7 Reasons You Aren’t Making the Most of Your Organic Search Rankings

If you do SEO for a living, you’ve definitely noticed how rapidly search is changing these days. Not only has it expanded, but has also become much more multi-faceted. It is like a gigantic supermarket now, in which new departments appear every day and it’s easy for one to lose track of what’s in store.

Nowadays, it’s not enough anymore to find your top 5 golden keywords and try to rank your site in the classic 10-pack for those search terms. So, not to miss out on some great opportunities out there, here are my 7 typical breaches often found in SEO campaigns these days.

1. Not looking into search verticals

I’ve met some Internet marketers who don’t really have a consistent  vertical search strategy. And this is a bad thing, as it robs the one of many opportunities that could be otherwise available to them.

How do you learn what vertical search options you have? To begin with, you could search for your target keywords on Google, Bing or other search engines you’re interested in and see if any Videos, Images, News, Shopping or other types of results appear in the SERPs for your keywords.

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If they do, you can then assess the competition that exists in each vertical for each of your keywords. For example, I just searched for “how to file a tax return” on Google and got some News results for the query on page 1:

As you see, the news piece was displayed as it matches my query just right. So, the simplest thing you can do to maximize traffic from mixed SERPs is to always use your keywords in your video titles, image alt texts, press release titles, shopping listings, local search listings and other types of content that you upload to the Web.

At the higher end, it is important to get familiar with the nuances of the vertical you’re promoting in (for example, image search) and have a separate plan for each one.

2. Ignoring structured data

Another way to get higher click-through rates from the SERPs and to help your site rank higher is to use semantically marked-up (structured) data on your website.

What is semantically marked-up data? It’s a piece of code that’s structured in such a way that it’s helping Google understand what this piece of code is about. For instance, it can be indicated that it’s about a person, a recipe, an event, a place, etc.

As the result, a rich snippet from your site may get displayed in the search results, which will definitely encourage clicks. For example, have you heard of Google authorship? By using the rel=author tag, you can indicate the author of particular content and the author’s headshot may get displayed in the SERPs:

For widely used structured data standards and templates, please, go to Schema.org and check out what Google says about rich snippets.

3. Disregarding long-tails

It is often hard to get your site ranked (and is even harder to preserve those rankings) for a competitive keyword. As a rule, the shorter is the word, the more people are searching for it and optimizing for it. And, the longer the key phrase, the less competition it has and the less effort it takes to rank high for it.

Long-tail keywords (which are essentially simply longer key phrases) can be a great source of additional Web traffic. And, with long-tails, quantity normally matters, meaning that one long-tail may not be driving tons of visitors, while together they can account for a large chunk of your Internet traffic.

4. Underestimating the power of competition research

I bet every search optimizer analyzes competition in one way or the other. But competition research and tracking may go far beyond finding keywords with the weakest competition. There is a lot one can learn from their rivals: from high-paying backlink sources, to best on-page practices, to cool ad banner ideas, etc.

Of course, this doesn’t go to say that you should be a copycat and simply copy what your competitors are doing. It’s just that by seeing what SEO practices your successful competitors have you realize what is likely to boost your search engine rankings. Besides, you can simply get inspired by other people’s work and take it to the next level or approach it from a different angle. Remember how Steve Jobs invented the iPhone? The idea came from a Microsoft employee!

5. Overlooking the Knowledge Graph

I bet you’ve seen Google’s Knowledge Graph right at top of the SERPs, even though you might have not realized it’s the graph you’re seeing.  The Knowledge Graph is basically Google’s depository of encyclopedia-esque data that is used to provide immediate, rich answers to the searchers’ questions – to return “things, not strings”, as Google says.

Needless to say that when your brand’s information is displayed in the search results as part of the Knowledge Graph, this gives you a clear advantage over all other results, and minimizes the chances that somebody else will successfully rank for your brand’s name.

6. Sacrificing SEO for PPC (or vice versa)

Again, having a blurred area in your SEO campaigns definitely does not help. Do you know where you stand in terms of SEO vs PPC? A common misconception seems to be that, if you rank well for a term in organic SERPs, there is no need to buy PPC ads for the same keyword. In reality, as studies indicate, this is not always the case. Sometimes, having additional exposure in the search results brings additional traffic.

Think about it, one-third of searchers are not aware of the difference between paid and non-paid results listings. Now, if you remember, according to the old Cornell University study, if nothing distracts the searcher (no rich snippets are displayed), over 56% of people click on the first search result. So, if you’re not that result, you’re going to miss out on roughly 18% of potential Web traffic.

But, of course, it depends. Buying paid advertising may or may not increase your ROI depending on where exactly you rank in organic SERPs, the price of a click, surrounding competition and other factors.

Is there a way to calculate if you’d benefit from PPC ads? Sure there is – you can do it by testing. And I’d recommend using the methodology described by Brad Geddes for this.

7. Ignoring search results personalization

Personalized search is nothing new, but it’s still surprising how many people do not take it into account when measuring the effectiveness of their SEO efforts. Today, different searchers may get quite different search results based on their language, location, safe search settings – what not.

So, how do you take this into account in measuring the results of your SEO campaign? Luckily, there is SEO software to help one with it. For example, about a week ago we put together “SEO Guidelines for 2013″, and the first section of the guidelines talks about how to see where you site would rank if you searched from the Philippines, for example.


Having certain loop wholes in your SEO campaign may lead to you not using all the opportunities available to you to the max. So, one should always stay on top of what happening in the search industry, what new types of search results appear, how the layout of the search page changes and how personalized search develops, to be able to tap into additional possibilities that help one make the most of their search engine rankings.

Image credit: paparazzit via iStockPhoto.

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