Does Google ever frustrate you?
Sometimes it feels like they’ve got us gagged, strapped to a chair, and at the mercy of whatever demands they want to make.
“Do this to rank!”
“Oh no wait, we’ve changed our minds…. Do this instead.”
I know how you feel – it’s definitely something that has got to me in the past.
It’s easy to take no responsibility ourselves and blame the big guy – especially when they’re super-secretive about everything that goes on behind the scenes with search engine rankings.
But how about instead of throwing stones, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work?
Google’s intentions are better than you think
At the core of any change Google makes there are two motivations:
They want more revenue, and often make changes to their search makeup to achieve this goal. You can relate to this, right? After all, you’re trying to make money online too, aren’t you?
2. User experience
Believe it or not, Google actually care about their users. They want you (as a searcher) to come back over and over again. With other search engines beginning to circle (I’m looking at you, Bing), they recognize if they give up on their users someone will eventually swoop in and take them.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t fault them for those two motivations.
And you know what? It actually helps us understand what we should be doing better in order to rank our content.
But let’s stick a pin in revenue motivations for a moment…
The future of SEO is ALL about user experience.
The better experience a visitor has once they click on a page/article/blog post in a Google search, the more likely they are to go back and search for something again.
That’s why search engines care.
And for you? Well, the better experience someone has on your site once they find you, the better the chance they will return.
That’s why YOU should care. (Plus your content is more likely to rank!)
Alright, enough with all the hypothetical mumbo jumbo. What can you do with this information?
Let’s talk cold hard tactics…
What EXACTLY can you do to improve the user experience on your blog and rank your content?
To help you figure that out, here are 20 things that might be stopping your content from ranking. Plus, I’ll throw in some examples of what you should do instead.
20 Reasons Your Content Doesn’t Do Well In Search Engine Rankings
Let’s get a couple of things clear from the get go…
All of the tips I offer in this post are trying to improve the user experience on your site, as well as more effectively communicate with search engines. They aren’t overnight SEO strategies that will have you popping up on page one by Saturday.
It’s a long-term investment into high-quality, one-of-a-kind content that will get you there. (And you WILL get there if you follow these 20 tips every time you create a new blog post.)
There are a whole bunch of factors that compound together in the search algorithm to make a piece of content show up on a search results page. Today I’m going to talk about the elements that are within your control – the on-page elements – that you can directly influence by optimizing your website and content. I’m not going to discuss things like link building, which are out of your direct control.
For ease of consumption, let’s bucket these into two broad sub-headings:
- Quality – first and foremost your content needs to be good. Google doesn’t want to send traffic to poorly written, hard-to-read content.
- Tech – at the end of the day, we are talking to a robot. So there are factors that help communicate with this robot, and improve your user experience at the same time.
Let’s get into it…
When it comes to creating quality content that search engines WANT to rank, it’s all about getting someone to click, and then keeping them on your site for as long as possible.
All of these “quality” factors are essentially about keeping people on your site for longer.
The longer they stay, the more credibility you build with search engines (not to mention everyone else) and the better results you will see.
Reason #1: Your headline sucks
The first thing you need to be worried about is your headline… The importance of your headline can’t be understated.
Because 80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% will read the rest of your article.
So if your headline sucks, no one is going to bother clicking on your article. And if no one clicks on your article – it will quickly become insignificant.
No views = no shares = no links = poor ranking.
Your headline needs to slap me in the face and make me take notice. It’s out there amongst a sea of other headlines, popup windows, tools, calendars, emails, games, videos – all competing for your reader’s attention.
I’m not going to give you an in-depth look at what makes for a good headline because it’s already been done by some big-time sites:
In fact, there are over 14 million search results for “How to write a perfect headline” on Google.
However, I will go through a few shortcuts with you. Here are 5 quick tips for making your headline sing:
- Write more headlines for every article – jot down 10-15 alternatives on a piece of paper (your first one will almost never be the best)
- Use numbers (preferably odd numbers) because they’re 36% more likely to be clicked:
- Consider [brackets], they get 38% more clicks
- For SEO, keep it to 55 characters so it shows your whole headline in a search:
- Use Jeff Goins’ headline formula:
Reason #2: Your WHY has gone missing
Early in your article you need to make it extremely clear WHY someone should keep reading.
They’re not reading your content as a favor… They want to know what they will get out of it.
You need to make them feel the pain of a common challenge they face, or inspire them to push towards their goals.
Content that gets below the surface and influences people to take action is the type of content that Google wants to send traffic to.
After the headline, your introduction and the big WHY is the only thing standing between your reader and the rest of your article.
If you’re not crystal clear on the benefit someone will get from each and every article you write, and you don’t articulate it in a way that makes them keep reading – they won’t.
