9 Reasons Your SEO isn’t Working and How to Turn it Around
You’re doing everything right. Keyword research. Link building. On-page optimization. Off page optimization. Publish high-quality articles. You’re even ranking on the first page of the result pages for these keywords.
Yet, all your efforts can’t move the needle. You then ask yourself “Why is my SEO not working?”.
I get it. It’s frustrating. You’re almost led to believe that SEO is dead and doesn’t work for everyone.
Spoiler alert: Contrary to the belief that SEO is no longer effective, the truth is quite the opposite. Modern SEO has transformed dramatically, leveling the playing field for businesses of all sizes. Now, any business, big or small, can achieve significant results by consistently applying the right strategies. If you’re finding that your SEO efforts aren’t paying off, it might not be a sign that SEO is dead but rather that your approach needs an update.
In this article, I’ll share the top nine (9) reasons why your SEO isn’t working and how to fix them.
Before we get into the details…
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is one of the core tenets of digital marketing. It involves improving your website to increase its visibility on search engines, funnel conversion-intent traffic, and, ultimately, build industry relevance.
SEO has undergone significant transformations over the years, shaping it into the dynamic and complex tactic it is today. In its early days, SEO was predominantly about keyword stuffing and backlink quantity, with less emphasis on content quality or user experience. Search engines, however, have evolved to become more sophisticated, prioritizing factors like relevance, user intent, and content quality. This shift has steered SEO away from manipulative tactics towards more ethical and user-focused strategies. Today, effective SEO means creating content that genuinely addresses user needs, building a website that offers a seamless user experience, and earning authority through quality backlinks — all while staying agile to adapt to the continuous updates and changes in search engine algorithms.
1. The core fundamentals of SEO
SEO is not like other forms of marketing; you can’t set it and forget it and expect results. Shortcuts don’t work, either. It’s a process that involves experimenting strategies, adapting to changes, analyzing results, and refining approaches based on real-time data.
One of the many mistakes I’ve noticed, especially among businesses trying SEO for the first time, is ignoring the fundamentals.
For SEO to work, it has to be built on three grounds:
- Relevance: It’s not about finding keywords with large volume and stuffing them in your content. This strategy would probably be effective in the previous decade but not today.
Modern SEO has shifted from keyword-centricity to search-intent. The SEO that works is heavily invested in user search intent. This implies putting user intent at the core part of your strategy when scouting for keywords or creating content. So the question is, what do your customers want? How are they searching for information online? There lies your answer.
- Authority: One of the best ways to build authority is through relevance. Publishing high-quality content that cuts through the noise and answers user search intent helps you gain authority in your industry and the eyes of search engines.
- User experience: Most importantly, you also have to consider the functionality of your site. Modern customers want a streamlined experience when they surf the web. They want quick and actionable answers to their problems.
Common misconceptions about SEO:
Most people failing in their SEO are probably thinking, ‘If I publish x amount of blogs every week (like my competitors), I’ll get an increase in traffic.’
This is neither true nor effective. Be wary of any SEO agency that promises high rankings or traffic without a solid strategy in place.
SEO, in reality, is a marathon and not a sprint. As I pinpointed earlier, it requires consistent practice of the right strategies and patience to get sustainable results.
For example, if you optimize your site to improve your domain authority, it’ll be beneficial in the long run. Search engines will perceive your site as authoritative, which leads to increased visibility, credibility, and brand recognition.
2. Technical pitfalls
Let’s start with the basics – your website. Is it well-optimized for users and search engines? If your page isn’t properly crawled, it can hinder your visibility on search engines:
Crawlability issues: Robots.txt and sitemap errors:
Robots.txt files tell search engine crawlers which page to access or ignore on your site. If your robots.txt files disallow search engines from crawling and indexing certain pages on your website, you won’t appear on the search results.
Sitemaps are also helpful in improving the crawlability and indexability of your site. It shows search engine bots all the vital pages on your site that you want to be visible in the search results.
If your pages are not visible on the search results, this may be due to crawlability issues.
