I’m coming up to the 6 year mark in SEO (ergh, does that mean I’ve got to be a grown up now?) and in that time, I’m super regularly asked questions like: ‘why does this site rank higher than me, even though I’ve got a higher domain authority?’, and ‘I can’t seem to get any organic traffic or even get any rankings. Why not?’. I’ve done more little bits of analysis on these sort of businesses than everything else: more than outreach, more than strategy, and even more than reporting, but the same few sticky problems keep cropping up. So, here they are, plus some tips on how you might solve them: might save me some work, eh?
1) No targeting
If most of your audience can’t tell what each page is for, or what your services actually mean, then how do you expect Google to know? That’s what targeting is: finding what your audience are looking for, and targeting your products/service towards that demand by using keywords people are likely to use to search for you. And even if Google manages to decipher your thick cloud of a company tagline (‘clear, cloud, solution, consulting, product, optimisation, learnings, logistical, clarity, growth hacking, big data, top line strategies’), it’s unlikely people are going to type all that in, if all they’re looking for is a digital marketing agency. You might rank #1 all day and night, but with zero searches every month, you’ll get nothing from it. No visitors = no sales = bad.
This is super simple, but the problem comes from how you think about and communicate your brand: you’re thinking about what you call your product, not what your customer calls it. For instance, I might call what I do ‘organic search’, but my clients tend to prefer ‘SEO’, so we label it as SEO in all of our marketing. You need to think about how your client sees you, and figure out how to label your brand, and product or service accordingly.
To find the right keywords to use, try to use a combination of:
Keyword planner: Search marketing and Google 101. Keyword planner is first stop for targeting planning. Try putting your services or products in: do any numbers come up? Don’t forget to scroll through a couple of pages to get some fresh ideas for terms you might use.
Tip: make sure you use the “Keyword Ideas” tab, not “Ad group ideas”.
Pro tip: check the monthly trends, and up your marketing in the key hotspots in the year.
Competitors: what are your competition calling what you offer? If you’re getting a big fat zero in the keyword planner (or just a 40 searches per month), try throwing in the terms that they’re using and see what comes up.
Tip: Check your competition’s title tag and description too: run a search for that particular URL in Google and see what it throws back. Any different?
Pro tip: See how the top ranking sites are being referred to in social media, and from linking sites. For social: do a quick Twitter search of the brand name in tweets. For links: I recommend MajesticSEO – just pop their URL in and see what happens (note: use a paid licence for full access).
Then, just drop the keywords you find in a spreadsheet with the relevant URL in the next column. Congratulations, you just learned keyword research and keyword mapping.
2) Meta data
This one goes hand in hand with not targeting your audience properly. No, it’s not groundbreaking, but it still comes up time and time again: even from sites that apparently have an SEO team! One of the very first things a marketer can do to influence organic performance is to have a good title tag written (hence the tie in to targeting: make sure you’re targeting a phrase that people are looking for!) to boost ranking factor, then a good meta description to help increase your Click-Through-Rate (CTR), because meta descriptions don’t influence rankings.
Write short, punchy title tags under 60 characters, including spaces (roughly, for those that care, the exact recommended amount is 512 pixels!). Preferably, you should write them in this sort of format: KEYWORD PHRASE – CATEGORY | BRAND.
For descriptions, try and include at least one USP, and one call to action within 154 characters including spaces (again, it should be 923 pixels) that helps the audience know you and the product before they click.
Tip: Use Moz’s title tag preview tool
Remember that sheet you started building above, for keyword research and mapping? You can use the very same one to write out your new, amazing meta data.
3) Duplicate pages
In May 2005, Google released an update that to this day still catches out many-a-website. Despite being 10 years old, ‘Bourbon’— which penalises duplicate content— is still hitting website owners that are unaware what they’re doing to their website. It’s a fairly common issue found with eCommerce websites where URLs are automatically generated, and products are placed into multiple categories. Typically sites built in Magento, Joomla, etc. will suffer from this the most, as they’re the hardest to fix without some strong technical knowledge.
