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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in 2018. As of June 2021, it’s been updated and republished to reflect current information. The article was cleaned up, recommendations were reassessed, and references refreshed.

“How can my website rank at the top of search engines for keywords related to my service and/or product?”

That’s the million-dollar question every business wants answered.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a million-dollar answer. Or, at least, there isn’t one single million-dollar answer.

Your website might be lagging in the rankings for several different reasons. If you’ve been at this for a long time, and you still find yourself asking “Why isn’t my website ranking?”, consider the following possibilities as a starting point to your ascent to the search engine heavens.

You Haven’t Given It Enough Time

The first rule of SEO, especially in the beginning? Patience. According to this Google Webmaster video, SEO simply takes time.

We’ve linked the above Google video before, but we like to back up our claims like this whenever possible.

In it, she states that, in general, it takes four months to a year to first implement improvements and then for you to start seeing results.

To rank well, things need to be done, and they need to be done in order. (It will do you no good to build a bazillion links if they all go to a website that isn’t able to convert the traffic.)

It takes time to research, create, and implement a strategy and begin producing content.

Then it takes more time for Google to realize changes have been made, and then you must wait for the search engine to determine if you are really providing new value.

One thing is for sure, SEO is not an overnight process.

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Your Keyword May Not Mean What You Think

The term “SEO” is obviously an important one to us in particular (which we discussed in our blog about increasing traffic more than 200%). At one point, though, our homepage couldn’t be found in the rankings for that term at all. We didn’t do anything to the page to make it drop out of the rankings, it was just gone one day.

So, we really started looking closely at the search results page for that keyword.

We had been ranking on the second page for a long time, only ever able to crack #10 on occasion. And then it disappeared.

Our blog page, however, didn’t.

Turns out, when you really look at that first page, it’s easy to see that Google does not believe people searching for the term “SEO” are looking for a company to do the SEO for them.

Instead, they’re trying to find as much information about what SEO is or how it is done.

That’s why (not including paid results) nearly every result on the first page is a guide to SEO, a discourse on what SEO is, and whether you need it.

Google itself is currently hogging at least two spots on the front page.

So, for a while, we were of the opinion we simply couldn’t rank on the first page anymore. It’s simply not what Google considers an appropriate answer to the query of “SEO”.

Of course, just to prove us wrong, Google began ranking our homepage again.

The point of all this is that you may want to rank a certain page for a certain keyword, and despite all the good SEO you do, it never quite seems to break for you because the word means something different to you than it does to Google.

Take a closer look at the first page and see if maybe the types of results Google wants to show are different from the kind you want to provide.

Your Website’s Beauty is Only Skin Deep

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is certainly true when it comes to a search engine algorithm. While you may have web design renowned across the land for its stunning beauty to the human eye, Google may see it differently.

Why doesn’t Google appreciate it the way you do?

Perhaps you haven’t accounted for every SEO angle?

There could be any number of things holding you back, including:

  • Duplicate content
  • Insufficient content
  • Old, untouched, stale content
  • Confusing navigation
  • Slow load times
  • Split keyword focus, so there are multiple pages that could rank for a given word
  • Incomplete basics, such as metas, alt tags, and schema markup
  • No blog or other way to continually refresh your content

You Have Gone Unnoticed by the Internet at Large

Links are still a thing, and probably always will be. And while there are a bajillion ways to get them, not all of them are worth having, and some could actually be detrimental.

You need a good portfolio of links from various sources. Some should be no-follow, some should be from really good sites, some should be just normal sites.

Buying links is out of the question. Link schemes, also bad. It’s important to find natural ways to increase the good links and avoid the ones that may raise flags for Google.

Of course, links could be a problem in another way, too.

For example:

You’ve Been Noticed by the Wrong Part of the Web

Some people may start using some unethical tactics toward your website.

They don’t actually need a reason to do this. They may simply choose your website as a target to inject malicious code. Or they may start scraping your blog and republishing all your content. Or they could start building countless links to your site from questionable websites.

Google is pretty good at spotting a negative SEO attack, but you don’t want to risk the kind of penalty that could result from it, so stay on guard.

