Why Aren’t Your Customers Finding You Online? Here are 4 Big Reasons
- You may be doing all the right things, but customers still aren’t finding your website
- Minor keyword strategy mistakes can have major ripple effects
- Matching your content to your audience is key — yet many miss the mark
- Hidden bits of code that make up your website can harbor major SEO problems
- If your website seems even slightly shady, your rankings will suffer
Once upon a time, getting found online was easy. Search engines were the Wild West, and stealing traffic just meant knowing a few dirty tricks. Once you figured out how to jam 20,000 keywords into your 400-word article, you could easily appear on Page 1. From there, traffic would magically appear to your website, and you’d rake in the big bucks.
But, of course, that era didn’t last long. Google (mostly) figured out how to beat these cheats, Despite some of the lingering myths (like more keywords = better rankings), appearing in that coveted top spot is more about creating quality content than checking off those boxes.
Starting with the Panda algorithm update all the way back in 2011, Google has made it progressively more difficult for spammy, keyword-stuffed, plagiarized and otherwise terrible content to rank — and for questionable actors to game the system.
And while these changes have made it much easier for you to find quality content in your searches, it has muddied the waters around how to actually get your website to rank.
You may be doing all the right things, like creating well-written, quality blogs, but yet customers still aren’t finding your website.
The most common issues we see fall into four major areas: keyword strategy, content mismatch, technical SEO and reputation issues. Here’s a quick overview of each area, along with the most common pitfalls in each.
1. Keyword Strategy Mistakes
Let’s start with the most confusing area: Keyword strategy. Finding the right keywords to rank for can be a tedious process, and the learning process is filled with trial and error. It’s easy to make minor mistakes that have wide-ranging ripple effects.
Your Keywords are Cannibalizing Each Other
As you’re creating content to fit certain search queries, you might think that the more articles you have targeting a particular keyword, the more likely you’ll be to rank.
In theory, it kind of makes sense. But in practice, you end up with keyword cannibalization.
Keyword cannibalization is just as grizzly as the name suggests. Search rankings are a zero-sum game. Only one listing can be at the top of the page, which forces your articles to fight in a gruesome deathmatch for that top spot — which ultimately kills them both. Two articles enter, zero articles leave.
Your Targeting is too Broad
When you’re choosing keywords to target, it’s all about finding a balance between three areas: How many people are searching a term, how many others are trying to rank for that term, and what users are actually looking for when they Google it.
Targeting is all about finding the sweet spot: You want to find keywords that have high enough volume to make your content visible, terms that fit both your solution and what searchers are looking for, and terms that aren’t so competitive that you’ll be buried underneath the YouTubes and Wikipedias of the world.
When trying to find that sweet spot, we often see companies make two crippling mistakes.
- Targeting keywords with high monthly searches, but low intent. Pretend you operate a local pet store and you’re trying to rank for “cat” because tons of people are searching for it. But the problem is that people Googling the word “cat” are looking for several different things that are only tangentially related to your store: children doing a report, families looking to adopt a kitten, people looking for memes.
Because it’s so hard to determine the search intent of people looking for this term, it’s nearly impossible to write content that speaks directly to them — and if you’re trying to please everybody, you’ll please nobody.
- Trying to rank for keywords where the competition is just too strong. Taking the same example of the local pet store, you notice your best-selling item is Purina cat food. Because you understand the importance of specificity, you decide to target this term. But by doing so, you’re actually making another mistake.
When targeting a search term, it’s important to know who you’re up against. In this example, the front page is filled with content from Purina and retail behemoths like Amazon, Walmart and Target. Unfortunately, in the eyes of Google, the larger players have better authority — making it very difficult for your store to compete.
When creating content optimized for Google, you can never have too much of a good thing, right? About 10 years ago, this was true. You could get away with finding a few SEO hacks, cranking them up to 11, and watching your site reach the top of the results.
While Google has wised up to this nonsense, we still see it all the time. There’s one practice that refuses to die — keyword stuffing. We’ve all read keyword-stuffed content, and we can all spot it from miles away.
You hate it, we hate it, Google hates it. But just as cockroaches and Twinkies could survive a nuclear bomb, the myth that more keywords on a page = higher search rankings marches on.
In going overboard to please the robot overlords, you’re pissing off the humans — which is a great way to get banished to Search Engine Siberia.
2. The Wrong Content for the Wrong Audience
The second set of issues we see all the time has to do with not matching the right content to the right readers. Your keyword targeting could be top-notch, but if you’re not creating the right content for your audience, customers will still struggle to find you.
Not Providing Enough Unique Value
Just as your business provides a solution that your customers can only get from you, so should your content. Having helpful, informative and insightful articles are a great way to show off your wit and intelligence, which carries over into higher rankings and more sales.
But unfortunately, too many businesses miss this opportunity. When we do SEO audits, we often find content that either has no value to the reader at all, or content that’s rewritten in several slightly different ways as an attempt to rank for more search terms.
Just like its cousin, keyword stuffing, people still try to pass off thin or spun content because it worked 10 years ago. You used to be able to copy/paste info from top-ranking sites and reword it ever so slightly into a more subtle form of plagiarism, and build a bunch of backlinks to outrank everyone else.
Related to this, but with more honest intentions, is content that doesn’t convey your expertise. In 2018, Google rolled out E-A-T, a set of guidelines the company uses to judge the efficacy of its algorithms. Actual humans use this framework to make sure search results prioritize expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. This is Google’s way of at least trying to stop the onslaught of fake news and charlatans from gaming the system with misleading information or blatant lies.
