It’s the #1 question I get…
Why isn’t my WordPress site ranker higher in Google?
The most common reasons WordPress sites don’t rank high in Google are: keywords are too competitive, lack of in-depth content, bad on-page SEO, click-through rates, or little to no links.
Whether you’re nowhere on the map, have a Google penalty, or wondering why competitors outrank you, this tutorial will help you identify what’s going on. These are the 20 most common reasons based on my last 5 years doing SEO consulting and writing these tutorials.
Go through the list and be sure to leave a comment if you found the problem or you need help. I’m glad to help anyone who takes the time to read my tutorials. Here are the main reasons why YOUR WordPress site isn’t ranking high in Google and exactly what you can do to fix it.
Table Of Contents
- Lack Of Comprehensive Content
- Keywords Are Too Competitive
- Too Much Focus On 1 Single Keyword
- Too Much Focus On Yoast Green Lights
- You’re Using Google Keyword Planner
- Slow Load Times
- Low Click-Through Rates
- Not Optimizing For Social Sharing
- No Internal / External Links
- Lack Of Cornerstone Content
- Not Using SSL
- Bad Bounce Rate + Time On Site
- You Changed Permalinks (Or Bad Structure)
- Terrible “About Me” Page
- Citation Errors (Local SEO)
- Google Search Console Errors
- Duplicate Content + Search/Replace Pages
- Discouraging Search Engines From Indexing Site
- Affiliate Website Mistakes
- You Have A Google Penalty
1. Lack Of Comprehensive Content
Beefing up articles to 3,000+ words is the #1 reason my blog grew to 3,000 visitors/day. Google your keyword, analyze top results, and include every important topic you can find. Use Answer The Public to find “questions keywords” and answer as many as you can. Backlinko suggests 3,000 words in many of his articles, especially if it’s cornerstone content. I beefed up my Yoast tutorial from 500 to 4,000 words and it went from 10 to 100 visitors/day in 1 week.
I don’t write 3 mediocre tutorials a week. I write 1 killer tutorial every 2 weeks.
Aim for 3,000+ words, especially if it’s a competitive keyword:
You can get penalized for content with low word count (shallow pages), content that isn’t useful with bad bounce rates, affiliate content offering no value, and duplicate content. But even if you don’t have a penalty for thin content, that doesn’t mean some of your content doesn’t have low word count and is preventing you from ranking high.
Step 1: Identify Low Performing Content
In Google Analytics, head to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages. Look for pages with low average time on page + high bounce rates. Low average time on page likely means people aren’t finding the content useful. High bounce rates are a bit more complex and can be from poor design, load times, navigation, pop-ups/advertising, and bad (or no) internal linking.
Step 2: Add A Table Of Contents
A table of contents helps people navigate long posts, but also encourages you to write long content (and gives you a better chance of being awarded jump-to links using named anchors).
Table of contents HTML looks like this…
<li><a href="/your-permalink/#item-one">Item One</a></li>
<li><a href="/your-permalink/#item-two">Item Two</a></li>
<li><a href="/your-permalink/#item-three">Item Three</a></li>
Each subheading’s HTML looks like this…
<h3 id="item-one">Item One</h3>
<h3 id="item-two">Item Two</h3>
<h3 id="item-three">Item Three</h3>
Step 3: Beef Up Content
Now that you’ve added a TOC with a good amount of topics, write your paragraphs. Your job is really not to just make it longer, but to make your content more valuable. That usually means adding more helpful graphics, videos, or infographics. Not just spewing out text to fill the page.
Step 4: Answer Question Keywords
Answer The Public lets you search any keyword and generates a visual map (and list) of the most popular questions people are searching about that keyword. It pulls keywords from Google Autocomplete, and the greener the circles are, the more searches those keyword have.
2. Keywords Are Too Competitive
Websites with low domain authority should not compete for broad, competitive keywords. As you build domain authority (by creating great content that gets links) you can start targeting keywords with more searches. But if you struggle to get on page 1, consider going longer-tail.
Step 2: Use this chart from Orbit Media. I mostly target 3-word phrases, but I spend a LOT of time on content. More competitive keywords = more time you should invest in your content. The chart is more of a rule of thumb and doesn’t have to be taken literally, but it’s a reminder that websites with high domain authority can (in general) target more competitive keywords.
Step 3: Download MozBar and Keywords Everywhere. These let you Google any keyword and see a keyword’s competition: monthly searches, each search results’s DA (domain authority) and PA (page authority), etc. Of course, the most important step is clicking on top results and checking how “good” the content is, and make sure you can write better content than theirs.