And this brings us to our next entry:

You’ve Been Put in the Google Penalty Box

Google’s Manual Action Penalty can completely remove your website from their search results.

If you’ve previously ranked really well and then dropped significantly (or even completely out of the rankings), you may be on the wrong side of a penalty.

The only thing you can do is check the Google Manual Actions report and start correcting the issues.

If you have received one of these reports, it means a human reviewer has determined that your website is no longer compliant with Goggle’s webmaster guidelines.

What could cause a Manual Action? According to Google, you could be penalized if the reviewer determines that you have:

  • A hacked site – Someone has uploaded and hidden malicious content on your site.
  • User-generated spam – Spam comments on forums or blogs.
  • Spammy freehosts – A significant portion of the pages hosted on a service are spammy.
  • Spammy structured markup – Markup on the page is outside the guidelines, like making some content invisible to users.
  • Unnatural links to your site – If you have a lot of links deemed artificial, deceptive, or manipulative (including buying links or participating in link schemes), you may be penalized.
  • Unnatural links from the site – Same as above, but now they’re coming from your site.
  • Thin content with little or no added value – Your pages need to offer some real value to users.
  • Cloaking or sneaky redirects – I.e., showing different pages to users and to Google.
  • Pure Spam – This includes most of the stuff already mentioned, just more aggressive and overt.
  • Cloaked images – Manipulative use of images in order to get more clicks.
  • Hidden text and keyword stuffing – These are oldies but goodies, and apparently, it’s still enough of a problem for Google to list it here.

To get out of the penalty box, you must first fix the issues, and then … wait. A review for reconsideration can take several days or weeks, or even longer depending on the request. The key is to keep on a the straight and narrow with all your website and marketing tactics.

You’re Not Using a Holistic Approach

SEO, content marketingsocial mediaPPC, email marketing and many other online endeavors all work together as a holistic strategy to drive traffic to your website. And they all matter when it comes to SEO because Google is looking at more signals than just those you’re putting out on your website.

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We’re not just trying to sell you on our other services, here. Online marketing is simply a far more rounded strategy than it once was.

Elements like time on site, number of clickthroughs, number of mentions around the internet, and engagement on social media all figure into your rankings. Granted, some of them affect your rankings more indirectly than others, but they all play an important role.

We’re not saying that posting regularly on Facebook is directly connected with better rankings.

We’re saying that building a community on social media will lead to more people visiting your site, clicking your links, and reading your content, which in turn, lead to more than just better rankings.

These days, though, the most common reason your website isn’t ranking is probably because your competition is doing more than you.

You’re Forgetting About Your Real Competition

At first glance, SEO might seem like it’s a battle royale between your website and Google. But remember, Google, though it certainly has its requirements, is just the middleman. The real competition lies between you and your competitors.

Search engine optimization is no longer a clandestine tactic known by only a select few. It’s now part of every marketing plan out there, and for every link you’re not building, and every blog you’re not publishing, and every video you’re not making, your competition might be. You’re all aiming to set up shop in a very limited space.

If you’ve been dipping your toes into SEO, you may start to see a little movement up the rankings. However, the simple fact is that those who wade out into the deeper end of SEO are going to see more results than you.

The bottom line: do more than your competition is doing. That starts with a thorough analysis of everything your competitors are doing and ends with you doing it even better!

You Need to Get Back to the Basics

You may be thinking that there is a lot to do to start climbing to the top of the search engine rankings.

And you’d be right.

But the best place to start may be simply getting back to the basics. You can start small and make simple changes to your website, even before you start thinking about whether you should hire an agency or go in-house for your SEO.

Have you checked your title tags, meta descriptions, and alt attributes? They may not have a huge impact, but they do carry some weight. And what about your keyword usage throughout the site? It seems simple, and it is, but it still matters.

If you’ve already done this, and you’re not ranking yet, you may just need to give it a little more time.

Or…

You may need to dive into a serious overhaul of your website.

Either way, examine your current situation, start small, and begin making the changes you can.

You may be surprised how much they help.

SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Download this ebook and see how all these components fit together to help you build your rankings.