It’s the #1 question I get…
Why isn’t my WordPress site ranker higher in Google?
Whether you’re nowhere on the map, have a Google penalty, or wondering why competitors outrank you, this tutorial will help you identify what’s going on. These are the 14 most common reasons based on my last 5 years doing SEO consulting and writing these tutorials.
Go through the list and be sure to leave a comment if you found the problem or you need help. I’m glad to help anyone who takes the time to read my tutorials. Here are the main reasons why YOUR WordPress site isn’t ranking high in Google and exactly what you can do to fix it…
- Over Optimization
- Short, Thin Content
- Bad Off-Site SEO (eg. Link Building)
- You’re Targeting Hyper-Competitive Keywords
- Changing Permalinks
- Lack Of Citations In Local SEO
- Duplicate Citations In Local SEO
- You Added SSL
- Too Many Affiliate Links
- No Links (And No Reason To Link To You)
- Horrible Bounce Rate And Average Time On Site
- Duplicate Content / Search And Replace Pages
- Too Many Sitewide Links With Keyword-Rich Anchor Text
- You’re Discouraging Search Engines From Indexing Your Site
1. Over Optimization
Obsessing over Yoast’s green lights can lead to keyword stuffing and make pages look spammy. Stop thinking SEO is so much about “keyword usage” and start thinking about keeping people engaged with your site through videos, tutorials, and things that people actually would actually want to learn/share/link to. The only time I think about keywords is when I do keyword research, write a keyword-rich (but nice sounding) headline, and craft an enticing meta description so people click my link. I rely on my kick-ass content to do the rest.
2. Short, Thin Content
You know those 300 word pages you’re writing? Yeah, those aren’t going to work. Most of my tutorials are 2,000+ words long but I try aiming for 3,000 words. Too long you say? Then how to you expect to get a higher “average time on page” (a metric measured by Google) when there’s not even 30 seconds of content on your page? That’s why I start every article with a table of contents… not only does it help people navigate the article but it forces ME to write longer content that is broken down into subheadings. Do yourself a favor and try using a TOC.
What To Do About Thin Content
- Identify short, low performing content on your site
- Use Google Analytics to see content with low avg. time on page
- Delete or improve it (would improving it lead to a useful page for visitors?)
3. Bad Off-Site SEO (eg. Link Building)
Did you hire someone to build links? This is probably the easiest way to get a Google penalty. Unnatural links are the most common manual action penalty in Google Search Console which is where we’ll find out if you have one. Make sure your site is verified with Search Console first.
Now go to the manual actions tab…
If you have “unnatural links to your site” it means you’ve been hit with a Google penalty. Whether you have this or not (but especially if you hired a link builder), it’s a good idea to go through the links to your site section of Search Console and clean these up once in a while.
How To Clean Up Links To Your Site
- Go to the links to your site section of Search Console
- Write down all spammy, irrelevant, and suspicious links
- Reach out to these websites and ask them to take it down
- Be persistent… Google wants to see you have made an effort
- For any links you can’t get taken down, use the disavow tool
- Submit a reconsideration request with all proper information
- Fire your link builder and never hire a sketchy link builder again
4. You’re Targeting Hyper-Competitive Keywords
You should ALWAYS Google your keyword and analyze search results to see how competitive it is. Otherwise you will spend hours on an article that you’ll never even rank for. The easiest way to do this is by downloading the Mozbar Chrome Extension. This allows you to Google any keyword and see each results DA (domain authority) and PA (page authority). The higher these are, the more competitive the keyword is, and you should try competing within your range.
Use MozBar to learn how competitive the search results are…
Choose long-tail (specific) keywords which are less competitive and more targeted…
A Keyword Is More Competitive If…
- It has a high DA + PA in MozBar
- Authority websites rank in the top results
- Strong content is present in the top results
- The keyword has a high number of monthly searches
- The keyword is broad (long-tail, specific keywords are better)
More Specific Keywords Are Easier To Rank For
- Instead of SEO Consultant, target WordPress SEO Consultant
- Instead of Chicago Web Designer, target Chicago WordPress Designer
- Instead of Get Out Of Debt, target Get Out Of Debt Without Bankruptcy
- Instead of SiteGround Reviews, target SiteGround WordPress Hosting Review
5. Changing Permalinks
Every time you change a permalink (even if you setup a 301 redirect) you will lose MOST your rankings temporarily, and only some of your rankings long-term. It’s been said about 1-10% of link juice is lost when you setup a 301 redirect. Bottom line… I would avoid changing these all together unless your permalinks use the ugly ?p=123 format. This includes during a redesign.
