My website isn’t ranking!

Last week couple of days ago I saw a post by Simon Dell, a branding and marketing expert in Brisbane, on Facebook via Twitter asking for help from an SEO guru with what we find is a fairly frequent question.

Aside: I am not an SEO guru or a Google guru. I rather dislike the word guru and cringe when introduced at speaking events that way. I am always learning and have a healthy respect for the ever evolving systems on the web

The problem

Simon posted this in Google’s Webmaster Forums but it still hasn’t got any replies, probably because it mentions SERPtools which is actually not meant to be searching Google automatically… that sort of thing is against Google’s Terms.

To paraphrase, Simon said…

We can see that we’re getting traffic in Google Analytics and Google’s Webmaster Tools says we rank with an average position 8th BUT our site isn’t appearing in the search results when I search and even go through to page 20. Why?

A little jargon – Please forgive me…

For brevity I’m going to use some jargon below but I’ll lay it out here first…

SERP – Search Engine Results Page, basically this is the page you see when you search and some results are found.
ALGO – Algorithm, these are the rules behind the scenes that search engines use to rank one website above or below another… basically this is the secret recipe and it is constantly changing.
SCRAPE – A web page or a SERP pulled down from the web and stored on a computer so it can be analysed.
WMT – Google’s Webmaster Tools available at www.google.com/webmastertools

The problem – restated

I find it useful to restate problems a number of ways and keep asking why? and what? to drill deeper and deeper to the problem.

The data doesn’t match.

What data?

a) Webmaster Tools (WMT) says “average position 8th”
b) Manual query and trawling through the results shows nothing to page 20 🙁
c) SERPtools which Scrapes Google’s SERP says 85th

Consider each dataset in detail…

a) Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools is measured by Google against their own system and is specifically focused on the top position, to quote this page

Average position: The average top position of your site on the search results page for that query, and the change compared to the previous period. Green indicates that your site’s average top position is improving.

To calculate average position, we take into account the top ranking URL from your site your site for a particular query. For example, if Jane’s query returns your site as the #1 and #2 result, and David’s query returns your site in positions #2 and #7, your average top position would be 1.5.

What does this mean for Simon’s website? Well it means that while he might not see his rankings at all and whilst SERPtools sees something on page 9 of Google’s results (SERPs) someone somewhere has seen him rank on page one! Who? We don’t know, it depends on the settings in your webmaster tools.

b) But Manual Query shows no ranking

Google is constantly experimenting with ALGO updates. We need to do some testing but it seems that Google tries multiple websites on page one to see if they get clicks and to see if

  • Visitors go to the site and stay there – Good sign
  • OR, Return to search or click again in Google – Bas sign

The rankings in the SERPs have to juggle around up and down and we’ve also seen instances of sites disappearing and reappearing. Some have referred to this as everflux.

Our advice is not to worry about it unless you’ve been doing something that Google might want to punish and in that case you should log into webmaster tools (which of course is installed) and check for messages from Google’s web-spam team.

c) SERPtools shows something else

Well there are a couple of issues here. These tools are just automated tools that will scrape Google. Like I said this is against Google’s terms of service and apparently at least one company doing it has really annoyed them because they’re specifically named on this Google page about it.

Depending on the tool you use it could be on your network using your IP and Google then can tell you’re being naughty. It could be on your network and using proxy servers which means it’ll get different results from what you’d see when queries, as people all around the world see different results.

So this explains why it is different too.

TL;DR

Data you get from Google isn’t consistent. Don’t compare it, just gather data and watch how each metric changes over time. What is the trend or pattern?

Rank checking isn't like counting