What to do when the wrong pages rank highly for your keywords

We all know that keywords are important to a successful SEO strategy. Ideally, you will want the pages on your website to rank on page one of Google for keywords that attract high volumes of searches that convert into sales.

Search engines are looking for the best possible match to a query and want to come up with the most relevant URL, but they have to rely on their algorithms to work out which pages to return in searches, which isn’t always an exact science.

This means that, sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Most businesses find that, at one point or another, the wrong pages rank highly for their best keywords. A searcher enters a keyword or phrase in a search engine and, instead of seeing the page that perfectly answers their enquiry, they’re taken to another less relevant page of your website and quickly bounce back to Google without buying or visiting other pages.

This can have a damaging effect on your SEO efforts. Search engines take a high bounce rate and low dwell time as signals indicating poor website quality, so taking people to the wrong pages for their queries can bring down the performance of your whole domain. You may find that your clickthrough rate is lower too because people can see from the search engine results pages (SERPs) that the listed page doesn’t fit their query. Again, this is a negative ranking signal.

Knowing this, what do you do if the wrong pages on your website rank highly for your keywords?

Stage one: Identify the problem

Before you do anything else, you will need to work out why the wrong pages are ranking highly.

There are several approaches you can take to do this.

First of all, check that you have a page on your website that is more relevant to the keyword for which you want to rank. It might sound obvious but a surprising number of businesses, big and small, neglect to create pages that focus solely on their best keyword terms.

Here’s an example.

I ran a search for ‘wooden picture frames’ in Google, which brought up the following SERP:

Google organic listings

We can see that the first three organic listings for Hobbycraft, John Lewis and Amazon meet the search query exactly. However, the fourth, fifth and sixth listings for Habitat, Dunelm and Tesco respectively each go through to broader pages featuring picture frames made from all sorts of materials, including wood.

As a searcher, we can see from a glance at these latter listings that we may need to click through different pages and categories before we get to the products we want. This makes the top three listings far more appealing.

This hunch is correct. Clicking through to the John Lewis website takes you straight to a product page full of wooden picture frames. However, when you click on the Habitat listing, for example, you must choose a category from ‘Wall frames’ or ‘Photo frames’, which you then have to search by range names. You have to click through to each range page to discover whether or not the frames in the range are made from wood – that’s a minimum of two clicks after landing on the website before finding a single product that fits the initial enquiry (and that’s if you have the good fortune to click on a wooden range).

It would appear that Habitat doesn’t have a more relevant page; a facility to let people filter their search by colour, size or material might improve the shopping and search experience.

It’s likely, although I don’t have the figures to prove it, that this listing has a lower clickthrough rate than the more relevant John Lewis or Amazon listings for the same search. This could be fine. It might not be a keyword that Habitat wants to target but, if it is, they might want to create a page on the website that is specific to that search. If they don’t, bounce rates and low dwell time could begin chipping away at their ranking position for this search term.

Does the same apply to your website? Do you know what pages Google is likely to show in SERPs in response to specific keyword queries?

You can find this out by entering site:yourdomain.com keyword (inserting the appropriate domain address and keyword, as appropriate) into Google. This will bring up a list of all the pages from your website that Google might return in response to a search using that keyword or phrase.

Can you see the page you want to rank for that keyword or are other, less relevant pages more prominent?

Many businesses find it helpful to create a keyword map of their website. This means drawing out the structure of the site and identifying the focus keyword for each page, then performing a search for each keyword and seeing whether the right page appears in SERPs.

Another option is to log into Google Search Console Search Traffic>Search Analytics and switch your view from Clicks to Impressions as this will show you which pages are the most visible in SERPs. Are they the pages that you would expect?

If not, you will need to look at the underlying issue.

Firstly, as we’ve asked above, does a page more relevant to the search term actually exist on your website?

If it does, is there anything that’s stopping search engines from indexing or crawling the better page?

  • Is it blocked by robots.txt?
  • Are there too many images and not enough copy, making it hard for search engines to understand the content?
  • Is there a problem with a complicated JavaScript framework?

If you can’t see any technical reasons for why a more relevant page is failing to rank highly for a search term, you need to look at the content next.

  • Does the page feature unique content?
  • Is it well written?
  • Is there enough content on the page about the keyword? I.e. Are the keyword and the focus topic of the article one and the same?
  • Is there enough content for search engines to understand what the page is about?

Search engines will strive to give the best results in terms of relevance and high quality content. It might be that you need to rewrite the page you want to rank for a keyword to better reflect what people want to see if they are using that term in searches.

You should also look at internal links to and from the page that you want to rank highly for your search term:

  • Do you have anchor text linking the page to relevant content within your site?
  • Do anchor links that feature the keyword all point back to the page you want to rank highly? If the links are pointing to other pages too, it could confuse search engines.
  • Are there any high authority websites externally that are linking back to this page? If not, are they linking to a different page, one that is less relevant?