A keyword is more competitive if:
- It’s broad
- It has a high DA + PA in MozBar
- The keyword is obviously profitable
- Strong content ranks in the top results
- Authority websites rank in the top results
- The keyword has a high number of monthly searches
Long-tail keywords are easier to rank for
- Instead of SEO Consultant, target WordPress SEO Consultant
- Instead of Chicago Web Designer, target Chicago WordPress Designer
- Instead of Get Out Of Debt, target Get Out Of Debt Without Bankruptcy
- Instead of SiteGround Reviews, target SiteGround WordPress Hosting Review
3. Too Much Focus On 1 Single Keyword
Many businesses get obsessed with ranking for 1 keyword, when this is actually a horrible strategy. I rank for thousands of keywords, and even though I rank #1 for keywords like “WordPress SEO Consultant,” I get way more inquiries through my blog than my service pages.
If you’re a photographer in Chicago, here are some ideas:
4. Too Much Focus On Yoast Green Lights
Obsessing over Yoast’s green lights can lead to keyword stuffing and make pages look spammy. Stop thinking SEO is so much about “keyword usage” and start thinking about keeping people engaged with your site through videos, tutorials, and things that people actually would actually want to learn/share/link to. The only time I think about keywords is when I do keyword research, write a keyword-rich (but nice sounding) headline, and craft an enticing meta description so people click my link. I rely on my kick-ass content to do the rest.
What’s Yoast’s SEO Analysis should say:
WARNING: injecting keywords in your content/snippets makes them look spammy. Have you thought about writing an SEO title + meta description to increase CTR? Every result in Google will be using the keyword – why would anyone click your link? Yes, you should use your keyword in the page title, URL, SEO title, and meta description (the most important places)… but don’t inject keywords just to get green lights. Forget about keyword density and keywords in subheadings… add a table of contents to organize longer posts, use videos, infographics, rich snippets, social sharing images, and beef up thin content to make it better (more detailed) than the top search results.
5. You’re Using Google Keyword Planner
Keyword Planner is designed for AdWords, not SEO! The competition is for AdWords, and I have personally found the keywords don’t reflect what people are actually searching. Google Autocomplete, or any keyword tool that pulls from Google Autocomplete, is more accurate.
6. Slow Load Times
- Choose Better Hosting – Cloudways is highly recommended in the WordPress Hosting Facebook Group and rated #1 in numerous recent Facebook polls (also who I use). Look at people who migrated to Cloudways and posted their results – they’re much faster than SiteGround (who has some of the worst TTFBs), EIG, and other shared hosts. Here’s a promo code to save money if try them: OMM25
- Upgrade To A Better Cache Plugin – WP Rocket was rated the #1 cache plugin in multiple Facebook polls and I use them too. The biggest benefit is they have speed features most cache plugins don’t, giving you better results (database cleanup, lazy loading photos/videos/iframes, hosting Google Analytics locally, heartbeat control, integration with Cloudflare + other CDNs). It also comes with documentation, frequent updates, and support. See my WP Rocket setup guide.
- Optimize Images – there are over 20 ways to optimize images, some of which appear in GTmetrix (lossless compression, serve scaled images, specify image dimensions). If you want to see all 20, read my image optimization tutorial.
- Upgrade To PHP 7.4 – most WordPress users run outdated PHP versions (since your host doesn’t upgrade you automatically). You need to install the Display PHP Version plugin to see which version you’re running, run the PHP Compatibility Checker plugin to make sure your plugins are compatible, then upgrade to PHP 7.4 in your hosting account. This can make a huge difference.
- Avoid Slow Plugins – here’s a list of 35 slow plugins, but you can also use Query Monitor (or GTmetrix Waterfall) to see your slowest loading plugins.
- Avoid External Resources – Google AdSense, Google Maps, Gravatars, or anything that pulls external resources will significantly slow down your site.
- Load Google Fonts Locally – if you see errors in your GTmetrix report related to Google Fonts or Font Awesome, read my tutorial on hosting them locally.
This video should help (timestamps are in the video description):
Recent Facebook polls show a large shift in people moving away from lower quality hosts (including SiteGround) to Cloudways, LiteSpeed servers, Kinsta, GridPane, and A2 Hosting.
Affiliate Disclaimer – if you sign up for Cloudways using my affiliate link, I would seriously appreciate it. I don’t recommend bad hosting like many other affiliates. I also donate quite a bit to charity ($6,000 to GoFundMe so far) and your support would really help. I try to base my reviews not only from my experience, but real evidence from the overwhelming feedback in numerous Facebook Groups. It would mean a lot.
7. Low Click-Through Rates
Everyone knows click-through rates are important (and are used as a ranking factor), but how do you get people clicking on your link? Below are 4 easy ways to increase click-through rates.
