11 Factors That Could Be Killing Your Rankings
Have you been sold the dream by an agency promising to rank your site in the number one placing in Google for all your money-making keywords, only to find they didn’t even get you onto page one? Perhaps you once ranked really well in Google but now find yourself struggling to hit the top spots once more? Or maybe you’ve never experienced the heights of high organic rankings and lots of traffic? Search engine optimisation is extremely important to businesses for attracting and converting traffic on their website. Don’t miss out on potential business by having a poorly performing website that doesn’t rank in Google and misses out on lots of enquiries as a result. Here are 11 factors that may be killing your rankings…
Links from bad places
Your backlinks are still a very large factor when it comes to ranking for your target keywords. Despite all the claims years ago from social media ‘gurus’ that “link building is dead”, backlinks continue to be key for SEO – good backlinks, that is. You can certainly prevent your site from ranking with a lack of quality links, or alternatively, a large quantity of low-quality, ‘spammy’ links. Long gone are the days of directory submissions, article directory link building and guest blogging on low-quality or unrelated websites… or are they? A quick look at some directories and there are still sites listed under ‘latest additions’. A glance over article directory sites and I still see plenty of blog posts this month linking back with anchor text-rich links and I know of several companies building links on low quality or unrelated websites. 18 months ago, Matt Cutts wrote a very popular article, titled The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO, where he advised us to stop guesting blogging from 2014. A couple of important quotes from Cutts’ article include:
“If you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.” “We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking “guest post outsourcing” and writing articles about “how to automate guest blogging.”” “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”
Matt was referring to the low-quality sites here – we still recommend contributing content to relevant and authoritative sites because obviously, you’re not going to turn down an opportunity to contribute to Forbes, the Huffington Post, The Times or a leading magazine/website in your industry, are you? In the year 2015 it’s crazy that directory and article directory submissions are still happening. Websites are harming themselves by using outdated ‘link building tactics’ that both no longer work and also run the risk of harming your site more than making it succeed. If you’re doing any of the above bad link building practices I urge you to stop right now and follow my guide on significantly improving your traffic which Search Engine Journal published in March 2015.
Over-optimising Anchor Text
If you’ve been in this industry as long as I have (more than a decade) you may remember how easy it was to optimise a page for a money making keyword: build lots of anchor text links using that keyword, include that keyword a few times on your target page and happy days! The industry has moved on significantly since then. For one, it’s much more competitive – every business now knows the importance of SEO and marketing, and either have a team or an agency doing this work for them. Likewise, search engines have changed. You now place yours or your clients’ website at significant risk by over-optimising the anchor text links that you are hoping to rank for. Now it’s about creating flagship content that users will naturally want to visit, share and link to and revisit again and again. Plus we’re seeing more brands become experts where they’re contributing content to other websites as a way of achieving more brand exposure. Don’t focus on keyword rich anchor text links again and again, but rather aim to build a brand that publishes great, useful content that helps to expand the awareness and encourage return visitors. Traffic is much cheaper when people are searching for you via your brand name compared to getting to number one in organic and/or paid search for money keywords. Conversion rates for your brand name are always a lot higher too… The image below shows a website that has over-optimised on anchor text rich keywords when they have built links. The pie chart on the left is taken from Majestic, whilst the message on the right is from SEMRush, showing they have no keywords at all in the top 20 positions of Google for any keyword.
We’re heading towards the fourth anniversary of Google releasing their Disavow Tool. The premise of the Disavow tool is for Google not to take into account the links you believe are low-quality when it comes to judging and ranking your website in their search engine. Whilst I was one of the sceptics of letting Google know that I’m actively working on link building for my client’s sites, it has certainly been of use in removing Penguin penalties for a number of businesses that have come to us. Likewise, I’ve come across and heard of numerous other agencies using automated tools to decide which are ‘low-quality links’ before adding them to their clients’ disavow file. Unfortunately this method means that they may have disavowed good quality links! Disavowing links is something that needs to be done manually, and by an expert, or as Google says:
“This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.”
Disavowing links is something not to be ignored – in some industries your competitors will be buying dodgy links to your clients website, I’ve seen it first-hand. Updating this file ideally should be a monthly process. Before disavowing links, if you have the time, it’s ideal to try manually removing those links. A quick email to the webmaster works nearly 40% of the time from experience.
Thin Content – meet the Panda penalty
In terms of the on-page factors, a lack of content or thin content as we often describe it in this industry, has a huge bearing on your rankings. It’s useful to check out the top 5 or 10 results for the search terms that you want to rank for to work out the average length of the text those pages have to help give you an idea of the ideal length of text you should be aiming for. This is especially important for competitive keywords and niches. Big and popular websites can often get away with shorter content but if you’re not the leader in your field then you’re certainly going to struggle to rank at the top without in-depth content on your page. It’s also a good opportunity to outrank your bigger competitors if they’re not clued up about thin content. The Google Panda algorithm update was released in February 2011 and it certainly had a big impact on those ranking websites with thin content. There were lots of websites and businesses alike that fell out of the search engine results after its release. This was certainly an improvement from Google in ranking high quality pages instead of those that had relied on heavy link building to rank, which many sites had been relying on before Panda was released.
