This post was written by Compose.ly writer Stephanie Lica.
Keyword ranking plays a critical role in content marketing. Think about your average search on Google; what happens when you're faced with a full page of results? If you're like most people, you scan the upper portion of the results page and visit the first entry that seems relevant to your search. Most of the time, you'll opt for the first, second, or third result.
If your website lands anywhere below these top few offerings (or worse, fails to make the first page at all), you can kiss most of your intended audience goodbye.
If you're like many well-intentioned webmasters, you've fallen into the trap of cramming your page with keywords and links, and now you're wondering, Why is my site not ranking? Unfortunately, the very tactics you've used to improve your search engine rankings might be actively preventing your site from landing on the first page of results.
Your low rankings are costing you traffic; as SEO expert Neil Patel points out, 75 percent of search engine users never bother to check the second page of results.
The good news? Your current failure to achieve a high search engine ranking by no means dooms you to a future of internet obscurity. It takes considerable effort to build an effective SEO strategy, but all that hard work will ultimately pay dividends.
Turning Things Around
First, however, you need to identify the problem – and determine how you'll turn things around. One of the following factors could be to blame for your currently unimpressive Google rankings:
1. Your website is too new
When did you launch your website? If you unveiled it within the last few weeks or even months, you shouldn't expect top rankings just yet. Unfortunately, it's impossible to build a successful webpage overnight.
Researching keyword strategy and implementing quality links takes time – and it takes even longer for search engines to recognize your efforts.
If, despite considerable effort, your content has yet to achieve the ranking you desire, determine whether you've allowed enough time for your page to make its mark. If your page has only existed for a few days or weeks, it is entirely possible that you're doing everything right and that you simply need to wait a bit longer for your website to reach its full potential.
Patience is a Virtue
While timelines for achieving first-page results can vary considerably from one website to the next, experts agree that top rankings can rarely be obtained in fewer than four months. Often, it will take the better part of a year to score the search engine rankings you desire. In fact, just 5.7 percent of the 2 million pages in a notable study by Ahrefs scored top 10 single keyword results within a year.
We get it – waiting is frustrating. But your efforts will pay off in the end. Patience is key.
Eventually, of course, time becomes less of a factor in your poor search rankings. If you have patiently waited several months for your keywords to index, your website's relative youth may no longer be primarily to blame for your search engine woes.
A search with the prefix 'site:yoursite.com' can offer valuable insight into your website's current indexing status. If this search turns up results, your website has had enough time to index – and other factors are likely responsible for your low ranking.
2. Your content lacks quality
Does the content on your webpage actually benefit visitors? Or is it merely bait, intended to get them to your website as quickly as possible?
Today's search engine algorithms are explicitly designed to reward quality. These days, low-quality content will not only cause visitors to abandon your page – it will prevent them from reaching it in the first place.
Years ago, top search engines primarily ranked websites on the basis of keyword frequency. At the time, search optimization efforts were fairly straightforward: include as many relevant keywords as possible to ensure that sites showed up on Google's first page. This led to the all-too-common phenomenon of keyword stuffing, in which awkward keywords cluttered content, making it difficult to read or understand.
Google addressed this problem in 2011 with major updates to its algorithm. Known as 'Google Panda,' these algorithm updates were intended to address concerns about low-quality content, which had previously ranked high due to keyword and backlink frequency.
After the rollout of Google Panda, keyword volume was no longer a top factor in search engine results. Due to these changes, social media platforms and news websites began to outrank the advertising-heavy content farms that had once dominated Google.
It's no secret that your webpage needs high-quality content, but how, exactly, do you define quality? Several key factors may come into play. Length, for example, can play a huge role. At minimum, your content should total 400 words. From an SEO perspective, pages with between 1,000 and 2,500 words are ideal, though the length of any piece of content should ultimately be decided by how much you actually have to say.
Cutting Down on Fluff
Long-form content tends to rank better, but only up to a point – filling a page with 'fluff' with the intent of reaching a specific word count will rarely pay off. Instead, content should be packed with information that readers find valuable. Consider including:
- Statistics and infographics
- Anecdotes and stories that grab the reader’s attention
- Subheadings and lists to break up the text (like the one you’re reading)
- Images and embedded videos
Quality content isn't merely packed with information and images; it's also intuitively easy for visitors to scan. Readable pages with short sentences and paragraphs tend to rank higher. If you include videos, make sure they don’t autoplay, and if you include images, write alt text for each one that completely but concisely describes it (and doesn’t start with the words “image of” or “photo of”).
Struggling to determine whether your website is of sufficient quality to rank highly on Google? You could benefit from a content audit.
Think of this as a bird's eye view of your content; while you may be currently mired in the tiny details of your website, an audit can give you a better sense of the big picture. You'll learn which pages score the most visits and shares – and which are doomed to low search engine rankings. Additionally, you'll learn why certain pages struggle, and what you can do to reverse the problem.
3. Your website lacks high-quality backlinks
Your website's content could be of exceptional quality, but that won't count for much if your page lacks backlinks. Hyperlinks on other sites that lead to your page demonstrate that your website is both relevant and popular. Currently, these links play a critical role in search engine rankings; sites on Google's front page tend to be highly connected to other sites via backlinks.
Backlink quantity alone will not ensure a high ranking. As with keywords, stuffing your content with links will do you little good – nor will cramming another webpage with links that lead back to your site. Rather, links must be clearly relevant to your website and provide value to those who click.
