SEO Ranking Factor Glossary

Briefly explaining what the heck your SEO is talking about as simply as possible. 

“Hidden” Content on Mobile

Hidden content on mobile refers to text or other elements that are shown in the source code but hidden from users on a mobile device. This violates Google’s guidelines and can harm your rankings.

For example, using CSS to show white text on a white background to include a block of keywords that can be seen by search engines but not users.

“Sponsored” or “UGC” Tags

Both Sponsored and UGC (User Generated Content) tags are used to tell search engines that a section of content was produced by someone else. These tags will change how Google treats that content as it also changes the way users will consider its value. Generally, both tag types will lower the perceived value and ranking ability of that page.

“Sponsored” tag example: A website has been paid to give a review of a product. This will be seen and treated differently to an authentic, unbiased review.

UGC tag example: The comment section at the bottom of a blog post. The text in those comments hold a completely different value to the contents of the preceding blog post.

“YMYL” Keywords

YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) keywords surround topics that can potentially impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability or safety. Because these terms can have such an important impact on users lives, search engines hold websites and content to a much higher standard when covering these topics.

Some common examples of YMYL keywords include financial advice, legal advice, health and safety products, and immigration services.

If your website does cover YMYL topics, you’ll need to get familiar with Google E-E-A-T guidelines to boost your perceived authority and value.

# of Linking Pages

When SEOs talk about the number of linking pages, they’re referring to how many individual web pages have a hyperlink that points back to either your entire website or to a specific page.

Generally, the higher the number of linking pages a website has, the greater its ability to rank. Of course, this is just one factor of many that you can influence.

# of Linking Root Domains

When SEOs talk about the number of linking root domains (aka “referring domains”), we’re referring to the number of websites that have at least one hyperlink that points back to either your entire website or to a specific page.

This differs from the number of linking pages metric because we’re looking at the number of websites rather than individual pages. Here’s a simple example to make this easier to differentiate:

You have 3 other websites that link to you. Each of those websites links to you from 5 different pages on their site. That’s a total of 15 linking pages from 3 linking root domains.

Generally, the higher the number of linking root domains a website has, the greater its ability to rank. Of course, this is just one factor of many that you can influence.

# of Links from Separate C-Class IPs

When you acquire links from different C Class IPs, that means you’re getting links from websites that are stored on different networks. This is important in SEO because search engines look at what networks your links are coming from as a way to find patterns of spam.

As an example, let’s say you buy a package of 100 links from someone who owns a network of backlink websites. There’s a good chance they run all 100 of those low-quality websites on the same server or at least through the same web host.

Since real backlinks come from different sites on different servers, the fact you just gained 100 links from the same place is an obvious red flag that you’re up to no good.

So, to improve the strength of your link profile, you want to build links that hold different C Class IP addresses. You can do that using something like an IP checker.

Alt Tag (for Image Links)

Alt tags are used to describe images on web pages. They serve as a means of accessibility for visually impaired users and also provide valuable information to search engines for SEO purposes. By using descriptive alt tags, website owners can enhance the visibility and relevance of their images in search engine results.

For example, consider a website selling handmade jewellery. One of the product pages features a necklace made of seashells. Instead of leaving the alt tag empty or using a generic description like “image1234,” a more effective alt tag would be “Handmade seashell necklace with intricate design.” This alt tag provides a concise and accurate description of the image, allowing search engines to associate relevant keywords with the webpage.

Authority of Linking Domain

The authority of a linking domain in SEO refers to the perceived credibility and trustworthiness of a website that is linking to another website. Search engines consider the authority of linking domains when determining the ranking and visibility of a website in search results.

Search engines view links from authoritative domains as a vote of confidence or endorsement for the linked website. The more authoritative the linking domain is, the more value and credibility it passes on to the linked website. This can positively impact the linked website’s search engine rankings and organic traffic.

For example, let’s say a reputable news website like CNN includes a link to a blog post on a lesser-known website about a specific topic. In this case, the linking domain (CNN) has a high authority due to its established reputation, large audience, and quality content. When search engines crawl the CNN website and discover the link to the blog post, they consider it as a strong endorsement for the linked website. As a result, the blog post may receive a boost in search engine rankings and visibility, leading to increased organic traffic.

Authority of Linking Page

The authority of a linking page in SEO refers to the perceived credibility and influence that a particular webpage holds in the eyes of search engines. The authority of a linking page is typically measured by the page’s domain authority, page authority, and the number of quality backlinks it has.

For example, let’s say a reputable and well-established website, such as Forbes, includes a link to your website in one of their articles. Since Forbes is considered an authoritative source by search engines, the link from their page carries significant weight and can positively impact your website’s authority and rankings. On the other hand, if a low-quality or spammy website with little credibility links to your site, it can hurt your website’s authority and rankings.

Backlink Age

Backlink age in SEO refers to the length of time a backlink has been present on a website. It is a metric used to determine the credibility and authority of a backlink.

The age of a backlink is important because search engines like Google consider older backlinks to be more trustworthy and valuable. Older backlinks indicate that the website has been consistently providing valuable content and has gained recognition over time.

For example, let’s consider a scenario where a new blog post is published on a website. Initially, the post has no backlinks. However, over time, other websites start linking to this blog post. As the backlinks accumulate, the age of these backlinks increases.

Brand + Keyword Searches

Brand + Keyword searches are search queries that include both your brand name and a related keyword. For example, “Nike running shoes”.

These searches are very high intent as they demonstrate that the user knows both the product and your brand.

