Content Marketing Consultant, 5+ Years of Project Management and Digital Marketing Experience
November 5th, 2019
As a content marketing consultant at IMPACT, one of the most common challenges I encounter with clients when we’re first starting to work together is that their site is not ranking well in search engines.
“I’m not getting enough leads to my site.”
“Inbound isn’t quite working for us.”
“We've done the keyword research and we're creating content, but we’re not seeing the results."
“We’re not seeing the ROI of our blogging efforts.”
These marketers may be doing some version of content marketing already. Perhaps they’re blogging regularly, or perhaps they recently redesigned their website.
They may even have numerous rounds of keyword research under their belts, but they’re still not showing up on the first few pages of Google.
If any of this sounds familiar, I can understand why you’d be frustrated, especially if you feel like you’re putting in loads of effort with no payoff and no clear indication as to why it’s not working.
There can be dozens of reasons why content on your site isn’t ranking, but most of the time, there are just a handful of factors that are most likely the culprits, as we’ll dive into below.
So while this isn’t an all-inclusive list, chances are that if you’re not ranking, it’s one or more of the following factors that may be holding you back. Before diving into the list, though, it’s worth getting on the same page about why we put such an emphasis and importance on “ranking” after all.
Why ranking is so important
At the end of the day, your website is likely working well when it generates great leads for your sales team. But the question that you may be wondering next is probably, “Does it matter where those leads to the site come from, like PPC, organic, social, paid social, direct traffic, or email?”
If we’re talking the most cost-effective and efficient way to bring in new leads, organic search holds the most promise.
Organic search allows you to be seen by people who don’t know you exist yet but are looking for the solution or service you offer – and it doesn’t require an ad budget to do so! The determinant of whether organic search will work for you comes down to ranking well on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
It can really be pretty surprising what the ROI of getting your site to rank well in Google can be. Using the keyword tracking tool SEMrush, for example, I can see what my clients would need to pay in paid traffic to get the same exposure they’re getting organically for the same keywords. In some cases, like for one of our case study clients, it’s more than $30,000 per month.
Yes, I said that right, not $30,000 annually, but on a monthly basis.
But instead, guess how much they’re paying for that exposure?
They’re just paying for the salary for whoever is responsible for creating that content for their site, which is much less than $30,000 per month!
(And listen, there is a place for PPC as part of a comprehensive strategy, that’s why IMPACT has experts to help clients with it.)
Now that we understand why ranking is so important, you may be thinking, “I want in! So why aren’t I ranking too?”
Let’s dive into some of the main factors at play for why you might not be on the first page of Google already — and explain what you can do to get there.
10 reasons why your site isn’t ranking well in Google
1. Your site speed is too slow
Guess how long it takes most sites to load on mobile?
On average, sites take about 5 or 6 seconds. However, guess how long most users are going to stick around before they leave the page?
We’re looking at more like 3 seconds.
That discrepancy means people aren’t getting what they need fast enough.
An important thing to note is that Google looks at your engagement metrics, like people sticking around on your site versus “bouncing” right off, as a way to determine whether people are finding your site valuable. If your site appears to be valuable, it’ll help your rankings, and vice versa.
If users aren’t even willing to stick around for your page to load, they won’t have an opportunity to see the value that you offer, and search engines will likely negatively impact your rankings accordingly.
Many times, fixing the problem of slow site speed may come down to reducing image file sizes, minimizing the number of videos on a single page, and generally reducing the number of HTTP requests for your site.
Check out the content below, including an interview with Tim Ostheimer and article by Daniel Escardo, IMPACT developers, for more tips to improve your site speed:
First off, if you’re not already familiar with why all companies are in the business of trust, check out this video from IMPACT partner Marcus Sheridan:
Like Marcus explains, all businesses (regardless of industry, size, B2B, or B2C, etc.) are ultimately only going to be successful if people trust them enough to purchase their product or service.
This probably sounds like common sense and something we can all relate to as buyers, but you should always be asking, what is my company doing to build that trust?
Well, first, we all know what doesn’t build trust:
We’ve all ended up on websites or speaking with companies where we immediately feel like we were bombarded with sales pitches when we were really just looking for information and some honest help. (Note: And just because the sales pitch bombardment is more common than ever doesn’t make it effective.)
As buyers, we want to be heard, understood, and informed so we can find the best solution for us.
