In most cases, if a legitimate business does not rank well on Google for its own brand name, there is something seriously wrong with their website. Unless your brand name is essentially the same as a commonly searched keyword, Google really should show searchers your website when they search for your company name.
When we consulted with Jack and Jill Adult recently we were perplexed to see that the site’s home page was not ranking organically on the first page for brand terms, other than in the link from their Google My Business profile, featured in the knowledge panel.
This problem started sporadically in August of 2020 and by September 17, 2020 the site was no longer on the first page for brand searches of any kind. GSC reports sporadic appearances on page one, but we have yet to be able to replicate this. Our manual searches show the site on page 3 or beyond for all brand searches.
It is interesting to see that SEMrush’s estimates of ranking positions for the term “Jack and Jill adult” are closer to what we are seeing.
We have thoroughly reviewed this site, and recognize that it is not perfect. We have many many suggestions for content improvements, technical improvements and also improving E-A-T. But none of the issues we flagged in our review were deemed serious enough to keep the site from ranking for brand searches.
Reasons for a site to not rank well for its own brand name
It does not reflect well on Google if searchers are looking for a company and Google does not return the correct website. In our experience, if you do not rank for your brand name, it could be due to any of the following:
- There is a serious technical issue with the site.
- The site is violating Google’s guidelines in a very serious way, causing them to suppress its ability to rank well.
- There is a problem on Google’s side.
There are of course some obvious reasons to not rank for your brand name that we will not go into detail in in this article. If your brand name is a commonly searched phrase, or a commercial keyword, you aren’t guaranteed first page rankings.
That can happen if the brand is more like a keyword than a brand. Eg, if your site is called "best-vpn-providers .com", that doesn't mean you'll rank for that query by default.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) March 5, 2019
Similarly, if your site is new, you may need to give it some time before Google figures out your entity information before you rank well. It can take several months for a new site or page to rank where it should.
In the case of Jack and Jill Adult, Google can clearly recognize the business as an entity as they display other websites discussing JackandJillAdult.com’s business such as their Yelp and BBB page. They know that when someone searches for “jack and jill adult” they are looking for this particular company, but they do not want to show their site at the top of the SERPS.
Are Technical issues to blame?
There are some very simple technical errors that can cause a site to not rank on Google. If you have a noindex tag on your homepage, are blocking it in robots.txt, have used Google’s url removal tool or are doing anything that makes it challenging for Googlebot to crawl and index your pages, then this is clearly a serious problem.
There are many other technical issues as well that can cause a page to not rank properly. We won’t list all of them here, but below is just a small portion of what we have considered.
Is the homepage crawlable and indexable?
A simple way to determine whether your site has problems like this is to inspect your homepage url in Google Search Console. In this case, Jack and Jill Adult’s homepage is indeed indexed.
It can be helpful to click on “view crawled page” as well. In this case, Google can clearly crawl the page and render the content.
Also, when we search for text on this page that is unique to this page, and enclose it in quotes, Google returns the right page. This means Jack and Jill’s homepage is indeed indexed. It just isn’t ranking.
We spent quite a bit of time reviewing other potential issues that could cause search engines to perhaps get confused when trying to understand this site. Our Sitebulb crawl of the site flagged that the homepage contained a <noscript> tag within the head which sometimes has the potential to break the head of an HTML document and cause serious problems.
Sitebulb says, “When used inside the <head> element: <noscript> must contain only <link>, <style>, and <meta> elements.”
In this case, the noscript tag does indeed only include <style> elements and really should not be causing problems.
We also investigated whether the use of dns prefetch in the head could cause problems but the consensus of several SEOs with technical expertise was that this was not the source of the problems.
We feel that Jack and Jill’s ranking problems are not connected to a technical issue, but we are certainly open to ideas here.
Is the site grossly violating Google’s guidelines?
Google’s webmaster guidelines list very specific practices that could cause them to purposely suppress a site’s ability to rank, or even completely remove a page or site from their index.
It is important to note here though that Jack and Jill adult’s homepage is not deindexed. If we search specifically enough we can get it to surface from Google’s index. Sometimes, although not always, text from the homepage searched in quotes causes Google to return the right page:
We did not feel that any of the following, listed in Google’s documentation were an issue serious enough to cause the site not to rank for their brand name.
Is it because of SafeSearch?
This is the most obvious conclusion most people will jump to when assessing this site. It’s an adult site! While not outright pornographic, there is indeed content on this site that you probably would be embarrassed to browse through alongside your Grandma…unless maybe if your Grandma is super cool.
