NOW UPDATED! This post has been refreshed for 2019. Enjoy!
Here’s a newsflash for you: Your SEO strategy isn’t failing because Google’s got it out for you or because you’re suffering from some mysterious penalty.
Though it can be tempting to explain away your website’s failure to advance in the organic SERPs as being caused by factors outside of your control, the reality is that there are plenty of much more mundane reasons that SEO campaigns fail.
Take a look at the following list and apply them to your own campaign frustrations before jumping on the “bash Google” bandwagon!
1) You’re Using Outdated Tactics
SEO changes every day because Google and the other search engines are constantly updating their algorithms. So if you think your SEO isn’t working, take a look at the tactics you’re using and see if they’re simply out-of-date.
Here are some examples of outdated SEO tactics in 2019:
- Content Machines. That’s right. I’m not saying that content marketing doesn’t work anymore, but cranking out large quantities of low-quality content for $5 per post doesn’t work anymore. If you aren’t addressing your users’ burning questions, don’t expect Google to show your page in the SERPs.
- Long-Tail Keywords Only. If you are creating lots of little pages to rank for one specific long-tail keyword, you are going to get crushed. As brands rise to the top, using the skyscraper technique is a better bet. Check out one of Brian Dean’s (who came up with the term/technique) skyscraper posts:This is an individual post on his website and it generates over 1,000 visits per month and ranks for over 450 keywords. How many blog posts have you seen generating that much traffic and ranking for so many terms?!
- Keyword Stuffing. This has been outdated for a long time now. If you are just repeating a keyword over and over again on a page without it being placed in a useful context, it will not only fail to help, but could also land you with a Google Penalty.
- Building Poor Links. You can't just buy links. They must be high-quality and from an authoritative source. Number 7 below discusses what a good link looks like – as well as a bad one!
If you want all the best SEO tactics that still work in 2019, make sure to check out the ultimate guide to SEO Techniques that we have created!
- The Skyscraper Technique: How to Build High-Quality Backlinks to Your Content
- 9 Effective SEO Techniques to Drive Organic Traffic in 2019
- SEO Keyword Research Made Easy in 2019
2) Your Website User Experience (UX) Is Poor
SEO is about more than onsite tricks and inbound links. To win Google’s attention in 2019, your customers need to love your website.
So if your SEO is failing, check your site dwell time. If your average customer spends at least 10 minutes on your website, Google will rank you a lot higher than your competitor whose audience only stays for 10 seconds.
Here are some super easy ways to increase your UX:
- Improve Site Speed. Did you know that for every second an Amazon page takes to load they lose $1.6 billion in sales? So speed up your page load time! This is such an easy win, it would seem silly not to do it. You can check your site speed using a tool Google developed called PageSpeed Insights, which is free.
- SITE SPEED IMAGE
- Use More Media. If there aren’t any interactive or otherwise engaging images on your website, your SEO efforts will be hurt. Including videos, images and charts as well as taking advantage of white space will help increase the user experience (which, in turn, improves dwell time).
- Optimize Your Headlines. Your article headline needs to describe what the page is about, so don’t have a title called The 10 Best Bakeries in Los Angeles and then have a reader click through to an article that describes the ten best baked goods in Los Angeles. Give them exactly what you say you will.
If your website is optimized for Google rather than customers, you’re going to struggle to achieve any of these three factors, as consumers have a sixth sense for filtering out sites that are in it for the wrong reasons. Remember, your consumers are buying from you, not Google!
- How to Write Content for People and Optimize It for Google
- Overlooked SEO: Optimizing Images and Video For Search
3) You Don’t Have Analytics and Goal Tracking Installed
If you haven’t even bothered to set up website analytics, how can you be surprised that your SEO campaign is failing?! Analytics and goal tracking programs give you all the information you need to determine what’s working – and what isn’t – on your site.
Start with setting up Google Analytics and Google Search Console. If you aren’t sure how to set up Google Analytics check out this guide. If you don’t know how to set up Search Console, here is a guide on that.
Once you have done that, make sure that you are tracking these elements in Google Analytics:
- New or unique visitor conversion
- Sources for incoming traffic
- Interactions per visit (pages/sessions)
- Return visitor conversion
- Value per visit
- Bounce rate
- Lead generation costs (costs per conversion)
- Exit pages
- Page views
- Average session duration
Operating in the absence of this information is akin to driving a car without the rear view mirror – you won’t know why your campaign is failing until you look into the past to see how earlier choices have affected your current performance!
So make sure that you are taking advantage of your Google Analytics account. Once you feel comfortable with it, you can also begin to learn about advanced settings and other cool tools to grow your business.
4) Your Niche Is too Competitive
You can plug away for years trying to get a site in the competitive financial and wellness industries to rank well amongst its better-established competitors, but – unfortunately – you may never see your efforts pay off. While you might think your SEO is failing, the problem may be that SEO isn’t a tactic you can use to grow.
