Q and A: Why Doesn’t Google Rank My Site Higher?

QuestionHi Kalena,

My website has been up and running since 2008.

I regularly add new content & update my blog & facebook pages and yet 5 years on, I am still only attracting 30-40 visits per day and it has remained at this level for 5 years.

I believe my website is user friendly, visually pleasing & provides useful information for the visitor looking for the product I offer, so why doesn’t google rank it higher? I only have 83 pages indexed out of 1,400 – please help!

Natalie

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Hi Natalie

Assuming the website you are referring to is the one associated with your email address, I can provide a few recommendations immediately:

1) I couldn’t find a XML sitemap in the expected location of http://www.[brandwitheld].co.uk/sitemap.xml. Now maybe you have one in a different location, but if not, you’ll want to create one as soon as possible.  An XML sitemap is a file that contains a full list of indexable pages on your web site. It is the preferred method of lettting search engines know about all pages on your site that you want indexed. More information about the protocol and format required is available at Sitemaps.org. You can upload your sitemap via your Google Webmaster Tools account. Haven’t got one of those either? Read on…

2) If your site doesn’t seem to be as visible as you’d like in Google or large chunks of it are not getting indexed, make sure you create a Google Webmaster Tools account and check it for any obvious issues. Google provides an exhaustive amount of insight and advice in Webmaster Tools in terms of technical issues, indexing issues, SEO issues and visitor activity related to your site. If there seems to be something wrong, that should be your first stop.

3) Check your site against these 10 Most Common SEO Mistakes to see if you’re guilty of any of them and address the issues quickly.

4) You claim your site has 1,400 pages, but most of those are product and category pages consisting of dynamically generated versions of the same URL, plus a huge number of pop-ups. The site only has a small number of static HTML pages and therefore only a small amount of content that is visible to search engines.

For example: http://www.[brandwitheld].co.uk/fabrics.html is your main curtain category and then you have 11 different sub-categories under that, such as:

a) http://www.[brandwitheld].co.uk/fabrics.html?cat=browns

b) http://www.[brandwitheld].co.uk/fabrics.html?cat=reds

c) http://www.[brandwitheld].co.uk/fabrics.html?cat=golds

However, the content for each sub-category is dynamically generated from a product database, based on the category parameter indicated after the *?*.  To a search engine, a), b) and c) are seen as the same, single, page, with everything following the *?* generally ignored or treated as duplicate content.

Even worse, those sub-categories then break down into individual styles, but the style information is presented as a javascript pop-up dialogs, which can cause their own issues.

I’d put money on your URL structure being the spanner in the works preventing most of your content from being indexed. No wonder you see so few pages ranking well! I would suggest learning more about how Google treats URL parameters and reworking your site content to create flat, indexable HTML pages for each product, category and style.

Natalie, without having access to your Webmaster Tools account, I can’t really give you more advice at this point. However, if you’d like to invest in a full web site audit, I can certainly take a much closer look. Just contact me to get started.

Hope this helps!

 

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Q and A: How Do I Prepare for a Large Site Migration?

QuestionHi Kalena

I work for a medium sized hospitality chain (in the marketing dept) and our leading chain of hotels is about to undergo a brand change. I’ve just found out that management has approved a full domain name change for each of these hotels and scheduled it with our IT department to happen next month. My General Manager bought the domain name without consulting IT or marketing.

I’m freaking out a little because I’ve been given the task of making sure the change goes smoothly and doesn’t impact our Google rankings or traffic, which I’ve spent years building up. There are 3 different regional hotel properties that will be affected and the content will be transferred over to a single domain! What should I expect? Is there anything I can do to make the transition go smoothly?

Regards
Belinda

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Hi Belinda

Oh boy, I don’t envy you. Yes, you are right to be freaking out – at least a little. Site migrations are a royal pain in the you know where and can result in masses of lost traffic and lost search engine rankings.