Something just as bad as thin content is duplicate content. Google penalises sites for this. Pinching content from others’ websites without producing anything new is a no-no. It’s also plagiarism. It serves no positive benefits in helping your website rank in a search engine. In fact, it has the opposite effect as Google lowers the rankings of pages with duplicate content. You should be aiming to produce unique, high-quality content that brings some useful value to your target audience. Generic, duplicated content is generally asking for trouble, or simply a lack of traffic. If your website itself has multiple pages with identical content or identical passages, it’s recommended that you use canonical URLs to let Google know your preferred URL to represent this content in the SERPs. Canonicalisation is important for websites that have content available through multiple URL structures or via syndication. An example of this would be almost every ecommerce store that uses filters to alter the products displayed on a category page, but retains the same on-page features such as titles, headings and written content, i.e. the same content accessible via URLs with many different combinations of parameters. More commonly, blogs would have the same content accessible by multiple URLs like… /blog/category1/blog-post /blog/category2/blog-post /blog/author/blog-post /blog/year/month/day/blog-post /blog/tag1/blog-post ^ The blog post above is never going to rank unless it has a canonical version for Google to references as the canon version. Copyscape is a useful tool to finding out if you or your client have duplicate content.
NoIndexing Your Site
We recently took on a large ecommerce client that makes substantial money for their brand name but couldn’t work out why their internal pages weren’t ranking highly for competitive keywords after successful PR campaigns and some link building. The answer didn’t take long to work out. All of their category and product pages had the NoIndex code on them. Simply removing the NoIndex tag saw their internal, relevant pages shoot up Google rankings for a number of money keywords and the client gave us some more work as a result. True story, honest. The ‘NoIndex’ code can be a simple HTML line on your website/webpages or in your robots.txt file. You can learn more in our in-depth free SEO Essentials: Accessibility PDF.
Page titles still have a huge impact on ranking your pages in Google’s search results. For the web pages you want to rank for certain keywords, the page title of each respective page should include the core target keyword. The page title can help transfer the incoming link juice into specific target keywords. For example, you may have backlinks containing the URL or brand name as the anchor text from top newspapers and websites. Some may think this isn’t going to help you rank, but not only is this great for branding, you can use the strength of these to rank for your money keyword by including it in the page title. Don’t over-optimise this though – that can have a negative impact. Make it look natural as it’s extremely important that users will want to click on your website when they see the page title first in Google’s results. According to research from Search Metrics, the keyword in the page title is having slightly less impact in mobile results than it did 12 months ago, but for now I’d certainly focus on making them the best you can as they’re still important for both desktop and mobile traffic. Image from Marcus Tober’s The Content Evolution talk at the SEJ Summit London 2015 conference.
Poor User Experience
Your website should really be focused on the user experience. After all the hard work and money spent on getting traffic to your website, you certainly want your audience to convert. A poor user experience can also reflect on your rankings in search engines. If you’ve got a terrible bounce rate don’t be surprised to see your website drop down a couple of positions in the rankings. Google has a ridiculous amount of data and they preach continuously about giving their users the best possible result – a website with a high bounce rate and low time on the page (i.e. people who click on your website and quickly exit) won’t be a ‘high-quality signal’ to them. A good user experience will likely be a website that adds value to the users. Take Amazon for example – they allow customers to publish reviews on their product pages. And let’s face it, a large number of us all head over to Amazon to check the reviews before purchasing an item. This is a good user experience – I return to the Amazon website often to check out reviews and somewhere down the line it leads to a purchase from their site that I perhaps wouldn’t have made without them having this feature. Other websites add value by including a transcription of their videos on the same page. Newspapers include a series of related articles on their article pages, usually on the right-hand side or beneath the piece you are reading, to add to the users’ experience. Think of some of the brands and websites you regularly visit – what are they doing that is improving the user experience to make visitors return to their website?
Page Load Speeds
Page load speed is another contributor to a good or bad user experience – plus slow loading times can also damage rankings! Google announced five years ago that site speed was a ranking factor. Slower sites create frustrated users after all. Sites should aim for their page to load in no more than 4 seconds, or simply as fast as they can make it load. This can be done in the back end – servers, large images and applications on the site are just some of the factors that could be slowing the page loading down and causing you to drop in the rankings.
A more recent ranking factor is a secure website or https://. Less than a year ago Google announced it was a ranking factor and as the months go by we’re certainly seeing that change. Here’s a screenshot of the top ranking sites for the term ‘online casino’: Are Unibet and Casino Euro really the most well-known or even linked to casinos? No. But their secure URLs may well be having an impact. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about whether this is a clear ranking factor, but it’s certainly better to be safe than sorry, especially if you’re seeing more and more secure sites rank on page one for keywords in your industry. You may also have noticed a number of big brands switching over to these recently, so my advice is to make the switch.
Hiring a Bad Agency
I’ve met a few charlatans in my time, I’ve seen at first-hand the bad work of some ‘SEO’ companies and I’ve heard story after story of terrible work. If your current or future SEO individual or company cannot deal with any of the issues outlined in this article, I suggest looking elsewhere. The more basic knowledge you pick up about SEO the better as it will help you to make a judgement when hiring an agency. Three basic rules that are true of SEO include:
- There are no guarantees in SEO
- If it sounds too good to be true than it probably is.
- Check authentic references – phone the person/company behind their references and case studies for assurance. If possible, get them to show you first-hand the result produced.
Or simply contact a trusted agency like Receptional and we’ll solve all of your marketing problems…