SEO Strategy — Why Your Website Isn't Ranking (And how to fix it)
By John Welch on May 12, 2020
SEO? That Smells Fishy…
We talk to a lot of different people about what’s working for them in their marketing efforts. It’s common to hear them mention search engine optimization in the past-tense.
“We had a company doing SEO for us for about 18 months. We never saw any results, so we stopped.”
It’s such a common tale that it begs the question, “Does SEO even work? What’s the deal?”
Two things can be true at the same time. It’s true that SEO does work. It’s also true that almost no one is doing it correctly.
Let me quickly illustrate why you should care about SEO.
- Somewhere in the ballpark of 93% of ALL internet traffic starts with a search engine.
- The first ORGANIC search result gets 32.5% of all traffic on Google.
- Between 70% and 80% of search engine users completely ignore paid ad results.
- Search engines drive 300% more traffic to sites than social media.
- 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless pieces of data that all point to the same conclusion: organic search results matter.
The next question then becomes a lot more important, “what do I do about it?”
We suggest starting with these 4 steps.
Step 1: Create Backlinks
There is a lot of discussion about how Google ranks search results.
One thing nobody argues is the importance of backlinks.
Backlinks are often misunderstood, but it’s a simple idea.
Backlinks are links to your site from another site. Let’s say, for instance, you wrote a blog about the “10 Best Ways To Find Your Soulmate.”
A backlink would be a dating website writing their own blog and referencing your blog, with a link in their post.
This is also know as “incoming links.”
Why Do Backlinks Matter for SEO?
The main reason that backlinks matter is because it gives your website credibility. Think of backlinks like a vote of confidence from another website. This also mean that the quality of the domain that is linking to your website matters.
A backlink from a random blog with one view per month will basically mean nothing, whereas a backlink from Hubspot is a big deal.
Google cares deeply about the quality of your content. When your site has backlinks from highly-reputable sources, those are a signal to Google that you are creating high quality content.
When people learn about backlinking for the first time, a lightbulb pops up over their head.
“Wait, you mean that there are factors outside of my own website that affect my rankings?”
Yes, there most definitely are.
Off-page SEO refers to all the factors related to your search rankings which occur outside of your own website.
According to Neil Patel, there are several off-page SEO strategies that you should be using. The two most important involved building links and establishing trust for your domain.
There are several different ways to build links, some easier than others. The harder the link is to build, the more value it’s going to have for your SEO.
There is a Chrome plugin you can download called Check My Links. Use this plugin to check links on webpages with content for which you would like to rank.
For example, let’s say you’re in the nutrition space. Search on Google for “nutrition + links.”
Then, click on those webpages that show up for the search and run the Check My Links Plugin.
As you can see, this website has one link that is broken. Once you find a link that is broken relating to your keywords, contact the webmaster of the site.
The webmaster is the person who owns the site. There are a couple of ways to contact the webmaster. Google recommends the following options.
Contact Us Page
Find the “contact us” page on the website and send them an email or submit a message if it’s a contact form.
Type “whois www.website.com” into Google. You can find the email address you need under “registrant email” or “administrative contact.”
Contact The Host
If you can’t reach the webmaster directly, the Whois information should include the website’s hosting company. You can contact the host to get the contact info for the specific domain.
Most people think of infographics as ways to share information or ways to create collateral for email captures or marketing campaigns.
While infographics can be useful for those applications, there is a much more powerful way that you can use infographics for SEO.
Infographics tend to garner high levels of engagement, when they are high-quality and informative.
This engagement signals to Google that you are delivering valuable content. Here is an example:
If you create a really useful and well-researched infographic, it’s likely that other websites will use it. This creates backlinks to your site from other domains that are trying to deliver high-quality content.
It’s been true forever, but it’s still just as applicable. Guest blogging is one of the best things you can do to build links for your website.
There’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet about guest blogging. Many marketers will tell you that guest blogging is dead.
This is because they don’t know how to do it right.
Guest blogging is very much alive, and it is a great way to build high-quality links to your website. You just have to do it right.
Use Social Media
Social media is one of the easiest and fastest ways to build backlinks. The first thing to remember is that the diversity and quality of your backlinks is more important than the volume.
Having 200 backlinks from Facebook isn’t much different than having 10 backlines from Facebook.
Having a handful of backlinks from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest is even better.
