If your pages aren’t ranking high on Google, it’s not because Google hates your website. It’s most likely because your page doesn’t deserve a top-ranking result. Now, there are lots of reasons why that might be the case. And it’ll usually come down to an eligibility, content, or links issue.
Or sometimes it’ll be a combination of two or three of these things. So in this post, I will walk you through how to rank higher on Google, I’m going to show you how to figure out why your pages aren’t ranking higher on Google and the steps you should take to fix that.
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Pages aren’t ranking high on Google: Check the “eligibility” of your pages
So let’s talk about eligibility first. Now, when I say “eligibility,” I’m referring to one of several reasons why it may be impossible for your page to achieve a higher ranking. For example, if you’ve set your page’s meta robots tag as noindex, then you’re asking Google not to index your page and therefore, you won’t be eligible to rank.
Read more: Get Your Website Content Indexed
There are other reasons and SEO mistakes that you must avoid if you want Google to index and rank your pages higher. You can learn from these 11 SEO mistakes that beginners make. And the same principles apply if you were to block the page in your robots.txt file. Another eligibility factor is if you’ve had a manual action or some other penalty.
Now, another eligibility category that may not be so obvious is time. While it’s possible to rank new pages at the top of Google quickly, the majority of pages are going to take quite a while to make its way up to the first page. In fact, in our study of 2 million random keywords, we found that only 22% of pages that ranked in the top 10 were created within one year.
So if you’ve published a page and it’s not ranking in the top 10 in a month or even up to 6 months, I’d say to give it some time before you start overanalyzing and making significant changes.
Now, there are definitely other factors that can come into play when it comes to eligibility, but they tend to overlap with the second reason why your page isn’t ranking higher on Google. And that’s having a content-related issue.
Fix the content-related issues
So content issues are typically the most challenging to troubleshoot because quality in and of itself is subjective. But what we know is that “search engines strive to provide the best information and solutions to any given query.”
Google said: “The most basic signal that information is relevant is when content contains the same keywords as your search query. Next, our systems analyze the content to assess whether it contains information that might be relevant to what you are looking for.”
So if that’s the criteria that need to be met, we can start asking ourselves some questions that should help us figure out if our content is deserving of a top-ranking position.
So the first question to ask yourself is:
“Does my page match the dominant search intent?”
So search intent simply represents the reason behind a searcher’s query. And in order to rank, it’s critical that your page matches the searcher’s intent. Now, the main way we can uncover intent is to see what the top-ranking pages for our target query are about.
For example, when you search for “best mouse pad”, almost all of the top-ranking results are list posts comparing mouse pads from various makes and models.
So we know that searchers are researching products and we’d want to follow suit for our best chance at ranking for this query. Now, when you search for just “mouse pad,” you’ll see that all of the top results are ecommerce category pages, meaning, people who search for this are likely in buying mode.
So if you don’t have an ecommerce store selling a variety of mouse pads, you probably struggle to rank high because you can’t serve the dominant intent of searchers. Now, for a query like “mouse pad for home office”, the intent is slightly mixed. You’ll see some category pages from ecommerce stores and you’ll also see listicles from blogs.
This is called mixed intent and in general, you’ll want to try and match the dominant one. So bottom line: if your page isn’t matching search intent, you have a content issue and you’ll need to update it.
Are searchers looking for fresh information and results
Now, another question you should ask yourself is: are searchers looking for fresh information and results? Freshness is important for some queries. For example, if you search for “best headphones,” then you’ll see that all of the top-ranking pages have the current year in the titles because no one wants to know about the best headphones from previous years.
So if you’re trying to serve freshness-dependent queries with old and outdated content, then you have a content issue and you should definitely update it. Now, I’m barely scratching the surface in understanding intent because you need to dig deeper into things like SERP features and of course…the content itself. In fact, the content is what’s responsible for serving the intent of the searchers so that’s where the majority of your time should be spent.
Now, to see if we have potential issues directly in our content, there are two questions we can ask ourselves to improve content quality.
The first question to ask is
“Does my content provide the most thorough information or solution to the topic?”
Now, thoroughness shouldn’t be confused with content length. And I’m definitely not saying that to be thorough, you should write about everything you know on the topic. By thoroughness, I’m talking specifically about covering all of the vital points to serve the intent of the searcher.
