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SEO not working? Learn why & how to fix it

There are many reasons that an SEO campaign fails to deliver. Maybe it did work once, maybe it never worked, maybe it started to look like it would work and then fell off a cliff. Whatever the nuance, if it’s not working it’s not working and you need to find out why.

In this post, we will take a look at all the reasons why SEO may not work – whether this is a total failure to develop meaningful visibility for your keywords or a failure for well-ranking keywords to deliver the expected results for your business.

Whether you work with an agency or are doing the work yourselves we will aim to provide meaningful feedback as to why this is not working for you and what you can do about it. Unfortunately, much of the work being done by SEO companies is old fashioned, unsustainable guff that is as likely to damage your ability to rank long term as it is to help short term. If you are concerned give me a shout via our contact form and I can give you a second opinion on the quality of the work being undertaken.

Okay, still with us? Let’s take a look at the common reasons SEO campaigns fail to have the desired impact in 2015 and beyond.

Realistic expectations

 

The search landscape is a highly competitive field. If you Google the main terms you would like to rank for and the page is chock full of adverts and the organic results are all big, well-known brands like Amazon and eBay then odds are this is going to be an uphill battle. Further to this if you are a new site or business then this really is a David vs Goliath scenario.

Expectations have to be realistic from the outset. Are you realistic about the terms you want to rank for? Has your agency fed back on your requests? Often, if you are new or relatively small you need to work around the edges. Look at paid options. Specialise in key areas. Develop traffic for variations on the keywords you would like to rank for and work towards the big game over time.

Imagine yourself as a boxer just starting out – you grind out the local fights, the small wins, and work up to the big bouts. Specialise in key areas to give customers a reason to choose you over the bigger shops. Build your authority. Have a mantra of providing the best service and advice to clients in your space and work towards the title fights. You can win the belt, but we have to start small and grind your way up the ladder.

 

Low-quality SEO

 

Unfortunately, we can’t get away from this and most SEO sold at street level is low quality, largely ineffective and unsustainable. I have written about what exactly most SEO service providers actually do here and also why SEO can’t be good, fast and cheap – so, I am not going to get on my ethical, white-hat, sustainable SEO soapbox here (well, maybe a little bit). However, you can rest assured that 90% of small, local SEO companies are still trying to outsmart Google’s hundreds of data scientists and spam team which ironically, is not terribly smart.

If you are working with an SEO company, not seeing the results you were promised and have no insight into what they are doing then you should urgently consider getting a second opinion. Even if you are seeing some movement but are unsure what is being done it is wise to question what is happening to ensure you don’t run into problems down the road.

Some common warning signs are:

  • No visibility of what is being done
  • No strategic guidance or measurement
  • No noticeable improvement in results
  • An initial improvement and sudden fall from grace
  • Changes to your site that don’t read quite right
  • No meaningful reporting or contact
  • No monthly guidance on opportunities

 

SEO is often considered as either a dark art or highly complicated endeavour when in fact, it should all be common sense. You may not understand the finer details but changes made to your site and links built to your site should pass the smell test and if they don’t… then it’s time to start asking questions.

If you have real concerns about your SEO company and any of the above then get in touch – happy to give you a second opinion.

Unrealistic budgets

 

Starting up an online bookstore? Have £500 PM as your SEO and marketing budget? You may have a bit of a problem there. In 2013 at the 20-year mark Amazon did $17 billion in sales – and still lost $41 million. Amazon’s investors don’t care and even in 2013, the stock price was astronomical. When Amazon finally posted a profit in 2015 the stock surged further still. Ultimately, investors are not betting on Amazon now, they are betting on what it will become over the long haul.

Of course, this is not to say you could not start on online book store but you would need to have a niche and your store would need to have a reason to exist. Use your size to your advantage and be agile and specialised. This is true of any other business. Be realistic. Don’t pick fights you can’t win. Even in the local business space, you will have competition, some of them will be established, you need to consider what online visibility is worth to you and your competition and invest accordingly. You are not spending for wins now – you are investing in the wins of tomorrow and if your budget for SEO is peanuts you most surely will only get monkeys prepared to take you on.

