Why Aren't We Ranking for (Insert Keyword Here)? Internet Marketing Mysteries

Even though it's 2015 and the search engines rely so heavily on intuitive and personalized search, many website owners are still obsessed with keyword rankings. You can't really blame them. Having your site at the top of the rankings for a "money" keyword can bring in a lot of traffic. Whether or not that is all relevant traffic with the potential to turn into leads is beside the point.

not ranking on google

In today's rapidly changing online landscape, the solution to all your website problems isn't as simple (or complex) as being #1 in search. But telling a website owner there's more to the internet than being #1 is rarely a satisfactory answer. You might be able to provide a dozen solutions that result in more leads and better conversion rates, but you'll still hear this:

So why aren't we ranking for our main keywords?

It's a complicated question with many potential answers. Here's a short list:

  1. Your content isn't relevant enough
  2. The competition is too big
  3. You are ranking—just not for the particular query you just conducted at that very moment in time

No matter the reasons, the only satisfactory answer for some website owners is "You'll be there soon." But promising rankings is like promising the weather. We can use all the predictions we want, but there's never going to be a guarantee.

So what can you do?

First, you need to make sure everything is optimized for both search and user experience. The emphasis here should be on the user. After all, it doesn't matter how well you do in search if your site isn't set up to convert. The better user experience you can provide, the more conversions you'll get—even if you aren't ranking number one.

Second, you need to make sure you have the right content on your website. Are you hoping to rank for something that's barely on your site? It's not going to happen. If you want to gain visibility for a specific service, you need to show that you actually provide that service. Google isn't a mind reader. I can't tell you how many website owners expect to rank on something they don't even talk about it.

Third, you need to evaluate your competition. What are they doing that you aren't? A good competitor analysis can go a long way in creating a new strategy. But it also has limitations. Are you trying to outrank Amazon for Kindle? Good luck. You could enlist every SEO strategy ever known to humans and machines and it still won't happen. Knowing what you're up against—and what's feasible—can really help in the fight for search rankings.

Fourth, make sure you are trying to rank for the right things. A local car dealership isn't going to rank at the top for "cars." And there's no reason why they should. Anyone searching for "cars" is looking for something more than what a local car dealership has to offer. You have to make sure you are choosing your battles wisely. Cast the net that will bring in the fish you want. If you go for the whole ocean, you're going to get nothing.

If you've already done all of the above and still don't find yourself on top of the search engines for your desired keywords, you need to look to other marketing strategies. SEO is great and will be relevant for as long as search engines exist, but it isn't the only thing. It isn't even the only search thing. While many site owners are opposed to the idea of paying for clicks, AdWords and other digital advertising platforms give you more control over how and where you appear in search.

Of course, this doesn't mean you should do AdWords instead of SEO. If you really want to market your site on the internet, you need a well-rounded approach.

Ranking for keywords isn't the ultimate mark of a successful website. Having good rankings doesn't guarantee success. And not having the rankings you want doesn't mean you can't be successful. Marketing on today's web takes a much more balanced and dynamic approach than ever before.


This post is part of Internet Marketing Mysteries, a weekly column addressing actual client questions related to SEO, analytics, website best practices, and any other topic connected to internet marketing. Have a question you’d like to see tackled in a future post? Let us know in the comments.

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