For example, if someone in the US searches for “how to get my driver’s license,” you’d need to talk about getting a learner’s permit, doing a driving test, minimum age requirements, vehicle classes, going to driving school and more.
To be extra thorough, you might have a comparison table with links to each state’s official RMV site, so people can go and book an appointment without additional searching.
Now, to come to these conclusions, I recommend a simple 3-step process. And to show you what this looks like in action, let’s say that you want to boost this page’s rankings which is currently in position 22 for the query “How to clean patio cushions.”.
Extract subtopics people searching for
So step 1 is to use tools to extract subtopics people searching for your topic actually care about. To get started, you can use the Ahrefs Content Gap tool. Just paste the top 3 ranking pages for your target query in the top section and then make sure to add the URL you’re trying to rank in the bottom section.
And what this is going to do is show us keywords that these top-ranking pages are ranking for where ours isn’t ranking anywhere in the top 100. After you run the search, you can look for subtopics that might make your article more thorough. For example, these pages are ranking high for “cleaning outdoor cushions with oxiclean,” which is a cleaning product.
There’s also the angle of cleaning outdoor cushions with mold, without Borax, and even specific questions about washing outdoor throw pillows. These are all things that might make sense to address on our page and when thinking about our target audience, it all makes sense.
Another tool you can use is Ahrefs Keywords Explorer. Just search for your target query and go to the Related Terms report. Next, hit the Also Talk About tab to see what other top-ranking pages that rank for our target are talking about.
So in this case, you’ll see there are mentions of pressure washers, corn starch, baking soda, laundry detergent and dawn dish soap which should hopefully get your creative juices flowing.
Manually review the top-ranking pages for inspiration
Alright, so step 2 is to manually review the top-ranking pages for inspiration. Now, inspiration might be a commonality that you notice among the top-ranking pages or it can just be an idea that you think is important to cover your topic in full.
For example, the top 3 pages for our target query show bullet-pointed lists of the materials you’ll need and how long it’ll take to finish cleaning your patio cushions – I think that’s pretty important for this DIY topic.
Also, I really like how this page has clearly defined steps in their posts with matching images. It shows that they’ve actually done what they’re teaching and as a reader, it earns my trust. Speaking of trust.
Adding expertise and experience to your content
The next thing to do is see where you can add expertise and experience to your content. These are two things that Google uses in its quality rater guidelines to evaluate if they’re providing helpful and relevant information.
And so when it’s possible, they are two things that I highly recommend sprinkling in – not just for Google’s sake, but also to demonstrate to your readers that you know what you’re talking about.
For example, showing a before and after picture of your dirty and clean patio cushions can demonstrate both expertise and experience. Talking about how the secret was using Grandma’s famous stain remover adds a unique take that’s not as easily replicable for your competitors.
Piece the puzzle together
Now, the last thing to do is to piece the puzzle together. If you’ve made a substantial list of ideas to improve your content based on data and the top-ranking pages, there’s a good chance that you have a content issue. And so it’s at this point that you need to start piecing your ideas together and decide what’s worth adding and what’s not.
So take your existing draft, add things in where it make sense, and update your content appropriately. Now, after you’ve evaluated search intent, analyzed your competitors’ content, and compared it to yours, you’re going to have a good idea of whether your content alone deserves to rank or not. But oftentimes, no matter how good your content is, the root cause of poor rankings may be that you have a link authority issue.
Assess your link authority issue
Backlinks have been and still remain one of Google’s most prominent ranking signals. And it’s often the reason why we see graphs that look like this where traffic and referring domains grow in parallel.
And much like how we identified potential content issues, we can try and figure out if we’re not ranking because of links by answering a couple of questions. The first question you should ask is
“Am I playing within a similar playing field as my competitors?”
Think about it like this. If you’ve never swung a golf club, you’re not going to challenge Tiger Woods to a million-dollar round of golf. You’re picking a battle you’re destined to lose.
Choosing your competitors in SEO is no different. If your competitors are miles and miles ahead of you in terms of brand, link authority, and budget, your time and money will be better spent challenging people on a similar playing field. Now, to simplify what I mean by “a similar playing field”, I’d consider three different categories:
There’s page-level link authority, topical authority, and reputation. So to assess your competitors’ link authority, you can use Ahrefs’ free SERP checker. Just enter your target keyword, run the search, and you should see the top-ranking pages and the SEO metrics for the top 3.
