Does the Page Match the Search?

Google doesn’t always get it right. But most search professionals already know that. Most of us have witnessed numerous instances of questionable ranking results, the implausible success of dubious competitor tactics, and at some point asked ourselves question “Why on Earth would Google rank THAT page for THAT phrase?”

There are plenty of reasons that one page may show up in the SERPs over another, and not all of those considerations may be within our control. But there are several opportunities to enhance the likelihood of the “right” page showing up for the “right” search.

Muddled Relevance Signals

One of the most obvious factors that determines which page a search engine might select for any given ranking is based on the words on the page. But, sometimes we may find that the page ranking for a phrase is not the page we’ve optimized for that keyword. It’s not the norm, but, it happens.

Page ranking confusion usually signifies a couple of wires crossed somewhere. The global strength of one page with a minor instance of on-page relevance can outrank another page targeted toward that phrase. The relevance signals being considered obviously go well beyond just what words we use and where we place them. The back links, navigation, and internal links can all factor into the equation. A page with external back links relevant to a phrase may outrank a more-well optimized page with no incoming links.

Sometimes on-site signals can be contributing to the confusion. Things like internal link anchor text, image alt-texts, or previous 301 redirects could impact which page shows up first for a keyword query. If you find yourself facing a scenario where that page that is ranking, isn’t the one you’d like it to be, let the nitpicking begin. You may find the issue, like the devil, is in the details.

Unbalanced Hierarchy and Internal Linking

A big piece of the ranking puzzle that is often neglected relates to where a page lives on a site. The depth of a page in the architecture or its distance from the homepage can be a quiet indicator of importance.

If you look at a website hierarchy like a company’s organizational chart, your home page is the CEO and the pages it links to directly could be considered senior executives. Beneath that you have your directors, then your associates and so on all the way down to the interns who take lunch orders. So the real question is, do you have a VP-level page sitting in a junior office?

When a page that has been explicitly targeted for a crucial group of phrases is sitting three or four clicks from the homepage or is located in a sub-directory of another buried folder, you may have inadvertently marginalized the most effective page.

The way a page can be reached from other sub-pages throughout the site via internal links can also help dictate Google’s perception of its value. An obscure, poorly interlinked, highly relevant page can be overlooked in the SERPs for a more powerful, more connected, yet less directly relevant page for a keyword.

How a page performs in search may be a result of how it is treated within the organization of a site. When the page which is the best fit for a search is not treated properly in the hierarchy, a less appropriate page can rank.

If you’ve gone to the trouble to shape and optimize a page for a particular user intent, give that page the support it needs to thrive. Because the page that Google picks, based on its perceived strength and value, may not be right for the user.

A Frustrating User Experience

It’s not difficult to connect user experience to SEO. Things like bounce rate and time on site may be indicators of goal attainment. The presentation of information on a landing page will either satisfy intent, draw a user further into the site, or send them away altogether, back to the SERPs to pursue another avenue. The last option is by far the least desirable.

There is an increased risk of that outcome if you make users work when they arrive on the site. Forcing users to refine their searches, or find the right links to click rather than taking them directly from the SERPs to their ultimate destination, is a less-than-ideal situation. Especially when a more appropriate page does exist. When there is no better page, then there may be more work to be done.

Making Sure There Is a “Right” Page

It’s probably impractical, at least in the short term, to set about creating a unique landing page for every possible filter parameter that you want to offer users. Balance the value of search volume with the quality of information you can provide to guide your priorities. You can also examine previous conversion patterns to help determine if a new landing page for a distinct set of keywords is warranted.

The nuances of volume, content value, and experience are those that will separate a high-quality landing page from a shallow doorway page. Make sure that any keyword-based page you create provides something unique and exclusive to merit its existence and to distinguish it from other pages on the site. Offer some manner of organization and information that makes it the strongest contender for a search phrase rather than a diluted version of another page, simply painted a different color keyword.

Once it’s created, align that content to the most likely desire of the searcher and give it the commensurate prominence on the site. Even if it doesn’t necessarily have a place in the main nav, consider its insertion in a secondary nav or using distinct internal links.

If They’re Lost, Draw Them a Map

The circumstances where a search engine is returning the “wrong” page for a search may be a common occurrence for a site or a unique phenomenon. In either case, the decision on whether or not to “correct” the misunderstanding should be based on the impact to both users and conversions. If there is another page that is a more direct route to the desired information, it may be possible and advantageous to clear away any obstacles to that destination. If a better page doesn’t exist, it might be time to create one. You may not need to leap into action the first time it happens, Google could just be trying to sort some things out. But if it’s a consistent condition, there may be some major sign posts you can adjust to help the engines, and help you, get the best page in front of users right from the start.

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