1. Keyword Selection
Whenever I encounter someone who is struggling to rank well in Google, the first thing I do is dissect their keyword selection. A lot of the time, they will have picked keywords that are way too difficult to rank for. To be more specific, they are focused on head keywords, not long tails. If you’re just starting a website, then you should be focusing your efforts on long tail keywords.
Go for the easy wins, build your site authority, and then you’ll have the ability to rank for more challenging keywords.
2. On-Site SEO
Many people are quick to jump right into link building without building a strong on-site foundation. There are hundreds of on-site optimization checkpoints you must fulfill before you’re ready to start link building.
First and foremost, you need to focus on site architecture. Building a strategic internal linking structure will send authority throughout your website and make your links more effective.
Meaning, you’ll need less links to rank and therefore, less investment.
3. Duplicate Content
Are you creating duplicate product descriptions or service descriptions across multiple pages? If you are, it’s hurting you. I can’t tell you the number of client’s that I’ve had who create landing pages for every small city in their area and use the same exact description on every page.
Think about it from Google’s perspective.
Does duplicate content increase the value of their search engine?
They want to display businesses with unique content and stories. I’m telling you right now, it’s better to have NO content on a page, then to duplicate the same across dozens or hundreds.
Aside from duplicate copy, you need to also watch out for duplicate META data. It can also hurt you if it’s in excess.
4. Keyword Dilution
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is creating multiple pages targeting slight variations of the same keyword. You should create one page targeting a primary keyword AND its slight variations. So instead of creating a page for “dog toys”, “buy dog toys”, and “best dog toys”, you should create ONE page like “Buy the Best Dog Toys Online”.
Consolidate your pages and eliminate all waste. Less is generally better in SEO.
5. User Experience
The user experience both on and off your site are both becoming strong factors in your rankings. The key performance indicators you should be examining for your user experience on your website include bounce rate, average time spent on site, and pageviews per visit. For off site, the main KPI to track is SERP click through rate.
If users aren’t staying on your website, then there’s a good chance your website isn’t valuable. If users don’t think your site is valuable, then Google won’t value your website either.
Which means your rankings will struggle.
Some other user experience issues that could hurt your rankings include excessive use of ads, broken links, and sneaky redirects.
If you’re not writing high value content for your website, then you really have no reason to be ranking well. Content is the foundation of any successful business and it should be a focal point in every SEO campaign. Obviously, just writing content isn’t enough. But it’s better than NOT writing.
Quality content keeps users on your site longer, can increase your sales through results in advance, will increase your amount of inbound links and social activity, and will give you more opportunities to build internal links.
“Quality” = value.
7. Social Media
Are you one of those guys that thinks social media doesn’t matter? Then we just identified why you’re not seeing the results you want.
Social is a big piece of the SEO puzzle in 2015.
I’ve proven that you can rank pages with just social signals alone and every campaign we work on gets an instant ranking boost once social signals are introduced.
8. Brand Signals
Getting juicy contextual links from guest posts, PBNs, and web 2.0s are great, but ranking will be difficult without brand signals. Brand signals build trust for your business and give it legitimacy in the eyes of Google. In essence, building brand signals is about “being everywhere” and ultimately spreading your value across multiple mediums.
If you have a great blog, then you should be repurposing the content and distributing it across the various social platforms.
9. Link Quality
If you’re rock solid on the points I’ve already listed, then there’s a good chance your links are the problem. At this point in time, links have significantly decreased in value, BUT are still the strongest ranking factor. Link “quality” is defined differently depending on whether you’re targeting local or national keywords.
For a local SEO campaign, “quality” links would be those coming from geo-specific websites. More specifically, St. Louis local business getting links from other St. Louis businesses.
For the national level, link “quality” is all about relevancy and authority. So, for Gotch SEO to rank for a term like “Trust Flow”, I would need to get links from SEO or marketing websites.
10. Link Velocity
How fast you’re building links is very important for any website, but particularly a new one. Google is highly suspicious of an influx of new links to any website. Many times, you’ll see your rankings drop off the map when new links are introduced. This is called the Google dance. In most cases (if your links are good), your rankings will come back better than ever.
During this “Google dance”, Google’s algorithm is essentially vetting your link velocity and quality and deciding if it matches that of a “natural” link profile. Once Google trusts your links, then your rankings will recover.
Keep in mind, your links need to pass the quality test to survive the Google dance.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may also be building links too slowly and too conservatively. Sometimes you need to ramp it up to see more improvement.
11. Anchor Text
If you’ve passed all the tests above, then you need to examine your anchor text distribution. Over-optimizing your anchor text is a killer to your rankings and you should try to under-optimize as much as possible.
In almost all situations, you won’t need to use heavy exact match anchor text.
This even applies to super competitive industries. Exact match anchors are dangerous and a red flag to Google that you’re performing “active” link building. Active link building means you’re going out and actually BUILDING links as opposed to naturally acquiring them. No matter what type of link building or acquisition you do, you should always make it appear to be natural.
The quick and easiest way to do this is to only acquire relevant links and keep your anchor text percentages balanced.
12. Site Age
There’s a lot of debate on this, but after testing it, there is definitely some type of sandbox on newer websites. In our testing, it seems to last anywhere between 3-6 months on average. If you go crazy with links on a new website, then there’s a good chance your rankings will suffer from the sandbox. During the first few months of any new website’s life, you should be focusing on on-site optimization, content, and building brand signals.
This will significantly decrease the time you’re in the sandbox. When you start building links, build only the highest quality.
13. NAP-W Inconsistency
If you’re trying to rank locally, then your NAP information has to be 100% consistent. At this point, having consistent NAP-W information is one of the biggest ranking factors in the local SERPs. Take it seriously and don’t build another citation until all your NAP-W information is clean!
Negative reviews or lack of reviews can impact your local rankings. Some SEO experts believe their is a “bad merchant” algorithm which affects businesses with bad reputations. It’s hard to say whether this 100% accurate, but regardless, you should do your best to avoid getting negative reviews. And if you do, just make sure the positive reviews significantly outweigh the negative.
15. SERP Click Through Rate
I have explained all you need to know about this factor in this post, but your site’s overall SERP click through rate has become a strong ranking factor. Typically, this factor only comes into play once your site is actually ranking for some keywords.
However, the data starts getting collected pretty early on because Google will measure the CTR of your branded searches.
If people are searching for your brand and not clicking on your site at a high rate, Google sees that as a red flag.
If this trend continues when you start to rank, you’ll notice that your rankings will get stuck on the first page or they will gradually decline. This is because low CTR is an indication that your results aren’t relevant to the particular search query.
SERP CTR is an important metric for Google because it shows how relevant their organic results are for any given search query.