Clients often come to us wondering why their website isn’t appearing at the top of Google or Yahoo! search results (and why, in some cases, their site doesn’t appear in search results at all). Below is a list of common reasons why sites don’t rank highly on the major search engines, and some remedies for resolving the issues.
Is Your Content the Best it Can Be?
Search engines gravitate towards high-quality content – text, pictures, videos, and other media that are relevant and up-to-date. Depending on your industry, you may need to generate a great deal of content to compete for top placement in search results. Moreover, the quality of that content has to be high; duplicate text copied or slightly modified from other sites won’t help your cause. Content should be short, precise, well-written, and frequently updated.
It’s also important to make sure your content can be read and indexed by search engines. If your text is contained within an image or Flash file, search engines will be unable to read and index it. You should never construct a site entirely out of images or Flash because your content will never fully be indexed.
Is Your Site Properly Constructed?
The web has evolved a great deal over the past few years, and so has the way that websites are built. Back in the 90′s and early 00′s, many websites were constructed using different technologies, platforms, and methodologies than those that are commonly used today. Luckily, a set of standard coding practices has been widely promoted and refined over the past few years. Unfortunately, if your site was not constructed using standards-compliant coding, it may not be indexable by the major search engines.
Unless you have a strong familiarity with coding for the web, the average business owner probably has no idea whether or not their website is properly constructed. Moreover, the unfortunate truth is that there are many web developers out there who don’t use standards-compliant coding and best practices when building new websites. It takes a highly reputable professional to look at the way your site is coded and make sure it’s search engine friendly. We often find that clients who have hired students, freelancers, overseas contractors, or low-cost firms get victimized by poor coding. The cost of building a website with a professional may be more expensive in the short-term, but in the long term I guarantee you will spend more money fixing the work of an amateur.
Do You Have High-Quality Inbound Links?
An inbound link is a link to your website from another site on the web. Links from other websites are essentially treated as a ‘vote of confidence’ by major search engines. It’s important to build inbound links from high-value sites with similar content to yours. The more links that point to your website, the more votes you have, and the higher you will rank on search results.
It’s important to note that not all inbound links are created equal. A link to your site from the homepage of the New York Times carries much more weight than a link from a random blog. Also, some links can count negatively; for example, if a known hacker website is linking to your homepage, it may hurt your rank rather than help it.
Are You Doing the Little Things Right?
The following is a short checklist of small but important optimization components that can have a big impact on your rank:
- Do your pages have unique keywords? Each page of your site should have keywords that relate to the content – but, you should have no more than 10 per page.
- Do your pages have unique title tags? Title tags should be different on every single page of your site, and span fewer than 66 characters in length.
- Do your pages have unique meta descriptions? Each page should have a short (less than 150 characters) description of its content.
- Is your content properly formatted with header tags? Content is divided using header tags that tell search engines what to look for and concentrate on.
- Is your domain registered for 2+ years? Search engines want to make sure your site is going to be around for awhile. You should always register your site for a long period of time to prove it’s not going anywhere.
Is Your Site Built from a Template?
Sites that are built off of templates or are purchased for a monthly fee from content management providers are often culprits of providing sites that have no search engine value. These sites are usually constructed in a way that makes it easy for business owners to update their content, but extremely difficult for search engines to read it. Moreover, when using subscription-based content management systems, the content is often hosted on a URL or database separate from your website, meaning even if it was indexed, your site wouldn’t get the credit for it.
There are many content management systems like WordPress and Drupal that are easy to use and can be installed directly on your home server. These are infinitely more effective than subscription-based management systems.
What Does This Mean to Your Business?
You should treat your website like a member of your sales team – make sure it can be found, it’s presentable, and is highly effective at driving business. I strongly recommend investing in an audit of your website with an established consultant who can point out any areas for improvement. And, don’t forget, if all else fails, you can always buy your way to the top with an effective search engine marketing campaign.