The secret sauce to ranking your website, according to industry studies and experience

Digital search

I remember when I last worked in corporate America that SEO companies were approaching me left and right looking to be “my SEO team”. Their solution was simply to submit backlinks by the hundreds to my website. They promised great results at a very low cost. The result was well…nothing. They couldn’t perform because they were either using “black hat” methods or trying to take the easy way out.

Even today, I get calls and emails coming through my web forms telling me that they can get me leads and get me on the first page of Google. Really? Everyone thinks they have the secret sauce.

The reality of search engine optimization

Of course, Google’s algorithm is always changing, and although Google does not publish their “official list of ranking factors” (estimated to be over 200 of them), they do place special emphasis on several of them. Many are evident from the webmaster tools they promote, and some are simple common sense. To be honest, Google doesn’t care about ranking your website. They care about providing relevant content to their users (so that they can serve up the right advertising for you as well).

Fortunately, and thankfully, not all factors for ranking are created equal. In fact, it really comes down to a few efforts that can maximize your SEO effectiveness. The following is a list of the top four ranking factors that should be considered based on several 2017 studies by Panthersway, Search Engine Land, MarketBurst, SearchMetrics, and Backlinko.

Content is still king

No surprises here. Remember when I mentioned that most SEO groups never even looked at my content. In fact, they only wanted the keywords to rank but didn’t want to see if those key words were relevant to my audience, were being searched for, that the keywords were on my web pages, or that the content was relevant and matched what the user was looking for. Big mistake.

Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google states that content is one of the most important Google ranking factors. This does not mean that keyword-focused content should not be used, but the more relevant the content is and the better it is written, the higher the likelihood of a person finding you and then staying on your web pages. Ideally, the user not only finds your web page, but they keep reading and then take action (ie reducing you bounce rates).

Compelling content comes from knowing your audience. Talk to their pain points and how to solve them. Use terms they understand. Not jargon. It is all about making your content relevant to your audience.

Think also about length. We typically use 350 words as the minimum length for an article, but the more comprehensive you can be, the better your result. By comprehensive, we also mean using images, metatags, infographics, embedded videos and anything else that will keep you there.

Algorithm updates place great value on semantic relevance and optimization, meaning that an in-depth discussion of a single topic, in a natural language always beats unreadable keyword-dense drivel. That said, SearchMetrics research found mobile content is usually only 2/3 the length of desktop content, and mobile use is on the rise. Think about it this way…

  • If the primary audience is not likely to be at their desk (i.e. sales people, real estate agents, college students, building inspectors, etc), focus on mobile.
  • Our experience is also that, the younger the audience (consumers, students, young couples, etc), the more likely the user is to view your content on a mobile device, so making your content more readable on a small screen makes sense.

Break up the content. Use bullets and short sentences where possible. All of these things help with general readability as well as mobile friendliness.

Backlinks: The good. The bad. And the ugly.

While there are a lot of companies promising to give you backlinks, there are ethical, proper ways to do them, and then there are the others. Strong link building can’t really be bought. It needs to be earned.

Even though you can increase your search score using volume, you can’t do it unless they are from several authoritative domains that are diverse enough. Over the years, search engines have improved their algorithms to a point where they can discard the bad links, so as a rule, focus on quality over quantity. This means creating better content, promoted continuously.

Use email, social media, publication, guest blogging, quality link exchanges and other methods to get your content in from of industry authorities. Then ask those authorities to republish and use your content. Use anchor text and matching backlinks. High quality backlinks from content on authoritative sites means you are hitting the important ranking signals for which Google is looking.

You should also note that social signals (the shares, likes, pins, views and votes) on social media sites are filtered out to the various search engines. The goal of which is to get an increasing number of high-quality backlinks by showing engagement with your content. Research by SearchMetrics, for example, found that ranking position and social signals are closely connected with social media channels. It was also noted that Facebook has the highest concentration of user interactions of the big 3 (Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook).

Optimized content and backlinks for SEO

Relevant content has an influence on your ranking. Think about who your buying audience is and what will make them take action. For example, if you are wanting to target men over age 60, writing about nail polish would probably not be the best topic to cover.

