It’s never encouraging to click through pages and pages of search results only to FINALLY locate where your content has been ranked, but it is a common situation for website owners to find themselves in. If you’re feeling down that your website is not the first result on Google, (or tenth, or fiftieth) know that you are not alone.
However, internet comrade, not all hope is lost! At the end of the day, search engines are not an assortment of random magic and unknowable forces, they are combinations of 1s and 0s (albeit VERY complicated ones, that can sometimes feel as puzzling as the Riddle of the Sphinx) that rely on math and logic to compute their rankings.
Find solace and motivation in the fact that you can get to the bottom as to why your content isn’t ranking on Google. The path to figuring out why the pages on your site aren’t ranking is not an easy or short one to follow, but it’s what we’ll be guiding you on today.
Before we get into any website diagnostics, we should first establish why it’s so important to rank on Google in the first place.
When internet users make a general search query on Google and visit your website by clicking its result on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), this is called organic traffic. Organic traffic is the most cost-effective exposure your website can get-Google is advertising your website and business for FREE, all because the search engine thinks your page is a good match to answer whatever the user input to the search bar.
Organic traffic is great for attracting new users to your website, which means new potential sources of revenue. Nearly everyone that owns a computer uses Google, and so showing up in the search results could mean bringing awareness of your business to millions of strangers across the globe. Once again, we would like to add, for FREE.
Get ready for some mathematical modeling (don’t worry, it won’t be that complicated): The % of users that will click on your result is exponentially related to how high the result is on the SERP. This means that the closer you are to the #1 ranked spot on Google, the LOADS more traffic you will rake in. Most people don’t look past the first few results, so it is absolutely key to get yourself on the first page of the SERP, and as close to 1 as possible, for key search terms.
Now that we’ve hammered home the reason that it’s so important to have a high ranking in organic search results, let’s get into how to diagnose and fix why your website isn’t on the front page of the SERP yet.
Perhaps the most important factor to getting your page to rank for a certain query is matching exactly the user’s search intent. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of search intent, here’s a quick crash course:
Search intent refers to the reason why a user is making a certain query on the search engine. It’s their WHY for typing into the search engine that day, it is what they are hoping to accomplish.
Many times, the search intent is not exactly clear by the words and phrases that a user enters into Google. For example, if I type in the term “twin bed,” there are actually plenty of goals I could be trying to meet. Am I trying to browse the web to see what’s out there for twin beds on the market, or buy one right now? Do I want to learn more about the measurements of a twin bed, or what differentiates a twin from a full or a queen? Do I want to know how to build one?
Good thing that Google is an expert at using its technology to show you what you need, nearly every time to a T. You can see in the results below that Google has chosen to show me a plethora of twin beds for sale, with many different filters available. The first organic result is the furniture king, IKEA. If I click into the search bar, Google has plenty of suggestions to help me make my search intent more clear in my query.
The four main types of search intent are navigational (trying to find a specific place on the internet, such as a page or website - ex. searching for “youtube”), informational, transactional, and commercial investigation.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide to search intent, check out our post covering it here.
If you’re trying to rank for a particular keyword or term, but Google deems that the contents of your page does not satisfy the perceived search intent, your page will not rank.
Design your page with your target user’s search intent in mind. This could mean drastic changes to the format of your page, or small tweaks to its optimization.
Depending on the type of search intent, you’ll want to cater the content type, format, and angle of the page to best serve the user’s needs.
Type: Text, photo, video, audio, or some combination of these content types on the page to best deliver whatever you are conveying to the user
Format: How-to instructions, list, short blog post, in depth guide, infographic, or podcast are all examples of different formats that you may need to utilize.
Angle: The unique selling point, or take that your page is offering. The angle of your content will differentiate it from the rest of the search results, providing unique value.
If these three aspects of your page are aligned properly with the target user’s search intent, then it may be the wording you’re using, the length of the page, or the careful addition of keywords and phrases that will bring your page up to a better ranking.
