As web marketers, we’ve all been there. You’ve built all the right links, optimized your pages, have a thriving social media presence, and yet you are still ranking below certain competitors in your space. It can be frustrating knowing that you’ve put in the research and have used the right techniques but still aren’t satisfied with the results.
Fortunately, you are not alone in feeling this way. As a marketer for Sweeney Merrigan Law in the competitive legal community, I have seen how even the right tactics don’t add up to the results and rankings that you expect to see. In truth, there are many factors within even good SEO practices that may be impacting your website and the visibility of your small business.
Link Building Velocity
Building high authority links to your website and creating a solid backlink profile is the foundation to any successful marketing campaign. Former head of the web spam team at Google, Matt Cutts, admitted that removing backlinks as part of the Google algorithm would negatively impact the quality of results overall. This makes sense. Good links from relevant sources should indicate that you also deserve a level of trust. However, aside from link authority, timing is also important.
According to Google Guidelines, backlinks should be acquired at a rate that is consistent with the level of content produced. While this sounds great in theory, as SEOs we know this is much tougher in practice. Most marketing campaigns will need a little push to get off the ground, unless you have a viral piece of content or blog ready to go from day one. Knowing this, many of us rush to build a ton of links right off the bat. While the logic behind that approach isn’t wrong, it can look suspicious and manufactured, especially if you don’t have the content value to back it up. No one is sure exactly how link velocity is weighted in Google’s algorithm, but with Google’s focus on natural looking SEO, a site going from an empty backlink profile to a complete profile of hundreds of domains in no time has the potential to work against you.
Even if you built a great link, are you sure that the page it’s on is even being indexed? While Google said as of 2013 that it had indexed 30 trillion pages, many of the links you build will go unnoticed. Especially if the link is in a directory or deeply buried in a website, there is no guarantee that the link you build will ever be indexed and therefore pass along juice. There are ways to check if your link has been indexed such as checking Google’s cached version of the page in question or running a site: search on the URL, but there is no set amount of time it takes for a page to be indexed.
Fortunately there are ways to help point Google in the right direction. My go-to is using their search console tool. If this doesn’t work, try third tier link building techniques such as sharing a link to the page from a strong source such as Google+ or even twitter with the strides Google has made at indexing tweets. Any sort of engagement on the URL with the link will help Google’s spiders crawl the page.
Anchor text is used by search engines to determine the subject matter of linked content, thus providing some level of categorization to a given link. Especially in the realm of local SEO, which tends to rely heavily on hyper-local signals such as a city name or market area keyword, anchor text can be the difference for ranking in your target area. Post Penguin update, over optimized anchor text turned into a negative ranking factor almost overnight, sending many in the SEO community on an anchor cleaning frenzy.
However, to say that using targeted anchor text has completely gone by the wayside would be a mistake. Often times, you will not have any control over your anchors. And if you do, a strictly branded anchor isn’t going to reveal much information to Google on what your site is all about. Therefore, it may take a little doctoring to achieve a nice, varied spread. Case studies done on the subject have shown that using a mixture, not abandoning key terms all together, can still get you to rank for a certain term. Despite what you will often read, optimized anchor text is not a bad thing in reasonable doses; just don’t get too carried away.
Another mantra across the SEO community is the idea that you are, “writing content for people and not search engines.” While this makes sense logically, unfortunately, the desires of people and search engines can be on opposite ends of the spectrum. While it’s true that rich content will generally get more shares and therefore potential links, length of text and deep content is an important ranking factor. This case study found that “the average length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words,” and that first result typically has almost 400 more words than the 10th result. You can even do this test yourself, using a tool like screaming frog. Crawl some sites and I guarantee that those with deeper pages and more content will be valued higher.
Now think, when was the last time you sat through an entire 2,000 word article? If you’ve made it this far, you’re less than half way. Today more than ever before, we appreciate concise articles, bulleted Buzzfeed lists, and small bites of content from Reddit and Instagram. Therefore, it is a fine balance between content length and engagement. Trying to craft content for one while abandoning the other will come with poor results.
The point here is that Google uses about 200 different ranking factors when evaluating your site. Putting an inflated amount of emphasis on certain factors, even if the technique and logic behind it is strong, can lead to undesired outcomes. These are just a few examples that I see regularly, but please leave any more that should be covered in the comments below.