Sometimes, life is chaotic. You find a marmot in your bathtub, urine stains on your rug, and someone comes in and starts threatening to cut off – well, never mind. The point is that we all have our ups and downs.
That’s the case with your website and page rankings as well. You might be looking at your Google rankings or Alexa rankings day-to-day, wondering why they seem to suddenly spike or crescendo, and then dive down to depressing lows the next day.
You might feel a little bit like the embattled “Dude,” otherwise known as Jeffrey Lebowski, in the Coen brothers cult classic film The Big Lebowski — things just keep happening to the Dude. Some of them good, some bad. If you’ve ever been in California and had a beat cop laugh at you because your car got stolen, you can relate.
You might even go to a consultant for your web woes, and get some similar version of another cynical cop’s advice: “I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for the tape deck – or the Credence.”
Okay, if you’re not a super huge fan of the film, you might not get all of the inside baseball stuff. The bottom line is that, in a sense, you need to adopt a kind of “dude-like” outlook on your site rankings. No matter what the Dude bowls, whether it’s a strike or a gutter ball, the Dude abides. And you have to stay the course, no matter whether your site rankings soar into the millions or seem like they’re headed towards zero. Sometimes when you’re trying to crunch the numbers late at night, you might feel a little like Lebowski as he blunders into an investigation that outweighs his mental powers:
“lotta ins … lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous … a lotta strands in the old Duder’s head…”
Still, you can triumph over big changes in rankings. You just have to power through.
Rankings Come and Go
But why do the rankings change so much, anyway?
One way that experts explain this is that the rankings change a lot day-to-day, just because of what other people are doing online.
Maybe you got some good rankings and left your site alone because you wanted those good rankings to last. You’re flabbergasted when you open up your laptop and you see terrible rankings, or you see so many people in front of you, that it’s discouraging.
Well, that’s what happens.
Millions of other people are working on optimizing their sites, too, and site maintenance has to be dynamic. When things happen to you, you have to ‘make things happen back’ and be constantly improving your site, to keep it toward the top. Some describe it as a race: millions of people run it every day, and every day, the ranking algorithms put each of them in a place. It’s never going to be the same place twice. For more on the complexities of ranking, see this guide from Neil Patel.
Rather than obsessing over changes in keyword rankings, look at the big picture. Start building great long-form content and attract a natural readership. Stop worrying so much about technical ranking scores, and build a place where people want to go — and there’s every chance that you’ll see those rankings start to go way up again. That’s because Google largely rewards things like natural linking, high click-through rates, and organic traffic. Keywords, not so much.
Look Critically at Keyword Strategy
In fact, other experts will tell you flat-out that if you’re experiencing bad page rankings, a lot of it has to do with over-optimizing.
In years past, keyword optimization was king. So people stuck all kinds of unnatural keywords into titles, meta-descriptions, and above all, into content. But now, that kind of stuffing is actually penalized. You might get to a good happy medium, but then be tempted to just tweak the site a little more with a few more keywords. All of a sudden, it’s over-optimized and floundering. (Here, KISSmetrics advises on not over-optimizing your web site)
That’s not to say that you should leave it alone — but instead of trying to tweak it for SEO, add to it. Add what? Add stuff that people love – like, well, the Big Lebowski. Put in a few movie references or links to some other brand. Get something on the page that’s interesting to people. Go with your gut rather than trying to rely on technical long-tail keywords.
But It’s Not Fair!
Here’s another big question that people have with page rankings. They might look at their competition and see some pages getting great rankings, without being optimized, or without even good linking.
Before you start sounding like Nihilist #2, again, in the Lebowski film, complaining about the general unfairness of life: (His girlfriend gave up her toe!), remember that life isn’t always fair, and look at the actual reasons why these pages might be ranked higher than you think they should be. (Also remember that Walter Sobchak can get you a toe, with nail polish included.)
So why might these pages be getting more than their share of good rankings?
First, you have to look at other metrics that might not be part of a technical report. We mentioned the click-through rate above, but there’s also the bounce rate. When Google sees that people are coming into a page, and not leaving it, that naturally increases its value. Why they’re staying on the page has to do with what they’re reading or looking at. Maybe they’ve just seen the Dude making his failed drop-off with dirty laundry. Maybe they are watching Bunny Lebowski crash her car in Vegas. You get the idea.
Just remember, much like the film business, today’s web world is largely a creativity game. You don’t want to neglect technical metrics and optimization, but you want to add to them in real, vital ways. And remember, no matter what comes your way, you can still build value into your site, lean back and enjoy a good sarsparilla.