To optimize for this, make sure your brand name is closely associated with the right keywords wherever practical. For example, rather than saying “our accounting software…”, change that phrase to “with ABC’s accounting software…” to draw that closer association.

Brand Mentions on Top Stories

A brand mention is exactly what it sounds like — when another website mentions your brand by name. When you’re getting these mentions from influential publications, this can have a major impact on brand recognition and overall authority.

The best way to increase your brand mentions from top stories is to give more opportunities for authors and journalists to come across your brand. This can be done by increasing your social media presence, running paid ad campaigns, press releases, producing new studies or utilities that are helpful to your industry and more. Essentially, give others a reason to talk about your brand.

Bullets and Numbered Lists

Bullets and numbered lists are formatting to present information in a concise and organized manner. These lists help improve the readability and user experience of a webpage, making it easier for both search engines and users to understand the content.

For example, let’s consider a blog post about “Top 10 SEO Techniques for Higher Rankings.” Instead of presenting these techniques in a paragraph format, using a numbered list would make it more visually appealing and easier to read. Each technique can be listed with a number, such as:

  1. Keyword research and optimization
  2. High-quality content creation
  3. On-page optimization

Utilizing bullets and numbered lists in SEO helps improve the readability, user experience, and search engine visibility of a webpage. By presenting information in a structured format, it becomes easier for both users and search engines to comprehend and navigate the content.

Content Provides Value and Unique Insights

These days, every reputable brand has a website and everyone is capable of publishing content. To cut through all the noise that brings, you need to be producing content that’s valuable to your audience.

Take stock of the content that’s on your website right now — landing pages, blog posts, resources and more. Is it good? Does it really provide value and unique insights or is it just there for keywords and word count?

If your content is lacklustre, take some time to go back and revise it, making sure you provide more value. This will improve your rankings if you can execute it consistently.

Content Recency

Since Google’s ‘Caffeine’ update in 2010, they’ve actively favoured new content over older alternatives of the same quality. So, pay attention to how recent the content is on your website and consider creating a content calendar for future production. Assuming you can create high-quality content, publishing new pages regularly will improve your rankings.

Country TLD extension

A ccTLD (country code top-level domain) extension is the country code found on the end of a domain name. For example website.com.au, website.co.uk or website.ca. Using a local ccTLD for your domain is a helpful signal to both users and search engines that your brand is geographically relevant to your country.

The ratio of ccTLDs found in your backlink profile is also an important signal. For example, if you’re an Australian brand but all of your backlinks come from .in (India) and .ru (Russia), this is a clear signal that your link profile is fake and should be ignored.

Diversity of Link Types

A natural backlink profile will contain a diverse range of link types. For example, it’s unlikely that a website could get 100% of its backlinks from images or directories alone. Diversify your link profile by obtaining different types of links. Some from blog posts, some from directories, some image links etc. This will present a more genuine profile and one that will offer greater ranking strength.

Domain Trust/TrustRank

Your ‘Trust’ or ‘Authority’ rating in SEO refers to how credible your website is considered to be. These are metrics used by popular SEO tools like Ahrefs and Moz, which calculate them in different ways.

The bottom line is that to improve your trust rating, you should be aiming for backlinks from genuine websites that are relevant to your brand and vertical. Not spam sites and paid directories. Although Trust and Authority aren’t direct Google metrics, the more trustworthy your domain, the better your ranking potential.

Excess PageRank Sculpting

Excessive PageRank (PR) sculpting is a dated SEO tactic that involves using internal link strategies and ‘nofollow‘ tags to craft to drive value to just a few specific pages on your website.

For example, if you only allow the internal links that point to your 3 product pages to be ‘followed’ links and create an unreasonable number of links to that page, that’s excessive. Instead, you should be following standard internal linking practices which means linking to pages that make sense in context.

While PR sculpting isn’t inherently bad, excessive use of this tactic can hurt your rankings over time.

Excessive 301 Redirects to Page

Redirects are important in SEO as they help preserve the link equity or ranking power of the old URLs and transfer it to the new destination. They also ensure a smooth user experience by redirecting visitors to the correct page.

When used excessively, this can have an adverse effect as it’s a clear attempt at manipulating the flow of PageRank while also providing a worse user experience. As an example, if you restructure your website, remove 1,000 old blog posts and redirect them all to a single post.

Fred – Algorithm update

The “Fred” update was released in 2017 and was a major contributor to the advice you hear around modern SEO content. This update was designed to reward high-quality, well-researched content that genuinely provides value to the user.

The 5 main things you can be sure your site is ‘Fred friendly’ are to:

  1. Create unique and engaging content that adds value to the user
  2. Publish content that is well-researched and well-written
  3. Use a clear and concise layout that is easy to navigate
  4. Avoid using clickbait or sensational headlines.
  5. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and has fast load times

While this update is now several years old, Google has continued down this route of rewarding genuinely valuable content. Applying these principles is still relevant and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Helpful “Supplementary Content”

The helpful supplementary content update was released in 2018 and was a further mode to identify and reward quality content. Optimizing for this update means providing high-quality content that’s well-researched and presented in a way that’s easy to consume. The 10 general guidelines you’ll want to implement for this are below. Note that while this is an old update the advice is still accurate and true for modern SEO.