Using GSC, log into your account and navigate to Coverage >> Index >> Crawl errors:
You’ll get a more detailed report on SEMrush:
If you don’t have a sitemap, you can create one using a sitemap generator such as XML Sitemaps. Once your sitemap is generated, submit it to Google via your GSC account:
Mobile Unfriendliness: Ignoring the Mobile-First Indexing
Next, examine your site’s mobile friendliness. Google uses mobile-first indexing – Google bots index the mobile version of your site over the desktop version. So, if your site isn’t mobile-optimized, it could affect your search visibility and rankings.
What to do: Check your site’s mobile-friendliness by using the Google mobile-friendly tool:
If your page is mobile-friendly, you’ll get results like this:
Site speed and performance
Does your site load quickly? Research proves that sites with fast load speeds receive more traffic and have better conversions than poorly performing sites. This is because fast loading speed culminates in improved user experience, which in turn improves user engagement and rankings.
There are several things that may be impacting your page speed – large images, page size, excessive HTTP requests, etc.
What to do: First thing first, check your website performance using Google’s PageSpeed Insights:
You’ll see your web performance through Google’s lens – the Core Web Vitals:
If your site’s performance isn’t up to par, consider:
- Compressing your image size to the Google standard
- Using a content delivery network (CDN) to distribute your web content
Web security is a top priority for Google. In fact, one of their top ranking signals:
This means sites that use HTTPS will likely receive a slight boost in the search results compared to their insecure counterparts.
Website security is also vital from the customer’s standpoint. Users will only share their data with secure sites. In fact, Google prevents users from visiting insecure sites:
What to do: First, add an SSL certificate to your site if you haven’t done so. Most web hosting platforms offer SSL certificates in all their packages so reach out to your customer support to enable yours. Continually audit your site to identify and address potential vulnerabilities before they tank your rankings.
3. On-Page SEO Shortcomings
On-page SEO involves everything you do ON your site to improve user experience and visibility on the result pages. It encompasses several factors – keyword research, content creation, page speed optimization, etc.
Google said their ranking systems are trained to prioritize helpful, reliable, and people-first content. This means if you’re ranking for search engines alone, you might not get any meaningful results:
What to do: Follow Google’s content quality guidelines:
Instead of looking for keywords with high volume, choose keywords based on user intent. Use keyword clusters to categorize these keywords based on intent.
Third-party SEO tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush help to categorize your keywords based on user intent and other relevant metrics:
Read more on how to target keywords with buyer intent.
Next, don’t stuff keywords into your content. Ensure it fits in naturally into your content.
Title Tag and Description Optimization
Your Title Tag and Meta Description directly influence your organic click-through rates, so you have to ensure they’re compelling, descriptive, concise, and contain the right keywords.
They tell users and search engines what your page is all about:
If you’ve been creating high-quality content or ranking top spot for your primary keywords but not getting clicks to your site, it could be that your metadata isn’t well-optimized.
What to do: Use SEMRush on-page SEO checker to analyze your current meta descriptions to see if they’re well optimized:
You’ll get results like this:
Other best practices are:
- Match search intent
- Avoid keyword stuffing. Use the primary keyword in your metadata.
- Keep your meta descriptions under 120 characters and meta title under 60
- Make them descriptive, concise, and engaging to encourage users to click through
Header tags optimization
Header tags are used to organize your website structure. It helps to improve your site architecture, enabling search engine bots to crawl your site more effectively:
How do you know if your content is performing well? Check user engagements. They are your best pointers to discerning how users perceive your page.
Metrics like bounce rate, retention rate, and time spent on the page are great indicators of how well your page performs on the search engine result pages (SERPs).
For instance, a high bounce rate means you need to improve the quality of your content, optimize your page speed, or improve your overall page user experience.
What to do: Use Google Analytics or third-party SEO tools to audit your site. Check user engagements to know where your content stands in terms of performance:
To improve user engagement on your site:
- Publish high-quality content that caters to user search intent
- Use clear call-to-actions to encourage click-throughs
- Update old content
- Improve the overall user experience
- Promote content on other platforms like social media channels, email newsletters, YouTube channels, etc., to increase reach
- Use internal linking to encourage engagement. This helps users navigate your page easily, distribute link juice, and improve how search engine bots crawl your site.