6. Lack Of Citations In Local SEO
If you’re targeting local keywords (especially where Google Maps appear), you need citations. They’re about 25% of local SEO and are the #2, #5, and #14 ranking factors in Maps. My 3-step process of Google My Business > Moz Local > Whitespark gets awesome results and is the same process I used to get a client ranked #1 for “Chicago Graphic Design Classes” and other competitive keywords. Everything is free besides Whitespark’s citation building service ($4-5/citation). The more competitive your keywords are, the more citations you should order.
How To Create Citations
- Make sure you have a Google My Business Page
- Optimize your GMB pages with by verifying your business, getting a custom URL, uploading as many photos as you can, and doing EVERYTHING to enhance your profile
- Run your business through Moz Local and fix citation errors
- Hire Whitespark to build additional citations, or build them yourself
7. Duplicate Citations In Local SEO
These can penalize your primary citations and cause them not to rank…
How To Check For Duplicate Citations
- Run your site through Moz Local and fix items in the duplicates tab
- Search “Your Business Name Google+” and look for duplicate GMB pages
- Run your business through Google Map Maker and report duplicate GMB pages
8. You Added SSL
You probably noticed I don’t have an SSL on my site. It’s not eCommerce so this isn’t a huge deal but Google started giving priority to SSL websites long ago. The problem is that it has been reported that adding an SSL can result in a huge drop in rankings. There are plenty of tutorials on how to add SSL/HTTPS to WordPress but it definitely comes with some risk.
9. Too Many Affiliate Links
Affiliate sites are especially prone to Google penalties so minimizing the amount of affiliate link on your site (and making sure your content is valuable and not doorway pages) is key.
Trust me, you don’t want an affiliate link penalty…
You can minimize affiliate links by creating landing pages about specific things you sell. For example I have a blog article on SiteGround’s WordPress hosting. By linking to that page instead of always using an affiliate link, I can reduce the total # of affiliate links on my site.
10. No Links (And No Reason To Link To You)
Here’s a tip… instead of blogging just to blog how about writing “the ultimate guide” on a key topic your audience wants to learn about? Yoast and WP Rocket are 2 of mine… people aren’t going to link to my WordPress SEO Consulting page, but by attracting links through my tutorials… the “link juice” will benefit my entire site by increasing my domain authority. So if you run your site through OSE and see you don’t have many links, write some ultimate guides.
11. Horrible Bounce Rate And Average Time On Site
Bounce rates (the % of people who leave your site without clicking anywhere) and average time on site are metrics used by Google to determine the value of each page and it’s rankings (you can find these out in Google Analytics). So if your web design, mobile design, lack of internal links, call to actions… and other parts of your website don’t encourage people to click around… this will hurt your rankings. Making your website “sticky” is what SEO is all about.
12. Too Much Duplicate Content / Search And Replace Pages
Use Siteliner to check for duplicate content…
Search and replace pages are probably the most common form of duplicate content (where you duplicate the same page over and over but only swap out a few words on each page). You see this a lot in local SEO when business create geo-targeted landing pages for multiple locations… but this doesn’t work. Each page should ideally have unique content to that location like photos, reviews, team members, etc. Rand Fishkin made a nice video about this…
13. Too Many Sitewide Links With Keyword-Rich Anchor Text
This was popular with web design firms who would design a website then slap “Chicago Web Designer” in the footer. You can put your name on your work, but don’t link to your site with the same anchor text over and over again. It looks spammy to Google and can cause a penalty.
14. You’re Discouraging Search Engines From Indexing Your Site
If your site is literally nowhere to be found, go to your WP dashboard and go to settings > reading. Make sure “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is NOT selected.
Still Not Sure If These Are The Reason?
Kiss Metrics has an awesome article on 50 Reasons Your Website Deserves to Be Penalized By Google, though I did definitely covered the main reasons here. If you have any questions at all leave me a comment below and I’ll be glad to answer your questions. Otherwise, good luck!