What to check if the wrong page is ranking in search

In this crazy world of SEO, even our best efforts can go bad. If the wrong page is ranking in search for your keyword, here’s what you can do to fix it.

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You’ve reached SEO-topia: You’re sitting pretty on page one of SERPs for a traffic driving keyword and aaallllll is right with the world… except… the wrong page is ranking.

At first glance, it’s no real issue because at least your site’s up there, right? Wrong.

Rankings aren’t everything. Just showing up in search means nothing if people read your irrelevant snippet and don’t click. And those who do click wind up on an irrelevant page, sending your bounce rate soaring. Then you can kiss that sweet, sweet conversion rate goodbye.

I’m going through something similar with a client of mine. Browser Media’s done loads of campaign work with them in the past, but this is the first time we’ve really embarked on Traditional SEO. I’m checking their visibility in search for that traffic driving keyword daily, watching three different pages get swapped in and out of various SERPs:

    • The homepage
    • The proper, official, totally correct landing page
    • A fairly random blog post

Basic SEO Checks

Mostly I want to work out why this is happening, secondly, I want it to stop happening. I want my visibility reports to settle down, and I want people arriving at the site to arrive on the right page for the best user experience.

Is that so much to ask?

Hopefully not. Here’s what I’m working through to rectify the situation:

Checking keyword use in HTML

Perhaps rather obviously, I wanted to see how the keyword was being used on each of those three pages. I checked the Page Title first. The <title> tag doesn’t have the clout with search engines that it used to, but it’s what users see in their list of results, when it’s shared on social media, and it’s what’s displayed in browser tabs. This is what I was checking for:

  1. Length (60ish characters tops)
  2. Repetition (just one use of the keyword)
  3. Order (keep keywords towards the front)

I also checked the Meta Description. As with the title, it’s not as important to search engines as it once was, but it’s displayed in search results and on social media. Again, here’s what I was looking at:

  1. Length (no more than 160 characters)
  2. Copy I (is it enticing?)
  3. Copy II (is the keyword in there?)

I removed any mention of the keyword in the meta for the “wrong” pages, and refreshed the meta for the landing page.

Checking Headers was next. I bang on about these a lot because it winds me up when header tags are used for styling, and not for optimisation or page structure. It’s true that their aesthetics are important for logically breaking up content for users, but they bring a kind of hierarchy to a page’s content too. The <h1> comes first (and there should only be one) followed chronologically with <h2> (s) with further structure coming from the <h3> tag down to <h6>. I made sure the headers on the landing page used the keyword and variations of, de-optimising the headers on the homepage and blog post.

Lastly, I checked the Open Graph tags. These babies control what’s seen if a page is shared via social media. Hand-on-heart, it’s not something I get super-worried about for most of my clients, but this is a special circumstance, and I am especially frustrated with said circumstance. The OG Title and OG Description don’t necessarily have to contain your keyword but they should be relevant enough as well as enticing.

Checking keyword use in copy

No, no, no. Not keyword density. But  your page’s copy should mention your keyword not just for search engines, but for users too! I made sure the opening paragraph on the landing page used the keyword, and I made sure it was used a couple of times throughout the copy as well as some variations. I effectively did the opposite for the homepage and blog post, drastically reducing the number of times the keyword was mentioned in the copy.

Techy SEO Checks

A healthy Page Speed is good for SEO and UX. Users won’t hang around for a page to load, and search engines use it as a ranking factor on both mobile and desktop. I ran the landing page through Google’s PageSpeed Insights, and used the list of best practice rules to make sure there’s nothing more we can be doing.

I made sure the whole site is Mobile Friendly. Mobile-first indexing totally happened, which means Google has started crawling the mobile version of websites for rankings before the desktop version. My client’s site is golden according to the checklist.

Basic Usability Checks

Those SEO checks definitely have users in mind, but there’s no denying that they’re search engine friendly too. These usability checks are also good for search engines, but they rely on the visual a lot more, which is why I consider this part of my checklist to be more of a UX exercise.

Checking keyword use in media

Images can be optimised for search. I think in the quest to find appropriate/cool/attractive pictures the alt text and description is sometimes neglected. As well as describing the picture, using keywords here will help build relevancy through the whole page.

The same can be done for videos, but consider adding a transcript too. It’ll help if you’re worried about thin content/low word count, and you’re probably going to have your keyword (or variations of) in the script. Not to mention how helpful that will be for users who are unable to watch the video for some reason.

Checking keyword use above the fold

This is really old-school, and it’s not like users won’t scroll, but if you can get your important, optimised content above the fold, more’s the better. I made sure my client’s landing page had a healthy word count above the fold. This is where SEO and CRO can sometimes come head-to-head, and I can’t deny that we’ve had to make compromises, but I made recommendations for increasing the volume of copy on the landing page. The homepage’s style wasn’t so much of an issue.

Checking the link profile

I ran a report to establish the Backlink profile for each of these three pages. Basically, I wondered if the blog post was being linked to from an excellent site that was skewing its authority in search. If the post had this strong nod to relevancy from an authoritative site, it would go some way to explaining why it was popping up for my client’s most important keyword. Similarly, I wanted to make sure there was nothing untoward with the backlink profile for my landing page – was a dodgy link having a negative impact? My plan was to contact the sites doing the linking, asking them to amend.

I also checked the website’s internal linking. I made sure the anchor text being used to link to my landing page matched (or closely matched) the keyword, and then I changed the anchor text of links pointing to the homepage and the blog post. That’s good for users, but for search engines too. The outbound links work in a similar way, like a relevancy signal for search engines (lots of links pointing out to external sites implies the page is a source of information about that subject). I ended up taking out a couple from the blog post, but the landing page and homepage were good.

Next steps in getting the right landing page to rank

I made some pretty chunky changes to the website, so I’m partly waiting-and-seeing. I’m also formulating a list of things I want to try if I don’t get the right page ranking for the keyword.

Make use of the canonical tag

In a nutshell, a canonical tag tells search engines which version of a page is the original version, and therefore which version deserves to rank. Good SEO practice is for pages to self-refer (that is, they canonical to themselves) but I may update the current canonical tag on the blog post to point to the landing page.

Use noindex

This is a bit more extreme, but if that blog post continues to be a nuisance, I can apply the noindex tag to instruct Google’s spiders to ignore it. Users can still navigate to the post, but it’s not going to turn up in SERPs for the landing page’s keyword.

Get rid!

Yep. I might delete that blog post. Obviously, I’m not going to delete the homepage or the landing page, but honestly… that blog post… ugh. It’ll go some way to stopping the wrong page from ranking, and I can use a 301 Redirect to an appropriate page. This really will be my last port of call, though!

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