Modern writers grapple with the issue that “everything that could be said has already been said,” and we can take it one step further and say that “everything that could be said has been said and then posted on the Internet.”
It’s true that the Internet has gotten crowded over the years, and it’s not enough to offer basic information on a certain topic anymore. Chances are, there are hundreds of pages on the Internet offering that same basic information, over and over again.
This could be the reason why your page is not ranking for a search query; it is too similar to the existing pages out there. If your page offers the exact same contents as those that already rank, and nothing new or different, Google won’t have any good reason to rank yours instead.
Although it can be a challenge, you need to differentiate your page from every other page that ranks for that search query. It could be offering a different take on the topic, or more information, or zeroing in on something very specific for that topic.
Another way to differentiate your page is to play with the content type, format, or angle (aspects that we discussed in the first ranking issue). With that being said, any changes you make cannot drive your content away from serving the target user’s search intent.
By thinking outside the box and just a smidge more creatively than your competitors, you can figure out how to deliver your information in a clearer, more interesting, or more useful way than what is already being offered to users.
Similar to the last problem, there are just certain topics and keywords on the internet that simply have too many pages vying for their top spot. If you have a small website, and there are several major companies dominating the SERP, it may be time to admit that you are a small fish in a big pond.
The moral of the story is it can’t, unless you apply the fix below.
To get past this, you need to choose a different keyword or phrase. However, it does not need to be drastically different. This is where long tail keywords and LSI keywords will become your best friend.
Long tail keywords are based off of the original keyword, but have modifiers attached to them. Due to the modifiers that have been added, they are more specific in their search and have a lower amount of competition. Though they will have a lower search volume than the keywords they’re built from, they will be much easier to rank for and have a much higher conversion rate.
Here are some long tail keyword examples for “chocolate chip cookie recipe”
We don’t exactly know if the last one would actually turn up any real results, but we’ve all been in a spot of trying to make something and you find out you’re missing the key ingredient. Miracles can be found on the Internet every day, can’t they?
So you get the idea. If you want to learn more about long tail keywords, visit this blog post.
Additionally, you can find keywords that are related to the original one you were going for. Latent Semantic Indexing is the system that search engines use to identify and analyze the words that people use surrounding a keyword’s greater topic. Google figures out other related keywords using search patterns.
With this knowledge, we can take advantage of those keywords that Google has associated with the original keyword (the one that is way too hard to rank for). Chances are, the keyword will have a few different viable options of related search terms that have way less competition to rank for.
To sum up this fix, when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, open up your own kitchen next door.
If you’ve launched in the past few months, this is a huge reason why you aren’t ranking as high as the seasoned and well-established websites out there.
The truth, that no amount of expertise or dollars spent can change, is that SEO takes time. Building a quality, authoritative website with a solid amount of valuable content and healthy backlinks does not happen quickly.
With hundreds of new websites popping up on the Internet every day, it’s a lot of work for Google’s search bots to crawl all of these new pages and index them accordingly.
Many in the SEO community believe that Google will suppress new sites for a certain amount of time, until the search engine has an adequate amount of time to evaluate the site. Think of it as your site sitting in a waiting room-they call it the Google Sandbox.
Although it may sound oversimplified and cliche, the fix to this is to be patient! And keep working at your new website. Just because you aren’t ranking now doesn’t mean that you won’t rank forever.
Don’t give in and try to speed up the process with any black hat SEO techniques. Although you may experience short term gains, these shady tactics will certainly catch up to you and end up doing major damage to your website. The statement “Google knows everything” means something a little different here!
Instead, keep putting out amazing content and constantly think about how you can improve the user experience. Optimize your content, and get as many backlinks as you can. If you operate as a website that generates a ton of organic traffic, eventually it will become true.