Another bounce. Another lost opportunity. Another red mark on your site’s chance of ranking.
Try and ask open-ended questions and tap into universal problems or desires. This will bring more people along the journey with you.
Reason #3: You’re on a jargon-heavy diet
Sounding smart is fun for about 10 seconds…
Until you realize that no one understood anything you had to say and they’ve run for the hills.
Writing great content that will rank in search engines isn’t about sounding smart and packing it full of jargon. It’s about being so ridiculously helpful that people KNOW you are smart.
They know you are smart because you’ve overcome the exact challenge they are trying to overcome. And in that moment you’re intelligent enough to explain it in a way that helps them do exactly the same.
Filling up your content menu with jargon and ten-dollar words will scare people away because they won’t get any value from it. In the end, you’ll sound like you’re covering something up – not exactly the outcome you were hoping for, is it?
Stop confusing your readers and start creating an experience for them.
Reason #4: You’re all over the place
It’s easy to get in the flow with writing (I’m as guilty as anyone) and start drifting off topic.
Before you know it, you’re down a rabbit hole talking about something so far from the objective of the article it feels like you’re in a different climate.
Your article needs to have one overriding message you want readers to leave with. Not two, three, four or five… ONE anchor point the rest of the article can revolve around.
Every other point you make needs to contribute to that main point.
You should introduce the main point up front and then design the rest of the article to build a compelling case for whatever point it is you’re making. Then at the end, revisit the main point and convince people to finally take action.
Each building block of your article should link and flow together – and you should subtly mention the overriding topic at every opportunity you can.
This subconsciously reminds the reader again and again – 1) what the article is about, and 2) what they are expected to do once they finish reading it.
Remember, the whole point of keeping your article “on topic” is to encourage readers to keep reading and take action once they finish.
When readers stay on your article long enough to take action, the more credibility you build with search engines. (Especially if they decide to navigate to another page on your site AFTER reading the article.)
There are two things you can do to make sure your article is staying on track:
1. Force yourself to revisit the main point in every section
Before you hit publish, run an acid test on every part of the post; do you reinforce the overriding message? Do you talk about something off-topic?
2. Link to other content
I’ll mention this in more depth in the tech section, but if you feel yourself drifting off-topic try linking to another blog post on your site that expands on the “off-topic” content.
Like Ana Hoffman from Traffic Generation Cafe does here:
Or, if you don’t have a post on your site that expands on this off-topic content, link to a resource on another website.
Here’s an example from Cody Lister of Market Doc. Rather than going off-topic, he links to an external article at Backlinko:
Both internal and external linking improve user experience and are considered quality factors by the big search engines.
Reason #5: It’s boring
The best content has a way of challenging the status quo and taking a unique viewpoint.
It revs up interest in a stale topic by looking at it through a different lens. Or, it flips a trending topic on it’s head, taking a new and interesting stand on something.
You could just grab a clickable headline, turn it into a list post, and drive some nice blog traffic.
But eventually you’ll get found out if there’s no substance underneath it all.
The further you push yourself to be one-of-a-kind, the more people will stand up and take notice. The more people take notice, the more links, shares, comments ,and kudos you will receive.
Kudos = good in Google’s eyes.
More and more Google is becoming an “experience” network. They want users to love what they see once they click a link in a search. If you can deliver something unique and interesting, people will come back for more. And that will make you cool in Google’s eyes.
Reason #6: It’s all about you (or not enough about you)
Your readers have to want what you have, and it is up to you to deliver it in a way that connects with them.
Talking about how great YOU are is not going to inspire anyone.
People want to feel like you care about them and you have put together this article with the singular goal of helping them do something.
This one’s not black and white, though. You do need to build credibility.
There is a subtle art to showing people what you’ve done, but without directly telling them you did it.
Illustrate points with case studies, examples, or results you have seen. But do it in a way that makes them feel like you are only showing them these things because it is going to HELP them understand something a little better.
Brian Dean is a genius at doing this – he regularly publishes user case studies on his blog.
Case studies show his readers that everything he talks about actually works, but he’s not necessarily telling them himself. There are REAL results for them to see:
In the end, people will resonate with you, NOT the tip, tool, or tactic you just gave them. So it’s about showing your personality, connecting with your audience, and building credibility – without blindly stroking your ego.
Striking a balance between credibility-building, helpfulness, and personal connection is hard, but if you nail it you’ll have people coming back for more. (And sharing your content with others.)
Reason #7: You don’t talk about fairies
When we use metaphors and stories, they help us engage people in ways statistics never can.
They help your readers access meaning you never thought possible, and accelerate the time it takes for someone to understand complex topics.
Metaphors also have a way of helping you, the writer, thoroughly understand what you are talking about – they force you to get crystal clear and deliver your message with power.