So doesn’t that mean it’s time to throw in the towel and say forget it to SEO? Well, not exactly. You still need to have a quality website that is well optimized and offers a friendly and helpful user experience.
You still need to have all these things in place, only now you need to shift your thinking from “SEO is the key to my success” to “SEO is a platform I can start to build success upon”:
Now that you have a user-friendly website, you can implement some content marketing in the form of blog posts, podcasts, videos, etc..
You used to just be able to optimize a website for SEO to get tons of traffic, but now you actually have to be your customer’s hero to rank. The good news is that once you are able to build a loyal following, you will not have to worry about constantly generating new leads.
5) You’re too Keyword Focused
We used to be able to throw up a page about a super specific long-tail keyword and see it rank in no time – even if we were competing against big brands.
If you are still doing this, no wonder your SEO is failing. In 2019, that has changed. Now it’s the big brands that always end up on top no matter how specific your post is.
The brands will rise to the top. How many times have you heard that? Guess what? It’s true!
If you are focusing on ranking for long-tail keywords, you are going to suffer. Sure, you might have a great article on the keyword “women’s blue shoes for sale” and your title might even be an exact match. But that doesn’t mean you will rank for it.
Check out the SERP for that keyword. Not a single one of the results are exact matches. Instead, Google chooses to show big brands:
So what can you do to become a big brand? Here are a few ways to do this:
- Produce Great Content. If you can answer all the questions that your customers are asking in a thorough, up-to-date and personal style, you shouldn’t have too much trouble gaining a following which will help grow your brand. Try using our content sprouting technique to create endless pieces of amazing content.
- Associate with Bigger Brands. This can be done through guest posting on the sites of industry leaders, having an influencer on your podcast or other creative ways. If you don’t have an even trade to offer (they might not want to give away their time), think of how you can make it valuable for that person. Can you offer them free content marketing? What do you do well?
- Be a Great Storyteller. YouTube sensation Tim Schmoyer shared in a Growth Everywhere podcast that the best way to build a following is by telling super relatable stories. Even if your competition has better SEO or a more in-depth guide, you might still be able to beat them if you can build a stronger bond with your audience.
- The #1 Marketing Strategy for 2019: The Content Sprout Method
- The Power of Guest Blogging (And How to Get Started!)
- Influencer Marketing for SEO: How to Build Links with Influencer Outreach
6) Your Target Keywords Don’t Receive Enough Search Volume
Keyword search volume is tricky to measure accurately – but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t measure it at all! Let me tell you a story about when I failed at SEO (you can listen to it on Marketing School, too).
I wanted to create a website about light shows, so I built it and it was only a month old when it ranked for the term “lightshow videos”. But guess what? It didn’t get any traffic!
Why? Because nobody was searching for the term “lightshow videos”. It doesn’t matter if you have an 8,000-word blog post of the most amazing content if nobody is searching for what you are talking about.
It might not be that the SEO tactics you’re using are failing. Plenty of campaigns fail because the high rankings their managers sought come from keywords that simply aren’t searched for by regular users. It can be easy to jump to the top of the SERPs for these queries, but if you want these top rankings to turn into actual traffic, be sure that each of the keywords you’re targeting has a search volume that’s consistent with your website goals before you start working on your campaign.
But keywords with high search volume usually have a very high keyword difficulty score, so isn’t it better to stick to low-search-volume keywords?
Well, in 2019, you are better off creating a super thorough guide that targets a high-volume keyword, even if it is a fairly high-difficulty keyword. If it’s really detailed, then it should rank for some keywords even if it doesn’t land the high-difficulty keyword. Revisit your post in about six months and see what keywords have stuck. Then try using a content revamp strategy to upgrade them and reoptimize for those keywords.
That’s how Brian Dean of Backlinko became successful. He only has about 50 blog posts, but they are extremely thorough and therefore cover a lot of keywords.
7) You’re Building the Wrong Links
Yes, you’re building links. That’s great. But in the wake of the Panda and Penguin updates, it’s important to be aware that you can’t just build any old links you please.
Those “10,000 links for $10” promotions you used to buy? Out. The spammy profile links that shot your old sites up to the top of the SERPs? Also out.
Here are some link tactics that you should avoid:
- Link Directories. Google isn’t a fool. It won’t value a link placed in a directory with hundreds of other links.
- Links in Footers. If you have a website linking to you externally from the footer, this could potentially harm you. If you see a large number of these kinds of links or any other spammy links, feel free to disavow them in your Google Search Console (instructions on how to do that here). However, Google states that “In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most sites will not need to use this tool.”