  1. Focus on providing valuable and informative content that adds context and insights to the user’s search query.
  2. Ensure your content is well-researched, well-written, and easy to understand.
  3. Use subheadings, bullet points, and short paragraphs to make your content scannable and easy to consume.
  4. Use multimedia such as images, videos, and infographics to supplement your content and make it more engaging.
  5. Keep your content up-to-date and relevant to the user’s search query.
  6. Use header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to structure your content and make it easier for users and search engines to understand the hierarchy of your content.
  7. Use alt text for images and describe the content of your images in the image captions.
  8. Use internal and external linking to provide users with more information on the topic and to help search engines understand the context of your content.
  9. Use a conversational tone and write content that is easy to read and understand.
  10. Use clear and concise language, and avoid using jargon or overly technical terms that might confuse users.

Hiding Affiliate Links

Google’s guidelines are adamantly against deceptive practices. So, if you’re caught hiding your affiliate links (e.g. with a URL shortener) then this could impact your search ranking ability long term. Of course, URL shorteners aren’t inherently bad so this is only something to be concerned about if you’ve been doing it excessively. In general, it’s better to be open about your affiliate links, telling users what they are and leaving the full link for search engines to see.

Historical Page Updates

Historical page updates in SEO involve making regular updates to web pages to improve their visibility, relevance, and user experience. By keeping content fresh and up-to-date, website owners can enhance their organic search rankings, attract more traffic, and stay ahead of the competition.

It is important to regularly update web pages for several reasons. Firstly, search engines like Google consider fresh and updated content as a positive signal for ranking. Regularly updated pages, demonstrate to search engines that their site is active and providing up-to-date information to users.

Secondly, historical page updates allow website owners to optimize their content based on changing user needs and search trends. By analyzing user behaviour and search queries, website owners can identify areas for improvement and make necessary updates to enhance the page’s relevance and user experience. This can lead to increased organic traffic and better engagement metrics.

For example, a blog post about “Top 10 SEO Techniques” published a few years ago over time, may become outdated as new SEO techniques have emerged. To maintain its relevance and visibility, the owner can periodically update the blog post by adding the new techniques, removing outdated information, and optimizing the content based on current search trends. This content update signals to search engines that the website is actively providing valuable and current information and rankings may improve because of it.

Homepage Authority

Homepage Authority refers to the level of trust, credibility, and influence that a website’s homepage holds in the eyes of search engines. It is a measure of how well a homepage is perceived by search engines, which directly impacts its ranking and visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). Homepage Authority is determined by various factors, including the quality and quantity of backlinks.

When search engines perceive a homepage as authoritative, they are more likely to rank it higher in SERPs. A strong homepage authority can also positively impact the authority and ranking of other pages within the website.

To improve Homepage Authority, you should focus on building high-quality backlinks from reputable and relevant websites, creating unique and valuable content on the homepage, optimizing on-page elements such as meta tags and headings, and ensuring a seamless user experience.

HTML errors/W3C validation

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) validation is about making sure your site’s code is free from errors. This validation doesn’t have a direct impact on your SEO, though it can help indirectly. It also allows you to provide a better user experience for your site visitors.

For example, by removing errors and inefficiencies, you improve the way search engine crawlers can traverse your site and ‘discover’ your content. The more quality content they can discover, the greater your chance of ranking.

Keyword in Title

Although keyword inclusion and placement is becoming less and less important as time goes on, it’s still a good practice to include your primary keyword in the title of your content. Not only does this help search engines understand what the page is about, but it also helps users as well.

For example, if you land on a page with the title “The Best SaaS Accounting Software of 2024”, it’s very apparent what you’re about to read without having to spend any more time on the page.

The important thing to remember here is that you should never prioritize keyword placement over correct English. In other words, don’t go jamming your keywords where they don’t fit, making it awkward and spammy to read.

Link from Authority Sites

When strong, relevant websites link to yours, search engines consider that to be an important vote for your website. The more legitimate links (known as ‘backlinks’) your site can get, the stronger it’s considered to be.

For example, if you operate a SaaS product for recruiters, getting genuine backlinks from recruitment brands will improve the perceived strength of your site. This also has the potential to drive qualified traffic to your site via that link. Improving the strength of your backlink profile will have a direct impact on your rankings, both at a page and website level.

Link Location In Content

Although a minor factor, where you place the links within your content matters. As a general rule, the higher on the page a link is placed, the value it’s considered to have. For example, if you place a link to your product page in the 2nd paragraph of a blog post, that will carry more value than placing that same link in the conclusion at the bottom.

When placing links within your content, make sure the location makes sense within the text, then consider its location on the page. Getting into this habit will have a cumulative impact over time.

Link Profile with High % of Low-Quality Links

If a high % of the websites that link back to yours appear to be low quality, this a clear signal for search engines that you’re doing something spammy.

Every website will get some low-quality links and that’s fine, so long as they only make up a small % of your overall link profile. On the other hand, if you have 1,000 links 400 of those are from SEO directories and another 300 are from horrible blog sites, that’s a problem.

Exactly what a ‘low quality’ link is can be hard to quantify, so think of it this way: If you’d be embarrassed to send your customers to the sites that link to you, they’re probably low quality. Too many of those and you’re going to hurt your rankings.

Linking Domain Age

An older domain (website address) is generally considered to be more trustworthy than a newer one. So, you should be paying attention to the age of domains in your backlink profile.

If a high % of domains that link to you were only created 6 months ago, this is a clear red flag that you’re using spam tactics to build links. While domain age alone shouldn’t be used to determine if a link is valuable or not, it is one of the factors you should be considering when building backlinks.

Linking Domain Relevancy

One of the most important factors in determining the quality of a backlink is relevance. If it doesn’t make sense for a website to link to you, that can potentially be a red flag. Having some irrelevant links is perfectly normal but if a high % of your link profile is from random websites, you’re hurting your ranking potential.