It’s important to know that it’s not only multiple product URLs that will give you a duplication headache. Having your website live on www.example.com, and example.com gives you the same problem, whilst you can also suffer from having https://www.example.com and http://www.example.com, plus other combinations of these!
Seriously, seek more help from someone techie with this. If I mention canonical tags, meta robots tags, robots.txt or .htaccess files (which one or many are the solutions to these issues), you need to be able to keep up. Plus, these are dangerous tools. If you get your .htaccess file wrong, you’ll bring down your website. You’ve been warned!
Depending on the issue, the complexity of the issue and the limitations of your CMS, I tend to be able to solve around 50% of these issues with a simple canonical tag. Just place one of the duplicated URLs into the tag field (the one you want Google to see).
However if you haven’t got this field, it can get a little complicated. Please, don’t look any further into this if you don’t fully understand. Feel free to get in touch with me, and I’ll either walk you through it, or help you complete it.
4) Removing it from index
Simply put: you’re not letting Google see your website. Which, obviously, is paramount to your site showing up on search results. This is super frustrating, but (sort of) linked to the solution above. Typically, this happens within the ‘Meta Robots’ tag or the ‘Robots.txt’ file, both functions that allow page authors to prevent pages from being indexed.
This is super frustrating, but (sort of) linked to the solution above, when you use either the ‘Meta Robots’ tag or the ‘Robots.txt’ file to set commands that, basically, tell whichever search engine (Google, Bing, etc.) not to rank your site. Bad, right? Right.
The rules go:
– To KEEP your site –
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="INDEX, "> - this can be also be blankRobots.txt:User-agent: *Allow: / (or "Disallow: ")
-To REMOVE your site –
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, ">Robots.txt:User-agent: *Disallow: /
Again, as with managing duplicate content, please make sure that you know what you’re getting into when you try and do this, as you can give yourself bigger problems if you don’t!
Google Webmaster Tools is a great resource for you here. Just head over to ‘Crawl > robots.txt Tester’, and it will tell you pretty much all you need to know on the above. Follow this simple guide if you fancy taking it on.
But again, please get in touch if you think this is over your head.
5) No content
Pandas are cute, right? Wrong (well you’re right, they’re awesome, but not in SEO). Panda is codename for an update released by Google in 2011.
Take a look at the pages on your site that you wished ranked a little higher; go on, I can wait. How many words are on each, perhaps 4-500? Exactly. Combined with other factors I’ve mentioned, this is one of the biggest problems I see with any website that needs help, and it’s one of the most time-intensive problems to fix.
Not only is having enough content on page an important ranking factor, but it’s also going to be valuable for your audience that visit these pages. People won’t stay on your site if you throw bland product descriptions at them: they’re keener on the who, why, what, and how that tells the story behind your brand. Talk to them: tell them about what you do, and how much you know about your product or service. What sorts of things do they want, or need to know about what you’re offering?
I can’t stress enough how important this is: not only will good quality content contribute to your SEO performance and your site’s user engagement KPIs, it will also prove you know what you’re talking about, and that you’re so confident your product is useful.
Write some damn content. C’mon, your brand is your passion: write about it.
Tip: If you’re super busy, find an amazing content agency (ahem) with a pretty extensive brief (once you’ve written 1 extensive brief the rest are all pretty easy), and get the skeleton of your content written in line with your own edits.
Pro tip: If you’re ultra, super busy, a good agency will also offer editing services (again…ahem). Caveat: hire a really good, tried and trusted editor who’s going to do a job. After all, if you want to save yourself time, you don’t want to be going back over there work again after!
There it is! My most common client issues that are holding their site back. Obviously there’s way more things that can happen to your site, but if you run it through this checklist you should be able to correct most common problems pretty simply.
Don’t forget, if you need extra help or there’s a few bits of code-terms that make your head explode, I love this sort of stuff, so get in touch and I’ll be happy to take a look!
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