If your new (or not so new) website isn’t coming up on Google when you think it should, here’s why.
Imagine Google as a Giant Library
Let’s start by talking about how Google works.
Try to think of Google as a giant library with billions of books (websites) inside.
When someone wants to find a specific book (website), they go to the library and ask the librarian (Google) for help.
In order to find your website in this vast library of other websites, the librarian, Google, has to first know that this website exists and then it has to be familiar enough with your website to also know:
- What is this website about?
- Is this website trustworthy? Is the publisher of the website an expert in the field, as far as Google can tell?
- Is this website helpful to visitors who have found it?
- Is this what the person who came to the library looking for information is really looking for? Will this website help the person searching?
- Does the website function well (loading reasonably fast, accessible to those with disabilities, easy to use, set up correctly according to modern standards)?
Google is in the business of helping searchers find what they need.
They are very good at showing searchers the right sites for their queries. They want the searcher happy.
You need to help Google view your website as helpful to these queries to be more top of mind when someone asks about your area of expertise.
More on that in a minute.
Let’s talk about the problem first.
Why your website isn’t on the front page of Google
Getting to the front page of Google is one of the main goals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
This isn’t an easy task, and it takes time, patience, research, and work.
Going back to the library analogy, we can think of your website as one of those books in the library.
Right now, your book is sitting on a hidden shelf in a back corner. That’s why people aren’t finding it on the front page when they ask the librarian, Google.
When Google was trying to figure out your website, they looked it over, but they weren’t yet sure what to do with it.
The search engines didn’t recognize you, the author, yet, and they had better resources to tell those asking about.
So, Google stuck your website somewhere like a book shoved into a back shelf, out of sight.
Here’s why this happens many times
1. You’re new and unknown
If your website is new, it’s like being a new book in the library.
The librarian hasn’t had a chance to read over your book yet, and they don’t know enough about you or your book to be able to give a solid recommendation to anyone.
Sometimes Google might not even know your website exists. I always set up Google Search Console and other webmaster profiles at different search engines, to let the search engines like Google know about your website and kindly ask them to read it over.
After that, it’s up to Google to “read” your website, and decide where it wants to put it.
2. You have “competition” that looks better to Google right now
I am a big believer in the concept of community over competition. I believe we can all have a slice of the pie by working together rather than tearing others down.
So when I say “competition” , it’s in quotes because I kind of hate that word. Can’t we all just get along? 🙂
In terms of search engines, you are competing with people you may never meet to rank higher than them for specific topics.
If these other websites are addressing the needs of searchers better than you on specific topics, they are going to rank higher.
There are lots of other websites on similar topics. They’re like other books in the library on the same topic. When someone asks the librarian for the best information on growing Begonias in Minnesota, the librarian tells that person which book is the best, and then which books would be recommended after that one.
If there’s a top recommendation, then there’s a bottom one too.
Just like our hypothetical librarian, Google has to decide which website is the most helpful to the person searching, pull it off the imaginary shelf, and say, “Here, try this one.”
3. Or you just have too much competition
If you’re trying to be known for a topic that has a lot of experts in that field, you’ll struggle to get to the top of Google. The best advice I can give is to do whatever you can to set yourself apart from the rest, by offering a unique service in your field, or a unique twist on a common concept.
In my case, as a website designer, I have HIGH competition in the search engines.
Most likely you found my website because someone told you about me, not because you found me in a search engine.
And yes, the irony that I help people rank in search engines while my own site isn’t on the front of Google is not lost on me.
As I work hard to improve my site’s content, and fill in the gaps left by my competition, I see my website climbing up in Google, but only one of my website’s pages has made it to the 2nd page of Google.
That’s how strong the competition is for website designers!
Search engines look for the right information for the searcher
Have you ever gone to the library, grabbed a book that looked good, then realized that book was NOT what you were looking for? So annoying.
This happens online when searching in search engines like Google too.
You’re looking for information, and you keep getting the wrong thing, or incomplete information.
Google is constantly tweaking their algorithm to make search results more and more accurate. They are very particular about what websites they show their customers (the searchers).
One way Google determines if a website is valuable is how many backlinks they have. That is, how many other legitimate, reputable websites are linking to them.
They also look at how many people visit the website, return to the website, or stay long enough to visit more than one page.
All of this indicates a website that gave people what they were looking for.
Climbing the ladder to the front page of Google
Did all of that sound hopeless? It’s difficult, but not impossible. Here’s what I recommend.