For example, let’s say you’re an accounting SaaS brand and most of your links come from holiday and home renovation blogs. In this situation, it’s immediately clear to search engines that you’re paying for random links. Instead, you should be looking for links from websites that offer similar products, small business advice or accounting guidance.

Links from .edu or .gov Domains

Search engines put a lot of faith in .gov and .edu domains (e.g. whitehouse.gov) because they’re only available to verified, trustworthy government or education entities. This means it’s virtually guaranteed that the content on one of these domains is trustworthy and has not been financially influenced. So, if one of these domains links out to another website, that site must be high-value, relevant and trustworthy as well.

What that means for SEOs is that getting a backlink from a .gov or .edu domain is incredibly powerful and will help your rankings. Of course, getting a link from one of these will also be challenging, for all the same reasons. Still, if you can develop and execute a strategy that provides your audience with genuine value, it can be achieved.

Links From Articles and Press Releases

Obtaining backlinks from articles and press releases is a somewhat dated tactic but can still be used sparingly. This strategy offers three options:

  • Writing guest post articles for another website to publish
  • Writing press releases to announce something of value about your brand
  • Providing additions or edits to an existing article on another website

In all 3 cases, the goal is to include a link(s) to your website from this content, improving the strength of your backlink profile. If you’re going to use this strategy, you need to make sure the websites you’re being included on are high quality and relevant and the page(s) doesn’t include misinformation.

Links from Bad Neighborhoods

When SEOs refer to getting links from a ‘bad neighborhood’, they’re referring to having a high volume of low-quality websites link back to yours.

The typical type of website that links to you is a direct reflection of your website. So, if 80% of your backlinks come from SEO directories, gambling or crypto sites or content farms (sites packed with nonsense blog posts), search engines will assume you’re probably low quality too. In general, you want to make sure you’re building backlinks from quality, reputable websites that are relevant to your brand.

Links From Competitors

Backlinks that are obtained from websites that are in the same industry or niche as your own website.

When a competitor links to your website, it indicates that they recognise your content or products as valuable and trustworthy they can drive referral traffic to your website.

For example, consider a scenario where you run an online fitness blog, and one of your search competitors, a popular fitness equipment manufacturer, links to one of your blog posts that provides valuable workout tips.

This link not only indicates that your content is valuable and trustworthy but also exposes your blog to the manufacturer’s audience, potentially driving more traffic to your website. Additionally, this backlink from a reputable fitness equipment manufacturer can enhance your website’s authority in the fitness industry, leading to improved search engine rankings.

Links from Real Sites vs. “Splogs”

Links from real sites refer to backlinks that are obtained from legitimate and authoritative websites. These sites are typically well-established, have a good reputation, and are trusted by search engines. On the other hand, “splogs” (spam blogs) are low-quality websites that are created solely for the purpose of generating backlinks and manipulating search engine rankings.

For example, if TechCrunch, links to a newly launched smartphone review website. This backlink from a real site like TechCrunch carries a lot of weight in the eyes of search engines because TechCrunch is an established brand. It indicates that the smartphone review website is a reliable source of information in the technology niche.

Consequently, the search engine algorithms are more likely to rank the smartphone review website higher in search results for relevant keywords, leading to increased visibility and potential organic traffic.

Links From Unrelated Websites

Backlinks that are obtained from websites that are not relevant to the content or industry of the target website. For example, a website that sells fitness equipment obtaining backlinks from a fashion blog or a cooking website, these links would be considered irrelevant.

Multiple links from unrelated websites can be seen as manipulative attempts to artificially boost a website’s rankings. As a result, your website’s rankings may suffer, and it may even face penalties from search engines. Build a strong, authoritative online presence by focusing on acquiring high-quality backlinks from websites that are relevant to the content and industry of your website.

For instance, in the fitness equipment example, obtaining backlinks from fitness blogs, health websites, or sports-related platforms would be more beneficial.

Links to Bad Neighborhoods

Google considers the quality and relevance of outbound links when determining a website’s credibility and authority. If a website is found to have numerous links to bad neighborhoods, it may be seen as endorsing or associating with these low-quality websites, which can result in a penalty or a drop in search rankings.

For example, let’s say a reputable travel blog publishes an article about the “Top 10 Beaches in the World” and includes outbound links to various travel websites for readers to book accommodations or flights. However, one of the outbound links leads to a website that is known for selling counterfeit travel packages or engaging in fraudulent activities. This link to a bad neighborhood can harm the credibility and trustworthiness of the travel blog in the eyes of search engines, potentially leading to a decrease in organic search visibility.

To avoid linking to bad neighborhoods, regularly review their outbound links and ensure they are directing users to reputable and relevant websites. Conducting periodic link audits and removing or disavowing any links to bad neighborhoods can help maintain a website’s integrity and protect its search engine rankings. Additionally, it is crucial to practice due diligence when accepting guest posts or sponsored content, as these can sometimes contain hidden links to bad neighborhoods.

Low-Quality Directory Links

Backlinks obtained from directories that have low credibility, relevance, and authority. These directories are often created solely for the purpose of link building and do not provide any valuable content or resources to users. One example of a low-quality directory link is a directory that accepts submissions from any website without any editorial review or quality control.

Search engines like Google consider the quality and relevance of backlinks when determining the authority and trustworthiness of a website. If a website has a large number of low-quality directory links going to it then it may be seen as engaging in manipulative link-building practices, which can result in penalties or a decrease in search rankings.