The big kicker with metaphors is they are extremely memorable.
Think about it for a second…
When you’re writing an article and want to mention a helpful resource to your readers, are you more likely to remember “The 9 Best Ways to Get Backlinks” or “The Skyscraper Technique”?
Most people are more likely to remember the metaphor, which means they are more likely to link back to it. Memorable content get more backlinks and, inevitably, better rankings.
Storytelling and metaphors go hand-in-hand, and an additional benefit to them is they keep people on your page for longer. (Remember – this is a good thing.)
Alex Turnbull from Groove HQ ran a split test on their blog, where they published the same blog post twice: one that began with a story and one that did not…
The average time on page for the story article increased by a whopping 520%!
Reason #8: You make loads of assumptions
Take one step back… and then another… and then another…
This is most likely where your readers are at the moment.
Too much content out there is riddled with assumptions about what people already know.
Your goal is to educate, teach, and guide people to take action and overcome a challenge.
To do that you need to meet them where THEY are right now, not start from where you are at the moment. You have experience and hindsight they do not yet have.
The brutal reality is that if you’re not meeting the needs of your site visitors – by explaining topics in a way they understand – they’ll leave and never come back.
That means your site will experience more of that “bouncing” stuff Google doesn’t like.
Some things are universal: freedom, life, shelter, water…
But as soon as you start referencing esoteric topics, you’re going to lose segments of your readership.
Reason #9: Your paragraphs are bulky
Forget about what your high school English teacher told you about grammar.
The advice is useless when you’re trying to get content ranked online.
Your best chance to keep people reading your content is with short, punchy sentences. And line spacing – lots and lots of line spacing.
You’ll notice throughout this whole post I’ve barely written a paragraph with more than one or two sentences.
And since you’ve made it half-way through the post, it must be working.
Here are some more examples of people who utilize white space in their writing…
Mary Jaksch from Write to Done:
Will Hoekenga from Copygrad:
Heck, even Be A Better Blogger’s own Kevin J. Duncan does it:
Reason #10: You forget about formatting
We’re a generation of scanners…
If you’re lucky, your web visitors will read beyond the headline. (Then some drop off.)
If you’re REALLY lucky, they’ll make it into your introduction. (Then some more drop off.)
Just about no one will make it all the way to the end. It’s a tough reality check, but it’s true.
So you could get your knickers in a twist worrying about it, or you could focus on user experience and play right into the search engine’s hands.
Here’s Amy Porterfield showing us how it’s done:
Help your readers scan as much as they want with bold text, italics, bullet points, colons, and dashes… Anything you can do to draw their eyes to the most important information on the page.
Reason #11: There are no visuals
Do I even need to mention it?
They keep readers engaged, interested, and glued to the screen amongst a wall of text and whitespace.
Skyword found that blog posts with visuals get 94% more views.
Here’s what analyzing over 100 million articles told OkDork and BuzzSumo:
If you want social media shares, an increased user experience (time on page), and more backlinks… visual content is a good idea.
All those things contribute to how well your content ranks in search engines, so try to use images, screenshots, gifs, infographics, and videos as much as you can.
Now for the technical stuff.
It’s not as sexy as the “quality content” jibber I just rattled off, but it’s VERY important.
After all, we’re talking to a robot remember?
Reason #12: You’re not running a bus tour
Another thing the big search engines consider when it comes to user experience is the links you include on your page (I mentioned this earlier).
Let’s start with internal links…
Where do you want the reader to go after reading your article? (Or whilst reading it?)
Perhaps more importantly, where SHOULD the reader go to help them with the next steps?
It’s your turn to be the tour bus guide and take your readers on a journey of your website.
You want them hopping from page to page, finding the most relevant content on each topic they are interested in.
This not only improves user experience, it boosts the time spent on your site.
But if you’re strategic about it, you can nurture readers on a natural journey from stranger to customer.
If they’ve just discovered who you are, what information do they NEED to get closer to a purchase? Or click an affiliate link? Or whatever it is you’re trying to get them to do.
Linking internally also sends a signal to Google. It tells them that the page you are linking to is important and that they should take notice.
Reason #13: You’re not sharing the love
Just like linking internally, you need to share the love too…
If you link to credible sources on other websites, you’re benefiting the user and helping them find the most appropriate information on your chosen topic.
The added bonus of mentioning cool people (and resources) in your content is it makes it easier to promote it.
Don’t just name drop for the sake of it, but if it adds value to your reader and contributes to the objective of your article why NOT link to a resource? (Especially when it’s a resource belonging to someone with an influential following?)
Once you hit publish, you’ve not only pleased the search engines by sharing the love, but you’ve just primed yourself to amplify the reach of your content by mentioning an influencer.