The engagement on your social media content also plays a role. If you are developing backlink posts on social media that no one is sharing, liking, or engaging with, it won’t be nearly as effective as if your social media content were to garner high-levels of engagement.
There is also benefit to being diverse in how you build social media backlinks. For example, there are numerous ways to use LinkedIn to drive traffic to your site.
Use Google Search Operators
Google Search Operators help you clean up your SEO, protect your content, and find opportunities you may not be taking advantage of.
There are several ways that Google Search Operators can be useful.
This video from Ahrefs is a great way to understand how Google Search Operators work and how you can use them to improve your SEO.
Step 2: Establish Domain Trust
Establishing trust is important when it comes to SEO. Trust is what allows Google to choose your site over someone else’s site.
The more your website consistently delivers quality content and a powerful user-experience, the more Google trusts you.
Eventually, Google will serve up your content over another website simply because it comes from your domain. They’ve learned that they can trust you.
There are a few different elements that make up the “trust” equation.
Engagement is one of the ways that Google measures trust for your website. Engagement is simple. How are internet users and other websites interacting with your website and your content?
Think of it this way. High-quality content matters for SEO. High-quality content also creates engagement. Therefore if you have a lot of engagement on your site, that’s a sign that you have high-quality content.
In addition, user experience matters to Google. User experience is an ambiguous idea, and it’s more a result than it is a cause. One of the ways that Google can see that users are having a good experience is to see them engaging with your website content.
Increasing website engagement should be a priority for your SEO efforts.
Authority is one of the major ranking factors that Google considers when indexing websites.
Moz link explorer allows you to track your domain authority and find ways to start increasing it.
As you can see in this graphic from SEO Siren, domain authority is influenced by multiple factors.
Increasing authority takes time and effort. It won’t happen overnight. It’s helpful to think of domain authority as a result of performing SEO strategies well.
That being said, you can take steps to increase your authority, and this should be a main focus of your overall SEO efforts.
If you are trying to increase your search rankings without paying attention to your domain authority, you are hindering your efforts.
Reputation relates to the quality of your website and your business as a whole.
This is a difficult metric to judge objectively, but like most things Google uses in it’s search rankings, it focuses on the experience users have when they visit your website.
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines are a window into how Google thinks about the user experience and what kind of content they want to see on websites.
As you can see in the tweets below, Google cares about great content. Using the search quality guidelines will help you create content that Google wants to see.
Reputation is not just high-quality content. It also includes things like engagement, shares, and backlinks.
To get the most out of your SEO and grow your reputation with Google, you will need to focus on your social media channels to drive engagement. You will also need to work to get your content shared outside your website. Writing guest posts and finding broken links to replace are a great way to do this.
Step 3 - Elevate Your User Experience
User experience is a very abstract and hard-to-understand concept.
“UX” has quickly become one of the biggest buzzwords in marketing.
Usually, when something becomes a ubiquitous term like “user experience” it means most people don’t know what it means.
User experience is one of Google’s top 10 factors when determining your website’s search rankings.
SEO is not the only reason to care about user experience either. Great user experience has tremendous positive impacts for your website.
Here are a few stats to wet your whistle.
- A focus on user experience has the potential to raise your website conversions by up to 400%.
- On average, every $1 invested in UX brings $100 in return. An ROI of 9,900%.
- 8 in 10 customers are willing to pay more for better customer experience.
- It takes 50ms (0.05 seconds) for users to decide if they like your site or not and if they’ll leave or stay.
Now that you’re firmly convinced you need to deliver an amazing experience, let’s look at the main elements that make up user experience.
Google measures relevance a couple of different ways. Keywords are the foundation of relevance scores. As you can see in the screenshot below, keywords in your headings or body that match search terms will signal relevance.
There are other factors as well, “beyond simple keyword matching, we use aggregated and anonymized interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries.”
What does that mean? It means Google looks at things like how long users stay on your page, how often they go back to the page, and how many users “bounce” (leave your page without engaging or going to other pages on your site).
All of this information works together to tell Google how relevant your content is.
This infographic from Blue Corona helps explain the paradigm that Google is following when it thinks about relevance as it relates to user experience.
Relevance really just means that the user found what they were looking for. Google wants to make it as likely as possible that searchers will find relevant content on their first few tries.
To be relevant, you need high-quality content that is optimized for the kind of keywords you want to show up in searches.
This is what Donald Miller calls the “grunt test.”