Step 1: Use Yoast’s Bulk Editor To Rewrite SEO Titles + Meta Descriptions
Yoast’s bulk editor lets you edit your SEO titles + meta description in bulk so you don’t have to go through each individual page/post. Rewriting these to sound nicer (and of course, include your keyword) is an easy way to increase CTR. Just remember the bulk editor doesn’t detect keywords or character length, so be sure you’re keeping these in mind (length is around 55 characters for SEO titles, 155 characters for meta descriptions). Everyone is going to include the keyword in their snippet – why would anyone click on your link? Your tutorial is current, you have a video tutorial, infographic? Tell them why! Try using numbers and clever adjectives.
Step 2: Add Rich Snippets
I use the WP Review Pro plugin by MyThemeShop (see a demo or a page I use it on). I was using WP Rich Snippets but the developer abandoned his plugin, and All In One Schema looks way too plain with virtually no customization options. I’ve been happy with WP Review Pro.
Step 3: Add Post Modified Date To Search Results
Make time-sensitive content look fresh. First, enable “date in snippet preview” in Yoast’s settings. Next, add “post modified date” to the top of blog posts (this is in a different location for everybody, but for me it’s in the Genesis Simple Edits plugin). Now, whenever you update a post, the date will refresh in search results. You can use the Republish Old Posts plugin to refresh all posts to current day, but it’s a little cheap since you actually didn’t update the posts.
Step 4: Get In Google’s Featured Snippets
- Create an HTML table of contents (if targeting lists)
- Make each item in the TOC concise and actionable to solving the problem
- Target a keyword where people want a concise answer
- Use Moz Keyword Explorer to identify question keywords
- Use Answer The Public to find even more question keywords
- Choose whether the answer should be a paragraph, list, or table
- Design a nice graphic (or take a photo) describing the keyword
- Use optimal character length (see photo below taken from Moz)
- Create fact-based content with quality references (links, graphics, etc)
- Target keywords that already have an featured snippet but do a poor job
- If you’re aiming for the answer box, target your keyword using an exact match
- Make sure you’re on the 1st page for the keyword, if not, improve the content
8. Not Optimizing For Social Sharing
Customize how your content looks when shared on Facebook/Twitter…
In Yoast go to SEO → Social, then enable meta data under the Facebook/Twitter tab. While you’re here, don’t forget to verify your site with Pinterest and add your Google+ page to Yoast.
Now edit a page/post, scroll down to the Yoast section, click the share link (shown below) and you will be able to upload images to Facebook (1200 x 630px) and Twitter (1024 x 512px). Yes, this means you need to create 2 graphics for each piece of content if you want it to look nice.
9. No Internal/External Links
There is no perfect number, but I usually have 50+ links in my 3,000 word tutorials.
Internal links – a natural way to build links to your own website, keep people on your site longer, and reduce bounce rates by getting people clicking on other stuff you’ve written.
External Links – these are like citing sources to Google. Linking to credible, useful content that your readers would find helpful (not just Wikipedia) develops trust with Google.
10. Lack Of Cornerstone Content
Here’s a tip… instead of blogging just to blog how about writing “the ultimate guide” on a key topic your audience wants to learn about? Yoast and WP Rocket are 2 of mine… people aren’t going to link to my WordPress SEO Consulting page, but by attracting links through my tutorials… the “link juice” will benefit my entire site by increasing my domain authority. So if you run your site through Link Explorer and don’t have many links, write some ultimate guides.
11. Not Using SSL
I added SSL in 2018 and surprisingly, my rankings went up (and so did my affiliate sales). Google is further penalizing websites that don’t use SSL (and that insecure padlock doesn’t look good either), so don’t be scared – just do it. Here’s a guide on adding SSL to WordPress.
12. Bad Bounce Rate + Time On Site
Bounce rates (the % of people who leave your site without clicking anywhere) and average time on site are metrics used by Google to determine the value of each page and it’s rankings (you can find these out in Google Analytics). So if your web design, mobile design, lack of internal links, call to actions… and other parts of your website don’t encourage people to click around… this will hurt your rankings. Making your website “sticky” is what SEO is all about.
13. You Changed Permalinks (Or Bad Structure)
Every time you change a permalink (even if you setup a 301 redirect) you will lose MOST your rankings temporarily, and only some of your rankings long-term. It’s been said about 1-10% of link juice is lost when you setup a 301 redirect. Bottom line… I would avoid changing these all together unless your permalinks use the ugly ?p=123 format. This includes during a redesign.
14. Terrible “About Me” Page
I never knew how important this was until I wrote an awesome about page.
I instantly had people emailing me… relating to my story and sharing their own story. It was really cool, opening myself up and watching that grow into relationships/opportunities. From an SEO perspective, it’s one of my most viewed pages and keeps people on my site longer.
