Search rankings are tricky. Your site can be ranking very well one day, sending you reams of highly-qualified traffic. Then, just when you think you’ve cracked the Google code, your rankings plummet.
Or maybe, your site has never ranked well in the search engines. Maybe you’ve optimized your site the best you know how, but you’re still not ranking for your desired keywords, or any keywords at all.
This article will cover 9 of the top likely reasons your site isn’t ranking in search results. Whether you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, or simply never managed to get your site ranking in the first place, this article will help you diagnose your ranking problems.
1. Your site is new
I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me: “My site has been up for a month, and it’s still not ranking in the search engines!” Getting ranked for specific keywords often taken months. After 2–3 weeks, your site should have been indexed, meaning it is present in Google’s search results, but with no guarantee of ranking very highly within them.
To check to see if your site has been indexed, go to Google and type in site:yoursite.com to see all the indexed pages on your domain. If no search results are returned, your site hasn’t yet been indexed. While Google usually finds your site on its own, you can also submit your site manually just to be sure. Generally this is unnecessary, though; Google will find your site as long as it is linked to elsewhere on the Web, such as articles published on external publications, local directories, or even tweets posted on Twitter that include a link to your website.
2. You’re targeting high-volume, short tail keywords
Just 5 years ago, targeting short, high-volume keywords was the norm. Webmasters would create content based on these desired words or phrases, build some keyword-rich links back to their website, and watch their site climb the rankings for those keywords.
However, over the past few years, this strategy has become ineffective due to a collision of factors. Google released its Penguin algorithm in April 2012, which specifically targeted and penalized websites with too many keyword-rich inbound links, since they are almost certainly unnaturally acquired, which is a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. Additionally, with so many sites vying for these high-volume short-tail keywords, your chances of ranking anywhere close to the top are practically zero.
And to be honest, ranking for these types of keywords has become far less desirable. Short keywords will drive general traffic, whereas longer, more specific keywords will drive more focused, targeted traffic. Ranking for these “long-tail” keyword phrases will not only be easier, it will often result in much higher conversion rates. For more on this, see “The Rise of the Long-Tail Keyword for SEO.”
3. Your content sucks
“Thin” content is described as content that adds little value for readers. It’s generally published by webmasters who have read or heard that publishing content to their website is important, so they publish content for the sake of publishing content without much regard for its quality or value.
There are two types of “thin” content: the kind of flimsy, low-value content that can result in a manual action against your site, and the type that — while not ‘penalty worthy’ — simply offers no value to your website visitors. While you may not receive a manual penalty for the latter, it very likely won’t be receiving much search traffic. Google’s Panda algorithm, first released in February 2011, was aimed at enforcing higher quality search results by penalizing Websites that published too much “thin” content.
4. You’ve inadvertently blocked Google from accessing your site
There are a number of ways you could have unintentionally blocked Google from crawling and indexing your site. However, the most common (by far) is through an error in your robots.txt file.
This issue most often occurs after launching a new site, or after having moved your site from one domain to another. To ensure Google has full access to your site, go into your robots.txt file and take a look around. If you see something like this:
You have blocked Google from accessing your entire site. Fortunately, removing this code from the file should rectify the situation completely. You should see your rankings return to normal in a matter of days or weeks.
5. You aren’t using proper on-page SEO
While SEO has undergone significant changes over the past few years, on-page optimization has changed very little. While the types of keywords you’ll be targeting will be different (long-tail, more specific phrases), the way you’ll use them in your content remains much the same:
· Static, keyword-rich URLs
· Optimized title tags, headings and alt image tags
· Throughout your content, naturally, along with related keywords and phrases
You’ll also want to make sure you’re using appropriate topical targeting; meaning rather than focusing on one or two main keywords, you’re crafting your content to cover a broader topic or theme. Not only will this strategy likely increase your rankings for each keyword, it will provide a better user experience and will naturally attract more inbound links because the content will, in effect, provide more comprehensive coverage about the subject.
For more on this, see “How to Get Ranked for All Your Niche’s Keywords.”
6. You don’t have enough inbound links and mentions
A healthy inbound link profile is extremely important for getting your site to rank highly in search engines. What do I mean by “healthy”? Natural links from high-quality, authoritative, relevant sites; a sufficient number of non-linked brand mentions; appropriate relationships between sites via co-citations; and a sufficient number and quality of deep links (links not just to your homepage, but to internal pages).
For help getting inbound links and mentions, see “Link Building Evolved: The Age of Brand Mentions.”
7. You haven’t built up trust with Google
Since April of 2012, online marketers have focused heavily on avoiding “over-optimization” of links due to the release of the Penguin algorithm. Since its release, has come down harder on sites that attempt to game the system by manually and manipulatively building keyword-rich links to a particular piece of content.
While over-optimization is certainly something that should be avoided, Brian Dean at Backlinko has presented some solid evidence that sites with over-optimized anchor text can avoid being penalized if they have build up a sufficient level of trust with Google. In other words, Google may just forgive (and even reward?) your over-optimization, if it happens within the context of an otherwise trustworthy site. Head over to Brian’s article for more on this.
8. Your site isn’t optimized for mobile
On April 21, 2015, mobile-usability became a significant ranking factor with the release of Google’s “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update. If you experienced a drop in rankings around that time, there’s a good chance it’s due to your site not being sufficiently optimized for mobile users.
One of the best ways to make sure your site is properly optimized for mobile is to use responsive design, which will ensure your site performs and is displayed properly on a variety of screen sizes, and that it provides the best user-experience for all your site’s visitors.
9. Your site has been hit with a manual or algorithmic penalty
A key characteristic of an algorithmic penalty is a severe and sudden drop in rankings and organic search traffic. If you’ve been slapped with a manual penalty by Google, you’ll likely experience a similar drop in rankings and traffic, along with receipt of a manual action notification via your Google Search Console account.
An algorithmic penalty will usually be harder to identify. Because Google is updating their algorithm on a regular basis, it can be difficult to correlate a drop in traffic with an update. However, if you can identify a specific date on which your rankings fell, you can try matching it up to known updates. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History can help with this. Knowing which update caused your drop in rankings will allow you to fix the specific problems that caused the loss in the first place.
For help with recovering from manual penalties, see “Your Guide to Common SEO Penalties and How to Recover from Them.”
I hope this article has given you some insights into why you site isn’t ranking in search. While there are other reasons you may be experiencing problems, these are the most likely culprits.
Is your site having trouble ranking in organic search results? Have you been able to pinpoint the cause? Share below!