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Why Your Content Is Not Ranking

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It’s as frustrating as not getting any sales on launch day. You’ve released a beautiful website into the world and applied keywords to make it the first choice for those who type a relevant word or phrase into Google. But no matter what you try, your site doesn’t appear or is very hard to spot and demands overly specific keywords. Hopefully you’ve noticed this situation early, far before you attempt any kind of marketing.

Consider this article a comprehensive checklist on every possible reason why your content is not ranking. We’ll start with the most essential things that have to happen for a website to rank, and move on to the more specific issues with a website that is visible in Google, but barely. Soon you’ll be on track to putting your content in front of the people who need it.

The Site Isn’t Indexed

In order for Google to list your site in search results, it has to explore and keep a record of that site and its pages. Otherwise, your site is quite literally hidden from view through all but a direct entry of the site address.

When you search for your own site in Google and it’s not indexed, you’ll likely find only one option:, also known as the Google Search Console. From there, you can verify your site in Google’s servers and finally submit your main URL. The Google Search Console is a great tool for those who are having trouble getting their website visible. However, getting a site ranked is a troubleshooting, article-worthy topic by itself. From here on out, let’s address the more common and likely problem for content creators: poor rankings that lead to low traffic.

Index-Unfriendly Web Design

Google wants to not only show something relevant to those who typed in a search term, but also something that looks nice and comes across as professional. This is why it’s vital that you make your site in such a way that Google will find it more favorable. Focus your blog or article content to make each page rank for a specific topic and three or four related keywords. Use keywords in the title of your content pieces and in the first and last paragraphs, and make them part of the URLs. You’ll find that Google appreciates common sense and good expository writing rules.

There are some visual and user-experience elements that also help your site rank higher. Organize your content with headings and subheadings (though you need not stuff them with keywords), and provide descriptions and alt tags for your images. The latter is especially nice because it helps the visually impaired understand what’s there. Make your content more trustworthy off the bat by linking to credible and relevant websites such as academic institutions or news stories. Perfect your SERP snippet and avoid glaring flaws like overly large images, broken links, etc.

Suboptimal Keyword Targeting

Image via Flickr by aronbaker2

There are two ways that you might be focusing on the wrong keywords for your content’s SEO. The first is chasing keywords that are too competitive. Sure, general, high-traffic keywords are nice, but if thousands of other, already-established websites are using them too, you’ll find it extremely difficult to get anywhere close to the front page. The other problem is the opposite, when your keywords are too long-tail and have very few people typing them in. When looking for pizza, most people will type exactly that, not “artisan independent pizza near Portland.”

It takes time, but the only thing that really works (for businesses with a limited budget) is to target relevant keywords that are as high traffic and low on competition as possible. Targeting only high-competition keywords is a fast way to burn money, and targeting only long-tail keywords is an easy way to waste time. There are all sorts of happy middle-ground keywords that provide regular visitors if you take this balanced approach.

Never Stuff Keywords

If there’s only one thing you take away from this article, it’s that you must never force yourself to appear more relevant to a certain keyword, high-competition or otherwise, by stuffing in into your content. Many websites make poor quality content designed only as a Christmas tree to hang as many shiny keywords as possible, baiting however many visitors they can. You must not come across as similar to websites like this, or Google will punish you with obscurity.

The first goal with your website should be to create high-quality, relevant, irresistible content for your audience. In that process, you will find natural opportunities to add the right keywords. Don’t push any harder than that. It’s not just people who can spot phony tactics like keyword stuffing. These days, Google’s indexing bots know what SEO-desperate websites look like at a glance, so don’t adopt any of their tactics.

Lack of Backlinking Foundation

Backlinks are simple, but probably the most powerful barrier to ranking your website. When trusted websites have links to your web pages, you share some of their credibility in Google’s eyes. It’s a generative process, too, so there’s nothing lost from the linking site, as long as you don’t have poor trust metrics that could lower theirs.

Build a link profile by connecting and collaborating with the best influencers you can. Why the best? Because quality is what matters. Focus your resources on getting one large, credible site to link back to you, and it’ll be worth far more than the dozens of unimportant sites that link back to you with little incentive. Check the traffic and metric contributions from your backlinks every day in your SEO and analytics tool, and the growth from your first results will inspire you to keep at it.

If you find your content not ranking as well as you wished, or at all, the effort and funds put into creating that content will be going to waste, so make sure that your site is fully searchable before you flip the switch on any marketing efforts. That means not just appearing when people search for you specifically, but when they search the keywords you’re using.

Google continues to improve its indexing and change its rules to show higher quality results. No longer are we living in the online world circa 2005, where simply having keywords could get you visibility. Your focus should be chiefly on providing excellent content that keeps an audience coming back, with smart keyword use and targeting close behind.

About the author

Shane Hall