12 Reasons Your Content May not be Ranking on Google: Your Action Plan for 2023

Cole Wiebe
January 25, 2023
Read time: 17 minutes

Whether we like it or not, search traffic, content visibility and SEO come down to aligning with Google's algorithms. It can be frustrating and costly to invest time, effort and money into your content, without realizing a return.

A good place to start is to check if your website and specific pages and posts have been indexed by Google. To see if your website has been picked up, enter Site:yourdomain.com into the search field, to query Google for all results on your website. To check if a page or post has been indexed yet, enter Site:yourdomain.com "The Title of Your Post".

Having high-quality content on your website is important for attracting visitors and driving traffic to your site. However, even if you have well-written and informative content, it may not be ranking on Google. Over 99% of the content out there isn't Google top-5 material. In this article, we will explore 12 of the most common reasons why your website's content may not be ranking on Google and offer tips on how to improve your SEO strategy to achieve better rankings.

1) Repeating a pattern of failure

A fresh design of your website doesn't make your content sexier to Google. It should go without saying that recycling the same tired, outdated content that failed to produce results on the old website on your shiny new one is a guarantee of failure, and yet, that's exactly what most website owners do. Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

You need a meticulous content audit; after which some content will be deemed outdated or irrelevant, and relegated to the digital dustbin (with 301 SEO redirects), while other articles will be refreshed with a conscientious edit and on-page SEO upgrade.

2) Publishing AI-generated content

Over the past 3 years, hundreds of new AI content and copywriting tools have become available. The big question is, should SEO content writers use these tools to actually write their content for them, or just utilize them in their research?

According to Sam Alderson of Yoast, "AI-generated content often lacks nuance, depth, and originality, which can harm the credibility and reputation of a brand. Moreover, using AI-generated content can perpetuate stereotypes, bias, and exclusionary practices, as algorithms tend to replicate existing patterns and preferences."

Google Bard AI and Bing's ChatGPT integration with their Bing search engine and Edge browser are changing search forever.

Google searchers are used to entering a query into the search field and being presented with a search engine results page (SERP), listing Google's top page picks, with links to the 10 respective websites. Google and Bing have been taking data snapshots of every page analyzed for years, as well as compiling data from many other sources. AI search results will draw on Google or OpenAI's archives of data and generate real-time responses to your query at the top of their results. The benefit to Google in not sending visitors away to top-ranked websites is expected to increase their ad revenue significantly.

We're at the very beginning of AI-generated search results, and as SEO professionals we're scrambling to evaluate the potential impact of AI on earning top search rankings for our clients. The consensus amongst SEOs so far is that:

  • since Google Bard generates content by AI they understand how AI generation works firsthand; so Google's AI Content Detection algorithm will catch content generated by Bard, ChatGPT, Jasper, Copy.AI, Sudowrite, LeadScripts, and countless others by its structure,
  • Google Bard will be updated and improved constantly, so if Google Bard generates the most relevant answer to the query at the very top of its result page in real-time, there's no reason Google's algorithm would rank any "lower quality" AI-generated articles created a few weeks or months back by an outdated AI engine, found on your business website,
  • we can expect Google to soon begin de-listing web pages and articles that contain low value and AI content that Bard can easily generate a better version of on-demand,
  • AI content has no soul; it has a lack of human empathy that can be felt by the reader within only a paragraph or two
  • to rank web pages over the next months or years, writers will need to create a depth of content that should be nearly impossible for AI to generate,
  • AI content is 'generated/fabricated' and notoriously inaccurate – in other words, AI makes sh*t up – and someone needs to fact-check every statistic and statement,
  • the AI source data could already be out of date for your article (ie: ChatGPT's current data cut-off was back in 2021, so ChatGPT will give you Queen Elizabeth II's "living" age when queried).
  • OpenAI, the parent corporation behind ChatGPT, is introducing a watermarking feature to help Google detect AI-generated text. Watermarking the text generated by ChatGPT will include cryptography in the form of embedding a word pattern, letters, and punctuation to create a secret code for Google's algorithms. In other words, copy and paste any text from ChatGPT, or one of the countless AI solutions that will include OpenAI, and Google will recognize it.

More than ever, earning and retaining top search engine rankings, as we compete against Google's AI-generated search results, will depend on creating extremely valuable fresh content, so unique, in-depth and ridiculously valuable it can't be replicated by AI. Rehashing what's already been written – which is exactly what AI does – is not going to cut it in 2023.

Tools like Jasper and ChatGPT can make great research and writing assistants, but copying and pasting their output directly into pages and articles could result in them being penalized soon, as Google's Bard becomes more sophisticated. Be very wary of so-called "content writers" who boast about their AI prompt writing skills, and publish their AI-generated content quickly and cheaply without adding any value.

