Posted by randfish
We’re just not getting any visitors from the search engines…
I probably hear that line 30X or more each week – over email, in phone calls, in conversation, on forums, etc. and to tell the truth, it would be really handy to have a resource I could point folks for some self-diagnosis. If only there were some type of medium that I could publish on… one that would be accessible on some sort of computerized system… maybe a net of interconnected pages… one the whole world could access… like a… world… wide… oh, hang on a tick.
The 7 Most Likely Reasons Your Search Traffic (and SEO) Sucks:
#1 – You Just Launched Your Website
The Issue: New websites often don’t perform well right out of the gate with the search engines. Because so much of the web is spam (probably between 1/3 and 1/2 of the 30 billion or so pages on this superhighway), engines need to establish some level of trust with a domain before they’ll start ranking its content well. Engines need time to assess your value, watch the links to your site grow over time, evaluate you based on the content you add and the links that come to that content.
How to Diagnose: This is a no-brainer. If your website just launched and didn’t receive mentions in hundreds of major media publications and across the blogosphere, you’re probably in the "not-too-much-trust," newbie barrel and need to earn your way out.
How to Solve the Problem: The same way you solve the problem of opening a new business – build relationships in your neighborhood, get your friends to refer you, make new friends, build a quality business and quality content that’s going to bring in word-of-mouth traffic. Translating all of this to the web is easy, but it becomes a huge mental stumbling block. Remember that the web is just a proxy for real life. If George’s Chicken Tacos is a crappy dive, it doesn’t matter how many times it says "chicken tacos" on the sign, no one’s going to come back twice and no one’s going to tell their friends to go. Sell great chicken tacos, offer tons of reasons why people would send their friends (maybe you have a phenomenal collection of free recipes and links to all the places to get the authentic ingredients) and you’ll be on the road to fame.
#2 – You Have No Content Worthy of Earning Attention
The Issue: You might have a great site, with all the things a buyer needs to know about your product or service, but that won’t necessarily help you in the engines. Engines rely on links – references – to tell them who’s worthy and who’s not. If your competition is earning mentions around the web while you’re stagnating with a 4-page brochure site, is it any wonder that Google’s not sending the traffic love?
How to Diagnose: Once again, it’s a bit of self-reflection. Remove yourself from your website and ask three critically important questions:
- What group of link-likely individuals would come to my site?
- What content am I providing to these folks that will make them want to share my content with their readers?
- How would those linkers find me in the first place?
If you don’t have solid answers to al those questions, you need some basic marketing and content building help. You should also check out who is linking to you and compare yourself against your competition. The Keyword Difficulty Tool is very handy for that, as is the Page Strength Tool. You should also check out Google’s Webmaster Central (which shows you a good number of the links pointing to your site) and Yahoo! Site Explorer (which can give you competitive link intelligence on other domains).
How to Solve the Problem: It’s far too complex to explain in this blog post, but let me suggest a few links – Building a Traffic-Worthy Website, A Visual Tour Through the Basics of Social Media Marketing, Separating the Linkbait Wheat from the Chaff, and my 4-part series on link-worthiness – 1, 2, 3 and 4.
#3 – Your Content Isn’t Accessible to the Search Engines
The Issue: You’ve got a good site with great content and lots of nice links, but your pages simply aren’t getting listed in the major search engines.
How to Diagnose: If you’ve got a good idea of the number of pages on your site, try using the site:yourdomain.com command at Google, Yahoo! & MSN/Live. Look through the first few dozen pages of results and check that against the pages on your domain. Then try selecting 10-20 random pages on your site and querying the exact URL at the engines. If your pages aren’t coming up, you’ve got some crawling problems.
How to Solve the Problem: The first step is to figure out which potential issue is affecting your site. It could be that you’ve done something simple like block crawlers in your robots.txt file or forced session IDs or cookies in order to access content. You may have all of your content in images, video or plug-in format, making it impossible for the engines to see. Whatever the case, you’ll need to understand at least the basic of search engine accessibility in order to fix the issue. Once again, there are a few good resources to help out – The Basic of Search Engine Friendly Design & Development and The Illustrated Guide to Building a Search-Friendly Website.
#4 – You Have Large-Scale Duplicate Content Problems
The Issue: The engines see your content everywhere – in multiple places on your site – or, even worse, all over the web. This forces them to choose between which is the original, canonical version and which a copy. Furthermore, it dilutes the potential ranking ability of any given page to rank for its content.
