A client asked us recently to investigate why their ranking in the Google results for their main product line was declining sharply. For the benefit of this article, I will – as you’d expect – refer to their main product line as ‘blue widgets’. Despite being major players in the market, they’d slipped off the first page in the UK and things were even worse in the USA.
The company had a nice background page about blue widgets. From a quick look at their home page, it was clear that they were active in that market sector. The number of external links was small, but it had never been higher and the competition was no better. There were no obvious warnings or penalties.
We ran a crawl of the site, and something odd showed up. The background page about blue widgets was marked as ‘level 2’. In a conventional website pyramid structure, the home page is level 0, and pages it links to are normally considered to be level 1. And that’s when things started to become clear.
Although the home page suggested that the company was involved in blue widgets, and included a photo of one, it didn’t explicitly say so. The only specific text mention of ‘blue widgets’ was in a site-wide menu system, and if you clicked on that, it didn’t take you to a page about blue widgets, but unfolded a sub-menu which mainly consisted of more specific product ranges. It was only on these product range pages where there was a link to the general page explaining blue widgets …two steps from the home page, and through fairly low-profile links.
As a prospective buyer, the site made sense. There was a photo unmistakably showing a blue widget, and there were links to what are clearly different types of blue widgets. But imagine you’re Google’s website crawler. You grab the contents of the page, and try to make sense of it by sorting out the headlines and links. The term ‘blue widgets’ is in there, but it doesn’t seem to be very important. It’s not even linking to anything. You follow your way through to the first level of pages below this, but again, there is no real evidence that blue widgets are a priority on this site. Not in terms of the way we’d expect to see things presented, anyway.
We compared this to a competitor’s site and saw that it had the term ‘blue widgets’ in a headline, as a link, and this in turn led straight to a page clearly describing blue widgets in depth. Would Google’s website crawler pass back information from which the mothership would deduce that this was a site about blue widgets? Almost certainly.