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Sunday, April 14, 2024

16 reasons why your page isn’t ranking on Google

It’s frustrating. You put time, energy and a lot of hope into a webpage. But it just won’t rank.

Your competitors’ pages are ranking well, even though (subjectively) they’re worse. Yours deserves to be top of Google. So why isn’t it?

Figuring out the levers to pull to get your content to the top of Google isn’t quick, but it can be done.

Identifying the problem

The key to identifying why your page isn’t ranking is to systematically rule out the other possibilities. For this, you’ll need data, industry context and a methodical approach.

Firstly, you need to ascertain if the page is not ranking at all versus not ranking well. This is key.

If a page isn’t ranking well, then it speaks to a problem with how Google perceives the content. This means you’ll likely need to optimize it further.

If the page isn’t ranking at all, this could mean that it’s not been seen by Google or Google simply cannot index it.

Using Google Search Console in your investigation

Let’s start with an easy way to see whether the page ranks for any keywords. Use the performance report in Google Search Console and filter the results by the page in question.

Then, look to see if that page gets impressions or clicks. If it is, take note of the keywords. If it isn’t, that indicates that it might not be ranking at all yet.

Next, increase the time period you are reviewing to the maximum. Have a look at the impressions and clicks graph over this time. Did the page used to get traffic, but not now? Has it never ranked for any keywords?

Is this a site-wide or page-specific issue?

It is also helpful to understand if your whole site is suffering from poor rankings or if it is specific to this one page or group of pages. By finding this out, you can begin to narrow down the cause and potential fix.

Technical issues

Firstly, it’s a good idea to check if there are any technical reasons why your page might not be ranking. This can be something that has recently happened, such as a development change. Or it could be a long-standing issue, like rendering issues.

So, let’s start by ruling out code, architecture and other technical problems.

1. Crawling blocks

Google has to be able to access and read a page to take the information it contains back to its database and potentially serve it as a search result. If a page isn’t ranking, it might be that it can’t be accessed.

Often, SEOs will use various methods to prevent search bots from accessing pages they don’t want them to crawl. For example, we can use the robots.txt or password-protect it so bots can’t crawl.

It is important to check if any of these methods apply to the page you are auditing. They may not have been applied intentionally.

For example, if a robots.txt gets rolled back to an earlier version by the developers working on the site, it may be that the page is inadvertently blocked.

2. Indexing issues

If the page isn’t ranking, it may be that it’s not actually available to index or Google doesn’t think it’s index-worthy.

There are some quick ways to check whether a page is in Google’s index, the quickest of which is by running it through Google Search Console.

Enter the page URL in the “Inspect page” tool. Here, you will be able to see if Google has indexed the page and indeed if it has any issues with crawling the page. It will also give you some clues as to why the page is not in the index.

3. Internal links

Another technical reason that might be preventing a page from ranking is whether it is the destination for links from the rest of the site.

Linking to a page from other places on a website gives Google the signal that you feel the page is relevant to users. If there are no ways to access the page from within the website, that would suggest the page isn’t important.

The text (anchor text) that is used to signify the link, like “click here” or “view more products like this,” can also give signals of the relevance of the page being linked to. The lack of internal links or poorly utilized anchor text might be contributing to a page’s inability to rank well.

4. Speed

Over the past few years, Google has been relying more on user experience signals to help rank pages. One of these signals is the speed at which a page loads.

More accurately, three components of page load speed are known as the Core Web Vitals: largest contentful paint (LCP), interaction to next paint (INP) and cumulative layout shift (CLS).

Although Google representatives have suggested that these are only lightweight signals and will act as a “tie-breaker” in situations where competing pages are very close in other ranking signals, it still may be the difference between your page ranking higher than a competitor’s.

5. Rendering

We’ve spoken about Google’s ability to crawl and index a page being a possible reason why a page isn’t ranking well, another would be the rendering of a page.

Simply put, when a browser tries to access a page, it has to render it. This is the process of turning the HTML, CSS and JavaScript code into an interactive page. Although Googlebot doesn’t behave quite like a browser, it does still take that code, render and execute it.

If something is preventing Googlebot from rendering a page, then it may not be able to see its content. You can use Google Search Console to test how Google renders your page.

Content reasons

Often, when we think about ranking issues, we look at the page’s quality. Is the content useful and informative, and does it address a searcher’s query?

Narrowing down specific issues with a page’s content can be difficult.

6. Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization is an issue where multiple pages on a site target the same set of keywords with the same type of content.

This can happen on a site because pages are too similar in the topics they address and how they address them.

It can also happen for technical reasons, such as a tag system on a blog or products only differing by color or size, creating almost identical pages.

When this happens, Google may choose a different version of the page to be the “canonical” (i.e., the one it chooses to rank).

A quick way to see if a page is considered the canonical of a set of similar pages is by checking Google Search Console. Through the URL inspection tool, you will see which URL Google considers to be “canonical.”

If the URL in the “canonical” field is not the one you are inspecting, it shows that Google considers them duplicates of each other. It is, therefore, unlikely that the inspected URL will rank well, as Google considers another version of it to be the one that should rank.

There are ways, such as using canonical tags, to signify to Google which page from a set of duplicates you want it to rank. However, these are just signals.

So, if Google ignores your canonical tag and chooses another version to rank, it may be that it is the “stronger” page. It may have more internal links pointing toward it, suggesting it is the version you want users to visit. Or it may be better optimized than your inspected URL.

7. Content format

Even if your content is useful, informative and unique, Google might still prefer a different type of content for ranking. This means your page could have difficulty climbing higher in search results.

For example, your haberdashery site is trying to rank a page about embroidery techniques. You search some of the keywords you believe your page should be ranking for:

“What is embroidery”

“What are embroidery stitches”

“How to make embroidery stitches look neater.”

