Why You’re Not Ranking in Google

Ranking on the first page of Google can often feel like a mystery for many people. That’s why there is no question I get asked more than: “Why am I NOT ranking?”

In this post, I’m going to give you 15 possible reasons why your website isn’t ranking.

not ranking in google

1. Keyword Selection

Whenever I encounter someone who is struggling to rank well in Google, the first thing I do is dissect their keyword selection. A lot of the time, they will have picked keywords that are way too difficult to rank for. To be more specific, they are focused on head keywords, not long tails. If you’re just starting a website, then you should be focusing your efforts on long tail keywords.

Go for the easy wins, build your site authority, and then you’ll have the ability to rank for more challenging keywords.

2. On-Site SEO

Many people are quick to jump right into link building without building a strong on-site foundation. There are hundreds of on-site optimization checkpoints you must fulfill before you’re ready to start link building.

First and foremost, you need to focus on site architecture. Building a strategic internal linking structure will send authority throughout your website and make your links more effective.

Meaning, you’ll need less links to rank and therefore, less investment.

3. Duplicate Content

Are you creating duplicate product descriptions or service descriptions across multiple pages? If you are, it’s hurting you. I can’t tell you the number of client’s that I’ve had who create landing pages for every small city in their area and use the same exact description on every page.

Think about it from Google’s perspective.

Does duplicate content increase the value of their search engine?


They want to display businesses with unique content and stories. I’m telling you right now, it’s better to have NO content on a page, then to duplicate the same across dozens or hundreds.

Aside from duplicate copy, you need to also watch out for duplicate META data. It can also hurt you if it’s in excess.

4. Keyword Dilution

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is creating multiple pages targeting slight variations of the same keyword. You should create one page targeting a primary keyword AND its slight variations. So instead of creating a page for “dog toys”, “buy dog toys”, and “best dog toys”, you should create ONE page like “Buy the Best Dog Toys Online”.

Consolidate your pages and eliminate all waste. Less is generally better in SEO.

5. User Experience

The user experience both on and off your site are both becoming strong factors in your rankings. The key performance indicators you should be examining for your user experience on your website include bounce rate, average time spent on site, and pageviews per visit. For off site, the main KPI to track is SERP click through rate.

If users aren’t staying on your website, then there’s a good chance your website isn’t valuable. If users don’t think your site is valuable, then Google won’t value your website either.

Which means your rankings will struggle.

Some other user experience issues that could hurt your rankings include excessive use of ads, broken links, and sneaky redirects.

6. Content

If you’re not writing high value content for your website, then you really have no reason to be ranking well. Content is the foundation of any successful business and it should be a focal point in every SEO campaign. Obviously, just writing content isn’t enough. But it’s better than NOT writing.

Quality content keeps users on your site longer, can increase your sales through results in advance, will increase your amount of inbound links and social activity, and will give you more opportunities to build internal links.

“Quality” = value.

7. Social Media

Are you one of those guys that thinks social media doesn’t matter? Then we just identified why you’re not seeing the results you want.

Social is a big piece of the SEO puzzle in 2015.

I’ve proven that you can rank pages with just social signals alone and every campaign we work on gets an instant ranking boost once social signals are introduced.

8. Brand Signals

Getting juicy contextual links from guest posts, PBNs, and web 2.0s are great, but ranking will be difficult without brand signals. Brand signals build trust for your business and give it legitimacy in the eyes of Google. In essence, building brand signals is about “being everywhere” and ultimately spreading your value across multiple mediums.

If you have a great blog, then you should be repurposing the content and distributing it across the various social platforms.

9. Link Quality

If you’re rock solid on the points I’ve already listed, then there’s a good chance your links are the problem. At this point in time, links have significantly decreased in value, BUT are still the strongest ranking factor. Link “quality” is defined differently depending on whether you’re targeting local or national keywords.

For a local SEO campaign, “quality” links would be those coming from geo-specific websites. More specifically, St. Louis local business getting links from other St. Louis businesses.