Mobile-Friendly Update

Ever since 2015, making sure your website is mobile-friendly has been a big deal in SEO. This means making sure the site loads quickly and adapts well to smartphone and tablet resolutions effectively. If your website loads slowly and is difficult to use on a mobile device, you’ll struggle for strong search rankings and users will go back to the search results and head to your competitors.

There are plenty of tools available which allow you to see how your site looks on mobile (web browsers also have this built-in) but the best place to start is on your phone. See first-hand just how it loads, whether or not all the buttons and important information work and how easy it is to navigate. You can also take it a step further by using HotJar to record user sessions and identify any common pain points they might have.

Number of Internal Links Pointing to Page

How you link to important pages within your own website is important. These links provide additional context to help search engines understand what a page is about and how important you consider it to be.

For example, if you have 3 primary product offerings, you should be linking to these product pages from as many relevant pages as practical across your website. The key here is to do it in an authentic way.

When you’re making relevant references, this provides all the right signals. If you try forcing a product page link onto every single page across your website, this has the opposite effect by making your site look spammy!

Number of Outbound Links

Boosting your volume of outbound links to other websites can offers a modest ranking improvement. In modern SEO, search engines are looking for ways to verify that your content is valuable and accurate. So, by linking out to relevant resources, this adds validity to your content and website as a whole.

This also offers another signal for search engines to understand what your website is about. For example, if you’re an HR software SaaS, you should be linking to HR and hiring resources to confirm that this is the space you’re in. If you were linking to local painters, lawyers and crypto blogs, this would be a point of confusion for search engines and users.

There’s no magic number of how many outbound links you should have, just as many as practical. If it makes sense to link out to a relevant resource, do it. Just don’t go jamming them into every page ‘just because’ as this can start to appear spammy.

Official LinkedIn Company Page

Search engines look to a number of resources to verify the validity of your brand and understand what you do. Having a LinkedIn company profile set up and active is a helpful option for them to understand more about your brand and your offering.

It’s also a way for search engines to connect company brands with people, better understanding and verifying those individual entities and how they relate to each other. Since they want to reward content written by experienced people, being able to verify the experience of your content authors can also be beneficial, albeit marginally.

Organic Click-Through Rate for a Keyword

Technically your click-through rate (CTR) doesn’t improve your rankings, though it is an important metric to improving your revenue. CTR is the % of users who click on your link when it’s presented to them. For example, if you show up in the search results for a given keyword 100 times in a week and 10 people click on your website, that’s a CTR of 10% (100 / 10).

In terms of organic search, the two most influential factors to improving your click-through rate are improving your page titles and meta descriptions. These are the blue and black text we see in the search results, and they represent the first opportunity to convince users your link is worth clicking.

Outbound Link Quality

Search engines use the quality of the sites you link out to as an indication of your own validity. Often talked about as a ‘neighborhood’, you’re essentially telling search engines that these are the types of websites you associate with—particularly since you’re sending your users to those websites and using them as a source of verification.

For example, if you’re a startup blog and you frequently link out to casino and crypto brands, this is very likely to hurt your rankings. Neither of these are relevant to what you offer and they’re both industries that search engines outwardly treat with skepticism. So, if that’s where most of your outbound links point, it’s an easy red flag that you’re up to no good. Instead, keep your outbound links relevant and make sure they’re high quality. If you don’t want your users to actually visit a website, don’t link to it.

Outbound Link Theme

One of the things search engines look for when assessing your outbound links is their relevance. They’re trying to identify themes within your outbound link profile as a signal of what you offer and how relevant your content is.

To do this effectively, you need to identify the right themes to be targeting with your outbound links and stick to these as much as practical. Sometimes, you’ll stray outside of these which is fine, but the majority should follow a clear pattern for search engines to follow.

For example, if you’re a cannabis industry SaaS, you should be following themes around prominent industry tools (Metrc), state industry bodies and tax requirements. All three of these are common pain points for your audience and offer a high volume of verified, high-quality (government) resources that you want to be associated with.

Page Covers Topic In-Depth

Search engines are increasingly focussed on rewarding relevant, high-quality content that genuinely benefits users. What this often means is that covering a given topic in detail is going to rank higher than quick overview content.

For example, if you were an accountant who’s giving small businesses advice on setting up Quickbooks, you want to cover as much relevant information as possible. Go into detail about the exact steps required, common pitfalls to watch out for and maybe the pros and cons of different types of setups. If you were to take this same concept and just write about the general concept at a high level, you aren’t giving yourself the same opportunities to rank.

Not only will this added detail allow you to rank better for key terms, by expanding on your advice, you’re also giving yourself more opportunities to rank for a broader set of longtail keywords

Page Loading Speed via HTML

Improving your site’s load speed is an important factor to improving your rankings, particularly if a large portion of your audience is on a mobile device. Since ~2015, search engines have been putting an increasing degree of focus on websites perform on mobile as the % of searches increasingly swayed this way.

In modern SEO, a website that’s slow to load will hold your rankings back. Even worse, it’ll reduce your overall conversion rate as those who land on your site will have little patience for slow-loading pages and just head to your competitors instead.

Page-Level Relevancy

Each page on your website should serve a specific purpose, focusing on one topic or specific theme. By doing this, you’re clearly demonstrating who each page is targeted at and what it offers.

When search engines can clearly understand what a page is about, they can more accurately show it in the search results. Likewise, when a user hits that page and can see that it’s relevant to them, they’re more likely to stay and engage with your brand.