There are AI content detector solutions such as Copyleaks, Writer, and Winston and Originality, claiming to reliably detect AI. Undetectable advertises they can convert AI output into "human" text, but theoretically these AI tools will have structural patterns of their own. To confirm that theory, I experimented with converting/paraphrasing ChatGPT content in Undetectable and Quillbot; Originality flagged it as AI-generated every time. The AI solutions created to avoid detection get smarter, and the AI detection solutions to catch them get smarter.

Content forums are now buzzing with posts bemoaning AI-generated articles delisted by Google. This suggests that Google is beginning to rank AI content the same as plagiarism and duplicate content. AI will is "allowed" but deemed a lower quality article than a unique, well-researched and properly-written one, all other SEO factors being equivalent.

Good content writers in 2023 will continue to do what they've always done; research and write high-value content readers love and Google and Bing deem worthy of ranking in the top-5.

3) Asking the wrong questions

Whether you're hiring a content writer or working with a writer in-house, a "bean counter" mindset could derail your content marketing efforts. Any question that begins with "How many…" will usually point you down the wrong path.

3 cheap, poorly-researched and hastily-written blog posts per week would give you 12 content pieces each month. Sales reps at the "content mill" shops are usually very proficient at "gaming" their proposals; fluffing up their quotes with as many bullet point "deliverables" as possible. They may include re-posts of each of those posts on several social media channels, so-called "SEO" (meta description and a few tags, not real on-page optimization), and throw in a hundred outsourced spammy backlinks, likely to cause more harm than good. And sadly, the majority of content shoppers will choose the lowest proposal price with the longest list of bullet points, believing content to be a commodity.

Your readers have absolutely no interest in slogging through 1 to 3 poorly researched, hastily churned-out fluff pieces each week. And Google certainly doesn't want to send their valuable users to "thin" low-value content that will just frustrate and disappoint them. The purpose of your user's search is also known as "search intent". Following the Google Hummingbird and Google RankBrain algorithm adjustments, Google became able to interpret search intent, and they show users the results that align with their intent.

Google makes their revenue by displaying ads to searchers who enter queries for timely information they need or are currently interested in. Nobody has time to "surf the web" anymore. The closer the search results match intent, the happier the user, the more times they conduct searches on Google and build Google's revenue by clicking the ads.

Google analyzes user intent and then strives to send searchers to a page or post that is so incredibly valuable, visitors spend considerable time scanning the information, reading portions of it, and then saving or sharing it. Your readers should feel they've discovered a treasure trove of the most relevant information on the internet. Then other content creators will consider your information a valuable resource and link out to it, building your vital backlinks. User engagement, organic sharing of your content, highly relevant backlinks and referred traffic establish your content as extremely valuable, and worthy of a coveted top-5 ranking position on Google.

"Epic content" is information that is more valuable than anything currently on the internet for the applicable user intent, target keywords and topic. What your readers, prospective customers and Google are looking for is ridiculously valuable, well-researched and useful information. Your readers should land on your page and think, "Jackpot! Here's all the information I've been looking for in one place." They should immediately save the link or send it to their email inbox. How well your site's writer understands search intent will impact your ability to rank and whether your readers are happy with your page’s content.

When speaking with a content creator your questions should centre around building value for the reader and fulfilling Google's search intent criteria, not the number of "deliverable items" listed on the proposal.

4) Mapping out a content strategy without in-depth research of the competition

Mapping out your SEO content strategy based on research of the competition is the effective way to gain insight into what your competitors are doing well and where there may be opportunities to differentiate yourself.

Identify your competitors

Begin by researching who your main competitors are in the industry. Your content manager can use tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz to help you identify the top-ranking websites for your target keywords.

Analyze their content

Once your writer has a list of competitors, they can take a deep dive into their content. They will look at the topics they cover, the format of their content, and the keywords they are targeting. Your writer can use tools like SEMrush's Content Analyzer or Ahrefs' Content Explorer to help with this analysis.

Identify gaps and opportunities

After carefully analyzing your competitors' content, your content manager will look for gaps and opportunities. Are there topics that they haven't covered that your writer could create content around? Are there keywords they are not targeting that your site could focus on? These gaps and opportunities can help you differentiate yourself and stand out from your competitors.

Develop your content strategy

Based on the analysis, your content manager will develop a content strategy that aligns with your business goals and takes advantage of the gaps and opportunities identified. He/she will map out what types of content the writer(s) will create (e.g., blog posts, videos, infographics), the topics you will cover, and the keywords your site will target.

