Google Ranking: No ShortCutts to Success

May 12th, 2014 by Search Influence Alumni

More often than not, our clients ask why their keywords aren’t as high up on Google as they should be. Is it a penalty issue? Is it an algorithm change? Or is it your content? Recently, I had a client that asked these exact questions. Here at SI, our job is to diagnose the answer.

If you’re an online marketer, you know one name to be the Holy Grail of answers: Matt Cutts (for you non-online marketers, the head of Google’s Web Spam team).

Recently, Cutts created a help video to answer the question we ask every day: What really determines why you’re not ranking as high as you think you should?

The answer: It depends!

Image of Google's There are No Simple Solutions Quote

Make Friends With Webmaster Tools

According to Cutts, you should first ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS check Webmaster Tools. Here, you can see in detail what could be the issue, whether it be keyword stuffing within your content or some sort of crawl error.

“We have seen sites that will launch a new development website that was previously no-indexed, and forget to take off the noindex tag,” Cutts said. “Or there’s 404s, or we can’t reach your site…”

But what about the other algorithmic issues? How can you determine if it’s an algorithmic penalty or your content? According to Cutts, they don’t give much thought about algorithmic penalties because Google doesn’t really view them as penalties.

“It’s a tough call to make,” he says, “because the web spam team is working on more general quality changes, not necessarily things specifically related to web spam…we just think of it as the holistic ranking.”

Don’t Fear The Algorithm

According to Cutts, in 2012 Google rolled out about 665 changes to how they rank search results, so the odds that they are rolling out some algorithmic change at any given point are pretty high. In fact, they might be rolling out a few. However, if the algorithm changes they make will impact your site in a big way, Google will notify you of those changes.

For example, as Cutts says, Panda’s algorithm has become more integrated into indexing and has less of an impact on your rankings, whereas Penguin’s is still ever-changing and will more than likely have a bigger impact. In other words, Google will  likely send you a notification if you were affected by some change within Penguin’s algorithm.

You’re probably wondering, what does this all mean? The reality is, it comes down to what you believe is best practice for your site. If your competitors are doing something that you think might be affecting their rankings in a great way, then use your judgement to determine if that’s something you should be doing for your site. As Cutts says, it’s difficult for Google to say that something is a penalty because it’s just a part of ranking. The good news is that it is algorithmic. As you change or modify your site based upon what you see within your competitors, you can see that these algorithms can reprocess the sites and you can and will rank again!