So you’re trying DIY SEO, or maybe you hired an SEO company or consultant to do SEO for your business. It’s been three months, and your traffic, leads, and sales have not increased. You start to wonder why your SEO isn’t working, maybe SEO doesn’t work for your business, or you think you’ve failed.
As the frustration mounts, a ton of questions begin to run through your head, “how long should SEO take?”, “Should I hire someone instead of trying it myself?”, “Did I hire the wrong SEO company?”.
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 SEO 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.
Before taking any drastic measures, or implementing any risky and desperate SEO strategies, read over this list of possible reasons why your SEO is not working or may have failed.
Your Website Design Experience
Does your website delight users and look great on all devices? Was SEO included throughout the design and development process? Here are a few things to check:
- Was there a strategy outlined for your website design?
- Was a website information architecture strategy built and implemented?
- Was there a content strategy created and the on-site SEO optimization basics completed?
- Was there a transition plan created and implemented?
Here is a website design checklist to determine if your website was built correctly or if you overpaid for a website that search engines won’t want to rank and users will dislike
Your Website Speed
Does site speed affect your SEO rankings? Back in 2010, Matt Cutts announced that site speed will impact rankings but will carry less weight than other key ranking factors such as valuable content, relevance, authority links, etc.
With mobile browsing becoming a larger part of how users find and interact with your website, that’s no longer accurate. Speed is becoming more of an SEO ranking factor.
Does site speed affect your conversion rate? Research has found that 47% of your target audience expects your website to load in under two seconds.
With the vast number of site speed tools, including Pingdom or Google’s own PageSpeed Tool, there are no excuses why a website’s speed should not be optimized for SEO and users.
Your Content Has Gaps
Many times we talk with clients who want to drive traffic from Google for specific keywords and topics. When we do a basic gap analysis on their website, we find that they have little-to-no content for many of the keywords they want to target.
If you’re missing content, remember, you can’t rank for keywords and topics without content that proves to Google that you should.
You Created Bad Content
This checklist item is one of the top 3 reasons your SEO is not working. Google is utilizing machine learning more frequently in both their Panda and primary algorithm to identify high-value content and rank it within their organic search results.
If you’ve paid someone to create generic 500-word articles for your website, don’t expect to rank. Be prepared to invest in high-value content – articles, video, and infographics.
One of the strategies we help clients with is identifying content that is not performing and build a strategy to fix it – commonly known as a ROT analysis.
Content Is Not Optimized
- 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.
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 distribution or reseller models put the same product description across all their reseller’s websites, causing Google to filter many of them from their search results.
Content Can’t Be Found or is Blocked.
This speaks to how Google finds and indexes website content – which is by crawling links. In contrast, 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 altogether.
Is link building dead? Yes and no. Earning high-value links is still a primary ranking factor within Google’s algorithm, but Google has been tweaking the kind of links they will allow to pass the ranking value (link juice) to your website. So link building at its core is not dead, but how you earn links has evolved considerably over the years.
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 to gain links. Link building is about creating great website design 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.
So if your content is lacking the kind of links that Google wants to reward, your SEO will not work.
On the flip side of your website not having enough links, is it having links and a link graph that are over-optimized and look manipulative? To fight link spam and devalue websites that 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 been 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
Your Information Architecture Is Confusing
As mentioned above, Google wants to reward great experiences and website designs. A primary part of any great design is how the information is organized and the strategic approach to building the website’s taxonomy – also known as information architecture.
So ask yourself, “Is my website’s information architecture aligned with how my users think about my products or services and optimized for Google’s crawlers? If it’s not, your SEO could fail to earn rankings.
This checklist item is probably one of the top 3 reasons your SEO is not working. Link building (link earning) should not be an SEO strategy that is outsourced to the lowest bidder.
If your link building is not centered around creating great content and then marketing that content to earn links, you’re doing it wrong.
If you hired your link-building company based on price or a defined number of links per month, you could be setting yourself up for failure, or worse, permanently destroying your rankings and SEO.
You Thought You Could Get Away With It
Don’t be an idiot. You’re not smarter than Google engineers. You may get away with a tactic for a little while, but you will get caught if you try to implement manipulative or high-risk SEO tactics.
Get it out of your mind that you, an SEO, or any agency can trick or manipulate Google into ranking your website. SEO is a long-term strategy and does not include tricking or manipulating any bot or user.
You Hired Your SEO Company Based Primarily On Price
Do you think so little of your company that you would hand it over to someone who spams and tarnishes your brand name with low-value comment spam and poorly written articles? Stop searching for cheap SEO companies or choosing a company to market your business based on the lowest price.
Instead, partner with a company that will help you create a holistic SEO and website experience that your users will love. When choosing your digital agency to help you do SEO, think about building long-term value, creating great experiences, building your brand, and publishing great content.
The SEO agency or consulting team that will give you the best chance of succeeding with your SEO is probably not going to be the cheapest, but they will be worth it.
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.
This is a highly debated topic when it comes to the validity of its existence and the ability of a third party 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 webspam 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 is 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 from 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 weblogs, 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.