If there's one thing that content marketers, publishers, and PPC advertisers know all too well it's that SEO is hard. When fighting for dominance in search results, it's an often brutal, time-sucking series of tactics and tasks that never seems to end. Not only is there no guarantee of success, any success earned can disappear overnight.
Let's look at some reasons why you may be losing the battle for SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) glory.
SERPs in a nutshell
Before we dive in, we should wrap our head around SERPs and their importance in your SEO strategy.
SERPs are valuable real estate to marketers, content owners, and advertisers and they're all vying for the same space on those pages.
There are two types of content displayed on SERPs: organic and paid.
The organic results are the ones displayed based on the overall ranking of the page or domain in relation to the value of the search terms submitted. In other words, the higher a result appears in an organic search, the higher the value and quality Google has assigned to it.
The paid results are the ones that advertisers have paid for. You can tell which ones are paid by the indicator under the page title. Exceptions here that aren't considered paid are business listings and maps.
If you're buying paid results and involved in pay-per-click marketing, you're obviously facing a set of challenges that includes competing with other advertisers, but for now we'll focus on organic SERPs.
SERP derps are real
A SERP derp is our (obviously silly) way of referring to the confusion and frustration that occurs (and, boy, does it!) while slaving over your analytics, trying to figure what's not working.
Let's consider some of the reasons why you may be struggling with your SEO efforts and what you can do right now to help keep you from throwing your computer into a river and running away to join the circus.
1. Your domain isn't secure
One of the quickest fixes you can make to your site to improve your ranking is to ensure that it has an SSL certificate installed. This changes your URL from http:// to https:// and can not only improve your page ranking, it contributes to helping keep your site safe from malicious attacks.
Google factors in whether or not a site has an SSL certificate when ranking them, so if you don't want to risk being shoved into relative SERP obscurity, go https:// as soon as possible - and don't forget to update your Search Console when you do!
2. Your sitemap.xml is missing
One of the first things you should do when you launch a new or updated website is to submit your sitemap.xml file to Google for indexing. Without this, pages on your site can go unindexed and obviously that's not ideal.
If you don't have a sitemap.xml file (which should be located in the root directory of your site) and use a Content Management System, you may need to install a plugin that will generate one for you. You can also use a sitemap generator and upload the resulting file to your server.
Once your sitemap is uploaded, head over to Google Search Console to submit it for indexing.
3. You're not utilizing Search Console
Speaking of Search Console, let's point out that it's one of the most critical tools you can use to manage your site's SEO.
Some of its features includes:
- Claiming ownership of your properties (domains)
- Sitemap indexing
- Mobile analysis and enhancements
- Coverage analysis (tracking issues with indexing and server errors, including redirects)
- Performance analysis (clicks and impressions by keyword, page, country, device, and search appearance)
You can also access Search Console data via the Acquisition section of Google Analytics.
4. Your social presence is as boring as a Fantastic Four reboot
While Google has stated that social media is not a significant ranking factor for websites, a Searchmetrics study suggests that this isn't exactly the case and that likes and shares do matter.
CognitiveSEO also suggests that the higher a site's ranking, the stronger their social presence, as summarized in their graphic:
What can you do to leverage your social media content to influence your site ranking?
Strengthening your social media presence takes time, patience, and throwing a little you-know-what at the wall to try new things, but ultimately you want to focus on doing the following:
- Maintain a consistent brand. The more consistent your brand - which includes not just creative elements but also the tone and message in your content - the easier to maintain brand identification.
- Engage your viewers. Respond to post comments and engage with your audience. Keep the social in social media. Don't feed the trolls, sure, but not at the expense of those who you want to retain as followers.
- Post eye candy. Social media users love images and video. That's no secret. Create some of your own and share them.
- Use relevant hashtags. Don't overdo it, though. Hashtags are about connecting topics, not stating your emotions. Maybe this last point is more of a personal peeve, I admit. #tagsAreOK #seo #serpDerp #CatsOfInstagram #RethinkingMyLife #blessed
5. You think it's still all about keywords
Back in the day, SEO was pretty much about keywords. So obsessed did SEOs and content writers become that Google started penalizing pages that didn't use keywords organically, otherwise known as keyword stuffing.
Those days are long gone and good riddance.
Today, two of Google's most important ranking signals are links and content. We'll expand on both of these later.
Also, we've said it before, we'll say it again: stop obsessing over keywords.
6. You're not linking internally enough
We've cleared some of the air when it comes to backlinks, but when it comes to internal and external links, you can't go overboard.
An internal link is one that links from one of your pages or posts to another, building connectivity which helps Google recognize relevance between your pages - but be smart about it because the key words here are relevance and usefulness. If your links are both of those things, then huzzah!
Let's put it this way. If you're selling homemade soap and on your product pages you link to a post on your site's blog that's about how much you love your cat, Google's going to see the lack of relevance there and that link may have little to no value. Linking to similar products or product support pages instead? Great!