For example, if you’re writing a guide on how to register a new vehicle in your state, don’t allow that content to wander to other topics. Stay focussed on exactly what they’ll need and what the process will cover, rather than straying into topics of finance and insurance.

Page’s PageRank

PageRank is a Google algorithm that measures the perceived strength of a website based on the volume and quality of backlinks it receives. Your PageRank used to be a metric you could see, until it was removed in 2016.

While you can’t actually see your PageRank anymore, this is still a metric that Google uses internally as part of their ranking algorithm. In it’s simplest form, acquiring more backlinks from more strong websites will boost your PageRank and overall rankings. Of course, nothing in SEO is ever quite that simple though—not all links are created equal. Google also factors in elements including:

  • The anchor text of each link
  • Where the link was placed on the page
  • Your internal linking structure (how the strength ‘flows’ to your important pages)
  • The possible inclusion of tags like ‘nofollow’ and ‘sponsored’.

What all of this means is that you should be aiming to acquire backlinks from strong, relevant websites, using anchor text that makes sense and preferably links to you as close to the top of that page as possible. This is a very quick overview of a complex topic, so take a look at Semrush’s PageRank breakdown for more detail.

Payday Loans Update

Released in 2017, Google’s Payday Loans update targeted spammy queries that related to shady industries like payday loans, adult content, casinos, pharmaceuticals etc. More specifically, they applied changes that would better identify spam tactics like low-quality, paid link building.

A lot has changed since 2017 but the principles of this update still apply today. The simple solution is to avoid those spam or ‘black hat’ tactics in the first place. Build a high-quality website that’s genuinely helpful for your audience.

Penalized WhoIs Owner

Search engines look at the WhoIs (ownership) information for domains as a way to identify patterns, both positive and negative. When it comes to link building, that means if you get a backlink from someone who owns a collection of low-quality SEO directories, those links are worth next to nothing. Even worse, if your profile continually shows a pattern of buying links from identified spammers, you could lose the value from those altogether.

While you could check the WhoIs information for yourself, the more practical solution is to stop paying for low-quality links in the first place.

Penguin Penalty

Google’s ‘Penguin’ algorithm was first released in April 2012 and penalized websites that had engaged in a high volume of spammy link building. These were true penalties where, if severe enough, an entire website would be removed from their search results. For those penalized, recovery could take months.

Google then iterated on this, releasing additional versions in 2013 and 2014. Finally, in 2016 they released ‘Penguin 4.0′ which was dubbed the ‘real-time’ version, assessing and ranking sites based on their link profile (among hundreds of other things) in real-time.

In modern SEO, this concept still persists, although you aren’t likely to get penalized these days. Instead, spammy links just go ignored. So if you have 10,000 backlinks but 9,998 are considered to be spam, Google will see you as having 2 backlinks.

Pogosticking

Pogo Sticking is a term we use in SEO to refer to users who click on your website from the search results and then almost immediately go back to the results again.

Generally, this is due to at least one of these elements:

  • Your content doesn’t match the searcher’s intent
  • A page that’s very slow to low
  • An immediately terrible user interface

The best ways to resolve this are to make sure your page titles and meta descriptions give an accurate depiction of what they’ll find on the page. Work on improving your page load time and pay close attention to the user experience you’re providing.

Popups or “Distracting Ads”

We all know how annoying it is to open a web page and have the screen taken up with a huge pop-up window. Even worse when it’s on mobile!

Since Google’s primary focus for organic search is to serve up the best user experience for a given query, they made a change to address this in 2017. Since then, pages that use these intrusive pop-ups rank worse than they would without them.

If you are using pop-ups on your site, this isn’t inherently a problem. That said, pay close attention to how they affect your user experience. If it’s frustrating users, you should really consider removing them or at least making them less irritating.

Positive Link Velocity

Link velocity is the term we use to describe how fast you’re building backlinks to your website. Building fresh, quality backlinks will help to improve your rankings.

So, it makes sense that having a positive link velocity (ie consistently gaining links rather than losing them) is a positive trend you should establish.

Presence of Sitemap

An XML sitemap can help search engines understand your website and discover pages more efficiently. Thankfully, most CMS platforms these days (WordPress, Webflow, Squarespace etc) automatically generate and maintain a sitemap for you.

That said, this doesn’t make them impervious to errors. First, check that you have a functioning sitemap (usually found at your-domain.com/sitemap.xml), then make sure it loads correctly. Ideally, you should also use a tool like Screaming Frog to confirm the validity of your sitemap(s)–are all necessary pages included? Are there any pages in there that shouldn’t be?

Quality of Internal Links Pointing to Page

The quality of the internal links you have pointing to a given page can influence its ability to rank. The stronger and more relevant a page is, the more powerful the internal links that come from it.

For example, say you have a product page with 10,000 strong backlinks, excellent content, professional photos and an overview video. If you provide an internal link from that page to a blog post about that type of product, that link will boost the blog post’s strength. The more of these high-quality, relevant internal links you can create to your focus pages, the better they’ll rank.

Rel=Canonical

The canonical tag (rel=canonical) is how we tell search engines which version of a page is the original or validated version. While search engines are getting better at figuring this out for themselves, it’s best to set this manually to remove any unnecessary risk.

There are several scenarios where this tag can be useful, but the most common instance is when you’re using UTM codes or some other form of tracking URL.

