October is here and it is arguably the best time of the year for sports. We lead in with the Ryder Cup, then MLB playoffs (Go A’s!), the NHL and NBA seasons starting, College Football rivalry matchups, and for a few in the know, the America’s Cup! For a sports fan like me, the chilly weather is not the only reason I am glued to the couch come 5 p.m.

With all of these events going on, the headlines are riddled with blowouts, epic late game rallies, and the David vs. Goliath upsets that our favorite sports constantly deliver. I have a penchant for upsets, and being an A’s fan, their wins are often viewed as such. The more I read about it from a statistical perspective, the more their run to the AL West title seemed improbable. But as we know in sports, Cinderella stories happen and when they do, they are something to behold.

Which reminds me of something I see often when analyzing keyword rankings for our clients’ websites that are clearly inferior yet earn and maintain high rankings. Not even that they have high rankings, but they are ranked higher than my clients’ websites that, on paper, are far superior. A client’s site will have all the makings of a properly optimized website: optimized page titles, unique content, optimized URLs, optimal internal link structure, etc. Additionally, a client will have built a trusted and diverse backlink profile with our link building tactics, a strong social media presence, etc. Quantitatively, there is nothing that would allow another site, particularly one with weaker statistics, to rank ahead of a perfectly optimized site. But it happens time and time again.

Before you throw your hands up in the air and swear off SEO, know that other factors can affect your rankings that may be keeping you from reaching the top.

  1. Usability – While a site may be coded and structured to appease a search engine, a website’s focus should be on helping a user. Search engines index your site and its content to come up with rankings but they also monitor which results are clicked on from the search engine results page (SERP). Not only which are clicked, but which clicks lead to quality visits without an immediate bounce. Additionally, if you have a great optimization and content but it is surrounded by ads for other sites that may or may not be trusted, they are hesitant to serve you up as a result.
  2. Geo-Specificity – Google in particular has made an emphasis on serving up results that match your query and are within your reach. This is a change made over 3 years ago but has become more important with the change from “Google Local” to “Google Places” and now “Google+”.  If you are targeting geo-specific terms or if you are a local business, take a look at your Google+ page to ensure it is optimized for the area you operate in.
  3. Age – Age of domain is arguably one of the more important factors for establishing website trust and rankings. While this data point has been seemingly weakened in major search engine algorithms, age still comes into play when discussing comparative rankings. If you have a competitor who ranks high for specific terms, has a less optimized site with an outdated design, they still have a chance on maintaining their rankings. Why? Well, as reviewed with point 1, if they have been there for some time and continue to offer a good user experience, Google has little reason to remove them from the rankings.

Again, I am not attempting to throw SEO under the bus. These algorithmic changes have indeed reshaped our understanding of rankings and I would argue that they are for the better.  The point is no matter how good you are on paper, out there will always be exceptions to the many SEO rules that may spoil your run to the top of the rankings.

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