Monitor results and adjust as you go along

Finally, your content manager must keep an eye on your competitors' content and adjust your strategy as needed. He/she will stay up-to-date on industry trends and changes in search algorithms to ensure that your content remains relevant and effective.

5) There's no tried and proven content strategy in place

There's usually a direct correlation between the level of competition and the competency of the content creators and/or SEO professionals behind the top-5 pages or articles in a competitive niche. If you're in a very competitive industry, flying by the seat of your pants, and throwing up a blog post a few times a month isn't likely to accomplish anything.

Creating a content strategy that earns search engine rankings requires a multifaceted approach that incorporates both technical SEO and high-value, relevant content. Here are some key steps for developing a content strategy to improve search engine rankings:

  • Keyword research is not optional. It identifies the keywords and phrases that are relevant to your business and that people are using to search for your products or services. Your content manager or writer needs to use keyword research tools to identify high-traffic, low-competition keywords (the low-hanging fruit) that will be targeted in your content.
  • Analyze the content strategy of your competitors to identify gaps and opportunities. Your content strategist will look for areas where he/she can create better, more informative content that addresses user intent.
  • A good content manager will develop a content calendar that outlines the topics and types of content that will be created and published over the next year or two. Including a mix of different content types, such as blog articles, videos, infographics, and podcasts can help expand your reach.
  • Your SEO writer will optimize your content for on-page elements such as the title tags, meta descriptions, headings, and internal links. He/she will make sure your content is well-structured to scan well, and easy to read.
  • Publish only well-researched, high-quality, engaging content that provides high value to your audience. Bargain "content mill" articles typically are so low value they will never earn top-10 Google rankings, and they could potentially dilute the relevance of the content you already have. Throwing bargain writing or AI output on top of quality content could dilute the relevance of all of your content to the lowest denominator.
  • Have your SEO writer build high-quality backlinks to your content to improve its authority and visibility in search engines. He/she will reach out to relevant websites and offer to guest post or contribute to their content, with a content backlink to your article in exchange.
  • Your content manager needs to use analytics tools to measure the success of your content strategy. He/she will track your rankings, traffic, and engagement metrics to identify areas for improvement and refine your strategy over time.

There's no way to create high-ranking content without putting in the work; no shortcuts to success. A barebones content strategy probably won't cover even a third of that list.

6) Deviations from the rollout of the strategy

The content strategy your SEO content manager maps out will typically include a set of guidelines, tactics, and best practices for creating, publishing, and promoting content that resonates with your target audience. Second-guessing the content strategy and deviating from it, or abandoning it entirely, can create significant costs for your business.

Building search engine rankings and traffic isn't going to happen over a few months. Do you trust your content strategist? Are you willing to commit to your content professional's strategy long enough for it to bring you success? Impatience, and pressuring the content strategist to follow the client's lead instead, are one of the main reasons content strategies fail. It would be akin to overriding the lawyer's trial strategy in a courtroom.

Loss of audience engagement

A solid content strategy is based on experience and a deep understanding of your target audience and their user intent. When businesses deviate from a proven strategy there's almost always a loss of audience engagement. Content that does not resonate with the target audience can be perceived as irrelevant or uninteresting, leading to decreased engagement and lower conversion rates.

Lower search engine rankings

An effective content strategy typically includes search engine optimization (SEO) best practices that help your business rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). Impatience with the time it takes to see results and altering the course from this trajectory can result in lower search engine rankings, making it harder for your business to attract organic traffic to your website.

Wasted resources

Your content strategy helps your business optimize its resources and focus on creating content that is most likely to generate results. Deviating from this strategy to fulfill client-submitted topic requests instead can result in wasted resources, potentially spending time and money creating content that does not resonate with the target audience.

Missed opportunities

The content strategy is designed to help your business take advantage of content marketing opportunities and stay ahead of the competition. Your content strategist may have to pivot as search engine algorithms change. Deviating from the strategy because you have lost faith could result in missed opportunities, as your business finds itself unable to capitalize on emerging trends or changes in the industry.

Damage to brand reputation

Consistency is key when it comes to building a strong brand reputation. Second guessing and departing from a sound content strategy can result in inconsistent messaging and branding, which can damage your brand's reputation and erode trust with your target audience.

7) Your articles are not deemed "incredibly valuable" by readers or Google

Creating content that is extremely valuable to the reader requires a deep understanding of their needs, pain points, and interests. A writer may have crafted a prize-winning thesis back in university, but have no idea how to write valuable content that earns top Google rankings and converts visitors into buyers. The key to delivering valuable content is to provide information or solutions that are timely, highly relevant and undeniably useful to the reader.