For example, if you publish a blog post link on your LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram and want to track how users from each channel interact with the post, you can use links that look like these:

  • http://website.com/blog/hr-saas?utm_source=LinkedIn&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=BlogPromotion
  • http://website.com/blog/hr-saas?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=BlogPromotion
  • http://website.com/blog/hr-saas?utm_source=Instagram&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=BlogPromotion

Anyone who clicks these links will see the exact same page, which is great for users. The problem is, that search engines see 4 different pages, all with identical content (the original URL and the 3 UTM versions above).

This is where the canonical tag comes in. In this example, you’d insert this snippet in the <head> section of the post’s HTML:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://website.com/blog/hr-saas” />

By doing this, you’re telling search engines that the non-UTM version of that URL is the ‘real’ one and they can ignore the other versions. This is the version they’ll include in the search results. It also means that if someone links to a UTM version of that URL, most of the value from that link will be directed to the canonical version you specified above.

Schema.org Usage

Schema markup is a series of tags we can use to provide search engines and other tools with more context about each page. For example, you can use the Reviews schema to specify that a section on your home page is user-generated reviews of your business. You can also use schema to highlight FAQ blocks, local business info (address, phone number etc), recipes and so much more.

The SEO benefits here are two-fold. First, the better search engines understand what’s on your website, the better they can rank you for the right terms.

Second, your links in the search results can start to appear with added features like a star rating, opening hours or address. This more prominent appearance can improve your click-through rate, giving you more organic traffic from the same ranking position.

Take a look at Schema.org’s Getting Started guide for a more detailed breakdown.

Site Over-Optimization

If you go overboard with SEO-focused changes on your website, this is what we refer to as site over-optimization.

This is most commonly seen in the form of excessive keyword usage. The easiest way to check this is what’s known as the ‘neighbor test’. If you read your website content out loud to your neighbor, does it sound natural or are your keywords forced into places they don’t fit?

Over-optimization can also happen in other areas too, and is always the result of trying to please search engines rather than your visitors. Another common example of this is dumping a large grid of suburbs on a page, hoping to rank for your service in each of those locations.

In general, if the tactic looks and feels spammy, it probably falls under the category of over-optimization. It may boost your rankings in the short term, but you’ll often suffer a few months down the track.

SSL Certificate

An SSL Certificate (Secure Sockets Layer) is a form of security verification for your website. With the certificate in place, data exchanged between a user’s web browser and your website is encrypted, making sure any info they share is confidential.

It’s a simple ranking factor that search engines look for, as well as great peace of mind for your visitors—particularly if your website accepts online payments.

If you don’t have an SSL certificate for your website, web browsers will flag this for site visitors. They’re given an ominous warning that your site is not secure, which is obviously not a great first impression.

If you have an SSL certificate, your URL will start with https:// rather than just http://. You’ll also find a lock symbol to the left of your URL in the address bar. If you don’t yet have a certificate, talk to your web host about getting one set up.

Temporary Link Schemes

Proper link building is about getting legit, relevant websites to send their qualified users to your website. On the other hand, if you’re paying for something like a 12-month placement on a backlink directory, this link is achieving nothing (at best).

Search engines have become increasingly capable of detecting these types of worthless backlinks and completely discarding them when evaluating your website.

Sites that sell these types of links will often point to third-party metrics like Domain Rating (DR) as “proof” that they add value. Remember, metrics like DR are a third-party estimation, not the metric that Google is looking at. Just because you may be able to improve your DR, doesn’t mean Google is going to pay any attention to the $1,000 worth of links you just purchased!

TF-IDF

TF-IDF (Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency) is an old model that used to form a prominent part of search engine algorithms. While you will find SEOs who claim it’s still important, this is dated information that can be safely ignored.

While the topic itself is complex, it essentially comes down to making sure your primary keywords are used with a specific frequency across your site.

Rather than focusing on bogus, dated SEO concepts like this and keyword density, put your effort into producing high-quality content instead. When you’re writing relevant content, you’ll already be using all the right terms at a natural frequency, without having to do math.

Too Many Outbound Links

Outbound links are great for SEO when executed correctly. Like most things in this field, you’ll start to run into trouble when you go overboard.

For example, if you write a blog post about a new law in your industry, it would make sense for you to link to the legislation, governing body and/or a lawyer’s coverage of the topic. You’re adding validity to your content and providing your audience with more resources.

On the other hand, if you link out to 20 different websites within that same article, you’re starting to raise some red flags. This is a very unnatural thing to see and comes across as spammy—to both users and search engines.

The other thing to consider is that the more outlinks you provide, the less value each of them carries. When a strong website links to just 10 other sites, each of those 10 links carry a lot of value for their recipients. If that same site is linked to 10,000 other websites, those links are comparatively weak.

If you have some articles with a lot of legitimate links, that’s not a huge deal. It’s when you create a clear pattern that you’ll start coming across as spammy and see a drop in rankings.

Transactional Searches

Transactional searches are search terms that demonstrate an intent to convert. They often include words like “buy” or “download”, indicating that they intend to purchase, sign up or otherwise engage with someone right now.

Optimizing for these transactional searches will allow you to rank for those bottom-of-funnel terms, meaning you’ll put your brand in front of people who are ready to buy right now.

For example, “buy leather shoes Houston” is clearly a transactional search. We can safely assume this person is in Houston and actively looking to buy leather shoes right now, from whichever website they click on.

To rank for these terms, you’ll want to make sure your content, site structure and user experience match that intent. Offer more information about your products, answer their common questions and make it as easy as possible for users to make that transaction.