1. Give them what they want
Okay, the cynical, overthinking side of me contemplates the philosophical aspects of this issue –
“Is it pandering? Selling out? Is it defrauding my higher creative self to create content that the audience is asking for?”
The truth of the matter is this. When someone searches on Google, they are looking for something.
When they click on a website in the search engine, they are still looking. They are hoping to find what they’re looking for.
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
Google notices when people leave a site fast, by the way. It tells them that site was the wrong recommendation.
It’s like a librarian noticing you opening a book, sighing loudly, and shoving it back on the shelf. Hmm.
Maybe she won’t recommend that one next time for those inquiring about underwater basket weaving.
With some research, both on search engines and talking to real people in your niche, you can find out what burning questions they have that they want answered. And you can find out how you can meet those needs within the realm of what you do.
A case study in the making
This article is an example of that.
How many clients and not-yet-clients have asked me,
“Kim! My website isn’t on Google! Why? How? What do I do?”– panicked client
This article is trying to address that issue in a nontechnical, friendly way with some humor and very basic illustrations.
So basic that some of my techie readers might email me later and tell me my answer was an oversimplification and actually…blah, blah blah.
Here’s the thing, friends.
I know it’s an oversimplification of the things I’m taught in all of those Google and SEO workshops I take.
But you, the business owner who doesn’t care about the technical stuff, doesn’t want me to regurgitate some highly technical, way over your head mumbo jumbo.
You just want a simple answer. Right?
If you wanted the technical answer, you’d sign up for a workshop or take a class. No. You want the basic 411.
Note two things about this article that makes articles like this climb rank in Google for me:
- I’m answering a real question from real people, not just something I, as a trained professional, assume people are wondering (you know what happens when we assume, right?).
- I’m filling a gap in information from my competition. Most of them get too technical, which is fine. There’s room for both approaches online. When I asked clients, acquaintances, and business people from my business networking group what their most pressing questions about websites were, they also pointed out that they needed the plain English, “explain it like I’m five” answer, not the “if only I had a degree in computer science” answer. Furthermore, female entrepreneurs all said they didn’t want to be “mansplained”. So there. I’m endeavoring to meet that request.
The takeaway from that?
- Answer real questions that real people you serve have.
- Answer the questions in a way that is unique, helpful, and meets a need in that field. Find the gaps your competition missed.
2. Consider your keywords and use them
Think of keywords as words or phrases people used to ask Google for help.
Again, it’s an oversimplification for sure.
I use some words and phrases on my site that have caused fellow techies to email me and tell me what the right word for that is.
“Yes, thank you. I know. I’m using the phrase everyone else uses because that’s what they are typing into Google. They are low competition keywords because you refuse to use it because it’s not the term officially sanctioned by those in the know. I’m not advertising to you. I’m talking to the people asking about it in their own, somewhat incorrect terminology, Chad.”
It’s also important, if you’re going to go to the next level in your understanding of Keywords, to figure out what variations are less competitive but still searched for.
If I tried to just rank for “Website designer” I think there’s probably 10 million results showing up in Google for that.
I’m not going to be able to compete there easily.
But I can compete with a “long tail keyword” (that is a phrase used as a keyword) that is part of a question people often ask Google relating to websites.
The general rule is for your website to be about one main, over-arching topic. But let every page or blog post have a keyword (word or phrase, again) that is the focus of the page or post.
3. Make friends and get other reliable people linking to you
Sometimes in marketing, we talk about the “Know, Like, and Trust Factor”.
In other words, people don’t do business with you, and Google is hesitant to promote you, if you aren’t someone they know, like, and trust.
How will Google know if you are likeable and trustworthy? Backlinks are part of it. Reviews are another.
When other websites mention your website and link to it (referred to as a backlink), it’s like a recommendation from friends.
Google likes that, so you should try to get other reputable websites to link to yours.
This can be done through things like guest blog posting in your niche, podcast interviews, and just plain old creating useful content.
In the case of backlinks, sites are more likely to link to a post or page that serves as an “ultimate guide” to something, so their readers can get more information.
4. Stir in a generous dose of “Patience and time”
Getting to the front page of search engines might take some time.
Take small, consistent action appropriate for your niche (for me, for example, this includes regular blogs and regularly sharing on the right social media).
The bottom line
Taking the time to build your website platform now is a bit like saving $50 a month towards retirement when you’re 20.
You’re not really getting anything out of it right away, but eventually your small consistent actions are going to compound and grow.
Focus on what the people you serve are looking for, and give it to them. Take steps to build your credibility and trust online through quality backlinks and showing up as an expert in your field where you can.
And most of all be consistent.