Yes, anchor links (links that jumps to a section of a page) do count but avoid trickery like using them solely to increase internal links to specific sections. For example, if you have, let's say, five anchor links on a page that all goes to the same spot, Google may only count the first of those five.
Look for opportunities to link internally. A lack of these links can affect your ranking quite a lot but be careful with how many internal links you add to a single page. Too many and you may risk watering down the value of each of those links.
Be picky with your external links
One thing you want to be careful with when linking your content to external websites is that any red flags Google has placed on that site could negatively impact your own site's ranking.
If you're unsure as to the value Google has placed on an external link, simply add the rel="nofollow" attribute to your anchor tag. It basically lets Google know that you're linking to that site but don't want any connection made beyond that either in terms of subject matter or credibility.
7. Your content needs a personality boost
So, you're doing everything else correctly and still not seeing the SERP wins you want.
Maybe it's time to consider that your content just sucks - and Google knows it.
Writing content that keeps your visitors coming back for more isn't about frequency, it's about quality. It's better to write one fantastic article a week than one yawn-inspiring one every day.
So, maybe your content does stink. What do you do about it?
Write about what you know. One of the key attributes of a high-ranking website is one who publishes content that demonstrates authority by consistency in subject matter,
Write like a person, not a marketer. If you're writing articles as part of a marketing strategy, you have to write like a person and not come across like you just spent a couple of days piecing together trendy keywords and buzz phrases to lure your readers in.
Just say 'no' to clickbait titles. It may be tempting, but steer clear from clickbait. There are many reasons, not least of which being they can jack up your bounce rate.
Google's ranking signals are more and more focusing on the user experience and content quality. So should you!
If you'd like a few more suggestions, we recently wrote an entire article of some tips to fire up your inspiration.
8. Your site gets less traffic than an Arby's drive thru
Naturally, if your content stinks, then your incoming traffic is probably abysmal as well.
Then again, there are exceptions.
When studying your analytics data, you're looking at traffic coming from one of these sources:
- Direct - Someone typing your URL in the browser's address bar
- Organic Search - Search engines, excluding ads
- Paid - Ads on sites, including those appearing on SERPs
- Referrals - Links to you from other sites
- Social - Links on yours and others' social media profiles and posts
- Email - Any link to you clicked from inside an email
Referral traffic is important
And, as we've covered, the quality of your content and how effective your site's user experience is will go a long way to helping you improve your bounce rate. All the referring traffic in the world won't help as much if your visitors aren't sticking around to engage your content.
The question of backlinks
Odds are that there are sites out there linking to yours. We call these backlinks and they have been one of the more important ranking signals.
But is this still the case? Do backlinks still matter?
As it turns out, perhaps not as much anymore.
As the study suggests, backlinks from sites with a high ranking and authority can still possibly help give your own ranking a boost but the trend seems to be that backlinks are becoming less and less important over time. Personally, I'm not 100% convinced that backlinks from quality sites are losing that much influence but it certainly does look that way.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't monitor your backlinks, though, because you do want to keep weeding out spam backlinks. They're called spam because they can tank your site's ranking.
Some characteristics of a spammy backlink includes:
- The domain's not indexed by Google
- A low Domain Authority
- Page(s) that include 100+ external links
Tools like Monitor Backlinks or Ahrefs can help you identify and scrub these links so your ranking doesn't take a hit. By disavowing those links, you're essentially asking Google to consider those links as spam/bad links when ranking you.
Bonus item: You're not leveraging YouTube
If you're not on board the YouTube train, you'd better get on it and fast.
YouTube is the second most popular site in the world and has huge potential for marketers as a successful part of their SEO strategy.
Check out just a few of the stats:
- 1.9 billion active users per month
- 1 billion hours of YouTube content are watched per day
- Millennials prefer YouTube two to one over traditional television
- Google is looking to YouTube to be its next driver of growth
- Gangnam Style was so popular that it broke YouTube’s video counter
You may be wondering how this applies to SERPs.
If you look at YouTube as another search engine (and it is!), you can see by the stats that the potential for marketers should be as enticing as Google itself.
Clearly YouTube is a powerhouse and taking advantage of the user traffic and Google's commitment to keeping this juggernaut a key part of its growth should be a priority for anyone serious about SEO.
Check out a recent article we shared with some pointers on optimizing your YouTube channel for search.
This may be a lot to handle but try one at a time and see what results you get. Keep in mind that the results you want won't be instantaneous but monitor things and don't be afraid to try something different. You never know what you may discover!
As always, we're here to help!
- 6 Things (Possibly) Hurting Your Website's SEO — and How to Fix Them
- How to Keep SEO a Priority Without Being Boring
- How to Optimize Your YouTube Channel for SEO
- Why Accessibility Should Be a Priority for Your Website
- 10 Things that Scare the BEGEEZUS out of Marketers
- 5 Ways to Know Your Website Needs Help from the Experts