By the sound of things, your site migration will be complicated by the fact that there are multiple domains shifting to a single domain. Now before you start hyperventilating, there are some things you can do in preperation:

1) Read this terrific presentation about site migration by Aidan Beanland of Yahoo and then read it again. Create a plan for your own migration situation.

2) Go spend some time with the IT department. Hopefully you get on well with them because you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to them over the next few months. Provide them with a copy of Aidan’s guide so they know what to expect. You’ll need to find out their strategy for the roll-out, including pre-switch benchmarking, 301 redirect integration and testing, specific dates for content transfer, the big switch and final DNS propagation.

3) Consider shifting the content of each individual hotel into distinct region-based sub-domains on the new site e.g. Dallas.HotelBrand.com, Austin.HotelBrand, Houston.HotelBrand rather than trying to combine all content into a single site. This way, you can optimize the sub-domains as distinctive sites and retain the location-related Google rankings you have spent so long building up. If you can prove large traffic losses will occur if you don’t do this (and they will!), it should be easy to get IT and management onside.

4) Take an active role in the pre-migration benchmarking process, particularly in relation to site analytics, most popular content and search engine rankings. Ensure your company keep ownership of the old domains and keep all sites live until the new domain has fully propagated.

5) Be prepared with other online/offline marketing activities to promote the hotels in case of sudden traffic loss.

6) Make sure your manager and stakeholders know what is within/beyond your control! Make it very clear what can go wrong during the move and protect yourself by warning them ahead of time of the potential negative outcomes.

Good Luck!

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Q and A: How do I get started with Google Webmaster Tools?

QuestionHello Kalena

I’ve just take over the role of Online Marketing Manager for our company but I am learning on the job. I’ve got a very basic understanding of SEO and I know AdWords ok, but my focus is really social marketing, Facebook in particular.

The person I am taking over from left suddenly and I don’t have any of her files or records, so I am basically starting from scratch. My boss has asked me to do a full site assessment by next week!

My colleague suggested I start by finding out how many of our sitemap pages we have listed in Google. Now I have heard you can do this using Google Webmaster Tools, but to be honest, I’ve never used it. I’m a bit embarrassed actually, because I know I should have been using it before now, but I’ve never really had to.

Can you recommend a tutorial online somewhere about how to use Webmaster Tools, or perhaps give me a quick overview for getting started?

Thanks
Aaron

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Hello Aaron

Your colleague has given you some good advice about Google Webmaster Tools. That is definitely the best place to start. Get your site verified in Webmaster Tools and then grab the sitemap URL for your site and upload it via the console.

In terms of a tutorial, this Beginner’s Guide to Using Google Webmaster Tools is probably your best bet. There is also Google’s own Webmaster Tools documentation to help you out.

Once you’ve got the feel for the console, you can generate lots of reports that will help you put together a full site audit for your boss. Have fun!

Kalena

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Q and A: Does Ask.com Accept XML Sitemaps?

QuestionHi Kalena

I have uploaded my XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo and more recently Bing, thanks to your blog post about the Bing Webmaster Center.

However, I’m wondering if Ask.com accept XML sitemaps and if so, how do I upload mine to Ask?

thanks
Georgia

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Hello Georgia

Yes, Ask.com DO support XML Sitemap submissions. Here’s a blurb about it from their Webmaster Help area:

“Yes, Ask.com supports the open-format Sitemaps protocol. Once you have prepared a sitemap for your site, add the sitemap auto-discovery directive to robots.txt, or submit the sitemap file directly to us via the ping URL”

The ping URL is as follows:

http://submissions.ask.com/ping?sitemap=http%3A//www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml

To add your sitemap to your robots.txt file, simply include this line:

Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml

Actually it’s not just Ask that supports the addition of sitemaps in robots.txt. Did you know that both Google and Yahoo also support that method of sitemap delivery?