- NoFollow Links. If someone drops your link, but then “no follows” it, your website will unfortunately not receive much of a boost. It is important to ask if your link will be followed before doing a guest post. How do you check if a link is followed or nofollowed? Just download the Chrome extension “NoFollow” and it will box in red any nofollow links. Here’s an example:
- Low DA Website. If you have a lot of links from websites with low domain authorities, this won’t necessarily hurt you, but it won’t exactly boost your website either. If you are building links and want to check the DA of a website, download the MozBar Chrome extension which will allow you to see it in Google’s SERPs:
You can also see the DA under the URL at the top of a website’s page – just make sure you are logged in to see it:
If you want to see the links you already have, login to SEMrush and type in the domain name. Then go to Backlinks > Referring Domains > under authority score drop-down arrow next to number > DA
- Irrelevant Topic. If you are a bakery and have a link pointing to your website from Apple (the electronics store), it isn’t going to help you. Why? Sure they have a great DA and are famous, but the topics are completely different so it won’t make Google see you as a major authority in the bakery space.
- Reciprocal Links. A study done by Ahrefs shows that while reciprocal links are common amongst top ranking pages, this is often something that occurs naturally within an industry. Nonetheless, reciprocal links are indeed against Google’s guidelines and, therefore, sending emails like “If you link to me I’ll link to you” should be avoided at all cost.
The name of the game now is high-quality, natural-looking links, so if you aren’t willing to put in the necessary time (or pay someone else to do so), don’t be surprised when your SEO campaigns eventually fail.
- The Ultimate Guide to Link Building with Content for SEO
- How to Sustainably Build Quality Links by Building Relationships
- How to Squeeze the Most Value Out of Nofollow Backlinks from High-Authority Sites
- The Easy Guide to Broken Link Building for SEO
8) You’re Over-Optimizing Your Anchor Text
Another post-Penguin lesson that all SEOers need to take to heart is the prohibition against excessively optimized anchor text. Although there’s no hard-and-fast rule about the level of optimization that’s acceptable these days, it’s a good idea to use SEO keywords in no more than 50% of your anchor text. And even then, the specific keywords you use should vary widely in order to prevent the search engines from dinging your website and your SEO campaign for manipulation.
Here are some specific examples of BAD anchor texts:
We sell the best blue mattress in the USA at the best price ever!
Link to www.example.com/best-blue-mattress-in-the-USA
Why is this one bad? Well, it is over optimized! If your anchor text is an exact match with the URL or title, you might have problems.
How could this be done safely yet still include keywords?
We sell some of the highest quality blue mattresses at competitive pricing.
Link to www.example.com/best-blue-mattress-in-the-USA
See how I expanded it so that now the keywords are only taking up a percentage of the anchor text?
9) You Don’t Understand Your Target Audience
While plenty of webmasters think of SEO as a “step-by-step” process in which specific actions are undertaken in order to guarantee good results in the SERPs, good SEO is much more nuanced.
In fact, good SEO begins with a solid understanding of who your target audience is and what they’re looking for online. Getting to know your ideal customers on an intimate and personal basis is key to selecting the appropriate keywords to target and the right SEO techniques to bring about the results you desire. Merely gleaning a few data points from your favorite SEO tool simply won’t give you the complete picture needed to ensure campaign success.
So how can you get to know your customer better? Build a couple of buyer personas around your ideal customers (generally, you should have more than one “type” who buys your products). Learn how to do that here:
10) You Aren’t Using Social Media
Really, it’s 2019. So if you aren’t using social media as part of your SEO campaigns, you’re being willfully ignorant. The relative weight given to social shares and relative user authority in the Google ranking algorithms is increasing every day, which means that you’re missing out if you’ve decided not to invest in these powerful sites.
But let’s put Google aside for a minute. As of April 2019, Bing controls about 24% of the search traffic, and social media is a direct ranking factor for them. So you might be leaving a lot of search traffic on the table without a social media account!
Social media also helps to improve brand search volume. Even if people fail to click on your social media post, they may remember it and go back and Google it.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Crafting a Highly Effective Social Media Strategy in 2019
- How to Increase Website Traffic through Social Media
- 7 Dead Simple Social Media Marketing Tactics That Still Work Today
11) You’re Ignoring Your Customers
Pursuing SEO to the exclusion of serving your customers is a recipe for disaster.
The way that your customers engage with your website and talk about your brand in the social sphere can give you a tremendous amount of valuable information for use in your SEO strategies – but they’ll only do so if you listen!
In fact, HubSpot did a case study about writing copy in the language of your customer. When they made a few simple adjustments, take a look at what happened:
That’s pretty powerful!
Pay special attention to the keywords that people are using to describe your brand and the ways they navigate through your website, as each of these particular elements may dictate the keywords you target in both your internal and external link-building campaigns.
12) You’re Being Impatient
Unfortunately, SEO results don’t happen overnight. You can plug away for weeks or months at a time without seeing improvements, only to have your rankings jump a few places just before you were about to give up all hope of ever experiencing SEO success.
There’s no way to predict when your SEO activities will pay off, which means that patience is a virtue that all SEOers and webmasters must practice. Even if you don’t see results in the timeframe that you expect, keep plugging away at the best practices described above. Sooner or later, your results are bouond to be rewarded.