How to build trust in your content
To build that trust, and to make sure your prospects feel heard, understood, and helped, we need to address their biggest questions, worries, and concerns on our website. This is the heart of what the They Ask, You Answer philosophy is all about.
With that said, take an honest look at your blog content.
If you’re blogging on a regular basis, but your site isn’t ranking, take a look at what your content is about and how it’s being framed.
Do all your blogs have an undertone about how your company is the best, why someone should buy from you, or why someone needs to talk to a sales member?
It’s not enough to just be creating content and blogs for your site, but it needs to be helpful and trustworthy information. This means hitting on the Big 5 topics that are guaranteed to drive traffic, leads, and sales.
And it’s not enough to just write about those topics; it’s equally as important how you do it: the goal should be to build trust and give the reader honest, unbiased information – not to convince them to buy from you.
Take an honest look
Take a look at your site pages.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, your site shouldn’t be all about you. Instead, it should focus on what problems your product/service can fix for your prospects.
If your site is all company-focused, despite how optimized it is for search engines, it’s not building trust between your brand and the user, and it may have a hard time ranking as a result.
Another way to build trust on your site is by leveraging the power of video. When your prospects are able to see, hear, and get a vibe of who you are before you ever know they exist, you can bet that they’re more likely to be open to talking to you about your product or service.
3. Your content isn’t targeting the right keywords
You’re going to have a hard time ranking if it’s not clear to search engines what questions you’re trying to answer (and therefore rank for). Content needs to be clear enough so people can understand quickly what it is that you’re offering, not just site pages filled with industry jargon that people may not be searching for. You can do this by doing keyword research for your content.
This doesn’t just apply to blog articles, but to any page of your website.
There’s plenty that goes into optimizing for SEO (which we’ll discuss further), but at the basics, you need the content on your site to clearly relay to what your service/product/company is solving for and how people are searching for it.
How to fix this
To get started with making sure you’re targeting the right keywords, start with some keyword research.
As a side note, it may be interesting to see what keywords your site is currently ranking for (you can do this with organic research domain reports from a keyword tracking tool like SEMRush).
All keywords are not created equal (ex. an IT company ranking in the first position in Google for Charity Challenge won’t do much to drive qualified leads and prospects).
This shows why it’s important to identify the keywords you’ll want to target through your content strategy that will actually drive results for your business. And it’s not enough to just know how you refer to your business. Put yourself in the shoes of your prospects for how they’re talking about your product or service. Then create a content strategy that works those keywords into them.
4. You’re not publishing regularly
As you saw above, it’s not enough to just be publishing blogs every week if it’s not the right quality. However, even optimized content needs to be published at a regular cadence to really see search rankings pick up.
There are numerous reasons that as content consultants at IMPACT, we recommend publishing at least 2-3 pieces of new content per week. For one, it keeps you in front of your prospects and keeps you top of mind for those already familiar with you. It lets them know that you’re still relevant.
Ever visit a site that looks like it hasn’t been updated in years? A fresh stream of blog content helps your prospects know you’re still in the game, and the content on your site is still relevant.
Second, and more importantly to this discussion, it increases your opportunities and likelihood of ranking well in Google. The more content you have on your site, the more opportunities that Google has to index your content for different keywords.
Building off of that, if Google starts to notice you’re publishing content on a regular basis, it’ll readjust its crawl timelines on your site and visit more frequently.
It’s almost like taking a trip to the post office to check for any mail in your PO Box (do some people still have these and know what I’m talking about?). If you’re used to not getting mail delivered there for an extended period of time, you’re probably going to be less incentivized to check it every single day. In the same way, if you’re getting new mail every day, it’s likely you’ll remember to stop by on a regular basis.
In terms of blogging, sites who haven’t regularly been publishing content may have gotten Google accustomed to only crawling their site on an infrequent basis, maybe every couple weeks or so.
This is almost like being the person who is picked last for kickball in the schoolyard, or the person who is passed up for a promotion at work. When it comes to keyword rankings, you might be the last site on Google’s “mind” for a keyword ranking promotion.
However, making regular publishing a habit gets Google to come crawling around more often – within minutes or hours for some of our content all-stars – which is beneficial for your content to have better chances to rank.
There are blogs and guides and webinars just expounding on the topic of SEO because there’s so much to say.