Links between websites in similar niches carry the most weight; a credit card company, for example, will benefit most from linking to another webpage somehow related to personal finance. Anchor text also indicates relevance and usefulness; ideally, the text used to anchor the links will clearly relate to the link destination.
Don’t Try to Game the System
Given the importance of link quality, it should come as little surprise that purchased links are completely unacceptable in modern content strategy. This largely can be attributed to Google Penguin – a 2012 algorithm update intended to decrease the rankings of sites reliant on black-hat linking techniques.
These days, black-hat linking strategy will almost assuredly backfire. Link schemes will quickly classify your website as low-quality, preventing you from gaining the top spots typically reserved for exceptional content.
An ideal backlink portfolio will feature multiple organic sources. It should be immediately obvious, based on these sources, that your website draws acclaim – not that you feel the need to resort to purchased references.
Thankfully, in the age of social media, you no longer need to resort to black-hat strategy to build the backlinks your page needs. While Google insists that social shares do not determine search engine rankings, social media does make it easier to build strong relationships with other organizations, which, in turn, can lead to more authentic backlinks. Another key strategy for securing quality backlinks: guests blogging on relevant websites.
Ultimately, backlinking efficacy returns to our previous point: high quality is essential. If your page provides valuable information, other industry authorities will link to it. As a result, your page will rank higher on Google, leading to even more backlinks over time.
4. You're ranking with the wrong keywords
Ranking alone is not good enough; ideally, high search engine rankings will involve relevant keywords that actually reach your target audience. If a certain keyword ranks well but prospective consumers fail to search for it, you won't achieve the traffic or conversions you desire.
Ranking for the right keywords requires considerable research. What you think of as an obvious search term may never cross your target user's mind. To determine which keywords will actually resonate with your audience, think like the customers you intend to reach. How would they naturally seek out information?
Google's autocomplete tool can provide valuable insight into how users actually search – not how you think they search. Type the first word or two of your intended keyword into Google and note which phrases pop up first.
Your keywords don't just need to reflect what users intuitively type; they should clearly relate to your website's content.
For example, if you tie the keyword "Samsung Chromebook" into a webpage about video marketing, users will be understandably frustrated when your content barely mentions Chromebooks.
Keep in mind that keywords that initially drive traffic may fail to maintain traction over time. Some keywords (often referred to as 'evergreen') will always attract attention; others will require regular updates. A keyword that's 'right' at one time may not continue to be ideal for your page on an indefinite basis.
Another search factor worth considering: internet users increasingly rely on voice-based searches via Siri and Alexa – and they use dramatically different keywords when searching by voice. While text-based searches tend to favor short keywords, mobile users prefer to phrase their searches as questions.
For example, instead of typing "Black Friday deals," an iPhone user might ask "Siri, where can I find the best Black Friday deals near me?" Experts at ComScore expect voice searches to account for at least half of all searches by 2020, so it's worth your while to start optimizing keywords for voice now.
5. The competition is beating you out
Your content is of impeccable quality. You've chosen keywords that appeal to your target audience. And you've cultivated backlinks on a variety of relevant and high-esteemed webpages. Despite all this, your keywords aren't delivering the results you expect. You're still left wondering: why am I not ranking on Google?
Ultimately, none of your efforts matter if you're mired in competition. Some keywords will naturally attract a lot of attention, and sometimes, it's just too difficult to beat big competitors out for that first-place spot on Google.
Think of your average Google search as a potluck. You baked chocolate chip cookies and you can't wait to see what everybody thinks. Unfortunately, you never bothered to determine what everyone else intended to contribute. If your batch of cookies is surrounded by lookalikes, you'll probably return home with a lot of leftovers. What if you'd brought pico de gallo or stuffed dates? These might not appeal to everybody, but at least they'd attract attention – and perhaps, a few very invested fans.
Like those chocolate chip cookies, some keywords will be so familiar and so surrounded by similar offerings, they'll ultimately be drowned out. Others will differ just enough from the competition and, in doing so, attract the specific type of visitor with whom your message will resonate.
Choose Your Keywords Carefully
As you navigate the fine line between overly competitive keywords and those with minimal demand, you'll want to think carefully about long-tail versus short-tail keywords.
Short-tail keywords (typically between one and three words) tend to be the most competitive; while most short-tail keywords will score you a high search volume, the same will prove true for the competition. With long-tail keywords (consisting of four words or more), it's easier to beat out the competition, but you can't necessarily count on reaching your desired audience. Depending on your strategy, a keyword length somewhere in the middle may prove most valuable.
Before you proceed with ranking strategies based on a potentially competitive keyword, it is imperative that you research all options to determine how much effort you'll need to go through to reach the coveted front page. Begin with a quick search for a desired keyword. How many results appear? If the numbers rank in the tens of millions, that keyword is probably too competitive for your purposes.
What happens if you add another word? For example, you could include the name of a state or city to target your keyword on a geographic basis. Experiment until you determine the point at which you'll avoid competitors but still attract attention.
There's no such thing as a quick fix for keyword rankings. The pages that take the top spots on Google search didn't get there by accident; considerable keyword research, linking strategy, and content development efforts must be made to reach the first page.
No website is beyond hope, however; the changes you make now could eventually lead to first-page results on Google, along with traffic, shares, and conversions.
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