4. Off-page SEO Missteps
Off-page SEO is one of the core strategies of SEO that focuses on everything outside your website to improve its authoritativeness, credibility, and visibility. Here are some key areas to focus on:
Agreed. Links are one of Google’s core ranking factors.
However, not all links are equal. And when it comes to SEO, quality precedes quantity. That said, sites linking back to your website should be:
- Relevant to your industry. For instance, if you’re in the manufacturing industry, receiving backlinks from other websites in the manufacturing niche holds more value compared to links from other irrelevant sources.
- Authoritative. The sites should have high domain authority, as Google views these links as ‘votes of credibility’ to your site. So, the more authoritative links you get, the better.
- Natural. Earned links are more valuable compared to those acquired by unethical means or link exchanges
What to do: Analyze the quality of sites linking to your site using SEMRush or Ahrefs:
Check out the anchor text to ensure it’s relevant to your site’s content:
Go to your GSC account to check if your site has been issued any penalty. Follow the prompt: Security and manual actions >> Manual actions. If you don’t have any, you’ll see this on your screen:
If there are any spammy or low-quality backlinks, disavow them using Google’s disavow tool or reach out to the affected sites to request link removal.
Local SEO Neglect
If you are targeting a specific geographical area, you shouldn’t override the importance of local SEO.
According to research, 76% of people who search on their smartphones for something nearby visit a business within a day.
So, if you’re not optimized for local search queries, you are missing out on attracting marketing-qualified leads to your site.
What to do:
- Claim and verify your Google Business Profile if you haven’t
- Ensure your information is accurate and consistent across all other platforms, including your website and online directories
- Reach out to industry-relevant local listings and directories in your area for referral traffic
- Encourage customers to leave reviews on your GBP and respond to all, including negative reviews.
5. Content Strategy flaws
One of the many mistakes I see business owners making is creating content without direction or purpose.
Your content strategy works best if it’s aligned with broader business goals such as improving customer engagement, entering new markets, or increasing market share.
This enables you to streamline your approach to what really matters and allocate resources more effectively.
Modern SEO strategies are highly customer-focused. Look through your current content strategy. Are you targeting and addressing user pain points?
What to do: Start with your goals. What do you want to achieve with content? Increase customer acquisition? Increase brand awareness? Your goal should be S.M.A.R.T (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely).
Next, move to your audience. What exactly are their pain points? What channels do they use the most? Ensure your ideal customer profile (ICP) is well-defined. This way, you can create content that targets your customer needs at every stage of the sales funnel.
Keep in mind that content marketing isn’t all about creating content alone. You can’t just ‘publish and pray’ and then expect your content to outperform others on the SERPs. Your competitors are probably partnering with industry experts, sharing their content on social platforms, etc., to amplify their reach online.
So, don’t rest on your laurels. You can repurpose your content into social media snippets or email newsletters. You can even reach out to industry influencers for partnerships to increase your brand awareness and visibility.
6. Keyword research and targeting errors
Fact: You can’t get anything from SEO by using tactics without a solid strategy in place. Here’s what I mean.
I’ve encountered many business owners who lift keywords directly from Ahrefs or SEMRush simply based on search volume and place them into their content without direction or a plan in place.
This tactic would have been effective in the early 2000s, but not today.
Modern SEO has transformed from adding keywords indiscriminately to a more nuanced approach that prioritizes relevance, context, and user intent. Search engines now prioritize content that offers value, answers user queries, and aligns with the overall user experience.
What to do: If you’ve been doing things incorrectly, I suggest you run a keyword audit. Instead of targeting keywords based on search volume, focus on user intent. Use SEO tools like SEMrush to identify keywords that are:
- Transactional and
This will help you target keywords and create content based on the user journey.
Also, your keyword strategy shouldn’t be solely focused on short-tail keywords. These keywords are more competitive to rank for, and you might experience difficulty funneling traffic to your site by optimizing for these keywords.
For example, if you’re in the marketing niche, it will be extremely difficult to rank for the keyword ‘marketing’ or ‘what is marketing,’ unless you have an extremely high domain authority and credibility.