From having an SSL certificate for your site to having appropriate headers, titles, meta descriptions, there’s plenty of on-page SEO basics that should be implemented on every page of your site.
After all, search engine optimization is all about how you can make your content stand out in Google’s eyes as the best piece of content that it can display for users who are searching for keywords pertaining to your industry.
Think about it: you’ve probably made a handful of Google searches just within the last 24 hours. But let me ask you a question: When is the last time you went to the second or third page of Google for your search? How often would you say that happens?
At the end of the day, Google’s goal is to satisfy your inquiry as quickly as possible by bringing the most relevant and helpful content to the top of the search engine results pages.
How to implement SEO best practices
If you want to alert Google that you’re interested in ranking for certain topics, questions, or keywords, following SEO best practices is the way that you can communicate that.
While there’s too much to dive into here, the very condensed basics come down to optimized titles, keywords, headers, structure of articles, meta descriptions, and URLs.
At the heart of SEO in 2019 and beyond is creating content that’s more user-focused: whether it's the actual topic and ways of honestly answering your prospects’ questions, or visually providing the best structural/formatting experience for users as they’re reading through your site.
While none of these best practices are necessarily rocket science, it’s a fine art to get them all accomplished in every single article. It’s almost like how the test of a fine chef is often how well they can cook something terribly simple – like an egg. While anyone can cook an egg, it takes a degree of finesse and experience to do it well.
The same goes for publishing an article that follows the best practices for SEO.
Site organization is also an important factor in ranking.
If the structure of your site isn’t clear, you may have a high number of users who end up on a page of your site and then “bounce” right off back to the SERP pages to try to get a better answer to their inquiry.
This is what’s called a bounce rate, and Google doesn’t like it when it’s too high. If more people are coming to your site and immediately leaving rather than sticking around and digesting more of your content, it alerts the search engines that your site probably isn’t very good, and your site likely won’t rank very well compared to your competition.
Give users a clear map
At the heart of great user experience on a site is usually the navigation menu.
If users aren’t able to clearly know what you do – and what their next action should be – after just a few seconds on your site, then it may be time to sit down and review your value proposition and site navigation strategy.
Think about offering some self-configuration tools to give users the feeling that they’re getting a personalized website experience that helps them get to what they’re looking for in the quickest time possible.
Also, make sure your navigation menu labels and even blog categories are easy to grasp and understand quickly, without much additional thought required. Remember, you want to speak in their language, so stay away from jargon.
7. You’re in a super competitive market
Listen, some industries are going to be easier to rank for than others.
For an agency trying to rank for searches related to inbound marketing, for instance, it’s going to be tough. (Think about it: We’re a bunch of marketers talking about marketing. We’re all trying to rank for many of the same keywords.)
But imagine how many blast-resistant building manufacturers, for instance, are embracing creating this content on their sites? Probably not as many, if any at all. Those folks typically don’t spend much time marketing; instead, they’re building portable buildings that save people’s lives on in the case of an explosion at an oil refinery.
And in fact, that’s why our blast-resistant building content consulting client, RedGuard, is ranking for featured snippets (we call this Position Zero, because it’s even better/higher up than being in position one. Basically, it’s Google gold!) for some of their first articles they ever published after working with us.
What if you’re one of them?
So yes, the industry and market you’re in does matter, but not in the way that gives you an excuse to not follow the best practices listed in this article.
If you’re in one of those super-competitive spaces, it just means you have to be on your game even more. You need to cook that metaphorical egg (see reference in #6 if you’re confused) as if you’re Wolfgang Puck, as not just any good ol’ fashioned sunny side up egg will work.
This might mean going the extra mile with your content: having video on each of your pages, infographics and images professionally designed to accompany your content.
When you’re in a competitive space, it just means your room for error is slightly less, and that even if you’re doing everything right, it might take a little longer to see the rankings move up for your content. So if you’re not a Featured Snippet yet, it might just take a little more time.
It might also mean your content strategy needs to be even more thoughtful and bold. What’s an angle that hasn’t been approached yet when it comes to your industry? How can you talk about it differently? What’s an aspect of your field that’s unrepresented?
Creating content around those areas will be vital for success in a competitive market.
8. You’re not crediting a trustworthy author
This builds off of the previous point about “all industries not being created equal.”
This most heavily impacts specific content concerning personal health, medicine/medical technology, and legal topics.
