SEO takes a lot of time and effort, and when all that work leads to your website ranking for the wrong keywords, it can be a little frustrating.

Ranking for the wrong keywords isn’t the worst problem your site could have – after all, at least you’re ranking – but since well-targeted traffic is central to an effective online marketing strategy, it’s still less than ideal.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of useful information to be gleaned from your unintentional SEO results.

Why Am I Ranking for the Wrong Keywords?

Before we start getting into possible causes and solutions for strange search rankings, here’s something to keep in mind:

Google does whatever Google wants to do. Even if you do everything right, ultimately it’s Google’s world, and we’re all just ranking in it.

Google does what Google wants to do, so if you're ranking for the wrong keywords, it's their game.

In other words, SEO isn’t perfect. Exert your control on things that are under your control – like the quality of your content – and be willing to accept that Google has control over its own search results.

Ranking for the wrong keywords is almost inevitable.

Google’s robots look at all the text on your website. Meanwhile, they’re also looking at all the other text on billions of other sites across the interwebs trying to determine what a human searcher wants to see.

Even if you write content centered around your ideal keywords, every phrase you include is indexed right alongside the search terms you want.

For example:

Maybe you blog about custom marble countertops, and you want to rank for all sorts of countertop-related keywords. One day, in order to help you make a point about how each piece of marble is unique, you tell a story about the infinite variations in the colors of cat fur.

Suddenly, you’re ranking for “cat fur color variations” on a blog about marble countertops.


Because people are weird, and sometimes they search for weird things. If you happened to write something that’s the same kind of weird, they’ll find you.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]It’s Google’s world, and we’re all just ranking in it.[/tweet_box]

Obscure, Low Volume SEO Keywords

In a little more detail, think of it this way:

There are about 100,000,000,000 Google searches each month.

Some of those searches are things that get asked a lot, like “restaurants near me” with a search volume of about 3,350,000 every month.

Some are less common, like “Ethiopian restaurants” with a search volume around 600 each month.

Low-volume keywords get searched regularly, just not in large numbers. These are terms like “Ethiopian place” which comes in at around 10 searches each month, and there are some searches that are so obscure, they don’t even show up in keyword trackers. “Restaurants where you sit on the floor” might be one of those.

But just because something isn’t searched often doesn’t mean it’s not searched.

You’re going to occasionally rank for strange keywords because occasionally, people search for phrases that aren’t very common in search or on websites.

Not many people are searching for “restaurants where you sit on the floor,” and not many people are writing about “restaurants where you sit on the floor,” so if you happen to use an exact phrase like this and some other weirdo types it into Google, you’re going to rank unintentionally.

Essentially, you rank for low volume, obscure keywords when your quirky phrases match someone else’s quirks.

Most of the time, the few stray searchers that end up on your site after searching for something off the wall are basically irrelevant. There’s not enough volume there for you to think about.

It’s the almost related keywords that trip you up.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]There are 100 billion monthly Google searches, so you’ll sometimes rank for weird stuff.[/tweet_box]

What Your Unintentional Rankings Can Tell You

If you’re ranking accidentally for a higher-volume keyword that isn’t relevant to your website, there could be a few causes.

For a few terms that have a high search volume, but not a lot of good content out on there in the great wide internet, you might rank just because you used a phrase that has little competition.

In these cases, you’ll see just one or two stray keywords in your analytics, and you don’t need to do much about it.

When you notice that you’re ranking for a bunch of irrelevant keywords, though, it’s time to take a closer look at your website content. You might be making one of these common mistakes:

Your Content is Unfocused

ranking for the wrong keywords? Check your blog content for consistency and focus.

Websites are unlikely to rank for higher volume, more competitive keywords if that phrase is only on the site once or twice.

That means that if you’re ranking for something that other people are actively trying to rank for, it’s likely that you talk about that topic frequently. If it’s not something you want to rank for…then you should probably stop talking about it.

Topic drift happens to the best of us.

As we create content regularly (which is an important part of ranking in search engines) it gets more and more difficult to continue talking about the same, focused topic.

We get bored.

We go for months without posting.

We start talking about things we find more interesting, and we stray from the core topic we started with.

For both your content marketing strategy and for SEO, it’s important that we keep that content centered, relevant, and focused.

To fix it:

Look for a trend in the keywords you don’t want to rank for. Are they all centered around the same topic? Are they all over the place?

Use that information to determine whether you tend to create content around a secondary topic that’s not particularly relevant, or you simply have too broad of a focus so your core idea is too diffused and obscured by fluff.

Look for the irrelevant content on your website and either update it to be more aligned with your core idea, or delete it entirely.

Going forward, be cognisant of your topics and your word choices.

A little bit of keyword research and a solid content marketing plan will help you stay on track.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]Weird Google rankings are a symptom of content drift. Is it time to refocus?[/tweet_box]

Your Audience is Underserved

Sometimes, you’re going to rank for adjacent keywords that sort of have to do with your content, but aren’t exactly what you’re going for.

This might mean you’re drifting off topic a bit…or it could indicate that your market focus is just a tiny bit off.

Sometimes, people want what you don't sell. How do you handle it?
Sometimes, people want what you don’t sell.

Think of it this way:

Imagine that your website sells software to help small business owners manage their payroll, and in order to attract the right people to your website, you write a lot of content about managing a small business.

In the course of creating all that content, you write a couple of posts about how to get better at using computers, though it’s not your main marketing focus.

Now, think of what it might mean if you’re attracting lots of search traffic from older entrepreneurs who want to get better at using computers, and not a lot of traffic from people who want management tips for their small business.

The fact that you’re generating a significant amount of traffic from those search terms might indicate a marketing opportunity.

Of course, this isn’t always the case – just because a keyword generates a lot of traffic doesn’t mean it’s worth pursuing that topic. After all, not all web traffic leads to new customers.

If you suspect your keyword rankings might be showing you an underserved market need on which you can capitalize, proceed carefully and track your results closely. Pay attention to traffic numbers, conversion rates, and profits.

To fix it:

Ranking for adjacent keywords is tricky. Since it can be caused either by a market need that isn’t being addressed by your competitors, by a lack of focus in your content writing, or by some combination of the two, it’s difficult to decide whether you should lean more in the direction those keywords are leading, or you should more tightly focus your content.

If your tracking is robust enough and you have a little bit of a marketing budget, you can test the keyword you want to rank for and the keywords you are ranking for in two separate ad campaigns, and see which one leads to more sales.

Only do this if the adjacent keywords make sense, though.

For example:

If you sell iPhone covers and you find that you’re ranking for iPhone apps which you don’t make or sell, it doesn’t make sense to lean in that direction and you should refocus your content.

But if you sell phone cases and are ranking for Motorola accessories, even though you would rather focus on iPhone products, maybe you should pivot.

It’s an art, not a science.

Do Stray Rankings Really Matter?

The bottom line is that you can’t really stop Google from showing you in search results for specific keywords. There’s no way to disavow a keyword, and even if you could, why would you?

Ranking for the wrong keywords itself is a very minor issue, and in most cases, it’s not a problem at all. You only need to take specific action if your stray rankings are a symptom of something else, like a lack in content focus or a marketing concern.

Otherwise, it’s usually smartest to ignore your strange keywords.

If you’re ranking for the wrong keywords, rather than trying to affect those specific rankings, spend your time and energy optimizing for the right keywords.

And remember:

Search engine rankings aren’t the only things that matter. A healthy traffic and marketing strategy draws prospects from multiple sources like social media and other advertising channels, so a Google algorithm change doesn’t cripple your site.