For the national level, link “quality” is all about relevancy and authority. So, for Gotch SEO to rank for a term like “Trust Flow”, I would need to get links from SEO or marketing websites.

10. Link Velocity

How fast you’re building links is very important for any website, but particularly a new one. Google is highly suspicious of an influx of new links to any website. Many times, you’ll see your rankings drop off the map when new links are introduced. This is called the Google dance. In most cases (if your links are good), your rankings will come back better than ever.

During this “Google dance”, Google’s algorithm is essentially vetting your link velocity and quality and deciding if it matches that of a “natural” link profile. Once Google trusts your links, then your rankings will recover.

Keep in mind, your links need to pass the quality test to survive the Google dance.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may also be building links too slowly and too conservatively. Sometimes you need to ramp it up to see more improvement.

11. Anchor Text

If you’ve passed all the tests above, then you need to examine your anchor text distribution. Over-optimizing your anchor text is a killer to your rankings and you should try to under-optimize as much as possible.

In almost all situations, you won’t need to use heavy exact match anchor text.

This even applies to super competitive industries. Exact match anchors are dangerous and a red flag to Google that you’re performing “active” link building. Active link building means you’re going out and actually BUILDING links as opposed to naturally acquiring them. No matter what type of link building or acquisition you do, you should always make it appear to be natural.

The quick and easiest way to do this is to only acquire relevant links and keep your anchor text percentages balanced.

12. Site Age

There’s a lot of debate on this, but after testing it, there is definitely some type of sandbox on newer websites. In our testing, it seems to last anywhere between 3-6 months on average. If you go crazy with links on a new website, then there’s a good chance your rankings will suffer from the sandbox. During the first few months of any new website’s life, you should be focusing on on-site optimization, content, and building brand signals.

This will significantly decrease the time you’re in the sandbox. When you start building links, build only the highest quality.

13. NAP-W Inconsistency

If you’re trying to rank locally, then your NAP information has to be 100% consistent. At this point, having consistent NAP-W information is one of the biggest ranking factors in the local SERPs. Take it seriously and don’t build another citation until all your NAP-W information is clean!

14. Reviews

Negative reviews or lack of reviews can impact your local rankings. Some SEO experts believe their is a “bad merchant” algorithm which affects businesses with bad reputations. It’s hard to say whether this 100% accurate, but regardless, you should do your best to avoid getting negative reviews. And if you do, just make sure the positive reviews significantly outweigh the negative.

15. SERP Click Through Rate

I have explained all you need to know about this factor in this post, but your site’s overall SERP click through rate has become a strong ranking factor. Typically, this factor only comes into play once your site is actually ranking for some keywords.

However, the data starts getting collected pretty early on because Google will measure the CTR of your branded searches.

If people are searching for your brand and not clicking on your site at a high rate, Google sees that as a red flag.

If this trend continues when you start to rank, you’ll notice that your rankings will get stuck on the first page or they will gradually decline. This is because low CTR is an indication that your results aren’t relevant to the particular search query.

SERP CTR is an important metric for Google because it shows how relevant their organic results are for any given search query.

To Conclude

There are hundreds or potentially thousands of ranking factors Google uses to determine the organic results. Some have a small impact while others have a larger impact. The 15 factors I just explained are some of the largest issues I’ve encountered while working on hundreds of different websites in a variety of different industries. These are the common trends, so if you cover these factors, your site will typically be in pretty good shape. Or, you now know what is holding your website back.

That’s all for now. Do you have some questions? Leave me a comment below because I would love to discuss.

Talk to you in a second and thanks for reading!

– Gotch


  1. Nathan…Great article once again, I’m always excited to read your material when I get the chance. I’ve learnt so much from you. THANK YOU!

  2. Hi Nathan,I have a great honor to be the first to comment on this great article,In fact I had started to lose hopes in ranking my site on the top spot,but after I started implementing some of your techniques like the web2.0 with tier link building,I started to have some hope,and I know it will take some serious work to achieve the top spot.Concerning the factors why most people don’t rank in google ,you have been right in everypoint,and I have one question please .If I’m so lazy on social networks to get more social signals,can I just buy those tweets and facebook likes to do the job,or it will affect my campaign negatively?Thanks so much for clarifying more.