Here are several ways you can create content that is extremely valuable to your readers:

  • Before you start creating content, it's essential to research your target audience thoroughly. This includes understanding their demographics, interests, pain points, and the challenges they face. Your content writer will use this information to develop content ideas that address their needs and provide solutions to their problems.
  • Creating valuable content is not about churning out as much content as possible. It's about producing high-quality content that resonates with your target audience. Make sure your content is well-researched, well-written, and provides real value to the reader.
  • Valuable content should not only provide information but also actionable insights that readers can use to improve their lives or solve their problems. Whether it's a how-to guide, a case study, or an expert opinion piece, your content should provide practical advice and actionable steps.
  • Use data and statistics to support your arguments and provide context to make your articles more valuable to the reader. Incorporating relevant data and statistics into your content provides a deeper understanding of the topic and helps readers make more informed decisions.

While it's essential to provide in-depth information, it's also important to keep your content concise and easy to digest. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and visuals to break up your content and make it more readable.

8) Your on-page SEO needs work

On-page SEO is a critical factor in earning search engine rankings because it directly impacts how Google interprets and ranks your website's content. On-page SEO refers to the various elements on your website that can be optimized to improve its ranking in search engines, such as the structure and content of the page, page load speed, HTML and XML site mapping, title tags, meta descriptions, tagging architecture, internal linking, and image optimization.

One of the primary benefits of on-page SEO is that it helps Google better understand the content on your website. By optimizing your content with carefully researched, relevant keywords, using descriptive and informative title tags and meta descriptions, and structuring your content with headings and subheadings, Google can more easily categorize and rank your web pages and posts based on their relevance to search queries.

In addition, on-page SEO can improve the user experience on your website, which is another important factor in search engine rankings. When your website is well-organized and easy to navigate, visitors are more likely to stay longer and engage with your content, which can signal to search engines that your website is high-quality and relevant.

Finally, on-page SEO can help you stand out from your competitors in search engine results pages (SERPs). When you optimize your content with informative and engaging meta descriptions and excerpts, it can encourage users to click through to your website, even if you aren't ranking in the top position.

9) Failure to use structured data and Schema Markup to earn Rich Results

Early in 2023, if you're searching for information about a company, a product or a service, there's a good chance you'll find the answer right at the top of the search results, in the rich results (featured snippets) above the #1 ranked page in Google. You don't even have to click the link to read the answer on their website anymore.

And there's the problem: searchers are interacting with data about our businesses, rather than our websites. Google’s entire “search documentation” is based on structured data. The control of our brands has largely been usurped by Google. And that's going to get worse as Bard fully rolls out. Google isn't going to convert their searchers into your customers.

So if searchers are staying within the search experience, rather than visiting our websites, we need to take back control. We need to get them to your website, where they can be led through your carefully crafted customer's journey/sales funnel, provided with compelling sales copy, backed by testimonials and other credibility builders, and then presented with the opportunity to take action today.

As content writers, we need to influence what's displayed in those critical rich results. That's done through schema markup. Google prefers the markup code to be provided in JSON-LD format, but there are two other types of structured data code: Microdata and FDFa.

It's become important to not only research and write incredibly valuable content, optimize it on-page, and build links to it; but we now also need to provide Google with vital data so they can feature our sites in the rich results at the very top. And then we need to update Google in the Search Console. The best content writers also know how to write effective schema markup code.

There are several popular schema WordPress plugins, and they typically allow a company to provide site-wide local business data, or individual page or post information, like a product page, article, video page, how-to post, job listing, event page, recipe, FAQ or a pros and cons feature. If you're just getting started with targeting rich results through schema markup, these DIY plugin solutions could be a good place to start. Using text fields, checkboxes and dropdown selections, you can configure either your site's local business information or the kind of information your page or blog post has on it.

Professional content writers who specialize in structured data can take schema markup to a much higher level. Not only will they carefully research and write an epic article, optimize it for on-page SEO and perhaps secure quality inbound links for you, but they will carefully hand-write the schema markup in JSON-LD code, inserting it into the page or post's HTML.

DIY plugins allow you to target one kind of schema for a web page, like a set of FAQ questions. But an article that has been carefully written to provide structured data to Google, may target a specific branch of your company under 'local business', then specify and include 'article' information, with 'questions and then the answers' included organically throughout the article (instead of stuffed into a FAQ accordion plugin), some 'how to' content and maybe even 'pros and cons'. All of the schema code is then validated, to make certain it is fully supported by Google's algorithms. Instead of a single turn at bat and three strikes, each article may get a dozen swings at the ball; increasing the chances of hitting a rich results home run significantly.