Within 10 seconds, a new visitor to your website should be able to understand 3 things.
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter to them?
- How do they buy it from you?
This is the #1 issue with websites, when it comes to user experience.
If a user cannot very quickly understand what you do, why it matters, and how to contact you, your website is not user-friendly.
Pogo-Sticking And Bounce Rate
Many people are familiar with the term “bounce rate.” Many people also mistakenly believe that bounce rate is a factor that Google uses in it’s SEO rankings. It’s not.
Neil Patel has a great infographic on bounce rate.
“Pogo-Sticking” is another term that is mistakenly believed to be an SEO ranking factor for Google. Pogo-sticking is when a user clicks on one search result, quickly goes back to the search page, and clicks a different search result.
Neither bounce rate nor pogo-sticking are used by Google directly as SEO ranking factors.
The reason for these misconceptions is that both bounce rate and pogo-sticking do matter for your SEO. They just matter indirectly, not directly.
When you have a high bounce rate, that can mean one of two things.
- Your landing page is highly relevant and visitors are immediately finding what they want.
- Your landing page is not relevant and people are leaving because they didn’t find what they needed.
When it comes to pogo-sticking, that is always going to be a sign that a user did not find what they were looking for because they immediately went back to the search page and clicked a different result.
In both of these cases, the data that Google is gathering from bounce rates and pogo-sticking informs other ranking factors.
When Google sees that users are pogo-sticking or bouncing, it registers those as failures of relevance or user-experience. These factors both directly impact your SEO.
The best way to decrease bounce rate and pogo-sticking is to start increasing user “dwell time.” That is the amount of time between when a user clicks on your website link and when they return to the Google search page.
This infographic from Singlegrain explain dwell time well.
Step 4 - Use Google Search Console
Most people know that Google “indexes” their site; it’s why they focus on all their keyboards and make sure their pages are labeled correctly.
What many websites fail to do is utilize Google Search Console.
In order to get the most out of your SEO, it’s essential that you’re using Google Search Console.
In Google’s own words, “We offer Search Console to give site owners granular choices about how Google crawls their site.”
When you are building your website, you want to do your best to make it easy for Google to crawl it. At the same time, you’re never going to create the perfect website structure or content layout.
Google Search Console helps you remove any doubt that Google may have about your site. It allows you to make sure Google knows exactly what is on your site and how its relevant to search terms.
Using Google Search Console
Google Search Console provides a lot of data that is absolutely necessary if you want to crush your SEO strategies.
We’ll touch on a few of the most important here.
1) Know What Keywords You Rank For
Google Search Console shows you what keywords your website is ranking for. This is incredibly helpful for making sure that the audience you think you’re reaching is actually seeing your content.
If you’re ranking for the wrong keywords, or you’re not ranking well, you can improve your keyword optimization.
2) Know If Google Is Indexing All Your Pages
You want to make sure that Google is indexing all of the pages on your site. Google Search Console will show you exactly which pages are indexed.
If you have pages that aren’t indexed, you can submit your pages to Google to make sure they’re indexed.
3) Optimize Your Pages For Mobile
Google’s mobile-first indexing has been on the scene for a little while. Most people have a difficult time understanding this.
There are not two different indexes for desktop and mobile. Rather, Google primarily focuses on the mobile version of your website for indexing and ranking purposes.
Mobile traffic accounts for 50% of all website users. This percentage is only going to increase as time goes on. Google wants your website to deliver the same experience on mobile as it does on desktop.
By focusing on mobile-first indexing, Google is forcing websites to pay attention to their mobile experience. Google Search Console has a “mobile usability” tab that scores your mobile site and shows you issues that need to be corrected.
Step 5 - Create Content That Crushes
Content creation is one of the most discussed topics in the marketing world. There’s a good reason for it. Content is the foundation of all SEO.
Without content, nothing else matters.
Creating content is a mystery to many people. They see it as this mountain of a task that they will never climb.
It’s true, creating content is time consuming and difficult. At the same time, there is nothing better you can do to improve your search rankings and attract users to your website than creating quality content.
Let’s demystify the content creation world.
Every couple of months someone comes along shouting some variation of “blogging is dead!”
Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not. 77% of internet users read blogs regularly.
Not only that, but blogging is one of the most effective ways to increase search traffic.