  3. Yo Gotch,

    Nice article. You touched on something I have been wondering about. Would love your opinion. In #9, you mention that Local brick and mortars should receive links from other local sites. This question is two fold..

    a.) most local links are not going to have a relevant topical trust flow. I recall a post you recently wrote that places a lot of clout on that metric. Just curious how you feel about injecting your site with loads of locally relevant links that do not match up with our site’s topical trust flow.

    b.) with that in mind, commonsense says that links from other local businesses are relevant. But how is the local relevance of a linking domain determined in terms of the algo? Is it IP? Both sites have the same city in their meta tags?

    When I think of relevance, I think of 3 things. A.) topical relevance — B.) they rank for same keyword — C.) local relevance. I can see the first two being easy for Google to determine. But how do they measure local relevance? Thanks in advance.

    1. YO Casey,

      Thanks for the comment.

      a) The topical Trust Flow “rule” is a rule that you should TRY to abide by, but it’s challenging to follow it in many scenarios (especially local). You have to use your best judgement when determining relevancy. If your client is a Chicago lawyer and you find a directory dedicated to Chicago businesses only, then that’s going to be of extreme value for that client (regardless of Trust Flow). If you can find a Chicago directory for lawyers with a “Society / Law” topical Trust Flow, then that’s absolute gold. But realistically, it’s hard to find that type of relevancy on the local level.

      b) It’s based primarily only keyword saturation and keyword relevancy of sites within the directory. Mainly because most websites aren’t hosted in their home city or even state. With the same example, a Chicago business directory is only going to have Chicago businesses in it. Google can see that relevancy because it will crawl every site listed and see that “Chicago” relevancy because of META information and NAP-W information listed on the sites.

      1. Hey Gotch,

        This brings up a question. If “local” relevance is determined by keyword relevance & saturation, does the same concept apply to “niche” sites. Here’s what I mean specifically. This site >> getdentist.net doesn’t necessarily have a topical trust flow of “health/dentistry”. But it does have a heavy focus on dentistry. (keyword saturation, all listings are dental related, etc..) Does that make up for the lack of topical trust flow?

        1. Hi Casey,

          Relevancy is relevancy, but if the dentistry site has a Topical Trust Flow for “Health” or something related, it’s going to be much more powerful. If it doesn’t, it will still be a good link, but not as powerful. That’s because Majestic is determining the Topical Trust Flow rating based on the relevancy of the links going to that site.

          Relevant site based on keyword relevancy/saturation + relevant links/Topical Trust Flow = most powerful link
          Relevant site based on keyword relevancy/saturation + irrelevant Topical Trust Flow = decent link

          Hope that makes sense!

  4. good article Gotch but nothing innovative for me, since 2015 I struggle with same things:
    1. Im unable to to rank home pages, only inner pages, sometimes those inner pages shows in serps for competitive keywords. Thing is those inner pages arent even optimized for any keyword.
    2. In some cases I cant rank anywhere for some keywords, no matter how many power links I use, over 6 months and still nothing :/

    Im following basic rule: poke+pillow then giving it a time, sometimes I buy social signals from fiverr (rarely)

    Any idea Gotch? advice ?

    1. Thanks for the comment! Sorry it wasn’t innovate. It’s challenging to diagnose a website’s problem without actually seeing the website. There are over 200 different ranking factors, but based on what you’ve shared, you’re too link focused.

      1. Thanks for reply Gotch ! Im very caution now about building backlinks (many money and PBN sites got deindexed in the past :/ ) And I do lot of onpage SEO experiments, I followed all your onpage guidance months ago and still no effects. Got 2 main problems;

        1. Im unable to poke site to show in serps anywhere in top 100
        2. When I rank it always happens for inner pages and less competitive keywords.