TrustRank of Linking Site

Your Trust Rank or Trust Score is a measure of how trustworthy your site is considered to be, based on an algorithm. Despite what many SEOs claim, modern search engines don’t actually use this metric, though it’s something you still should know about.

The score essentially works on the ‘degrees of separation’ concept. They have a collection of trusted seed websites (e.g. whitehouse.gov). When you get a backlink, the less separation there is from those seed sites to the one linking to you, the more ‘trust flow’ you receive.

Even though it’s not a direct ranking factor, being mindful of this concept can help you obtain higher-quality backlinks. Generally, the more trustworthy a website is, the more strength and visitors it can offer you and the better your rankings.

Unlinked Brand Mentions

An unlinked brand mention is when another website mentions your brand, but they don’t include a link back to your website. Since more relevant backlinks will help your rankings, it’s a good idea to reach out to these websites and ask if they can include a link for you instead of just the mention.

If you use analysis tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush, you’ll be able to see these mentions in there. Otherwise, you can Google your brand name and set up Google Alerts so you get an email each time your brand is mentioned somewhere.

Once you’ve identified the sites that mention you without linking, reach out to them with a request. Maybe consider offering them something in return as a thank you for their effort.

Unnatural Influx of Links

Assuming they’re high quality and relevant, more backlinks is generally better for your rankings. With that said, if you receive a sudden and unnatural spike in rankings, this can start to raise some red flags.

For example, if you had 50 backlinks last week, and you suddenly have 10,000 links, one of two things happened. Either you suddenly went viral or (more likely) you purchased a high volume of spam. While an influx of links isn’t inherently bad since it can happen for valid reasons, we want to avoid setting off that red flag with spam tactics.

If you’re launching an aggressive link-building campaign, it’s best to start slow and build your momentum to a sustainable pace. 

URL Length

Ideally, you want to keep the length of your URLs as short as practical. This URL can be a signal to users and search engines about what to expect on that page. So, if your URLs are 200+ characters long it can be overwhelming and potentially appear spammy. Effective URLs start with a good structure, which will also help keep them shorter. From there, drop those ‘stop words’ from the title to keep it succinct.

For example, let’s say you wrote a blog post titled “The Best SaaS Brands of 2024, According to You”. Let’s look at a good vs bad example of URLs you might see from this title.

  1. website.com/saas/content/the-best-saas-brands-of-2024-according-to-you
  2. website.com/blog/best-saas-brands-2024

We can immediately see that the second URL appears more polished and trustworthy without even clicking the link.

Use of Google Analytics and Google Search Console

Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC) are free tools provided by Google to help monitor your website’s performance.

Neither of these are ranking factors, so setting them up will not influence your rankings in any way. That said, both of these tools provide you with a lot of very helpful data, allowing you to make more informed decisions about the direction of your SEO.

Setting these tools up will take 10 – 20 minutes and it’s well worth your time. As you learn to dig into this data, you can see how people are finding and interacting with your website, any problems Google has flagged and how your individual pages are performing.

If you don’t already have GA and GSC up and running, you should do this today. Data is not retroactive, meaning you cannot see any data prior to the day you set up your accounts.

Useful Content

Useful content is at the core of current SEO. It’s what search engines are continually iterating toward, intending to provide searchers with the most helpful results they can. What this means for you is the content you produce needs to be fit for purpose. Genuinely high quality, informative content that matches searcher intent.

Take some time to understand what your audience really wants to know and make it as simple as possible to discover it on your site. If they’re searching for a quick answer to a simple question, don’t bury it in 2,000 words of nonsense (looking at you, recipe websites).

You should also consider including outbound links to reference material that backs up what you’re saying, as well as including images, tables and videos where practical to make content consumption easier. All of these factors work together to provide more useful, more rankable content.

User Friendly Layout

Search engines don’t buy your product, users do. Remember this when you’re thinking about adding more bloat to your already-complex home page.

While improving your user experience (UX) won’t inherently have a direct impact on your rankings, it will help your conversion rate. That is, of the people who land on your website, a higher percentage of them will turn into customers.

To do this, start from the top down, just like your users do. Make sure you have clear headings, a clean interface and content that’s simple to consume fast. That means the use of images, bullet points and spacing to avoid hitting them with a wall of text. The faster your audience can understand your offering, the more likely they are to engage with you rather than heading back to the search results.

User reviews/Site reputation

People want what people want, and that’s why genuine user reviews are so helpful. When you include real reviews of either your brand or the products you sell, this adds a huge trust signal to your site. When was the last time you made an Amazon purchase without checking the reviews?

When 90% of people seem to love a particular product and rave about how much it helped them, this makes the rest of your audience more comfortable committing to. Likewise, it can be a trust signal to Google that you’re a reliable result for them to show in the search results.

Even better, this also means you’re getting user-generated content (UGC). Effectively using your happy customers to produce more highly relevant content for you.

Word Count of Linking Content

When you’re gaining backlinks to your website, the quality of each of those links is important. One of the many factors that determines the quality of a given link is the word count of that page.

For example, if you get a backlink from a page that has your brand name, a link and a photo, that’s a very low-quality link. It suggests that this is probably a link from a user profile or a spammy page—not very valuable.

On the other hand, if you have a backlink from a thorough 3,000-word blog post that’s relevant to you, this is a much higher-quality link. Not only does it suggest to search engines that you’re getting real links, but it’s also more likely to send qualified visitors to your site.

The word count of your linking content is far from being the only factor to consider, but it’s certainly something you should be checking.

Reedsy Case Study: +650,000 Monthly Visitors in 10 Months

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