You notice that Google is displaying many videos in the SERPs for these terms. Your page of written content detailing “embroidery techniques through the ages” may never rank above these videos.

This is because Google thinks users would be more satisfied by a video when searching for answers to these questions. Including a video with your written content may allow you to compete with these other pages.

8. Searcher intent/relevance

Further to content type being an issue, it may be that your page is not capturing the intent of a searcher.

Taking the above example, if you are trying to rank for “what is embroidery,” but your page only discusses the best type of materials to use in embroidery, Google will know that a user will be unsatisfied with the content of your page. They will not get the answer to their question.

Therefore, although your page is very detailed and informative, it is not answering their question.

Similarly, if the searcher is looking for “cheap embroidery patterns”, then Google will have no reason to rank your page about the history of embroidery techniques. “Cheap embroidery patterns” is a search that would suggest commercial intent.

People searching it are fairly near the bottom of the conversion funnel. They know what they want, they are just looking to purchase it. Google will rank pages selling embroidery patterns, not an informational page about what embroidery is.

Think too about the structure of the page as a whole. You may be mixing too many search intents on a page.

For example, an educational page discussing historical information about embroidery techniques immediately followed by listings for your entire catalog of embroidery threads for sale. Google might be unable to identify which users’ needs will be served by the page.

Dig deeper: How to optimize for search intent: 19 practical tips

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9. Competitor content is better

Sometimes, your page isn’t ranking well because it isn’t as good as your competitors. Perhaps it doesn’t go into enough depth or it is simply not as helpful.

You may need to look at the pages that Google is ranking highly and be very critical of why they are better than yours.

Dig deeper: How to do a content audit as painlessly as possible

10. Poor optimization

You may well need to start at the beginning with your page and really dive into its optimization for those terms you feel it should be ranking for.

Take a look at the “Content” elements on the Search Engine Land Periodic Table of Elements

Google has definitely moved past the days when adding your chosen keywords to the copy several times was enough to get a page to rank. However, some simple tweaks may allow you to demonstrate the page’s relevance to searchers’ queries better.

11. Uniqueness

It may be that the page you are trying to rank is of good quality. It answers searchers’ questions and in the right format. However, it’s not adding anything new.

If Google is already ranking a volume of pages that address the same topic, with the same sort of content, why would it rank your page amongst them?

If your page is not unique in how it addresses a topic or directs users to the same set of products as hundreds of others, you will struggle to rank it.

Consider adding something unique to the page that differentiates it substantively. This could give Google a reason to include your page amongst those already ranking for the topic.

12. Language

If you are hoping to rank your page in a specific location, is it written in the language that searchers from that location primarily search with?

It may be that you are simply not ranking because your content, although very useful and valuable, is not accessible in the language that Google has determined users are reading content in.

13. Manual action

Manual actions are sanctions enacted by Google when a website seriously contravenes its policies. They can result in a page or entire website being unable to appear as a Google search result.

They cover many issues such as spammy content, low-quality/thin content and cloaking. If your page has an element that contravenes Google’s Spam Policies then it may receive a manual action.

To see if your website has any manual actions, go to Google Search Console and look in the Manual Actions report.

Dig deeper: Google issues search ranking penalties through manual actions

Credibility reasons

One of the key ways that Google determines whether a page would be useful to a searcher and evaluates its place in the rankings is by assessing its credibility. It does this in several ways.

14. Links

We’ve already determined that links with your site are a good way of showing Google that a page is relevant to users. However, links from external sites can be even more valuable.

A link from a website that in itself ranks well for topics similar to the one your page is addressing can show Google that a third party (the external site’s publisher) considers your page to be relevant to its readers. It acts as a verification from a human that your site’s content is valuable and pertinent.

If your page isn’t ranking well, it could be because there aren’t many links pointing to it from third-party sources. It could simply be that your competitors’ pages have more links from relevant, rank-worthy websites.

Dig deeper: 7 signs links aren’t dead: Why to plan for them in 2024

15. E-E-A-T signals

E-E-A-T, which stands for “experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness,” is a concept that comes from the Google search quality rater guidelines. It is essentially a template for how Google rates the content quality of sites.

This is particularly important for pages that deal with “your money or your life” pages (abbreviated to YMYL). These pages contain information that could cause harm to readers if it’s inaccurate or misleading (e.g., medical, financial or legal advice).

For these types of pages, Google may put additional weight behind signals that determine if a page is written by a subject matter expert (expertise) who has genuine experience of the subject. It will also put stock in pages on websites that are considered an authority in the subject and display signals that show it is trustworthy.

16. Algorithm reasons

I’ve intentionally left algorithm changes as the last reason to consider why a page isn’t ranking. When a once well-ranked page begins to descend the SERPs, it can be very easy to ascribe it to “algorithm updates.”

It’s convenient to explain to your boss and you don’t often have to give concrete facts. However, that excuse only lasts so long.

If your page is suffering following a ranking “system” update (as Google now calls its algorithms) you will still need to investigate it to determine how to better optimize your page to regain rankings.

Really, you should rule out all of the above issues before declaring a rankings drop as being due to a system update.

Even when you have done so, it is important to look through the case studies and impact reports from other seemingly impacted websites. This way, you are more likely to understand what you will need to change about your page to make it more rank-worthy following the update in the ranking system it fell foul of.

Troubleshooting roadblocks holding back your SEO success

There may simply be one reason, like a significant technical issue, that is causing your webpage not to rank. It could also be a combination of issues stopping it from ranking well.

Before jumping to conclusions and making big changes to your page, it is crucial that you identify the potential issues and methodically test the impact of any changes you make.

The last thing you want to happen is your page dropping further in Google’s rankings because of your efforts to make it better.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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