Or if you want the full SERP, you can enter your keyword in Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview table. Now, to assess link authority, you should focus your attention on the domains and URL rating columns.
So the domains column tells us the raw number of websites that are linking to the corresponding pages. So if all of the top 10 pages have tons of websites linking to them, more likely than not, you’ll need a ton of referring domains too. Now, URL rating is a page-level metric that tries to measure the quality of these referring domains. So these above scores can give us a bit more insights beyond just raw numbers.
In general, if Domains and URL ratings are low across the board, and you’re confident in your ability to generate just as many or more referring domains than your competitors, then it may be worth going after. Again, I’m speaking strictly from a links perspective here.
Now, as for so-called “topical authority” and brand reputation, this is a bit more challenging to quantify. Essentially, you want to see if you’ll be competing against niche authority sites, general authority sites, nobodies, or a combination of any of these. And to do that, I’ll usually look at two things.
1. I’ll skim the domain names and infer if they’re hyper-niche sites.
Generally speaking, if you’re seeing sites that have topical authority and the competing pages have link authority, you’ll be setting yourself up for a tough competition.
2 The second thing I look at is the DR column, which is an Ahrefs metric that measures a website’s link authority. And even though Google ranks pages at the page level and not the website level, I’ve found that DR often correlates with brand reputation which is helpful if you’re not too familiar with the competitors in that niche.
For example, in our “How to clean patio cushions” SERP, you’ll see authoritative sites ranking like BHG, HGTV, Bobvilla, and Family Handyman. These are all well-known and authoritative sites in the DIY home and garden space.
So if you’re a brand new website, I personally wouldn’t try and beat these pages yet. Now, if you’re a somewhat established brand, or you have a very niche site on just everything patios, then this may be a worthy challenge to go for – assuming you can outdo them on links.
To be honest, there isn’t an exact science to this because, in the real world of SEO, you’re going to have to weigh out things like your skills in SEO, your budget, your timeline, and probably like 15 other things too.
Bottom line: if you want to rank in the near term, you’ll choose to compete against competitors you have a chance at beating.
Enough referring domains to compete with the top-ranking pages
Now, the second question to ask is related to the first and it’s “Do I have enough referring domains to compete with the top-ranking pages?” Now, I know I’ve already touched on this but I want to dig a bit deeper into quickly analyzing backlink profiles.
So again, we’re going to start by looking at the SERP overview table in Keywords Explorer. And what we’re going to do is a basic link comparison. So looking at the top-ranking pages, you’ll see there’s a good number of referring domains pointing at them. And if we look at our sample page that’s in position 22, you’ll see that the raw numbers aren’t that far off.
Now, if we click into the Backlinks report for our target page, you’ll see that pretty much all links are from spammy scraper sites. Now, compare that with one of the top-ranking page’s backlink profile and you’ll see that the quality of backlinks is significantly better. And that’s because quality referring domains are what will make you competitive from a link’s standpoint.
So all things considered, I’d say that our target page has a link authority issue and would need to build some quality referring domains to stand a chance at competing. We have a complete link building course that’ll show you exactly how to do that, so I highly recommend reading that course – links in the description.
Overall the key reasons why your website isn’t ranking high on Google and how to fix this
Now, while many ranking issues can be categorized into content and/or links issues, there are still a ton of other reasons why your page may not be ranking. Sometimes improving the site structure or adding internal links can help. There might be other times when improving user experience signals will be what you need. And other times you just won’t be able to figure out why you’re not ranking no matter how much you dig. But that’s okay too!
Remember that pretty much all optimizations we make in SEO are based on educated guesses. And that’s why I think joining a community where you can ask other SEO professionals for a second or third opinion is invaluable. In fact, if you’re an Ahrefs customer, they have a private community you can log in to at community.ahrefs.com and ask your questions about where some of the world’s leading SEO professionals are.
So to bring all of this together: if you’re troubleshooting a ranking issue, look at the data, try and think like your target searchers, make educated guesses, make the necessary optimizations, track your progress with a rank tracker, and then reassess as needed.