Posted by randfish
Most of us have a pretty good sense for the best ways to improve our search rankings, including earning links, targeting the people who search for us, and making sure our sites contain high-quality content. Sometimes, though, we get outranked by sites that clearly have work to do in these areas. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains some of the reasons why that might happen to you.
Why You Might Be Losing Rankings to Pages with Fewer Links Worse Targeting and Poor Content – Whiteboard Friday
For reference, here’s a still image of this week’s whiteboard:
Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, I want to address a question that comes up all the time. I get so much email about this. So many people asking in Q&A, the Moz Q&A, about:
“Why am I losing rankings to a site or page that has fewer links, worse keyword targeting, and/or poor content?” It’s usually some combination of these. A lot of times it’s fewer links and poor content, or they’re not targeting a keyword at all, and their content’s terrible. “Why are they outranking me?”
I want to try and address why that might be happening for you, because it’s such a common theme. I think, as SEOs and marketers, we’re trained to look at the data. We look at who’s ranking for chicken coops, and we see these three results, and we go and check. Okay, how many links does this site have? How many links does the page have? What’s the page authority? What’s the domain authority? What does the anchor text look like? Is it an exact match domain, and maybe it’s getting some domain biasing from that, or those kind of things. And then, when we don’t see one of those patterns that we’re accustomed to, we go, “Why is that happening? What’s going on there? I don’t understand why I’m seeing this page outrank my page.” So I’m going to try and address those.
First off, let’s understand the basics of what’s going on in rankings, because there are multiple things. First off, domain based features. So it could be that MNN, which I think is Mother Nature Network maybe it has a very powerful domain, or not as powerful a domain, in terms of domain authority and trust and those kind of things.
There are page based features. This is like the content of the page and the keywords that it’s targeting and how it’s doing that, as well as the content experience on the page and the links that are coming to the page. The individual URL, not the domain broadly.
Then there are listing based features, meaning: Have they done a good job of making this a very compelling thing for a user to click? We’ve certainly seen examples of where making a more compelling snippet has actually boosted people’s rankings as more people click it, and Google is seeing that searcher behavior, and now they’re saying, “Oh well, if so many people like this result and they’re scrolling down to find it, then we should probably be bumping it up.”
Of course, there are secondary benefits to that, which is the more people who click your listing, the more people you get exposed to, and the more links you can earn, and all those kinds of second order benefits.
But it’s not just these things, or it is these things, but it’s also a bunch of different inputs that can be affecting these, and so I’m going to walk you through some of those.
What I really like asking is, “When we’re being outranked, where do we have weaknesses that the other listings have strengths?” I think this is a common way of going about this, but it’s not always numeric. It’s not always quantitative. Sometimes it’s qualitative, and sometimes you have to ask yourself tough questions.
Do I have a poor listing or a poor snippet? Is this something where, out of all the listings on here, someone would want to click mine more than anything else? That’s a copywriting challenge, it’s a creativity challenge, and it’s a empathy challenge. We want to be inside people’s heads. If we were to go and get a room full of a hundred people who performed a search for chicken coops, and we asked them, “What would make you click on a listing? What would inspire you to say, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to see.’”
A lot of time it might be something like this.
If you’re being outranked in this search result by Mother Nature Network, and you’re going, “But I actually sell chicken coops, they don’t,” think about how compelling it is to say, “Oh eight awesome urban chicken coops.”
Well, given population trends and how chicken coops are rising, it’s very possible that lots of people who live in cities and dense urban areas are searching for chicken coops right now. So this kind of an article, that’s inspiring and interesting to them, might be better than what I’ve got, which is chicken coop designs or backyard chicken coops, those kinds of things. Maybe that’s what’s going on, and we need to have a real conversation about who those people are, what they’re searching for, and whether we’re providing something that’s really compelling for them to click on.
Likewise the brand and domain. People have a hard time hearing this, and for any of you out there who are consultants, or agencies, or are a marketer who joined an organization, you know that there’s nothing harder than going to your boss, or your board, or the client and saying, “Your baby is just ugly. Nobody likes your brand, and people don’t enjoy interacting with it, and they don’t have a positive association with it. We’re going to have to change that if we want to move the needle on any of these other tactics.”
This is true in social. It’s true in content creation, and content marketing. It’s true in SEO for sure, and remember that brand bias is one of the strongest signals. A lot of people say, when surveyed and when they do tests, that the domain name, the brand is what biases their click, and they might click on something lower if it has a better brand association for them.
Likewise user experience and design. One of the most fascinating case studies, and unfortunately I can’t talk about fully, transparently, because this is an interaction that I had with someone who did not give me permission to disclose it. It’s a big brand. It’s a brand that you’ve heard of, a site that you’ve heard of, and they had this experience where their user experience changed at one point, and they made a conscious decision to change it. It was providing sort of a worse experience for people coming to them for search results, but they were getting a higher conversion rate as a result of how they changed the experience, and Google just dropped them way down. Their search traffic cratered and fell off a cliff. They had anticipated that they would be hurt by it a little, but certainly not this much, and that’s speaks to the quality of user experience that you’re providing.