This keyword has over 6 billion results, and the first page is filled with authoritative sites:
It’ll be better to target long-tail keywords with ample search volume. These keywords are highly targeted and can funnel buyer-intent traffic to your site:
Also, regularly revisit your keyword strategy to stay relevant. Monitor industry trends and changes in user behavior and adapt your keyword strategy accordingly.
8. Analytics and Adaptation
Your SEO success isn’t in view or complete without proper monitoring.
Combining data analysis with SEO will help you identify areas of strengths and weaknesses. You’ll see in real-time how your SEO campaign is performing, what needs improvement, and the affected areas.
Failing to analyze your website performance or set up proper tracking means leaving your SEO performance to chance. You’d celebrate vanity metrics like high rankings, traffic, etc., only to realize they are not impacting the bottom line.
What to do: Set key performance indicators (KPIs) that are aligned with your overall marketing objective.
This can be an increase in conversion rates, high (relevant) organic traffic, a boost in domain authority, an increase in social shares, etc. Install Google Analytics, Search Console, or other SEO analytics tools to track your performance.
Here, you can:
- Track How long visitors stay on your site and what they click or engage with while on your site
- Track the performance of your content
- Use a custom dashboard to segment organic traffic (filtering the sheep from the wolves).
- Analyze page impressions
- View your landing page report
- Find a low hanging opportunities to increase traffic
- Set up alerts and monitoring for 404 pages
Failure to adapt
Another popular misconception people have is that SEO is static. That’s a myth. SEO is an ever-evolving field. User search behavior is changing, and search engines are equally updating their algorithm to cater to user behavior. It’s dynamic!
So, failing to adapt your SEO strategies accordingly could result in decreased rankings or no rankings at all.
9. SEO Myths and Misguided Strategies
While adapting your SEO strategy is important, you should tread carefully not to misinterpret the algorithm updates.
There are some business owners and marketers who, in response to a new update, rush to adjust their SEO strategy. It’s better to approach each update with a strategic mindset rather than knee-jerk reactions.
What to do: Thoroughly assess each update and find out if there are any implications to your site. Most updates are improvements to cater to user-search intent, which won’t be a problem if your site is well-optimized for users.
The dangers of black hat techniques
There are times when you may get tempted to succumb to unethical practices, especially if you’ve tried improving your strategy and failed.
Keep in mind that while these practices grant quick results, they’re not sustainable. Plus, you’re at risk of getting penalized by Google, leading to lower rankings or, worse, removal from the search results.
What to do: Follow Google guidelines. Avoid black or gray hat tactics such as cloaking, keyword stuffing, purchasing links, etc. Instead, adopt ethical, white hat practices that ensure long-term returns.
External Factors Affecting SEO
Another mistake is not considering the level of competition in your industry. Sometimes, you may not be getting results from your SEO because your competitors have been in the industry for much longer and have built more authority than you.
Another use case to consider is their investment. If you’re investing $1000 on SEO and your competitors are spending $5000, your outcomes won’t be the same. Remember that SEO is an investment, and a higher investment often allows you to be more aggressive in your approach.
Competitor analysis can help you understand how your competitors are operating and give you real insights into their SEO strategy. With this, you can unearth opportunities to help you gain an unmatched advantage in your industry.
What to do: First, list out your direct competitors – companies selling products or services similar to yours. Next, outline your organic competitors – websites targeting similar keywords. You can use SEMrush Organic Research Tool to discover your organic and direct competitors:
Next, analyze and conduct competitor research using SEMrush or Ahrefs to uncover gaps in your competitor’s strategy. What keywords are they currently targeting? What’s their primary client acquisition strategy? Are there gaps in their strategy that you can leverage?
Also, take a look at their content strategy, including the format, level of depth, and content structure.
Nothing is more frustrating than seeing your competitors get all the traffic and rankings and you get trickles. It’s like losing all your candies to them.
However the strategies outlined above give you a head start in resolving your SEO issues, increasing your traffic, and generating other desired conversions.
If you’re tired of the DIY process or you’ve tried all and are still not getting the results, maybe it’s time to partner with an agency like HigherVisibility with a proven track record of success. Schedule time for a free no no-obligation strategy call today!