If you’ve gone to the trouble of developing great content you’ll want it to appear at the top of search results. Getting on that first page of results is key to reaching the biggest audience possible. These days search engines are so accurate at matching user intent with the right content that it is rare for a user to click through to the second page of results.
Let’s look at some of the common reasons why your website isn’t appearing high in the search results (or perhaps at all).
1. Content not relevant
Often the most common reason for poor search rankings is that the search engine algorithms have determined that your content isn’t the best match for user intent. Chances are your content is still included in results but it’s slipped down the rankings and is no longer visible on the first page. You’ll need to go back and look at your content and ensure that it addresses the needs of your target audience.
It also may mean that your choices of keywords are the same as those used by high-profile, long-established competitors and therefore you are not able to successfully compete for the top of the results page. This can be rectified by exploring alternative keywords that are relevant to your niche, particularly long-tail keywords that may not have been used.
It isn’t always easy but try to ensure that your content is fresh, relevant, engaging, and informative. Most importantly, make sure it directly answers the questions your customers might be asking. And don’t be afraid to try different forms of content e.g. podcasts, videos, slideshares etc.
2. Poor optimisation
These days, it’s not as simple as just:
- using a reliable host with a good reputation
- employing good hierarchical structure in our site design
- using human-readable URLs
- including meta descriptions (such as title, page description, and alt text for images)
- specifying which page is canonical (authoritative) when there is duplicate content
With Google being the world’s dominant search engine, they are influential in shaping the future of search rankings. So to continue to rank highly in the search results you need to continually monitor their latest updates and optimise everything according to their guidelines, including:
- developing (or updating) your content using a mobile-first strategy
- ensuring your content is responsive so it adapts to all devices and screen sizes
- switching to HTTPS (see Let’s Encrypt for more information)
- making sure your pages’ load speed is “lightning” fast, including on slower mobile networks (that means optimising images and streamed video content and avoiding browser plug-ins)
- ensuring an awesome user experience for site visitors, including navigation on small screens.
3. Indexing Problems
SEO helps search engine algorithms understand our content so that it can be categorised effectively but that doesn’t necessarily mean your website is search bot friendly. Part of optimisation is ensuring that search bots are able to crawl your site as effortlessly as possible. Sometimes they run into problems and skip content. To figure out if your site might have some indexing issues, follow these steps:
- Login to Google Search Console and add your site. Then explore how Google sees your content with its Fetch Under Crawl, you can identify crawling errors. If you’ve made site-wide changes you can also submit a sitemap and request a recrawl.
- Test your pages in the browser directly by prepending “site:” to the exact URL. For example: “site:www.example.com/products/choco-peanuts.html”. If the page doesn’t load it suggests it wasn’t indexed. You can also use online services like Pingdom to check site availability.
- Check that you aren’t deliberately blocking access to search bots through the use of a txt file or noindex meta tag. It’s normal to use these to protect private parts of websites but if you do it wrong you might end up blocking more than you intended.
4. Your site has been removed for inappropriate content
If you’ve eliminated the obvious factors in the steps above there’s always a chance that the search engine itself is blocking your pages. Google gets thousands of takedown notices everyday—so many that the process is automated and, unfortunately, not always accurate.
Possible reasons why your site may have been removed include:
- Someone may have filed a DMCA takedown request against your site because they believe you have posted copyrighted material.
- Google may have blocked your content because it has determined it is inappropriate. For example, your site may have inadvertently used words that match known trigger words for activities like terrorism or fake news.
Unfortunately, if you have reached this stage, reversing the takedown is not always an easy process. In the first instance, the best thing to do is register your issue using Google’s online DMCA counter notification form.