With the world of SEO becoming more and more specialized and niche centered, we find that every market has their own ranking factors. Gone are the days when the same factors seemed to matter for everything. It has always been the case that everything is relative in SEO. If you aren’t competing against Amazon, your site doesn’t need to be as strong as Amazon. For smaller businesses and local businesses, you just have to be a better choice than the other business offering your services to your market.
So the best way to find out why you may not be ranking is to look at who is ranking and what do they have that you do not. While Google may be looking for a 2,000-word page for one search query, they may be looking for more images for another, or page speed may mean more in on place than another. Content length, speed, and links are always important, but in some cases, they may be more or less important on an individual basis. Often searches within a similar market will have similar overall factors, so it can be helpful for you DIY people out there to dig into your most important keyword phrase and see what is working and what is not.
I want to give you a little guidance on how you can look at some of the important factors for your site ranking highly for the search term you are going after, whatever that may be. So to get started, Google that important search term. For my example, I have used some paid tools that you may not have handy but will try to explain how you might do it for free. It all starts with Googling that phrase and looking at those sites that are currently in the top 10 to see what Google is looking for.
Competitor Page Authority
Link Strength: Links to your site or page are still the top individual factor for ranking strength, so it is a good idea to see where you stand. There are many tools out there that measure link strength and they are all a little different in what their metric states, but as long as you use the same tool to compare, you should do ok. Moz has a tool that will let you research ten pages per month if you just give them your contact info, so I will use that as an example. Maybe just look up the top 9 sites and then your own. You need to know what your page strength is too.
Take a look at page authority, which shows the strength of the specific page that ranks, as well as domain authority, which measures the entire site strength. If you don’t have a lot of inbound links to your site, most of your secondary pages will have a similar page authority. The same would be true of many competitors in local markets. The secondary pages will be weaker than the domain as a whole, but many secondary pages will have similar strength to each other on the same domain, so you can save researching all of your individual pages so you don’t use up those 10 per month quickly. If it is a really important page, it is worth getting the specific strength, because it is not a given that they will all be the same, just a rule of thumb.
If you are considerably behind in page authority, you need to really focus on getting links coming into your domain and that particular page. Link building is difficult, which is why many hire someone like me. It takes years to build up relationships, but often smaller businesses do have “offline” relationships that they can ask to turn into links to their sites. Chambers of Commerce, charity group sponsorships, etc. can all get you links to your site that signal relevance to Google.
Content is King – Competitor Content Factors
Now that you know where you stand as far as the link strength of your page, we can look at ways to catch up if you are behind. Though links are very important, content is supposed to be king in SEO and if you can provide the best answer to the search query, you have a chance on moving up those rankings. You can look at these top ranking sites for clues as to what Google is looking for in terms of content.
- Content-Length: You may need to copy and paste content into a word processing program like Google Docs or Microsoft Word, but get a word count from these leading pages so you know whether you need a very thorough answer or what Google is looking for. The average top-ranked page in Google is over 2,000 words, but that doesn’t mean you need that much for your target term. Don’t just put words in to make it longer, provide a thorough explanation of what the searcher is searching for and why they should choose you.
- Semantic Search: Take a close look at their content. What other concepts do provide in their answer? Google doesn’t just look for repetition of the keyword these days. Machine learning has taught the algorithm that other terms are also important too. You may see phrases showing up in most of the high ranking pages that aren’t necessarily the direct keyword. The top ranking pages for “NYC Attractions” don’t say “NYC Attractions” over and over again, they mention important other things like the Empire State Building or Madison Square Garden. Google has learned what other important phrases need to be in your content to make it complete. Make sure you include these.
- Keyword Placement: How often is your keyword phrase used and in what spots? You can “Over-optimize” by using it too often, but you typically do want it in there. Do the other sites use it in title tags, headlines, lists, image titles, etc. Look for how often and where it is used in meta-tags and labels and make sure you use it, but make it natural. Visitors are scared away but blatant repetition. There is an art to keyword use.
- Images, Videos, Lists: Do the highest ranking pages have a number of images or videos to make their content more digestible? Maybe Google expects a video to be on the page that answers this search. Be aware of this and take note of how many of these things are on high ranking sites. Machine learning has taught Google the methods with which most searchers seem to prefer to take in the information, so these are clues to that.
Is Your Page As Fast As Theirs
Lastly, check how your page compares to the top pages in terms of loading time. Use a free tool like GT Metrix or Google Page Speed Insights and compare pages. Are you significantly slower? If so, those tools will give you some pointers to try to speed things up a bit.
Now there are a lot of technical issues like broken links and duplicate content and other things that can also be hurting you in search, but they are a bit more complicated as a DIY approach. This is one way to dive in and try to help yourself rank. When you get used to it, the content part is the most straightforward. The links and technical issues can be toughest to fix easily and quickly on your own. This is why many prefer to a have a professional take care of this for them. We also have the tools to make the above very time-consuming process go much more quickly, and allow you to focus on your core business. If you want to take a shot though, the above is the best way to dive in and figure out where you are compared to your competitors.