According to Google’s documentation, “when SafeSearch is on, it helps filter out explicit content in Google’s search results for all your queries across images, videos and websites.”
Sure enough, if we turn SafeSearch On and we search for this site, Google recognizes that it is NSFW and does not display any pages from the site:
The tool also shows us that Google can indeed read the text on these images. As Glenn mentions in his article linked to above, it’s not just images that are considered when it comes to SafeSearch.
There is no doubt that this site is adult.
But this does not explain why this business cannot rank organically for its brand name even with SafeSearch off.
If we look at competitors, we can see that they too are filtered when SafeSearch is on:
Yet, these sites, unlike Jack and Jill Adult, can rank just fine for their brand name with SafeSearch off.
If we do not get this resolved, one of the things we will suggest testing is changing up the imagery and text on the site to make them considered less racy by Google’s SafeSearch API. We may suggest obscuring the images on pages that are indexed, and/or allowing searchers to navigate to no-indexed pages should they want to see full images of the products. This is of course, not ideal, and has great potential to hurt conversions. Before we go ahead with this we want to thoroughly investigate other avenues.
It certainly is possible that there are degrees of SafeSearch and Google’s algorithms have decided that Jack and Jill Adult is simply too adult to even rank them for their brand name for users with SafeSearch off. But we think this is unlikely as even outright porn sites can rank for their brand name.
Is something wrong on Google’s side?
It is extremely rare for a ranking problem to be due to an issue on Google’s side.
At MHC, when a business hires us to investigate ranking issues, our first step is to thoroughly review the site to assess the common reasons to struggle with ranking we mentioned in this article. In the vast majority of cases we can find either a valid reason for the severe ranking issues, or we can conclude that the site is simply deemed as not as relevant following a Google algorithm update. Even in those cases though, the site should rank for its brand name.
In this case though, Jack and Jill Adult is a legitimate business with customers who are trying to find them online! We can understand them not ranking when SafeSearch is turned on, but see no valid reason for Google to exclude their homepage from the first several pages of results when someone with SafeSearch off searches for “Jack and Jill Adult”.
We have had some strange cases in the past though where we have gone through this entire process and still felt like something is wrong on Google’s side.
Here is a site for which we helped remove a manual action for unnatural links. Even after the manual action was lifted, this site could not rank for several years. We went through this same process of looking for technical issues, etc without luck, so we brought this site to Google’s attention in early 2017. A few days later their traffic started to increase and it hasn’t stopped since then. This change was coincidental with the launch of the Fred algorithm. As such, it certainly is possible that the site would have recovered regardless, but given the timing, and considering how long the site had struggled until then, we do feel that Google adjusted something here to remove an unfair suppression on this site.
Traffic estimates provided by Semrush.com
Here is another case. This one is very similar to Jack and Jill Adult’s situation. Searches for their brand name found the site ranking on page three or beyond for a period of almost a year. Within two weeks of us bringing this case to Google it was magically resolved. Again, it certainly could be coincidence, but we feel there was something wrong on Google’s side.
Traffic estimates provided by Semrush.com
We have reached out to our contacts at Google about Jack and Jill’s case and have not had success so far in resolving this.
Another complicating factor in this case is that the issue will very occasionally happen in Bing as well. Right now if we open an incognito window and search for Jack and Jill Adult on Bing, we do not see the site ranking. This happens with Bing’s SafeSearch turned off as well.
Many people don’t know this, but you can directly email Bing for support via Bing Webmaster Tools. We did do this and received this response:
We have other contacts at Bing looking into this as well right now as it’s always interesting when a site does not rank for their brand name.
At this point we still do not know why Jack and Jill Adult are not ranking on the first page for searches for their brand name. Our leading theory is that the adult nature of the site is somehow to blame. But we can’t understand why, even with SafeSearch turned off, a searcher cannot easily find JackandJillAdult.com’s homepage when they have specifically searched for it.
MHC’s Callum Scott is the lead SEO on this case and will be sorting through any replies we get on social media and on this post, and thank you to Erez Kanaan from Kanaan & Co. for his insight as well.
There are many more details to this case that we have not included in this article. The site certainly isn’t perfect and we have suggested many improvements. But again, we have not been able to find an obvious reason for the site to not rank well for brand name searches.
Our hope is to get more attention to this issue. If you’ve got ideas, then we would love for you to leave a comment.