Spending the time to produce content that doesn’t end up ranking well on Google is a frustrating experience for bloggers and niche site owners. What steps can we take to try and improve the rankings of articles that are not doing well and make sure our time and effort hasn’t gone to waste?
There are definitely a number of bases we can check to try and find out why content hasn’t ranked well on Google. We firstly need to check that the competition for that particular search phrase isn’t too fierce. We also need to check that the content is of good enough quality and not overly monetized in order for Google to truly trust it and reward it with good rankings.
Between these three bases we can usually find the main reason why an article hasn’t done so well on Google. In some cases, we may have simply targeted the wrong keywords and titled the article completely wrong, in which case it is a matter of creating a whole new post with a new link and starting again from scratch.
However, we must also emphasize that no matter how much we do right in producing content, the process of ranking always takes time and patience. The Income School guys found for instance that it takes an average of 35 weeks for articles on brand new sites to reach their peak (or close to it) of traffic. See the video below.
So it is important not to rush into hasty conclusions and think that because an article isn’t at the top of the ranking after a few weeks or months, something has gone wrong. The whole process can take time, as much as 6-9 months or longer and we have to be patient and take this into account before we start taking action.
There is no hard and fast rule here but if the article is not even in the right ballpark (say the first couple of pages of the rankings) at the six month mark, then it might be worth thinking about looking into it further. It may even be worth waiting longer. Let’s look at the issue in more detail.
Check Out the Competition
The first thing to do if an article isn’t ranking is to check out the competition for that search term. It may have been that you have simply targeted a search phrase that is too competitive, already well covered by big, authoritative sites with high authority and reputation on Google who have been around a long time.
In these cases, it’s going to be difficult to outrank them no matter how good the content is you produce. It will likely take many years to build up the domain authority required to compete with them and for Google to give you a shot against these bigger sites in the rankings.
This is why doing good keyword research is so important before you write an article. You need to target longer tail phrases that have not already been snapped up by the bigger sites and where there is not so much competition.
See our article on keyword research for more on this. It is better to target search terms with poorer quality results, like short articles, forum posts and content that was published a long time ago. This is your chance to pick low hanging fruit and rank in fairly short order if you produce better content.
Even when the search term is only covered by smaller sites, but the top ranking article is a long, well written piece of content that is a definitive answer to the question, it may be better to stay away, since you are only going to outrank them if you can produce a better piece of content.
You need to make a judgement call as to whether you can produce a better resource than the currently top ranking article before you spend the time to produce the content. If you don’t think you can, then it is probably a waste of time and better to move onto another search term.
Improve The Content
If the content for search term is not unbeatable or too authoritative, but you are still not ranking, then it is simply a case of improving the quality of the content until it is the best resource out there for that search term. In general, this just means producing a better, more definitive and well presented article than anyone else.
Adding length is one of the first ways to improve ranking. Try to make your content at least 25% longer in terms of length than the competition. Go into more details, cover more bases and anticipate follow up questions. If there are caveats and exceptions to any rules, cover them as well.
Also look to present the information in a way that is informative and easily digestiable. Use H3 subheadings throughout with clearly defined subsections covering different bases. Also using images, videos, comparison tables and bulleted lists helps to break up the article and allow the reader to quickly extract the bits they need out of it.
If you can provide better or more thorough information, or recommend products which can solve a problem more effectively or cheaply than anyone else, then over time Google should reward this with higher ranking in the search results. See our article on producing good content for more on this.
Demonetize the Content
Another trap bloggers can fall into which hurts with rankings is to put too many affiliate links in their articles. Google treats affiliate links pretty much the same as it does ads – it doesn’t mind them as long as there are not too many.
As regards the ratio of affiliate links to content, there is no hard and fast rule that Google have made public, but one every couple of hundred words on average seems to be a common rule of thumb among bloggers. If you have more than this it might be worth taking some of them out and seeing if ranking improves.
See our article on how many affiliate links is too many for a blog post. The same is also true to a lesser extent for all external links, whether affiliate or not. Make sure you are only linking out to relevant articles and products, and in moderation.
In this sense it can be a good idea to create one or two Resource pages with all your affiliate products and links on them, and link to these from your articles instead of directly to external sites. This stops you having to use so many external affiliate links in your articles and can help with ranking.
It can also be a good idea to take a broader look at the monetization of the site in general, and pull it back a little if it has become too excessive. This might mean reducing the number or ads or popups if it is starting to affect the user experience, since Google is also starting to target this kind of excessive bombardment of customers, especially in the form of popups.
See below for a good example of a site which is over-monetized and suffering in the rankings as a result. It is about creating a useful resource first and then monetization second. Try to make your website have a user experience you yourself would enjoy, keeping monetization modest and not over the top.
An Example of an over-monetized niche site
Backlinking Can Help
For sure having backlinks to an article can help it in the rankings, but this will only work long term if the content is also actually good enough to stay at the top of the rankings. If backlinks artificially force an article up the rankings but the content is not of high enough quality to be there, Google will see this by the way users behave on the page and will penalize it accordingly.
Focusing too much on building backlinks also just takes away from the most important factor for ranking long term, which is simply the quality and usefulness of the content. This is what you should put the majority of your time into – producing the most helpful, well presented and definitive resource out there for a certain search term.
In terms of backlinking it can help to pin posts on social media accounts if you have a decent following and can get some click throughs. However social media can be a massive time drain if overdone and takes away from working on improving the actual content.
Trying to artificially force backlinks by spamming or paying for them is also a no-go, as Google will penalize you if they find out, which they usually do. Some social media backlinks are helpful but are secondary to actually working on the content itself.
In some cases, it may simply be best to start over and produce a brand new post with a brand new title and link. Perhaps the article is titled in such a way that it is never going to rank, maybe targeting a phrase people are not actually typing into Google.
This can happen sometimes, in that a title seems like a good idea at the time but just doesn’t attract any traffic once it’s published. Sometimes people new to blogging also fall into the trap of writing what they want to say, rather than what people are actually searching for on Google.
In these cases where the article was perhaps titled or researched wrong, it is often best to start over and create a brand new post, with a newly researched title that is more targeted to actual Google searches. See our article on keyword research for more on this.
In many cases you might be able to copy over much of the content from your original article, and maybe modify and improve it like we mentioned above. In other cases it might be best to simply start from scratch if the original content isn’t answering something people are searching for online.
However, it can be useful to set up a 301 redirect from your old article for your new one, if it features largely the same content. You can easily do this with the Simple 301 Redirects plugin, which will send any traffic from the old link to the new post. If the content is largely or entirely the same you can take the old post offline.
Deciding which articles are worth spending your time on, and titling and writing them in a way that they are likely to rank well, comes down to doing good keyword research. See our full article on the top for a full run down of how to find good opportunities to produce content answering under-served search terms on Google.