15. Citations Errors (Local SEO)
If you’re targeting local keywords (especially where Google Maps appear), you need citations. They’re about 10% of local SEO. My 3-step process of Google My Business > Moz Local > Whitespark gets awesome results and is the same process I used to get multiple clients #1 rankings in Google Maps. Everything is free besides Whitespark’s citation building service ($4-5/citation). The more competitive your keywords are, the more citations you should order.
How To Create Citations
- Optimize your GMB page (most important)
- Run your business through Moz Local and fix citation errors
- Hire Whitespark to build additional citations, or build them yourself
How To Check For Duplicate Citations
- Run your site through Moz Local and fix items in the duplicates tab
- Search “Your Business Name Google+” and look for duplicate GMB pages
16. Google Search Console Errors
Most people don’t use Google Search Console as much as they should. I use it 10x more than Google Analytics for finding crawl errors, mobile errors, AMP errors, sitemap errors, security issues, manual actions, HTML improvements, and many others. I recommend you do the same.
I also use the Performance Report religiously to measure my keywords, CTRs, rankings, and most popular pages. For me, this is much better at measuring SEO than Google Analytics.
17. Duplicate Content + Search/Replace Pages
Use Siteliner to check for duplicate content…
Search and replace pages are probably the most common form of duplicate content (where you duplicate the same page over and over but only swap out a few words on each page). You see this a lot in local SEO when businesses create geo-targeted landing pages for multiple locations… but this doesn’t work. Each page should ideally have unique content about each location like photos, reviews, team members, etc. Rand Fishkin made a nice video about this:
18. Discouraging Search Engines From Indexing Site
Make sure “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is NOT selected in your dashboard under Settings > Reading. This makes your site completely disappear in Google.
19. Affiliate Website Mistakes
Affiliate sites are prone to Google penalties. This can either be a penalty in your manual actions report in Google Search Console, or it can be an algorithmic penalty (in which case you have to compare the time your traffic dropped and look at Google’s algorithm changes).
Trust me, you don’t want an affiliate penalty…
Tips For Affiliate Sites:
- Don’t stuff posts with affiliate links
- Add value! I spend a ton of time making sure my tutorials are helpful
- Don’t always list affiliate products first (Google knows what you’re doing)
- Consider writing review pages for affiliate products, and linking to those instead
- Always nofollow affiliate links
20. You Have A Google Penalty
Go to your manual actions report in Search Console to check for penalties. There are many types (thin content, keyword stuffing, spam content), but unnatural links is the most common.
Unnatural Links To Your Site – early on, I hired a link builder and got a Google penalty for unnatural links which took 1 full year to recover. My rankings plummeted, and so did my client inquiries and income. It was dark times for me. Think twice before hiring a link builder on Fiver, Upwork, or any of those freelancer sites… unless you really, really know what you’re doing.
How To Clean Up Bad Links
- Check to see if you have one in the manual actions tab
- Go to the links to your site section of Search Console
- Write down all spammy, irrelevant, and suspicious links
- Reach out to these websites and ask them to take it down
- Be persistent… Google wants to see you have made an effort
- For any links you can’t get taken down, use the disavow tool
- Submit a reconsideration request with all proper information
- Fire your link builder and never hire a sketchy link builder again
Still Not Sure If These Are The Reason?
Kiss Metrics has an awesome article on 50 Reasons Your Website Deserves to Be Penalized By Google, but I think I covered the main reasons here. If you have any questions at all, leave a comment below and I’ll be glad to answer your question. Otherwise, good luck with your SEO!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I rank my WordPress website higher in Google?
The easiest way to rank a WordPress website on Google is to find specific, long-tail keywords which aren't too competitive, then write in-depth content about each topic. Engagement, click-through rates, and on-page SEO all help improve Google rankings.
Are my keywords are too competitive?
New websites or those with low authority (backlinks) should always target long-tail, specific keywords. It's hugely important to Google each keyword and analyze the search results to make sure you're not competing with strong content and authority websites.
How can I check for SEO errors on my site?
Google Search Console tells you if you have mobile, security, and indexing errors. It also tell you structured content errors on FAQs and reviews. However, you should really get an SEO audit if you want to learn exactly what's going on with your SEO.
Will getting green lights in Yoast help rankings?
Not exactly. Yoast only does a good job at detecting keyword usage and there's much more to on-page SEO than this. Try adding FAQ rich snippets, adding an HTML table of contents to long posts, and creating in-depth content with videos. Optimize click-through rates!
Is my Yoast plugin configured correctly?
Check my Yoast configuration tutorial to make sure your Yoast is setup correctly, especially the Search Appearance tab. Don't forget to setup Google Search Console.
Or: my WordPress SEO Guide is even more helpful than this and includes 101 actionable tips.