Why you’re struggling to rank on page one of Google

David Pawsey


Want to know a hilarious SEO joke? Compose yourselves… Where’s the best place to bury a body?

On page two of Google.

Get it? No? Oh, OK – I’ll explain. The logic behind this rib-tickler is that page one of Google results in 75% of web traffic.

In other words, most of us will click on the results we find on page one and avoid the painstaking effort of moving on to page two.

It’s unsurprising then that the goal of many businesses is to rank on page one of Google (or at least ahead of their closest rivals). However, reaching page one of Google is as much about art as it is science.

There’s a whole range of “ranking signals” that Google takes into account when selecting what content to show in response to a searcher’s query. And the search engine giant doesn’t publicise what they are.

But from writing and optimising a wealth of content over the years, and keeping a close eye on what the giants of the SEO world are up to, I have a fair idea of why you’re struggling to rank on Google and what immediate action you should take to see you rise up the search results.

Your keyword strategy is all wrong

Long gone are the days when you could stuff an article with the word or phrase you want to rank for.

While keywords help Google identify what a piece of content is about (particularly if used correctly in the structure of the webpage, as I’ll discuss below) the prevalence of this keyword is far from the determining factor on how the web page is ranked.

Google is more concerned with quality content – content that addresses a particular topic, that answers a web users query, that is easy to read.

So a blog that users spend a significant amount of time reading (a clear indicator of whether it’s valuable, authoritative content) is far more likely to rank higher than an article that is difficult to read, but has been stuffed with keywords.

And there really isn’t any need to hammer your content with keywords.

Google is becoming increasingly intelligent and recognises words and phrases related to a topic. An example of this is shown in the meta-description below.

Meta descriptions will help you rank on Google

While the search phrase was “how to resign from a job” Google has highlighted similar phrases it deems as relevant (“quit from a job” and “resignation”).

But you still need to decide exactly what your topic is about and select the keywords and phrases that help describe it to Google. And the best way of ranking highly on Google is to select a specific keyphrase that is relatively niche.

For example, rather than targeting the highly competitive keyphrase “how do I rank on page one of Google” a sly SEO type might aim for the less competitive “why am I struggling to rank on Google”.

As I’ll explain below, this phrase will be used strategically within this post, but the primary aim is to answer the query and let Google, and you dear reader, decide whether this is a quality piece of content.

You’re struggling to rank on Google because your pages aren’t optimised

So while you shouldn’t stuff your blog post or web page with keywords, they should be used to signal to Google what the content is about.

So if the query I’m targeting is “why am I struggling to rank on Google” how am I using keyphrases to answer it?

Well, I’m using the phrase, and variations of it, within the text. But most importantly I am using it in the headline, URL, some subheadings and alt tags on the images I have used.

But there are other factors that help Google to determine whether my content is worthy of a high ranking. Like a human web visitor, Google wants to be able to easily move around my website.

Therefore, it’s good practice to include links to other relevant content on my site, such as the piece I wrote on how to write an engaging blog post.

Google also wants to know that I’m citing high-quality sources when referencing data, so I link to reputable articles about how to rank for SEO.

Finally, I want to make sure that I write my own meta description (the description of the content that shows in search results) rather than letting Google automatically select it.

This way I can include keywords that I want to rank for (which, as shown above, Google highlights) and tailor it so the searcher is enticed to click through to the article.

You’re not getting backlinks from authoritative sites

As I’ve previously mentioned Google does not publicise its ranking factors. However, it’s perceived wisdom in the SEO community that backlinks from authoritative sites are highly important.

A backlink is a link from another website to yours. And the more authoritative the website, the better it is for yours.

For example, a link from a website such as the Guardian or Financial Times is of considerably more worth than links from five different small websites or blogs.

So it’s worth spending time trying to earn 10 links from higher quality websites than 100 smaller ones.

So how can you achieve this? One way is to write guest articles which include a link back to your website. If you can get a pitch accepted by the Guardian or Financial Times then all power to you.

However, you might have more success building relationships with local press, trade publications or some of the larger blogs in your industry

But even sharing your content on social media can have an impact, as long as people are clicking on the link to read your article.

You’re struggling to rank on Google because you’re not giving your website enough TLC

Isn’t it frustrating when you click on a link on a website and the page doesn’t exist? Well, Google doesn’t like that either.

And the bigger your website gets, with the more content you create, link to and move around, the more likely this is to happen.

But do you have the time to check every link on your website? Probably not.

But you don’t need to. There are plenty of tools available to conduct a technical audit which will alert you to any broken links as well as any other technical aspects which can affect your SEO.

Image of Moz tool which can help if you're struggling to rabnk o Google
Screenshot of Moz

This includes page loading speed, duplicate content, missing page titles and meta descriptions that can be included.

There’s a range of tools that can help you conduct an audit, such as Google Search Console (free), Screaming Frog (free) and Moz (my tool of choice but has a hefty monthly cost).

So if you’re struggling to rank on Google these technical SEO issues could be the reason why, so a technical SEO audit is highly advisable.

In summary

  • Answer a query rather than targeting a keyword
  • Optimise your pages
  • Pitch content to authoritative websites
  • Conduct regular SEO audits

This blog originally appeared on

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