Secondary only to keywords, backlinks are always the top priority in the SEO space. Backlinks are links on other websites that lead to your site. They show Google that your website is trustworthy and has value-think of it as a “wisdom of the crowd” approach.
If a certain page has a lot of backlinks to it, this signals to Google that your page must have a certain amount of authority over the given subject, and it’s worth paying attention to. From Google’s perspective, if people are linking to the page, the page must have something useful to say about its topic.
In turn, Google will reward this page by ranking it highly when people search for that subject. In a nutshell, that’s how backlinks will generate organic traffic.
Even if you’re more of a “lone wolf” out there on the Internet (less Facebook drama that way), it pays off to have other sites linking to yours.**
**As long those links are quality, meaning that they come from trustworthy websites! Avoid links from spammy websites, they will actually detract from how Google views your website.
If you find that you have spammy backlinks that will detract from your website, learn how to disavow them here so Google will no longer use them to judge your site.
To build up quality backlinks, you can use the following tactics:
While backlinks from sites outside of your own are very important, links coming from your own site can drastically help your SEO, too.
Internal links (if done well) improve the structure of your site and make it easier for search bots to crawl and understand your site accurately. They will show both human users and search bots that your site comprehensively covers a topic.
Great internal linking starts with content mapping: take inventory of your content and lay it out in something like Excel so you can get an overview and categorize pages by type, such as primary site pages, landing pages, and blog posts.
From here, you can make sure your linking structure is logical and creates a seamless user experience for easy site navigation. Link pages that have subjects that are related to one another. Create topic clusters when appropriate.
“Click-bait” has become commonly used terminology over the years, referring to an attention grabbing, enticing, and wonder-provoking title or image that leaves the user wanting more-so they click. More often than not, the actual content the click-bait leads to does not live up to the hype generated by its title. This has created a negative perception of click-bait.
Link-bait is different. We’re referring to link-bait as highly unique and valuable content that creators publishing about similar and related topics will be oh-so-tempted to link to.
So really, it’s just a modern label on a well established idea: create content that’s worth linking to.
Put out content that’s cutting edge, relevant, and has some unique aspect to what’s already out there. This could mean original research, results of a survey you conducted, a collection of photos, a video demonstration, or an industry hot-take, or some well-informed industry forecasts.
There may be someone out there looking for just that thing, and they just may like it so much that they’ll link to it.
Getting an interview with an industry influencer or expert in your field could do wonders to build links. Fans of this influencer or expert will link to the interview, and the person themselves will most likely link back to this interview on their own site.
Likewise, giving an interview to another source could generate backlinks for you as well. When they post about the interview and use it in their content, they will link back to your site-bingo, backlinks!
Writing guest posts on other websites and blogs, or having posting content from guest writers, will have the same effects as the previous tactic.
This is a great way to show off your industry knowledge and unique voice to an entirely new audience.
You can always reach out to other websites and ask them to link to you-the worst they can do is say no or ignore your message. However, the potential reward definitely outweighs the risk of rejection.
Identify websites with solid reputations that are within your industry, but not your direct competition, and reach out to negotiate how you may be able to link to each other.
It might make sense for your site to be listed on one of their resource pages, or some other solution that you derive together.
As pages come and go on the Internet, often an old link will lead to a page that has been deleted, or moved. Since this link can no longer get a user to the original intended destination, it is now considered a “broken link.”
If you are able to locate a broken link on a reputable website, you can reach out to the webmaster to offer for the link to lead to your own content. This content of course needs to match whatever the link originally led to. You may get lucky and already have a page that’s appropriate, or you can create the resource.
The webmaster will be grateful that their broken link is fixed, and you will have just earned yourself a backlink! It’s a win-win situation.
For more information on link building, check out this article.
If your website has been around for a while, chances are it’s racked up pages and pages of content. While you want to build up the stores of valuable, unique, and comprehensive content on your site, eventually it can become cluttered. When was the last time you really sifted through the troves of pages on your site?