In fact, E.A.T. stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
The goal is to reward those sites that have a trusted industry expert as authors for content that’s really going to impact people’s health, medical treatment, or legal outlook.
Think about it, do you want a random freelancer telling you about the newest updates to a medical procedure or health practice? Wouldn’t you rather than information come from a trusted, experienced doctor or medical professional? I know I would! And now Google does, too.
What to do about it
If you’re in one of those industries, make sure you have an author listed for those articles who is reputable in that industry. Don’t just list your company as the author.
Also, give authors a set bio page on the website and have it link back to their LinkedIn page to make it easier for the search engines to put the pieces together that this is an expert talking. Check out IMPACT’s team pages for an example of how this can look.
9. You have a “no-index” tag set on your pages
A no-index meta tag is a set of coding that you can inject on your website pages to basically tell search engines not to crawl (and hence, rank) it.
You might think, Why would anyone ever use that? Who WOULDN’T want a page to rank in Google if it could?
This is actually pretty common on specific website pages.
For instance, you’ll probably want this no-index setting on thank you pages for your offers or even on the downloads themselves.
If you didn’t have it, it’d be like someone Passing Go (not needing to submit your form) and Collecting $200 (getting the download anyway)!!
In addition, many times if you’ve had a new site designed, developers may have had this tag originally added to your site pages while they were still being created and worked on and then may have forgotten to take it off once you published live for the world to see.
What to do about it
In general, no-index coding should only be on specifically chosen pages of your site. If you’re not sure if this is your situation, you can plug in a URL to a site like this to test it for you.
If it does have the tag, that could be why it’s not showing up in Google. Go into the back end of your content management system and remove those tags for that page.
Each platform looks different for how you can do this or how it’s set up (whether on a page-by-page basis or global for whole sections of the site). To update the tag on a single website or landing page in Hubspot, for instance, just go to Settings and then remove the coding added for the no-index.
10. You’re not optimizing older posts
Ranking on the first page of Google isn't a trophy you set on your wall and admire.
It’s a constantly moving target, and if you’re not consistently doing your best to keep up with it, you will probably fall behind in the rankings.
The same goes for content that you published eons ago that still isn’t ranking.
Content may be out of date, missing a key element that people want to know about, or just have an outdated structure to it and such posts may need to be revisited and reworked.
A comprehensive content strategy doesn’t just include creating new posts, but also optimizing posts that have been on your site for a while.
What should you do about it?
There are likely dozens of articles that are worth revisiting for an opportunity to improve your ranking.
However, aiming to optimize ALL your articles (depending on how much content you’ve produced in the past) can be a very time extensive endeavor, and to be honest, it might not be worth tackling them all, especially if you’re not sure what you’re trying to specifically optimize them for.
There are specific “buckets” (or categories) of articles you can identify that will have the most bang for your buck if you put some more time in them.
These buckets of articles can include those with high bounce rates, those stuck on the second or third page of Google, and those who are getting lots of impressions on search pages but not a reasonable number of clicks associated.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of reasons why content or a site may not be ranking, and it can be tempting to try to optimize each and every detail.
However, it’s all about progress, not perfection.
This list is by no means all-inclusive of every potential factor in not ranking. For instance, there might be deeper technical SEO issues, or your keyword cluster strategy may not be effective.
However, this list should give you a good grasp of where your gaps are that can be improved starting even today. You’ll notice that many of the issues boil down to the quality of the content on your site.
Also, bear in mind that you may have a tendency to pick and choose which from the list above you want to take action on and which you don’t. Unfortunately, without having the basics – a fast website with regularly-published, helpful, trustworthy content that’s optimized for SEO – some of the other details may only get you so far.
For most clients I work with as a content consultant, just tackling the issue of trust is a good framework to start with.
So put yourself in the shoes of your prospects, take an honest look at your content (or ask someone else to review it), and gauge whether it’s more helpful or promotional content.
Read through it line by line and from a reader’s perspective andhonestly rate whether it’s something users will feel is helpful or more sales-y. Ask yourself questions like:
“Is this content:
trying to convince your reader how great you are?”
trying to convince your reader how great your product/service is?”
making blanket statements about how you’re a fit for everyone?”
trying to push them towards one alternative over another, even though it may not be the best choice for them?”
Once you have the compass set for the direction your content and site needs to be taking and the steps you need to take to get there, you’ve built the foundation to start seeing some improvement in your rankings.