 

You are doing the wrong kind of SEO

 

Local. National. Organic. Commercial. Informational. What kind of search do you target? What kind of SEO do you need to do? These are important questions to ask as it’s no good just building links if you are a local business. It’s no good just building citations if you have a national or international customer base.

Search engine results are a complex blend of news, information, shops, images and much more. Before you get stuck in you must consider how your prospects use search engines and ensure the SEO you do will connect you with your future customers.

To fix this you need to truly understand the landscape in which you operate and have an in-depth understanding of the different ways to optimise your site to appear in the different and most relevant results for you.

 

You are chasing the algorithm

 

It is certainly sensible to stay abreast of what is happening in search. We want to understand what Google is doing right now and what they are aiming for. We also want to keep up with best practices. But, too much obsessing over the smallest details leads to a lack of focus on real marketing and what really matters.

There is a tradeoff here and Google of late has been making efforts to be more transparent. For many months before the mobile update, Google advised webmasters to move to a mobile site. This is a smart move as it is better for users which is what we really care about anyway. It required only following Google advice rather than trying to figure out exactly what is happening behind the scenes.

It is smart to keep up to date but don’t be a slave to it. Focus on good marketing. Keep up to date with best practice; design, content, technical and quality guidelines and in most cases you will be ahead of the curve.

Your on page optimisation is shoddy

 

Whether you have failed to optimise your site around the target language of your audience or have gone crazy and littered each page with your keywords – if your on page optimisation is not up to scratch then it will have a negative effect on your campaign. Every week we still see sites with a home page title of ‘home’ – don’t be one of these missing out on easy wins.

Basic on-page optimisation is not overly difficult. You want to ensure page titles and meta descriptions are optimised for relevance to entice clicks from search engine result pages. You also want to ensure you talk about the services you provide in clear, natural language. This is one area where getting the basics really well done will get you 90% of the way to where you want to be.

You have over optimised your site

 

Have you ever read a website where the text just did not read well? Did something seem just a little off? Words like ‘to’ and ‘in’ seem to be emitted? Lists of keywords tucked away in the footer? Pages that are largely similar apart from a few keywords? Does your site have text like that? It may well be over-optimised and it may well be hurting you.

In 2015 over optimisation looks at more than just poor on page practices and you will want to review the following:

  • Internal links & anchors
  • Outbound links & anchors
  • Inbound links & anchors
  • Page titles and meta descriptions
  • Page copy
  • Over optimised text
  • Chunks of keywords inserted in footers or sidebars

 

Google’s algorithms now look for signs of poor quality and over optimisation so ensure you focus on quality and the real people that visit your site rather than daft hacks for search engines and you will be okay.

 

You have technical issues across your site

 

A search engine has one simple objective – connect search engine users with quality content that matches the intent behind their search query. Quality. That the key factor. Should Google start returning duff results we may all move over to Bing. Well, maybe that example is taking things a little too far but you get the picture.

A search engine crawls your site and attempts to understand and categorise the content it finds. If everything is fine and all content looks to be unique and of a high standard then life is good. If however, the search engine finds problems then this may drag the overall quality score of your site down somewhat. This may be on a page by page basis or in some cases, it may effect chunks or even the whole site.

Common problems we see are as follows:

  • Crawling issues – the search engine can’t crawl your content so can’t evaluate it
  • Indexation issues – too many variations of the same page can cause
  • Domain/subdomain issues – if your site answers and is indexed on multiple domains and sub domains it can cause issues
  • Duplicate content – you may only have 100 products yet your CMS may create 100,00 URLs. This can create a needle in the haystack scenario for your real content and split equity across multiple URLs
  • Mobile issues – poor usability on mobile can decrease visibility with mobile users and impacts how mobile users interact with your site
  • Failure to correctly optimise the basics – every day we see sites with duplicate page titles, missing meta descriptions – this is the nuts and bolts yet it is often neglected at a granular level.