Your site may be bogged down with content that is outdated, no longer relevant, or not up to snuff with what you’ve been putting out lately. If you have a lot of old pages that are no longer getting any traffic, this can actually hurt the health of your overall website.
Every page on your website should have a clear purpose, and work to benefit your business as a whole. If that’s not the case, then it’s time to prune your content.
Content pruning involves evaluating all of the existing pages on your site, and deciding which ones to keep, edit/update, or delete.
You need to evaluate each page based on the metrics for the specific goal of that page. If the page is meeting those metrics, keep it. If it’s not, then it’s time to decide if editing the page would be able to get those metrics boosted, or if the page is a lost cause and no longer necessary for your site.
This site makeover will have Google doing a double take of your site.
At the risk of sounding like a crotchety boomer, everyone is always on their phones. And they’re doing anything and everything on their phones, including searching on Google and accessing websites.
There’s nothing more annoying than opening a site in a browser on your phone and only half of it shows up. Or it lacks functionality. These sites are not mobile friendly.
By today’s standards, that isn’t going to cut it. Since Google’s goal is to serve users with helpful results and not websites that will have them throwing their phone across the room, it is imperative that your website be mobile-friendly.
First, test if your website is mobile-friendly or not with Google’s very own Mobile Friendly Test.
Enter your website’s URL and hit TEST URL. Your results should look something like this:
If your results are not so positive, you have the following options:
For Wordpress websites, you can simply install a new theme that is more mobile-friendly.
If your site was designed by a web designer, talk to that designer about making it responsive on mobile.
If your website is older, it may not be possible to make it mobile friendly without a complete redesign.
We understand that redesigns can be expensive undertakings, but having a mobile friendly site is absolutely imperative to not only rank on Google, but ensure that your users will be able to complete any online facets of their customer journeys.
We’ve all clicked on a website from the results page before only to be met with a loading screen. Those moments seem like years. We check our internet; no connection issues on our end. After a few milliseconds too long, we hit the back button to give another result a try.
You never want to be the first result from that scenario, the one that never loads. And Google doesn’t want that situation happening either, because, again, poor user experience, you get the gist.
You want your site to load in under three seconds.
Test your site’s speed with a free online tool such as this one.
Enter your site’s URL and choose the test location, then hit START TEST.
The tool will tell you how long it takes your site to load, give it a grade for its performance, and point out areas that could be improved.
While Google may not rank your site as high because of its slow load time or its lack of backlinks, these are different from the formal penalties it dishes out for other reasons.
Formal penalties come from over-optimization or spammy link building. We’ve already covered why untrustworthy backlinks are bad, but let’s talk a little bit more about the former.
Over-optimization is equivalent to keyword stuffing; putting target keywords into every component of the page; Title tag, heading tag, meta tag, URL, alt text, page copy, etc. This use of keywords is unnatural, it appears almost robotic and Google will flag this is suspicious activity. Oftentimes, keyword stuffing accompanies thin content.
Evaluate your content to see if it’s guilty of keyword stuffing, and check your backlinks often.
If you have been hit with a penalty, don’t worry, it’s not permanent. You can take steps to remedy this penalty.
You can see your penalties on your Google Search Console account. Look under Search Traffic to find Manual Actions, and your penalties will be listed here.
The search engine will explain why your website has been penalized. Once you have made the proper changes to your site, you can submit a “reconsideration request.” When Google deems that the changes are sufficient, the penalty will be removed.
There’s no easy way to wrap up this post, because there’s no easy answer as to why your website isn’t ranking.
Nevertheless, hopefully this guide has shown you that it is possible to make small fixes and improvements to eventually get your website onto the coveted first page of the SERP, and even into the top few spots.
Don’t give up, and never stop investigating all aspects of your website to identify potential areas for improvement. You never know what will launch your website to the top of the SERP, so be brave, patient, and open with your SEO tactics and strategy.
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