John Mueller of Google is always super active in the forums, on Twitter and in many other areas including conferences and hangouts helping SEOs and webmasters with their Google questions. But often, when it comes to one-on-one advice, his responses are somewhat shorter.
For some reason, he responded to a Google Webmaster Help thread titled "It's lonely on the last page of Google" - which is a great title for a thread there - and offered extremely comprehensive advice. The webmaster, several months ago, merged four domains into a single domain based on the advice given in that forum earlier. Now the webmaster is waiting for the results but not seeing them.
John Mueller comes in and gives five bullet points based on confusion he saw in the thread and I thought they would not only help this webmaster but anyone reading this site. So here is John's advice to this webmaster:
- You've made considerable changes with the collection of sites, some of the domains redirect, not all of them do though. This kind of site-merging will always take time, but you make it significantly harder by not doing the merge consistently or cleanly. Redirect them all, set canonicals, crawl all of your old domain URLs to check, etc. A clean migration takes time, a hacky migration with an attempt to get short-term advantages will just take much longer. Aim for the final result.
- There are almost certainly low-hanging fruits to work on with your website. I don't know if it would be enough to get it to rank competitively, but simple things like putting headings in text rather than in images can really help. The community here is great at spotting these kinds of items, get their input on that. Individually, most of these things won't have a visible effect -- but collectively they can be pretty big.
- The niche you're in is competitive, there are big players who have spent a lot of time & effort on this. It won't be easy even with a clean website. One piece of advice I tend to give people is to aim for a niche within your niche where you can be the best by a long stretch. Find something where people explicitly seek YOU out, not just "cheap X" (where even if you rank, chances are they'll click around to other sites anyway).
- The disavow file works fine, for links to your site that you want to take out of consideration by our algorithms. Removing the link target page is also an option in some cases, but not in all (for example, you can't really 404 your homepage).
- Cleaning up these kinds of link issue can take considerable time to be reflected by our algorithms (we don't have a specific time in mind, but the mentioned 6-12 months is probably on the safe side). In general, you won't see a jump up in rankings afterwards because our algorithms attempt to ignore the links already, but it makes it easier for us to trust the site later on.