If you want to find some influencers that are worth mentioning in your next blog post, check out BuzzSumo:
Reason #14: You left your keywords at the corner store
The boring old keyword/search term drama…
Do they still matter?
Unfortunately, yes they do.
As far as Google’s algorithm has come in recent years, it’s still a robot. We need to effectively communicate to that robot in a way it understands, and keyword terms are the best way to do that. (For the moment at least.)
Try and get your primary keyword in the title, the first 100 words, and in your H1, H2, and H3 header tags.
Here’s Derek Halpern from Social Triggers showing us how to do it:
But don’t stuff keywords for the fun of it.
Write for humans, create a connection, and engage your readers – those are your primary duties.
Then if and when it makes sense to do so, use your keywords.
Conducting keyword research will also help you spot opportunities for knocking some “first-pagers” off their perch with better and more informative content.
Reason #15: Your page loads about as quick as I run
Page loading speed and the general speed of your site are big user experience components, and whilst not directly related to your content, they will influence whether or not it ranks in search engines.
The PageSpeed Insights tool from Google Developers will help you analyze your site and identify ways you can speed it up:
If you’re not a techy, or can’t justify the budget for a fully fledged developer I’d consider getting a service like WPCurve or Automation Agency. Both give you access to developers from their offshore teams for a very reasonable monthly investment.
Reason #16: Your permalink is complicated
When it comes to the URL of your page, simplicity is better.
Try and take away as much of the “filler” text as you can.
An SEO friendly permalink is literally just the keywords you want to rank for, with no other distracting stuff. It pretty much just cuts out any confusion, making it very easy for search engines to index your page.
Plus it looks nicer!
Kevin knows what I’m talking about:
Whether or not you can do this will depend on your link setup on your site. And if you’ve had them going for a while, you may be stuck with the old-school, date-stamped URLs that are just about longer than the entire browser bar.
But don’t worry too much. This is a nice-to-have more than a necessity.
Reason #17: You’re scaring people away
Time on site…
I know I keep harping on about it, but it’s becoming more and more important.
That’s one of the main reasons everyone is writing longer and longer content, because even if people read 20-30% of it they’ve probably stayed on your site for longer than they would’ve done for a 500-word brain dump.
But it doesn’t matter how good your content is if your site design and navigation are a mess.
46% of people say a website’s design is the number one factor in determining its credibility (over anything else).
Focus on brand congruency, consistent colors, white space, and clear navigation. Do anything you can do to make life simpler and more enjoyable for your visitors.
Reason #18: Your meta description forgets about the user
The meta description is the mini paragraph that users read in a search result.
Ask yourself why the user is finding your content? What have they just searched for?
The closer you can align your description to that intent, and the better you can solve the query they have, the better chance they will click on your article rather than someone else’s.
The more clicks you get, the better you will perform over time – but ONLY if they stay on your site.
Yes, clicks matter to Google, but the click may have a reverse effect if they bounce off your site straight after getting there.
So, yes, you need to make sure your meta description is enticing enough to attract a click, but you also need to make sure it’s as closely aligned to the content in your article as possible so the user doesn’t bounce immediately after arriving.
Yoast SEO is a great tool for optimising this if you are using WordPress:
Reason #19: You’ve got short blog syndrome
Short content can come across as a little offensive these days.
People scoff at a 300 or 400 word blog post…
“That’s all I’m worth to you?”
Obviously there are some exceptions that have been doing this since the dawn of blogging, like Seth Godin and the like.
But for the rest of us who are fighting for attention in an over-crowded world of epic content, short posts won’t cut it.
Google also considers longer content to be higher quality (in general at least), with most high ranking articles having over 2,000 words:
Longer content also gets more social shares:
Reason #20: You don’t like cell phones
Lucky last on the list for search optimization is making your website mobile-friendly…
Once again, this is not specifically related to your content, but it is a big contributor to where you will rank in search results.
With more and more of our time being spent on mobile phones, this will no doubt continue to have an effect on your search performance.
The easiest way to diagnose how Google rates your website in terms of mobile-friendliness is to test your site on Google’s own mobile-friendly testing tool:
After entering your URL into the tool it will provide you with a bunch of helpful tips for improving the mobile-friendliness of your site.
Or you might just get a nice little “thumbs up” like this!
It can all be a little overwhelming at times… Especially if you’re just starting out.
But in reality, the calmer and more deliberate you are with your content strategy, the better your long-term results will be with SEO.
Pick a few important topics that you’d love to rank for, and create some content that is BETTER than anything else already out there.
Then spend your time promoting them.
If you’re patient and willing to put in the hard work, the results will find you on the other side.
Just remember: it’s not about you, it’s about the user. How can you help them? How can you make their experience more enjoyable?
If you want to improve your search engine rankings, focus on the user – because that’s what Google’s doing.