 

There are so many different technical issues that we simply can’t cover them all here but to get a handle on technical issues start with reviewing the diagnostic data in Google Search Console and further to that consider a comprehensive SEO audit.

 

Your SEO company is not an SEO company

 

Another common situation we see is where a company offers SEO yet does not provide the service in-house. Common offenders are marketing companies, web designers & branding companies. The SEO is often outsourced and many times the company is selected on price to preserve profits and how much the service can be marked-up rather than suitability.

 

You don’t have any quality links

 

When you have built your site, optimised it, claimed all of the business listings and focused on quality and SEO best practice across everything you control we always end up at links. Links are the votes of the Internet and good links will drive referral traffic and provide branding benefits yet they will also help build the authority of your site.

Links should be from relevant, topical sources. They should make sense and pass the smell test. Link building often requires an exchange of value. You provide something that is truly useful to a number of people and encourages others to link to it.

There are a myriad of link building techniques but the general rule of thumb is that you should provide something of value that people will want to link to or do something that gets people talking about you.

 

You don’t have any high quality and relevant content

 

Whatever you do you are likely something of an expert in your field. The things you take for granted are extremely useful to your prospective audience. Great content provides many benefits in that it can be used as a tool in outbound marketing, it enriches communications with past, present and future customers and it provides an asset to simplify link building activities. Content also allows you to widen the scope of keywords you wish to rank for you on your site further exposing you to a wider audience of prospective customers.

Along with links, this is where most companies struggle – don’t over complicate this. Do your research, determine what content is useful to your prospects and find existing content online that you can do better. Then, when you create this improved content let your customers and prospects know about this and let any sites that link to the older, weaker content that you have created an improved resource that will be useful to their audience.

 

You have not waited long enough

 

You have made it to the end of the article which shows you have some patience yet a key reason SEO is often not seen to be working is that you have simply not waited long enough. It can be relatively quick to move a site from the 50’s to the 20’s but often things will slow down a bit there. It may really slow down once you get into the first page of results. Additionally, it may take a top three listing a while to start really generating clicks and even further still for those clicks to convert.

We have seen local SEO citation clean ups take over six months to deliver the goods and good old fashioned authority building campaigns can take longer still. What is key here is that the SEO you use can help you determine what kind of timescale you are looking at and the kind of investment needed to get results. This is always an estimate, it is, after all, a moving target but an experienced head will be able to give you an estimate.

Ensure you can measure progress so you know there is a consistent movement towards goals but realise you may need to get top five visibility before this movement provides real business benefits.

Making SEO work for you

 

Fifteen years of experience has shown me time and time again that organic traffic from search engines delivers results. Comparing traffic from search engines to other sources everything from the volume of traffic to conversion rates organic wins out nine times out of ten. It naturally follows that SEO then is still every bit as important as it has ever been but it is also every bit as difficult to implement and measure.

SEO is also a minefield with conflicting results and sleazy used SEO salesmen everywhere selling hopes and dreams but often delivering nothing (or penalties). It is therefore of the utmost important importance to select a credible vendor and measure the results. Determining key performance indicators to track progress and map this against actual business goals is critical. Equally important is establishing realistic expectations about how much progress will need to be made before we can expect tangible results.

Much like any important marketing endeavour it takes time and effort to get SEO right and to deliver results. But, if you can get it right, then the results are certainly worth the effort. If you are struggling with strategy, measurement or are simply not seeing results you would expect we would love to hear from your in the comments below or via our contact form.

 

 

Marcus Miller
marcus@bowlerhat.co.uk

Marcus is our Digital Strategist. He’s been working in the industry for nearly 20 years and wears many (bowler) hats as a highly technical developer and SEO, and even has a fancy computer science degree to prove it.

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