How To Create Blogs
The key to writing high-quality blogs is your mindset. Most blogs are not high-quality. Why? Because the business is afraid of giving away information.
Related: 5 Reasons Your Blogs Aren’t Ranking
If you want to win in the blogosphere, you have to be willing to teach your audience how to solve their problems without you.
There is a simple 3-step process that we use to write our blogs, and we teach this method to our clients.
First, explain your blog idea to an employee, colleague, or simply speak it out loud into a voice recorder.
Next, take the ideas that you have come up with and organize them into an outline.
3) Flesh It Out
Fill in the blog post with details, supporting articles, images, videos, infographics, and anything else that takes the blog to professional standards.
How To Distribute Your Blog
Distributing your blog content is essential. Most websites simply post their blogs and never think about it again.
This is like spending months training for a marathon and then bailing when the race starts. Writing the blog is just your first step. Distributing it is vital.
This article from Neil Patel does an amazing job of explaining your distribution options. Here are just a few of the highlights.
- Turn your blog into an infographic and distribute it on your social media channels and any niche forums that relate to your audience.
- Create videos from your blogs and publish those on YouTube and social media.
- Send the blog to your email list.
- Turn your blog into a podcast.
Create A Video Show
Creating a video show or podcast for your brand is one of the best things you can possibly do for content creation. In addition, it’s a powerful way to garner backlinks.
Video shows are more difficult, but also more useful. It’s really simple to do and doesn’t require a ton of time.
When you create a video show, you’re creating a piece of pillar content that will provide multiple avenues inline-imageHere is a great guide to getting started with your video show and finding guests.
Let’s go over a couple of the best ways to turn your video show or podcast into high-quality backlinks.
1) Create Clips For Social Media
Once you’ve done the hard work of bringing a guest on the show and recording your conversation, the next steps are pretty easy.
Cut out 3 or 4 meaty clips from the episode that are really relevant for your audience and post those across your social media channels. Include links back to the main episode hosted on your site.
2) Create Blog Posts For Your Guests
When you bring a guest on, it’s to discuss a topic that they know well. Once the episode is done, write up a blog post based on the episode and send it to your guest to post on their website.
They will be glad for the free content, and you will now have some backlinks on their website.
Find people in your network that you can message and exchange a guest blog. It’s good for both of you, so it’s a win-win.
3) Use YouTube To Host Your Videos
Google likes when you use their tools. Host all of your videos on YouTube privately and then embed them on your website.
That way, you’re creating backlinks from YouTube to your site. Anytime someone wants to link to your video, they will be linking to your domain as well.
There are other forms of content that are highly valuable, but less widely discussed. They take many different forms, but they all positively impact your SEO.
Cheat sheets are great for creating engagement with your audience. The idea behind a cheat sheet is to answer a list of frequently asked questions or a common problem.
Here are some ideas for cheat sheets:
- Keyboard shortcut lists for software your audience uses often
- “Jargon translators” that make it easy for people to understand industry terms or commonly used acronyms
- Lists of common mistakes people make or issues they run into in your industry
Here’s a cheat sheet example from Flowtown.
Tutorials help build trust with your audience. When you prove to your audience that you know what you’re doing, they listen to you and see you as a subject matter expert.
In addition, tutorials are highly shareable and generate a lot of questions and comments which look great from an SEO perspective.
Here’s an example of a tutorial video from our content library.
Think of a white paper like a blog post on steroids. What separates the two is the depth of technical knowledge. White papers are for the detail-oriented members of your audience.
Depending on your industry, white papers may or may not be a good content piece. If you have an audience that is highly technical and cares about research, white papers are golden.
If your audience is more creative and artsy, stick to graphic-heavy and story-related content; white papers will not go far here.
If your product or service is something that can be trialed for free, this is one of the best forms of content you have. What better content could you possible share than to give your audience the real experience for a short period of time.
If you have the ability to do free trials, you should be offering them.
Cracking the SEO Code
When it’s all said and done, most people just want more website traffic. There’s always this idea that if we can just “crack the code” on SEO, we’ll be flooded with a million visitors a month, and our phones will be ringing off the hook.
While this is a reality for businesses that crush the SEO game, those websites haven’t cracked some code. They’ve simply put a lot of work into some key areas of their digital marketing.
You can put in that same work and get those same results if you learn what it takes and put it into practice.
See you at #1 on the SERP! (Search Engine Results Page)Back to the blog
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