Blog: SEO
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What To Do When Your Best Content Isn’t Ranking

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

It’s frustrating.

You put a lot of time and effort into creating a piece of content for you website, and it still isn’t ranking where you think it should be.

We’ve been there too.

Because we’ve been down that road before, we’d like to offer some tips for those of you who have great content, but it still isn’t moving up the search results.

First, some context.

The Best Fit For the Search

Google’s ranking algorithm tries to serve up the best results for a search query.

What does that mean, though? The “best” result for a particular search?

Long ago, in the late-1990s and early 2000s, search engines were very simplistic. All you had to do to rank was keyword-stuff your web pages, and point more back links at your site than your competition.

Today, search engines rely on hundreds (if not thousands) of signals. To make things more complex, the context of a search can change depending on factors like your location and personal search history.

In order to understand why your web page isn’t ranking, it’s vital to go back to the source.

Meaning, look directly at the first page of Google results, and try to understand why each result is there.

Why are *these* results here? And not something else?

Look For Searcher Intent

The first thing that you should look at when you have a page that’s not ranking with great content — analyze searcher intent.

One of the sections in our SEO audits is looking at the first page of Google, seeing what’s ranking for selected search terms, and deducing what the searcher intent is for each result.

Are the majority of first page results information searches? Comparative shopping? E-commerce? Objectively examining what Google wants to rank will show you whether you are going with the grain or against it.

Another thing to look at is search modifiers — words added to the base search term. We had one client where the base search terms yielded the low-end of the market — the cheapest versions of those products. We determined it was unlikely they would crack the top ten without a similar downmarket product.

However, when we added certain words to the generic search phrase, they had a much better chance of ranking. The search results were higher-end products. By targeting those search phrases, we were able to increase their qualified organic search traffic. Customers using those longer search phrases were looking for something vastly different than those searching using the generic search terms.

Look For What’s Missing

You might have great content. But your competitors may have specific details or information that your page lacks. Especially in e-commerce, having detailed information can be the difference between ranking on Page One or Page Three.

The same idea applies to service businesses. If you have service landing pages, or location-based landing pages, take the time to see what’s already ranking, and backwards engineer why Google like those pages better.

Chances are, there is some missing information that your customers are looking for that will help them make a qualified buying decision.

Slapping more keywords on a landing page will not work if it does not provide value to the searcher. Put your self in their shoes. What do they expect to find?

Expanding on Searcher Intent

Look at what’s number one for a particular search phrase.

Is it the biggest brand? Do they have the most informative content? Are they the lowest priced product? Are they the highest quality product? Do they have the best brand reputation? Is it a combination of these factors?

There can be many reasons why Google is putting a certain result number one for a given search phrase, that have nothing to do with content.

What’s the difference between you, and what’s above you in the rankings? Maybe it’s as simple as they have more/better links pointing at their website.

Perhaps they’re a bigger brand.

Brand Is a Ranking Factor

If you don’t believe that brand recognition and reputation plays a role in SEO, go back to 2008, when the then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt said:

Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.

Schmidt went on to say:

Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. It must have a genetic component.

The message is clear. If you’re not building yourself up as a topically relevant, authoritative brand within your space, you need to be working on that right now.

So what things differentiate a brand?

Well, they have thought leadership in their space. They publish topically relevant, authoritative content on a regular basis.

They have branded search — meaning people search for them by their brand name. They are trusted and well-known enough that customers seek them out specifically. Also, it doesn’t hurt when customers are already going to their website.

This is one of the reasons Amazon has compounded their success. People already know them, trust them, and are confident they will get what they are looking for. That’s what you should strive to be within your market.

That leads into another important SEO factor: how does Google measure what a trustworthy website is?

Design Plays a Role in SEO

Design is a differentiating factor.

Google measures if searchers are satisfied with a piece of content — a web page. What are some ways they can do that?

Staying on the page for a long period of time, and reading large amounts of the page are two things that SEO consultants point to as signs that a page is satisfying.

What would compel customers to stay on your website longer than your competitors?

One factor is the design of the website. Humans still judge a book by it’s cover, and we are more likely to trust a site that looks like it was designed in this millennium. The way you package up your content makes a difference.

Consider a brand like Apple, that spend a lot of time and effort on packaging and product design. At the core, the iPhone is not a vastly different product from Android, or Samsung, or any other competing brand. But here’s what sets them apart.

The design and the entire experience of buying an Apple iPhone is totally different than it is for buying a competitor phone. In the same way, the design of your site, the way that you frame your content, and the way you package it up, is a differentiator.

Information can be statistically correct without being satisfying.

Proximity Is a Major Factor in Local Search

How close the searcher is to your location will affect whether you come up in the 3-pack map on Page One of Google. If you’re very far away from a person searching for you, you’re less likely to come up in the map. Every local business is affected by this to some degree.

If your content is good, but you aren’t ranking for city-specific searches, consider creating city landing pages for neighboring areas. (My suggestions are: include directions to your location, any reviews from customers in that city, and a few facts about that city in the landing page.)

Links Still Matter

If your content is awesome, but you are getting outranked, check the back link profile of the top ten results. They may have more links to their site than you. Those links may also be from more topically related websites than your link profile.

Check Keywords in the Page

You ranking may also be suffering because you haven’t used your target keyword in the page.

I’m not saying go crazy, and start keyword stuffing like it’s 1998 all over again, but make sure the entire keyword phrase is in the page at least once.

A web page I recently diagnosed wasn’t ranking very well for their target search phrase. It turns out one important word in that phrase was never mentioned in the target page.

Don’t make Google guess. Mention your search phrase on the page, in the title tag, and (preferably) in at least one subheading.

Let’s Talk About Task Completion

One factor that sometimes gets neglected is task completion.

Can people complete the task that they are trying to get done?

Task completion could be finding information, buying a product, or making an appointment. If you notice in your searcher intent section that people want to order a product, your page should allow them to complete a purchase. If your page doesn’t let them do that, and other sites ranking above you do, that may be what’s missing.

In essence, does your page allow the searcher to solve their problem right then and there? If not, then you should add that functionality to the page, so that people can get what they came there for.

What To Do With All This Information

Now that you are armed with a new perspective, and more information about why Google is ranking other content above yours, it’s time to make changes.

If your page is mismatched for searcher intent or task completion, change the functionality or the content of that page to fit the pattern of what Google is already ranking.

In the case that Google is ranking bigger brands above you, you must increase your marketing efforts to grow your brand.

When you’re missing keywords on the page, or if your content is mismatched (short content when long content is ranking, or vice versa), make those copywriting changes to the page.

If all the pages above yours have an aesthetically pleasing design, and your website is archaic, you will need to invest in upgrading your site design.

Fixing the SEO for a specific page or even a website is seldom as easy as tweaking one dial. It is often a combination of several factors. However, by looking for patterns in what Google is ranking with an unbiased eye, and changing accordingly, you stand a better chance of ranking for the content you have already created.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

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