlink, contact web admins to see why your backlink was removed.

We can avoid these issues through consistent backlink-building efforts. The more your backlink profile grows, the more stable your keyword ranking becomes. 

Keyword Cannibalization

Ranking for keywords doesn’t mean spamming them in every article or blog you publish. A solid content plan can resolve this issue.

For example, your content plan could involve creating a topical map for a specific keyword. This means exhausting all the topics related to the keyword. 

Let’s say you’re writing about caring for an exotic plant. Your initial content could be a definitive guide on “Caring for X Plant.” Then, you can create supplemental articles that link back to your main one about “best soil for X plant” or “top fertilize.”

URL Changes

There are several reasons why a business would want to change its URLs. It could be a complete rebranding, a website update, or a technical issue. 

The main thing here is that URL changes are dangerous for your SEO if done incorrectly. You can look at it as if you’ve changed your permanent address. 

If you don’t redirect your links correctly, Google will have difficulty finding your new domain. Left unchecked, this will most likely lead to your keyword rankings taking a nosedive. 

Removing Old Content

Indexing a page takes a lot of time. That’s why old content shouldn’t be purged—only updated. Remember, there could be a lot of backlinks pointing to that piece of content. 

Instead of removing old content, you could actually repurpose content for a new audience or platform—essentially, breathing life back into it. 

For example, significant takeaways from a 3,000-word article can be condensed into a 15-part Twitter thread, a downloadable PDF with updated infographics, or even a quick YouTube video. 

Technical SEO or Backend Issues

A lot is going on in the background of our websites—plugins, CDNs, javascript, or themes. For example, updating a WordPress theme can conflict with one of your plugins. 

Any number of issues could arise from this. Slower site speed, broken links, images not loading, and even error messages on the live site. 

At best, you’d only notice a site speed decrease. Although this isn’t a hard ranking factor, it does affect user experience. Slower sites lead to higher bounce rates, which Google doesn’t like. 

Sudden Trends/Seasonal Keywords

Trends come and go, as is the nature of the internet. This could be a positive for some sites and a negative for others. But just because trends come and go doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary. 

Trends result in traffic surges. Google can use the data and identify which sites users prefer when looking up that season keyword.

So, as always, keep your content updated—especially in the weeks going into an expected seasonal surge. You could also ride the wave, which most news sites do during a significant event. The same principles apply to any news or big update in any industry. 

Key Takeaways

Keyword rank changes due to several factors. To stay competitive, you must keep up with these factors, update your content, and implement SEO best practices. 

As a quick refresher, here are the factors that can lead to keyword rank fluctuations in any industry: 

  • Core Google Algorithm updates, search engine penalties, and backend issues 
  • Competitors updating old content, trend changes, and removing old content
  • Losing high authority backlinks, URL changes, and keyword cannibalization