If only building a successful website were as easy as designing a few pages and hitting the upload button to share your content with the world. But, alas, it’s a bit more complicated than this. In order for a website to be successfully leveraged as a tool for generating traffic and driving conversions, it needs exposure. And the most valuable and cost-effective SEO exposure comes in the form of organic search engine rankings.
If your website isn’t ranking on Google, you should be concerned. You shouldn’t, however, feel hopelessly frustrated. Because whatever the problem may be, it’s something that can be fixed and overcome.
The Importance of Being Ranked
There’s more than one way to build a successful online company, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any entrepreneur or business owner who has done so in the modern era of the internet without ranking well on Google. And the reason is quite simple.
Data on the subject clearly shows that the lion’s share of clicks go to the highest ranked search results. In fact, an estimated 33 percent of clicks go to the search result in the first position, 15 percent of clicks go to the second search result, and 9 percent of clicks go to the third result. At a bare minimum, three out of four clicks go to search results on the first page.
While you won’t rank for every search term in your industry, getting key pages ranked for valuable search terms will help you grow your business organically from the inside-out. (Contrary to what some may tell you, depending on paid search as a main source of traffic isn’t practical or cost-effective. Roughly 94 percent of search traffic goes to natural results – meaning PPC ads are responsible for just 6 percent of clicks.)
9 Possible Reasons Your Website Isn’t Ranking
If your website isn’t ranking at the top for key search terms – branded or unbranded – something is wrong. The longer you wait to fix the problem, the more it’ll cost you in exposure, traffic, and conversions. So let’s explore some of the common reasons why websites don’t rank well and what can be done about the underlying issues.
Your Website Isn’t Indexed
Let’s begin with the most basic and obvious reasons why a website doesn’t rank. In case you don’t already know, a website must be indexed in order to appear in Google’s search results. (Otherwise Google has no way of knowing your site exists.) If your website isn’t indexed – or is improperly indexed, for that matter – you won’t appear in search results for any terms or keywords. So this is the first issue to work through.
If you’ve never taken the time to research how indexing works and what needs to be done to encourage search engine crawlers to sift through your site, now’s a good time to learn. If you’ve already indexed your site, perhaps you accidently de-indexed it by mistake? Double-check to make sure this isn’t the case.
You Just Launched
When it comes to SEO, patience is a huge virtue. If your website is only a couple of months old, you can’t expect it to rank well for competitive search terms. You aren’t doing anything wrong – that’s just the way it is!
SEO takes time. In order for your website to rank well, you need high quality content and lots of powerful backlinks. A site that’s only a few weeks old doesn’t have the robust foundation that’s required. Furthermore, Google seems to have an unofficial waiting period where new websites are suppressed until they can be thoroughly examined and evaluated. There’s even a name for it: The Google Sandbox.
Experience suggests that a website will typically remain in the Google Sandbox for a period of three to six months. (Though it can be considerably shorter or longer depending on the niche and quality of the website.) Use this time to pump out quality content and flesh out a backlink strategy.
Google Has Penalized Your Site
Google doesn’t like when people try to hack their way to the top of the rankings using spammy tactics. They have specific rules and expectations for how websites are to be optimized and structured. It’s possible that you’ve inadvertently broken some of these rules and been penalized.
Google has something known as Manual Action penalties. If you previously ranked well – or feel like you should be ranking far better than you are – it could be that your site has a penalty attached to it. The best course of action is to check the Google Manual Actions report and correct any issues that are highlighted.
Google Manual Action reports are filed when a human reviewer within the company has determined that you have a hacked site, user-generated spam, spammy free host, structured data issues, unnatural links to your site, unnatural links from your site, thin content, cloaking and/or sneaky redirects, pure spam, cloaked images, hidden text and/or keyword stuffing, AMP content mismatch, or sneaky mobile redirects. Google offers clear instructions on how to correct each of these issues.
Your Target Keywords Are Too Competitive
It’s entirely possible that you’re targeting keywords that are too competitive and broad. For example, a new pizzeria that tries to rank for the word “pizza” doesn’t stand a chance. The same goes for a mechanic that wants to achieve a first page ranking for the search term “auto repair shop.” These are search terms that take years of hard work to capitalize on.
Your website is far more likely to rank if it targets long-tail or geo-specific keywords. Instead of going after the term “pizza,” try something like “best pizza restaurant in Boston.” Or rather than rank for “auto repair shop,” you could try “collision repair for Ford trucks.” Specificity tends to produce superior results.
Your Competition is Nailing You
You aren’t the only one optimizing your website in the hopes of ranking on page one of Google. Every one of your competitors is doing the exact same thing. And it’s possible that they’re doing more than you are.
Most people view SEO as a battle against Google, when it’s really a competition against the other businesses in your industry or niche. If you want to rank higher, you have to outperform them. This means producing a higher quantity of quality content and generating more backlinks to your pages. Work harder and smarter – eventually it’ll yield the results you’re seeking.
You Don’t Have Any Inbound Links
The right content plus authoritative backlinks pointing to this content is what generates positive search rankings for your website. If you have a lot of quality content but no backlinks, you’re missing a key ingredient. (It’s also possible that you have backlinks from the wrong sources.)
Using a tool like Ahrefs or Moz, take the time to study your backlink profile. Find out who is linking to you, which pages have good links, and where you need to improve your SEO. This will take time and manual effort, but it’s the proper way to tackle your search rankings.
Your Content is Thin and Poorly Optimized
Thin content is content that adds little or no practical value to your website and its visitors. Things like duplicate content, scrapped content, affiliate content, and automatically generated content fall under this category.
Google doesn’t like thin content and will slap you with a penalty if it sniffs it out. Either remove this content or build it up so that it adds value to your website.
Your Page Loading Speed is Slow as Molasses
Google is in the business of keeping its users happy. If people click on links that Google serves them and the user experience is bad, then their perception of Google will likewise be a negative one. Thus if you want your pages to rank well, you should deliver a positive user experience to your visitors.
If the pages on your website take longer than five seconds to load, this is considered substandard and unacceptable (by Google’s terms). Don’t be surprised if this is why your pages aren’t ranking as high as you’d like them to. Speed up your page loading speed and you’ll see marked improvement.
You’re Using Yesterday’s SEO Techniques
The SEO field has evolved significantly over the last five or 10 years. If you’re still using techniques and strategies from 2009, you’re not doing your website any favors. At worst, you risk being penalized by Google. At the very least, you’re wasting your time and energy. Modernize your approach and come in to line with the newest industry best practices.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.