You can either submit your sitemap via the search engine’s appropriate submission interface (e.g. Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, Bing Webmaster Center) or specify your sitemap location in your robots.txt file as per the above instructions.

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Q and A: Why aren’t our franchisee websites being found in search results?

Question

Hi Kalena,

I have just encountered something I am not sure about and I really need some advice on this. The site I am working on has the following issue;

It is a business with 100 franchises. The franchisees are complaining they do not come up in any searches. I have checked it and they don’t. Not even when you type in their exact URL into the search engine.

The URL structure for the business’s franchises work like this;
www.clientsite.com/studio/location (actual URL provided)

A related problem may be that there are 3 separate XML sitemaps:
1) www.clientsite.com/sitemap/sitemap.xml
2) www.clientsite.com/sitemap/location(Alpha)sitemap.xml
3) www.clientsite.com/sitemap/location(postcodes)sitemap.xml

The first is their MAIN sitemap. The other two are sitemaps for all the locations of their franchises (100 in total) These locations and their URLS are not included in the MAIN sitemap. Is having multiple sitemaps detrimental to the SEO.?

Yen

Hi Yen,

You may be surprised, but this is a VERY common issue for franchise websites that are based on a template structure, and you’ll realise that the reason the franchisee pages are not being found in search results is actually pretty simple… But first, I’ll address your sitemap query.

Multiple Sitemaps

Using multiple sitemaps is not the problem here.  If you do a search for  site:clientsite.com in Google you will see that the pages in question are actually indexed – which means that the search engines have found and crawled them.

I think though that it is probably unnecessary for your site (with just a couple of thousand pages) to have multiple sitemaps.  Multiple sitemaps are recommended (and in fact required) for very large sites, but there is a specific protocol involving a sitemaps index file (that you do not seem to be using).  You can find out more about it, with clear instructions and examples on how to correctly use sitemaps at sitemaps.org.

So the issue with your site is not indexing – it is ranking.  You don’t specify what search queries you would hope/expect the pages to be found for, but for all the examples I tried, the franchisees pages did come up for a query of their business name itself – which is more evidence that the pages are indexed OK.  From what I could see, all your franchisees seem to have a single page  of content – based on a standard template, with just the business name and contact details changed.  So in effect each franchisees page is one of 100 essentially “identical” pages on the site.

Website Templates

This is a clear issue of duplicate content which is very common for franchise sites based upon standard templates (which provide templated content rather than just the structure or design).  In this instance, each franchisee has just a single page within the same root domain (1 of 100 almost identical pages), with relatively little keyword rich content, so I am not surprised (and neither should you be) that it does not rank at all for general keyword phrases.  In fact if each franchisee had their own individual domains, with multiple pages of optimised keyword rich content – if they were based on the same template, they still would not rank any better.

I get asked about this type of issue a lot.  Excited and enthusiastic new franchisees (and multi level marketers) have setup their website using a template provided by “the business” and pretty soon begin to wonder why the eagerly anticipated enquiries and sales aren’t flooding in from their websites.

Quality, Keyword Rich, Unique Content

One of the very first things that most SEOs learn is that to get good rankings you need quality, keyword rich and UNIQUE content.  Using a templated approach is clearly NOT a strategy you should follow to get unique content.  For a graphic example try this search query : “incalculable numbers of real people“  – which is snippet of text taken from a website template for a well known international “We are Not Multi Level Marketing” organisation (probably not the one you are thinking of).

The above, fairly specific, and you might expect, “unique” query returns over 40,000 results. Is it any wonder that most of these sites will never be found through organic search?

That’s not to say that there is no value in these templated systems – many have been setup to very cleverly guide people through to the signup process – but if you “own” one of these sites you will need to use other methods to get traffic to it (PPC, Advertising, etc) and not rely on organic search traffic.

So Yen,  back to your question… If your franchisees want to be found for generic keyword searches, I suggest that they register their own domains, and create their own unique, keyword rich content rather than depending on the corporate “template”.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting

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