Clients ask me, “When I Googled _______ our site was way back on page four.” Or, “How come our site isn’t No. 1 on Google?”
As the awareness and importance of No. 1 rankings grow, these types of questions have become more frequent. Here are two core search engine optimization (SEO) principles and a little insight into why a website might rank poorly:
1. Your site isn’t relevant to what people search.
If you want to rank for “blue widgets,” the term “blue widgets” needs to be on your website.
This relevancy factor is the first element Google looks for to determine where a website should rank on its results page. Google essentially looks for a match between the term the person typed into the search engine (keyword) and what’s on a website. If that keyword doesn’t exist on your site, you will not rank for that term. Google will favor a site that contains the queried keyword.
This is one of the first things I look for when I conduct an SEO audit. Based on what our client wants to rank for, I compare the search terms to what’s currently on their website. If I can’t find any matches between the search terms and website’s content, I stop this phase of the audit.
But what if those search terms exist on your website? To be as relevant to the search term as possible, it’s important that the keywords reside in the right places on your site.
There are several places on a website where Google looks for embedded search terms to determine the relevancy of the site. The site’s content is one location, but keywords also need to be in heading tags, navigation, the url, and meta data. Search terms in these locations will send Google the strongest signals on what your site wants to rank for.
2. Your site isn’t popular.
Site popularity is the second big factor that influences search results. In high school, people generally view the kid with the most friends as the most popular. The same exists in the Web world.
Instead of friends, a search engine judges popularity by links. Search engines will view a site with a lot of links back to it from other websites (friends) as a popular site. This popularity signal means Google will favor a website with multiple sites that reference its content over a site that has no links back to it.
The quality and quantity of the sites that link to your content does make a difference, but the main point here is you must participate in the online world to get good rankings. This factor of SEO can get tricky, but be sure to look beyond social media to grow a website’s popularity.
How do you know if a site isn’t popular? The first signal is poor rankings, but you can determine a lot in the referral section of Google Analytics. This is the first place to look when a site’s popularity is in question. Based on what’s there, a Web analyst can provide some insight into the site’s performance.
Relevancy and popularity are the core concepts of search engine optimization. To rank, a website needs to be successful in both areas. A page that’s popular and relevant to a search term will produce positive results.
I’m assuming the site in question is in good standing and hosted by a legitimate hosting company. An easy way for Google to flag you is to have any malicious activity on your website or server.
Most sites won’t have any issues like this, but I want to throw it out there. Malicious activity can drastically influence your ranking. If any malicious activity happened on your website, I would resolve those issues first.
Jason Poulos is a digital specialist at CRT/tanaka. A version of this article originally appeared on The Buzz Bin.