There are tools, such as content auditing software that can be used to help you understand and evaluate content performance as it relates to the goals of your business, what the user needs, etc. The link above, from Dyno Mapper, gives you a list of tools out there (but understand that this is a sponsored page by the developers).

Auditing software can also look at performance factors such as search engine optimization or analytics. I like to use it as a basis to perform a gap analysis between the content you have and the content you want to have.

Optimizing helps you find and fix content on your site that is too light so that you can get into more detail and then improve on your topical authority to increase your depth.

The mobile-first user experience

Google tells us that almost 50% of Google search traffic comes from mobile devices. This statistic has triggered Google to make a paradigm shift in indexing web pages.

That means if your site is not mobile optimized, your visitors will be squinting, pinching and zooming pages to read your website. It also means that your site’s Google ranking will drop due to a bad user (UX/UI) experience and low readability scores.

Google’s index now primarily crawls the mobile version of a website as opposed to the desktop version. There are a couple terms you should get to know: Responsive and Mobile-Optimized. They are not necessarily the same though.

A responsive web design approach used flexible layouts and images along with cascading style that detect the visitor's screen size and orientation, then change the layout accordingly. Technically, it uses x and y coordinates on a grid layout with mathematical percentages to resize pages and images rather than fixed pages. Doing this allows you to have a mobile-friendly website without building a separate website for phones versus desktops or tablets.

Mobile-optimized is not just about the technical aspects of the build, but also about content structure, readability, and design. Although this topic can be addressed as an entirely separate article, think about the ease of reading long articles (like this one) on a cell phone. Text links in colors that are hard to read. Navigation that is hard to follow.

A great, free tool is the Google Search Console. You can use it to add and verify the mobile version of your website, then use the Structured Data Testing Tool to check for structured markup exists on both your desktop and your mobile site. Test that your mobile site is accessible via Googlebot using their txt testing tool. Then test your page speed using the Google PageSpeed Insights. There are numerous auditing tools you can also use to find and fix content that may be uncompressed contain CSS or HTML errors, have blocked resources that may slow your site down. Another nice 3rd party tool that I use is called GTMetrix. After doing the audit, the real fun begins.

Technical Factors of your Website

There are numerous technical factors that can all take away from your search engine indexing. They can vary according to your site or the tool you use, but by using the Google PageSpeed Insights tool you can narrow it down to a few key factors. These tend to be:

  • Reducing server response time
  • Optimizing images
  • Eliminating render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content
  • Leveraging browser caching
  • Minify CSS and JavaScripts

As a rule of thumb, desktop websites should load in 3 seconds or less, and mobile websites in 2 seconds or less. Sometimes these issues can be resolved by doing a bit of offline work, such as minimizing the size of your images or installing plugins that focus in this area. For others, like custom sites, optimizing the code of your site is the only way to go. This means hiring a good developer to address this.

Make sure you check your site for simple formatting issues as well.

  • Broken links, for example, can decrease the user experience and decrease your search scoring.
  • Exact-match anchor text that is natural and part of the language still has a strong presence
  • Backlink anchor text also needs to be diverse and organic
  • Check your H1 and H2 headings to make sure they are present (and in the code, not just the front end).

Encryption (such as HTTPs) is not just for ecommerce sites. In 2014 Google confirmed websites with a strong HTTPS encryption will rank better than HTTP counterparts, and those not secure may be marked as unsafe in Google Chrome.

And that’s not all…but it’s a start

The ever-evolving world of SEO has seen Google make a consistent push for rich content, quality links, and a fantastic mobile user experience. Of the 200 other ranking factors you need to prioritize your time, energy and money. Using these tips can help you become an SEO expert a well.

To learn more, or if you are looking for someone to manage your SEO on an ongoing basis, let us know. We have several consistently happy clients who have seen both the web traffic and their revenue increase dramatically. Visit us at or call us at 972-922-9483.

Whether across the office or across the ocean, MarketBurst is the leader in outsourced marketing solutions worldwide. Contact us today.