How to Diagnose: Grab a short but substantive snippet of text approximately 9-14 words in length that should be completely unique to the page. Place "quotes" around the snippet and perform a search for it at Google. The first result should be your the page you just grabbed the snippet from. If it’s not, you’re in big trouble and even if it is, you might still have issues. I’ll walk through an example below:
I’ve grabbed a short snippet of text from this recent blog post – Stories of the Last Pre-Internet Generation – and searched for it at Google:
I can see that SEOmoz’s page is ranking first, but I also note that there’s another result – someone who’s copied my post. If I repeat the search with the omitted results (or append the &filter=0 onto the search string at Google), I can see just how many copies are out there:
We can see that Google claims to have 102 pages containing that text – a lot of copies. If SEOmoz weren’t a powerful site, we might see some of those content thieves ranking ahead of our page, and turn to potential copyright violation solutions.
How to Solve the Problem: If your own site is the culprit, look into canonicalizing your pages down to a single version using 301-redirects. This has been well explained in this post – How to Deal with Pagination and Duplicate Content Issues and this one – The Illustrated Guide to Duplicate Content in the Search Engines. If the duplication isn’t on your site but you see others copying your works and outranking you, look into Ways to Enforce Your Copyright.
#5 – You’ve Fallen for Black-Hat SEO Tactics
The Issue: You’ve been had. Perhaps you’ve bought links off large networks or participated in reciprocal linking schemes to boost your rank. Maybe you’ve been hiding text on your pages, hoping to keyword stuff your way to rankings. You might have even sold links on your site to supplement your income, thinking that "nofollow" jargon was for suckers. Now the engines have wised up to your tricks and you’re stuck with 1/10th of the search traffic you had last month.
How to Diagnose: You know if you’ve been bad, but the best way to know if the search engines have detected it is to search for obvious, longer keyword phrases that exactly match the titles of some of your most important pages. If you’re no longer ranking in the top 10, chances are you’ve been hit with a penalty. A sudden complete loss of traffic (visible in your analytics) is another good sign. And, obviously, if you log in to Webmaster Central and see a message that Google’s caught you spamming, that could be an indication, too 🙂
How to Solve the Problem: You’re going to have to fix the problem – get rid of those links, unhide that text and slap on those nofollows – then submit a re-consideration request detailing what you did, who you used to do it (remember, Google in particular likes names of people and businesses that mess with their algo), and your word that you’ve mended your spammy ways. If it sounds a little patronizing, that’s because it is, but it’s also best to grovel, as that search traffic is often the lifeblood of your business. There’s a whole chart on How to Handle a Google Penalty here.
#6 – You’ve Ignored Basic SEO Best Practices
The Issue: Your content rules, you’ve steered clear of bad SEO tactics and you’ve even generated a great number of high quality links, but you’ve never built with the engines in mind, and now you’re losing out to better optimized competitors.
How to Diagnose: Are you following basic best practices like:
- Simple, descriptive, unique titles tags – see Best Practices for Title Tags
- Solid meta description tags – see Making the Most of Meta Description Tags
- Usable, keyword-rich, static URLs – see 11 Best Practices for URLs
- Indexable, content-rich pages with unique text – Search Engine Friendly Design & Development
How to Solve the Problem: Get to work! Follow the advice of the links above and watch the miraculous traffic that follows. This is one of the best problems to have, because making these basic fixes on a site where everything else is fine generally means a big boost in search traffic very quickly.
#7 – You’re Not Properly Targeting Keywords
The Issue: No one is searching for the keywords you’re targeting, and you haven’t invested in researching what searchers are seeking.
How to Diagnose: Check the searches that send you the most traffic each month – if the numbers are under a couple dozen for your top keyword phrases, you’re probably missing out on a lot of traffic because you’ve done no keyword research and targeting. You’ll also know if you’ve bothered wih keyword research for your site – if you haven’t done any, don’t assume that your "innate" industry knowledge is good enough – leaping to conclusions about what searchers want without getting the numbers is a foolish game to play.
How to Solve the Problem: Use keyword research sources like Google’s AdWords Tool, SEOBook’s Keyword Research Tool and Wordtracker to find the relevant phrases that your content should hit. Then create or fit those keywords into relevant pages on your site and watch the engines lap them up.
I’m sure there’s another 20 one could add to this list, but I’m hoping it will at least provide a good starting roadmap for those who are having no success whatsoever with their SEO efforts.
BTW – I’m very, very sick at home this week, and with no Mystery Guest to take care of me, I’m getting pretty sick of old Simpsons episodes & Wheat Thins. If I haven’t answered your email or Q+A, my sincere apologies. I’m hoping to be better by tomorrow. Luckily, I felt so guilty about neglecting the blog that I had to publish something.
p.s. Why aren’t there 10 YOUmoz submissions and a dozen posts analyzing the SEO Survey Data? We purposely left out a ton of the most interesting stuff for the community to dig up and discuss, but so far it’s been pretty quiet… Hopefully you’re all just very busy making more than $30K/year 🙂
More: continued here