        Questions for you:

        Id like to hear your thoughts on google sandbox effect, whats your experience on that for more competitive KWs ?

        I have also noticed that all top 5-10 sites in my market are old (1+ year) and all of them are registered for more then one year in advance (I always register for 12 months my domains) They expire in 2017,18 and even more. Do you think that could be a factor for Google ? So Google maybe treat those domain more “serious” ?

        Have you ever consider article about SEO for Bing and Yahoo ?

        Ive been following you from months now, always great readings. Since start of the year things changed so much and I struggle to rank anywhere but gonna keep up fighting ! 🙂

          1. Would you consider manual web 2.0s (brand – http://www.xxxx.com etc. anchors) and social signals bought (fiverr etc.) as a good idea for sandbox phase branding ? Most of my sites are PMD. rather impossible for regular “branding” in achors.
            Lastly, by your experience, is it normal that some subpages show ups in SERPs ? not homepage…

  5. Nice article. I’ve been preaching social media to my clients for years, knowing that eventually it would be a big influence upon SEO and Google ranking. Now, a lot of people are trying to catch up on some of the techniques you mention that they should have been doing years ago.

  6. While we all agree that it’s kind of naive to think that links don’t matter anymore, this large-scale experiment is a great reminder that things are the same as of mid-2015. So thanks!

    I remember that statement by John Mueller, but we all know why he said that. Google keeps the links factor because it’s the best possible indicator for authority. And they want us to avoid it, because it makes their lives much harder.

    The thing is, even marketers/SEOs who didn’t have anything to worry about before, now need to constantly check their sites’ link profiles, at least at some level, simply because the risk is now too big.

  7. mr, gotch ..i see lot of people using images from google images on their blogs/sites.But what i studied on web is quite opposite.Actually one should not use any image without prior permissions of the copyrighted owner.And i see adsense ads on their site without any problem.How that possible? Is there any editing trick behind that?And please don’t say that old saying “use advanced search filters to find copyright free images”.Those images are not interesting and irrelevant.So pls tell us how to use images from google without getting sued.

  8. Hi Nathan ,
    First of all thanks for such a wonderful post.
    I was trying to rank my website (removed) on the keyword “(removed)” but google is not raking my website for this keyword even my website is indexed by google.Please suggest something…

    Thanks a lot

  9. Great post! Quick question: my local site gets a ton of referral spam traffic (semalt, etc.), do you think that is actively hurting my SEO rankings? I’ve been working on it and dropped that traffic from around 900 hits a month to about 100. It’s just so hard to ban all the IPs from my site. I get maybe 20 local hits a month. So, this jacks up my metrics and I have a very low CTR and a really high bounce rate for instance.

    I’ve had a very hard time pulling my site up even though my keywords are very, very low competition and trying to solve all pieces of it! Thanks!

    1. Thank you for the comment Josh. No, referral spam hits most websites and it shouldn’t hurt your organic search traffic

  10. Hi gotch. Your story of how you started out in seo is a very strong multivated me because am in similar position now.
    Gotch i need an expanation to this because i can’t figure it out and it’s making me go crasy.
    I following your guide, i was able to push my target keywords to 1st page. And now its rocking no. 6 on first page. Google webmaster shows impressions but no click. In my analytics i see no visit from search engnes to that specific page. I have changed the title and descriptive tag but the same thing is still happening.
    Please what should i do.

    1. Hey James,

      Thank you for the comment. It’s hard to give you guidance without seeing the whole picture. But based on this information alone, it appears to be a keyword targeting issue

  11. I had made the backlinks faster and I am thinking thai that might be the reason that my site is not ranking for my keyword and now My site is suffering from google dance. Now, I want to know that how my site can recover from this issue.

    1. Thanks for the comment Ayush. All you can do is be patient. If you acquired quality backlinks, then your rankings should stabilize (given you did everything else well)

  12. Even if ranking on the front page of google traffic is very low for most of the website. I am not getting why is it happening. All the effort one putting on website work is not giving any kind of ROI.

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