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The aphorism that “content is king” creates an expectation that if content is “good” then traffic will come. Sites with royal content don’t always rank as well as they should. I’m going to show you a different approach for optimizing content and how to fix lost rankings that may be associated with content.
Keywords and Keyword Topics
Topics have multiple user intents. Virtually every topic has multiple intents. Even something like Copper John Fishing Fly has multiple intents. It could be where to buy a fishing fly, how to tie a fishing fly, who the originator of the fishing fly is (John Barr), or it could be about a video of how to tie the Copper John fishing fly.
It is debatable if it is enough to have good content ABOUT one or even all the user intents. If users tend to be satisfied with content that covers multiple intents, then it could rank. But from my experience and observation, it’s best to have one page of content handle one user intent.
I know some people are afraid of Content Cannibalization. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a new “problem” nor is it a “secret” for SEOs in the know. It’s a theory that’s been around since at least 2007, when it was called Keyword Cannibalization.
The reason why a site links to a page is closely related to the user intent. User intent, for the purpose of SEO, is the best definition of what relevance means. That’s because Google uses user intent to define what a search query means when it matches it to a web page. It’s not the keywords on the page, but how the content topic matches up with the user intent.
Links and Keyword Topics
Why someone choose to link to a download page versus a FAQ page is based on different user intent. Accordingly, both pages are going to rank for different reasons.
Relevance is about matching the user intent behind a users search query to a piece of content that best matches it. In countless hours of research during the course of site audits for ecommerce sites and that is that Google appears to prefer as close a match to the search query as possible.
This means that, in general, a page about Extra Large Product can sometimes outrank a page about Product that lists all the sizes. This isn’t always the case. But it’s true for certain products.
It’s Not About Exact Match Keywords
It’s not enough to have the keyword in the content. That’s one of the reasons why all that fussing about keywords in H1 and Title Tags is depreciated now.
The content remains highly important. But just as important is how neatly that content topic aligns with the user intent you wish to capture.
Reasons Why a Site Drops Rankings
Diagnosing a change in ranking by examining user intent is incredibly important. Some people will try to diagnose why a site dropped ranking by looking at what’s wrong with a site. Sometimes it’s not about the site.
There’s a story in the Old Testament about a righteous gentleman named Job who suffered numerous tragedies in rapid succession. His friends came around and advised him that he must have done something wrong and that God was punising him.
Sometimes it’s not your site. As Danny Sullivan suggested in a tweet about a Google Update, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with your site, it’s Google that changed.
Here is what Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted:
“As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded…”
Changing popularity in user intent could also account for a drop in traffic and the promotion of another site. That is something many people rarely consider. But it’s a real thing.
How to Research Keyword Ranking Issues
1. Review the Search Results
Always review who is ranking for your keywords and map what the user intent is for that web page. When you do this you will see a pattern emerge. Sometimes the first three positions may be there because they have an exact match for a product size or type. This is important!
Sometimes an informational site is ranking in positions five and six. This is notable because it may mean that informational reasons are not the main user intent. If the top ranked sites are service providers or ecommerce sites, it could be that those represent the most popular user intent.
And if your informational site formerly ranked at the top and now dropped beneath the ecommerce site, then it could be that nothing is wrong with your site, but that Google redefined what the user intent for that keyword phrase is.
2. How to Fix a Changed User Intent
Sometimes, it’s best to fasten the seat belt for the bumpy ride. Some changes by Google are reversed within ten to fifteen days. I know it’s a matter of money and it can be highly distressing to lose ranking and traffic.
But it’s even worse to lose ranking, update the site, then when Google switches back to the old way, watch your position drop even more. That can turn into a deadly spiral.
From my nearly twenty years of experience, waiting has consistently been the best first response.
Ranking Changes Can Have Multiple Reasons
If the change continues, then this calls for an evaluation of the search results for user intent clues, as well as an evaluation of your site and numerous other issues. There are a large number of issues that can cause a ranking drop.
The big takeaway I want to get across is that one should not exclusively focus on finding out what’s wrong with a site, like the friends in that Old Testament story that kept blaming the hero, Job, for his tragedies.
Sometimes it’s not you. The reason for a traffic drop can reside with Google or the users. But your content is still key.
Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author