As a business owner, you have a natural advantage in this space. You have a wealth of knowledge about your solution, your customers, and the industry as a whole. You should be taking full advantage of that by demonstrating your expertise in your content, make your qualifications clear on your website, and list contact information clearly on your website.
While title tags and meta descriptions are often talked about in terms of SEO and keywords, people often forget that these two elements are what shows up in Google search results — and determine whether searchers click on your website, or keep on scrolling.
Well-written title tags and meta descriptions that entice searchers to click show Google that your site is engaging and relevant — causing your rankings to go up.
On the flip side, poorly written elements that cause people to keep scrolling send a signal that your website just isn’t relevant to their search — causing your rankings to drop.
When in doubt, always write for humans. Never the bots. (Notice a pattern?)
Not Targeting What Your Audience is Calling Your Solution
When your customers are looking for your solution online, they’re looking for what they believe it to be — not what you want them to call it.
If you’re using precise terms to describe your solution while your customers describe it in much simpler language — like a car dealership promoting “second-hand vehicles” — you’re missing out on valuable traffic from customers looking for what you have to offer.
If you want your audience to find you, you should meet them where they are. The caveat: If you know your audience uses these lesser-searched variations, or they lead to more conversions, then by all means promote vehicles instead of cars, trucks, or otherwise.
3. Technical SEO Troubles
Another set of issues we see frequently is related to the nuts and bolts of your website, aka technical SEO. Like with keyword strategy issues, it’s easy to make mistakes with technical SEO. Many small businesses don’t have an in-house web developer, and it can be tough to find a dev partner who also understands SEO.
Crawlers Cannot Easily Find Your Content
Just like with the previous point, if you want search engines to find (and rank) your content, you have to make it easy for them to find. There are several issues that make it difficult for the Google bots to find your site, interpret it, and categorize it under the most accurate keywords.
Index blocking: Snippets of code in a page’s meta tags that blocks Google from ranking — or indexing — its content.
Improperly configured robots.txt: If you’ve ever seen “blocked by robots.txt” in your search results, here’s how that happens. Robots.txt is a file on your website that contains specific instructions for search engine bots. If it’s confusing, overridden by other signals from your website, or doesn’t exist at all, your website won’t be properly crawled. It’s also possible to unintentionally block portions of your website, or important code on your pages that affect renderings, and by extension, your ratings.
Poor site architecture: Your site architecture determines how easy it is for users to find information on your website. If someone has to click through a string of 30 pages to find one particular bit of information, the bots will get lost — and the NSA will be the only ones to see that page. A good rule of thumb is that no page should be more than 4 clicks away from the homepage.
Poor sitemap: This goes along with your website architecture: A sitemap shows the search engine crawlers how to get from Point A to Point B on your site. If that map is a convoluted mess, your rankings will be, too.
Poor internal linking: Just like signs marking a hiking trail, internal links guide a user through your site. Content can also be “orphaned,” which means a page has no internal links pointing to it — as though its hiking group abandoned it in the wilderness. If it’s tough to find the way, users (and Google) will probably get lost — or worse.
Broken page elements: Photos, links, styling, even whole pages. If elements are broken, your website won’t function and display as it should — making your website look bad, just as a broken window makes your house look bad. If you have too many elements that you don’t repair, Google has an incomplete picture of the page. It’s possible that these broken elements also obscure things that might otherwise put you ahead of competition. Ultimately Google can’t judge what it can’t see and they don’t want to send their users to poor and/or broken experiences.
Site too slow and/or rendering issues: Website experience has been a huge focus of Google’s past few algorithm updates (and its major upcoming update). If your website is too slow, or elements of your page don’t load properly, Google is going to penalize your website.
Not mobile-friendly or optimized
A few years after Google started cracking down on crappy content, it started cracking down on outdated website development practices. At the top of the list is how your website looks on mobile.
Roughly 60% of all search traffic comes from a mobile device, which means you could also be missing out on some large opportunities. If your website isn’t built with responsive design and doesn’t seamlessly adapt to display nicely on mobile, tablet, desktop, or hologram, your rankings will suffer.
4. Your Reputation Matters
The final set of reasons that cost you rankings comes down to your reputation. If you break laws and hang out with scofflaws, people are going to think you’re shady. It’s the same principle online.
You’ve Been Penalized for Not Following the Rules
You’ve been warned about keyword stuffing, questionable content and a bad mobile experience. If your site continues to break these rules, Google is not going to be happy. Just like you get fines for breaking the law, you get de-indexed for breaking Google’s rules.
Off-page SEO is all about who is talking about you and what they’re saying. If your company is in the midst of a PR nightmare and bad press is everywhere, your rankings are going to suffer.
Your Website Was Hacked
If criminals hack your website, you’re the one who is going to pay. And you’ll be paying for it long after the damage has been repaired — assuming you even discover the breach. Site security is an important factor in Google’s rankings. The search giant doesn’t want to send its users to irrelevant pages in the first place, and it certainly doesn’t want to send them to somewhere dangerous.
In the words of Google itself: “Hacked content gives poor search results to our users and can potentially install malicious content on their machines.”
While our list of reasons why your customers might not be finding your website is long, we’ve only scratched the surface. There are several more reasons your website might not be appearing in search results, and remedying them can be tough.
A poor keyword strategy, content that misses the mark or technical troubles could be making it difficult for Google to find your business — or you could be penalized for trying to game the system.
If you’d like to do more detective work on why your customers aren’t finding you, we’re here to help. We offer a free, no-strings-attached SEO audit that will help you crack the case — and show you how to solve it.
Get in touch, and we’ll do an audit the old-fashioned way — with actual humans looking at your website and making specific recommendations for you, instead of plugging your URL into a tool and emailing you a templated report.