We have all been confused with the Google search results, causing ourselves to ask, “Why don’t I rank in Google?”, and inevitably the question, “how does Google rank websites?” or “How does SEO work with google?”.
We as SEO’s may not know all the reasons a website ranks within Google, but through testing, we have found some strong correlations for why sites don’t rank. This correlation gives us high-level insight into how Google Search works and how Google ranks websites both nationally and in their local results.
How Does Google Rank Websites
Below you will find some factors that contribute to how Google Search works, how Google indexes and ranks websites, and variables the Googlebot Persona analyzes when determining which websites should have lower rankings or removed websites from its search results completely.
At a very high level, the reason most websites don’t rank, is usually due to a lack of authority, trust, or relevancy, in comparison to other websites targeting the same topics.
Note that because each of these factors doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is possible that your website is suffering from any number of these things.
Why Don’t I Rank In Google
Content Is Not Optimized
This is probably the simplest of the concerns, as it speaks to basic search engine optimization. Some things to check are:
- Is the target keyword in the title tag
- Is the target keyword in the H1 tag
- Is the target keyword used consistently in the primary content area of the webpage
- Is the target keyword used in the Alt text of images in the primary content area of the webpage
- Does the content include H2 tags (subtopics of the H1 tag) that include additional related keywords
On the flip side of content that is not optimized, is that which is over-optimized. Google has said that adding a keyword a few times will help, but there is a point at which adding the same keyword one more time actually has a negative effect not only on rankings but on user experience and readability.
I would suggest reading your content out loud, and if it does not read in the same way you would normally speak, you have probably over-optimized the content to the point of it losing value.
Lack of Inbound Links
Links are still a major variable in Google’s algorithm. A website that does not have enough high-value links can be deemed not valuable enough to rank in Google.
Now, don’t think you can go out and buy links, or do things too quickly gain links. Link building is about creating experiences and content that will naturally earn links. So if you don’t have enough links to help Google see your website as authoritative, trustworthy, and relevant enough to rank, start creating some awesome pieces of content, and market that content to earn the links that Google wants to value.
On the flip side of your website not having enough links, is it having links that are over-optimized and look manipulative? To fight link spam and devalue websites who participate in link manipulation, Google has released numerous iterations of the Penguin update, as well as their recent Payday Loan Update. There are two types of over-optimized links:
Internal links: These are the links in your navigation, footer, sidebar, or any contextual link that helps a user navigate through your website.
You can usually tell a group of navigational links are spammy if the anchor text that is used goes beyond what a normal user would need to know to determine what the page being linked to is actually about.
Most of the time this type of internal link spam happens in the sidebar or footer of a website where large blocks of links can be placed that have little effect on the primary user experience of the page.
External links: Most of the time when we think of over-optimized external links, we think of exact match anchor text links that have bought (not earned). But there are other ways that this mass creation of spammy links can occur. This include:
- Press Release Syndication
- Article Syndication
- Article Scraping
- Article Spinning
Content is Duplicated
Duplicate content is still a problem that most websites encounter. Duplicate content can cause search engines to get confused as to which piece of content is the primary version, or it can cause users to link to multiple versions of the same piece of content, thus causing the value of those links to become fragmented.
Internal Duplication: This happens when the same piece of primary content is located on multiple URLs within the same website.
External Duplication: This can occur when the same piece of content is placed on multiple websites. Key times when this happens:
- Website is scraped
- Website owners try to manipulate Google’s desire to show a diversity of websites in the top 10 results, by putting the same piece of content on multiple websites.
- Websites that operate under a distribution or reseller model put the same product description across all their reseller’s websites, causing Google to filter many of them from their search results.
There is a Content Gap
This is probably the most straight forward issue. In most cases, to rank for a keyword, you must have a piece of high-value content on a unique URL that targets that keyword. In the world of content strategy, the audit to find these gaps in content sets is called a Gap Analysis.
Content Can’t Be Found or is Blocked
This speaks to how Google finds and indexes website content – which is by crawling links. Whereas this is a less frequent concern we still see it happening. Either a website is designed in a way that limits Google’s ability to crawl it and find the content, or worse case a website blocks (usually by forgetting to remove the noindex tags from the header, or the disallow command from the robots.txt file when going from a staging server to production server) Google from crawling their website all together.
Content Does Not Provide Value
Google is constantly on a quest to find and surface content sets that are relevant, authoritative, and provide value to its users.
Recent algorithm updates are targeting content that is thin and does not provide enough depth for users to find it a valuable resource.
Usually, content sets that have the following traits are deemed valuable or earn value at some level:
- In-depth topic exploration
- Word count is over 1500 words
- Many social shares and likes across numerous social channels
- Linked to from multiple highly authoritative domains
- Written by an expert on the topic
- Cites additional resources about the topic
- Includes images, lists, or videos about the topic
You’re Being Out-Marketed By Your Competition
This might be one of the simplest answers, yet one that most people don’t think about. What businesses need to understand is that websites don’t operate in a vacuum. All websites on the web are in flux; adding new products, new content, and new experiences.
It is imperative for websites to consistently evolve, add new content, and create high-value experiences to compete with those competitors that are already doing it.
There is always someone trying to take your top position for a keyword your rank for today.
Reasons That You Might Not Be Aware Of
This is a highly debated topic when it comes to the validity of its existence, and ability for a third part to negatively influence your rankings. This involves competitors or those with a vendetta against your website, creating a ton of exact match links on low-quality websites to make it look as though you were buying links or trying to be manipulative.
Google recently revised its official wording about negative SEO, saying “There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index” to “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”
Some marketing experts think that because the Google web spam team has become more aggressive in controlling link building they believe is spam or manipulative, that it is now easier to execute some types of negative SEO attacks.
Site Was Hacked
There are many ways you may find out that your website has been hacked. The most obvious are when the hacker has simply defaced your website.
However, hackers oftentimes prefer that you didn’t know about it because they want to use your site as long as they can to do their dirty work.
Signs that your website has been hacked:
- Your website is defaced.
- Your website redirects to a ‘spammy’ site such as a porn site or pharmaceuticals site.
- You receive a notice Google or Bing in Webmaster Tools notifying you that your site has been compromised.
- Your Firefox or Chrome web browser indicates that your site may be compromised.
- You notice strange traffic in your web logs such as unexplained big spikes in traffic, especially from other countries.
- You check your search query report in Google and find that you are receiving traffic for off topic keywords.
- If you go to your website hit “control + A” (which highlights all the content on your website, even that which you can’t see) and you see links to other sites show up or hidden content on the page that you can’t see normally.