If Google sees lots of people go and visit your page and then come right back to the search results and click on someone else, that’s a really bad signal for them. So if you’re not answering that query and doing a great job from the landing page of delivering value, Google sees that. Whether you’re using Google Analytics or not, they see it from people coming back to the search result and clearly being unsatisfied, clicking other listings more frequently than they do when they click on someone else’s result first. That tells Google you’re not the right match, and so you want to make sure that you’re delivering that sort of user experience.
Another thing that I see sometimes is people saying, “I have more links, for more linking root domains to my page than they do.” Okay, but let’s examine a bunch of things about citations, and I don’t just mean direct links. I also mean mentions, brand mentions and brand association mentions, and I also mean things like social shares and social mentions, because remember these are all being taken into account, either as a first order direct impact or a second order effect.
So I like to ask about quality. Are those coming from high quality sites?
Are those references high quality? Are they really saying this is a good place to go for this? Remember, Google has started using things like sentiment tracking and sentiment analysis to determine are people really pissed off at this brand? If so, that’s not actually a mention that I want to make them rank higher.
I’m looking at quantity and that’s certainly something that all of us can track pretty easily.
Variety, this is one that’s tough for people. What they see is hey everyone out there is linking to me. Well, are they all exactly the same kind of stuff? Like no news sites are linking to you. No blogs are linking to you. No social shares are coming to you, but a bunch of small business websites that use your widget on their page, maybe you’ve got some sort of a tracking widget or you have a WordPress plugin, or something like that, but there’s no variety. Everything that links to you is of one particular kind, and years ago, this tactic totally worked. Now it’s much tougher. If you don’t have that broad sentiment of lots of people saying nice things and lots of kinds of people saying good things about you and linking to you, it can be tougher to win.
Also acceleration rate. Sometimes I see folks who have a really strong site, a really strong page, and they’re seeing someone with only a few links, who’s relatively new popping up, and they’re go, “What’s going on here? How are they getting so far ahead of me?” The answer often times is well, their acceleration rate is higher. You’re growing links at sort of this rate, and they’re growing links at this rate, and even though you might be up here in terms of links, and they’re way down here in terms of links, that growth rate is something that’s taken into account, especially if it’s coming fast and furious, because it suggests to Google this is really interesting right now. Lots of people might be interested in this today, this week, this month.
Next, I look at content quality and usefulness. When I’m addressing that, I want to know does the content address the searcher’s intent? One of the challenges that people have a lot of time is when they’ve got commercial products especially. So, for example, let’s say that you are selling backyard chicken coops. Your competing with folks like Williams-Sonoma and BackyardChickens.com, and you see content outranking you. You’ve got to be realizing, oh there’s a lot of people who are not looking to buy this product, but are merely interested in set up and design and learning more about it. Can I offer that educational, or resource-based, or news-based, or just design based type of content as well? Should I be blogging about this in addition to having my commercial page about it, and maybe both of those can help me perform better in the search results.
Does the content provide great or unique value than anyone else? I actually did a whole Whiteboard Friday on providing unique value. I’ll let you guys watch that one. That’s a pretty good Whiteboard Friday on this particular topic. But it could be the case that even though you’ve got a great page, with great pictures, great video, how to set up, all this good stuff, it’s not unique. There are seven other people in the top ten who do almost exactly do the same thing, and you’re not providing unique value. You need to stand out. You have to be the exception to the rule if you want to outperform, and that’s often why you see stuff that looks like it doesn’t have the metrics to perform doing so well.
Last thing, ask a little bit about results biasing. Remember that if you’re doing a search, if I’m doing a search from Seattle, Washington, I might see a lot of Seattle-based and local companies in here, even if it’s not the maps and local results, because that local impact, Google knows where I’m coming from, where my IP address is. If I’m using a mobile device, they know nearly exact where I am. That kind of biasing can hurt. So I like to append. You can do a search that appends something, like &gl equals your country code, onto a search that you uses say .co.uk. So I might go Google.co.uk?search=chicken+coops&gl=us, and now I’ve said put me in the UK. No wait, put me in the back in the U.S., and now there’s no localization, and I can see what the national, sort of geographic picture is, the non geo-biased results. If it’s geo-biasing that’s going on, it’s really going to be very, very hard to compete in those geo markets unless, you have a local presence in that market, and for a lot of searches, that’s what Google’s doing, and the best you can hope for is be the national brand that performs somewhere in here.
Also, look for mobile biasing. Remember that Google has said recently that they will discount or not rank you as well if your site doesn’t perform quickly, have responsive designs, do well on mobile devices. So that might mean that if you’re seeing a large amount of mobile searches, be careful, that’s something you definitely need to test.
And finally verticals. Sometimes Google sees that, hey, when people are searching for a particular keyword phrase, they really want video. They really want news. They really want images. If your page doesn’t have some of those features, you might not perform well even in the normal search results. Video snippets a lot of the time can help folks to perform in those types of results.
So these are all questions you can use to ask yourself in that case scenario where the numbers just aren’t lining up. I really like using Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool, which has this advanced SERPs analysis, does this big kind of Excel spreadsheet layout of oh yeah, this is every metric about every kind of thing possible or imaginable, and now I can really get into those numbers. if you’re seeing those numbers not matching up, this is a next good step to go through, check mark by check mark, and figure out why you might not be performing.
All right everyone. Hope you enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I look forward to the comments, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.
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