10) Failure to target rich snippets, rich results and SERP features

Targeting rich snippets, rich results, and SERP features are essential for SEO because these features provide additional visibility and context to search engine users. Rich snippets are the short descriptions that appear beneath search results, while rich results are more detailed and can include images, reviews, and other information. SERP features refer to any additional information or tools that appear on the search engine results page, such as knowledge graphs, local results, and featured snippets.

By targeting these features in your SEO strategy, you can increase the likelihood that your website will appear in these additional areas of Google search engine results page (SERP). This can lead to increased visibility and clicks, as users are more likely to engage with content that has more context and information.

Rich snippets and results also can improve the user experience by providing more detailed information about your website before a user clicks through to it. This can help users quickly determine whether the website or article is relevant to their search query, and this may reduce bounce rates and improve engagement metrics.

Targeting rich snippets and SERP features can also help you stand out from your competitors in search engine results pages. By providing more comprehensive and relevant information, you can increase the likelihood that users will choose your listing over other options on the page and click through to your website.

11) Missing out on voice search and personal assistants

Conducting web searches by speaking to a virtual assistant such as Siri or Alexa, a web browser, smart TV, smart speakers or even some smart cars, is now part of everyday life. It's just faster and more convenient for many people.

This new way of searching the web creates new challenges for SEO experts, however. When speaking to a device, queries are phrased differently. They are presented the way we speak, not as keyword search phrases typed into a search field. Think of these virtual assistants as your sales team, potentially directing searches to your website 24/7.

Voice search optimization involves a whole new set of SEO techniques. In addition to the usual well-researched, extremely valuable content, it's now important to address common verbal queries, in a way that virtual assistants and voice search technologies can present your pages and articles in the voice search results. Searchers will now use queries like, "Alexa, we want to interview contractors about building our custom home," or "Hey Siri, what gyms are open near my hotel?"

According to Insider Intelligence, 44.2% of all internet users are now using voice search, and that percentage is only going to increase. Voice search presents another huge opportunity for capturing organic search traffic, regardless of industry. Actively targeting voice search will also improve the overall SEO of your website because Google's algorithm gives more authority to websites that optimize for voice search.

Google's Hummingbird (2013) and BERT (2019) algorithm updates began a shift towards the intent of the searcher and detecting the information the query was meant to locate. Users are making more conversational voice queries and Google is working to deliver results that are more relevant to these voice search users.

Fortunately, getting your site voice search ready integrates with what we're already doing to target rich results. As content writers and SEOs we need to target question keywords and other long-tail keywords. When we speak, we use more detail and full sentences because we're not held back by the physical and cognitive demands of typing. We need to use long-tail question keywords of three or more words in our content and schema markup. To better align with voice queries users are making our writing also needs to be more conversational, more closely matching the tone of the audience.

Prioritizing local SEO is also important because, even if users aren't specifically including "near me" in their voice query, it's generally implied. Being "mobile first" and blazingly fast are key factors, because most voice searches will come from mobile phones. 27% of current mobile users are regularly using voice search on their smartphones. Your website needs to fully load in under 2 seconds and you should target a GTmetrix score of 90%+.

12) Unrealistic expectations… it's just too early

The average Top-10 ranking page on Google is over 2 years old, and those that have earned a #1 ranking position are averaging just under 3 years. It takes time, a brilliant strategy, meticulously executed, and consistent epic content creation to secure top rankings on Google.

It comes down to competition. If your business is in a very unique niche, perhaps as one of two food trucks in a tiny town, and there is hardly any competition at all, you might be able to earn top-10 rankings within only a few months. On the other hand, if you're a Realtor® in a major city like Vancouver – with the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver boasting a membership of 14,000 – it's going to take a while, and probably a considerable investment, to ascend into the coveted top-5.

The takeaway

In 2023, high-value content and top search engine rankings continue to be crucial elements for businesses seeking to establish an online presence. High-quality content that delivers value to the target audience can help drive traffic to a website, increase engagement, and improve brand recognition.

Achieving top rankings in Google and Bing, can significantly boost your website's visibility, credibility, and trustworthiness. With the growing importance of digital marketing, businesses must prioritize creating high-value content and implementing effective search engine optimization strategies to succeed in the highly competitive online marketplace.


SEO Copywriting: Words Matter
Converting Blog Posts into Sales Leads
Google doesn’t want your AI-generated SEO spam content
Google Search's guidance about AI-generated content

Cole Wiebe, direct response copywriter, Vancouver, BCCole Wiebe is a veteran content strategist and writer of 36 years, writing ad copy and editorial content in the magazine industry for ten years before moving to the web. Cole helps brands earn search engine rankings and traffic.

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