If there is a page on your website that is consistently ranking higher for a keyword than the page you want to rank, it’s worth comparing them. Why is it that the wrong page is more prominent in SERPs?

  • Does the wrong page have more relevant content than the page you want to rank?
  • Are other websites linking to the wrong page?
  • How does the meta data for your pages compare? Does one have a better title, meta description, or more relevant heading tags?
  • Do the images on one page have better alt tags than on another page?
  • Is there something on the page you don’t want to rank that’s encouraging people to stay on it for longer than the page you do want to rank for your search term?
  • Is there something within the design that’s attracting people or, on the flipside, turning them away?

These are all points to consider.

Another thing to look for is faulty redirects. It can sometimes happen that a high ranking page gets removed from a website and the redirect accidentally takes people to the wrong URL. This means that the new URL gets the ‘link juice’ from the original page without having to do much to earn it, while a more relevant replacement page should have been the destination for the redirect but wasn’t.

Stage two: Create or improve the page you DO want to rank highly

Once you have diagnosed why the wrong pages are ranking highly for your keywords, the next step is to a) create a page that you do want to appear in SERPs for your chosen search term or b) improve an existing page so that it ranks higher than the wrong page.

Going back to the Habitat example above, they might want to create a page that is solely focused on searches for ‘wooden picture frames’. If so, they could make sure that all the featured products have wooden frames, that ‘wooden picture frames’ is included in the SEO title and meta description, the H1 tag, alt tags and in the individual product descriptions as some starting points.

If you already have a page, you will need to improve its SEO signals. This might mean doing one or probably more of the following:

  1. Make sure that the page uses the focus keyword and related phrases throughout – the language should sound natural rather than stuffed full of keywords. If you keep the page to a single focus and the keyword you’ve chosen best reflects that focus, it should appear naturally in the copy, as should related terms.
  2. Rewrite the content to make it more relevant to visitors. If someone searches for the chosen keyword, what will they expect to find when they arrive on the page? You need to make sure that the content meets visitors’ expectations and that it is relevant and provides value.
  3. Review the meta data on the page you want to rank highly. Do the title and description, which will both appear in SERPs, feature the focus keyword? Is the meta description enticing? Is there a call to action encouraging people to click on the link? Also, have you given your main heading an H1 tag and sub-headings H2 or H3 tags? Do all of the images on the page have an alt tag and, if so, how strong are the alt tags? Do any of them feature your focus keyword?
  4. Review your analytics data. If you have a high bounce rate and low dwell time on the page you want to promote, can you see a reason? It can be hard to see your own website with fresh eyes, so perhaps you could ask some trusted friends or even customers for their feedback.
  5. Check the internal links to and from the page you want to improve throughout your website. Have you written a blog that relates to the page you want to promote in some way? If so, make sure that people can find the related content by adding anchor links into the text.
  6. As we mentioned in step one, it could be that you have one or more high authority websites linking back to your website. Imagine, for example, that you run a clothing company and have a page on your website selling ‘wedding guest outfits’ but a high authority wedding planner is linking to a blog on your site about ‘what to wear to a city wedding’, giving the blog article more weight than the ‘wedding guest outfits’ page that you want to rank highly for that search term. In this instance, you could approach the wedding planner, thanking them for featuring you on their website and giving them the more appropriate link to take their readers to the right place on your site.

Once you have made changes, you will need to keep an eye on the data in Google Analytics and Google Search Console to see whether the correct pages starts to rank for the appropriate keywords.

Stage three: Degrade the wrong page that is currently ranking highly for your chosen keyword

In many ways, stage three is a last resort. SEO is usually about improving the performance of your web pages but if you have a page that is consistently outperforming all of the others for a chosen keyword, then you may need to take steps to damage its SEO effectiveness or to refocus the content of that page too.

You can do this by taking away the keyword and related terms for which the page is currently appearing in SERPs. Instead, you could rewrite the copy to shift the focus away from the existing key phrase to another one.

If you have internal links on your website to the page you want to degrade, you could change them so that they point to the page you want to promote.

As we’ve mentioned above, you could also contact anyone linking to the wrong page externally and politely ask them to remove or replace the link.

Another suggestion is to replace the copy on the page with images, videos and infographics that are harder for Google to decipher.

Alternatively, if the wrong page keeps ranking highly for a keyword, you could choose to delete the page and redirect that URL to the page you want to promote.

Above all else, it’s crucial to focus on the searchers’ intent. What does someone using a certain keyword expect to see on your website? What information or product are they looking for?

Small changes that are designed to improve the user experience can make a big difference to which pages rank in SERPs.

Do you need help with the wrong pages ranking highly for your keywords? Call SEO+ on 01626 270085 to start a conversation.

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