Google’s Matt Cutts frequently advises webmasters and content creators to create ‘unique, detailed, helpful’ content instead of thinking about SEO all the time. Google’s Panda & Penguin updates have targeted low-quality content and link farms to make sure that they list more high-quality pages in search results. That’s very well known. Now, I have personally experienced that even writing a 4,000+ words unique article that gets good on-site and social media feedback isn’t enough to rank high for related keywords in Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs). Though no one knows the official ranking factors of Google, Bing, Yahoo and other popular search engines, people have guessed them since a very long time. Some even came up with more than 200 probable factors.
Various stories on the internet suggest that, in recent years, Google is giving external links lesser priority while ranking web pages, compared to content quality and site accessibility. My recent experience with my own post proved that this isn’t always true, especially when you’re writing about a competitive topic.
I had posted a guide on improving the SEO of WordPress sites a few days back. It basically took me days to research about the topic before I could compile the full list consisting of 31 methods. It was a bit lengthy at 4,415 words, but was well received by my readers and got more social media shares than an average of post of TechTage would get. One thing it didn’t get was enough Google love.
I’ve analysed a few things and noticed that backlink profile, domain age and site trust still hold good values when you’re trying to rank a page high in search results for a keyword or phrase or multiple keywords/phrases with relatively high competition. Here’s what I noticed:
TechTage was launched in January, 2013. It was originally a smartphone website, running on the domain smartphonegeeks.in (I no longer own it). As I wanted to cover more than just smartphones, I did the domain migration. I didn’t know much about Google’s policy on 301 redirections back then. I didn’t renew the old domain after I bought the new one. I had 301’s one set up for 1 more month after the domain migration process took place, till the old domain expired.
The issue, a major one, was that as soon as the old domain expired, it stopped passing PageRank juice and Domain Authority to the new one. The old domain was up for 2 years since January, 2011. During that period of time, it had passively gained a lot strong backlinks (which I didn’t care about that much back then) and Domain Authority, because it had lots of exclusive stuff, specifically for smartphone enthusiasts.
So, why do I care? When your number of monthly visitors drop from a whopping 210,000 to a mere 80,000 within a month, you’ll be regarded as insane if you don’t care!
I managed to figure the issue out and quickly perform some optimizations to get that number up to around 120,000, but there was no quick-and-easy way to get the condition of the site back to its original state as someone had already bought the previous domain within days of its expiration.
I mainly lost a majority of my search engine (organic) traffic. Loyal readers and supporters of the site knew that the site had moved on to a new domain, so I had no problem with that.
I lost SERP positions for some of the major keywords that used to drive a lot of fresh organic traffic everyday to my site. An example would be, “Nokia Belle Themes”. A category page named “Nokia Belle Themes” used to rank consistently first in google.com search results. After the domain switch and the expiration of the old domain, that category page wasn’t even present in the first 2 SERPs.
So coming back to the recent article, so far (it’s been 3 days since I’ve posted it) it’s getting good response from the readers. The average time-on-page for that particular post is 06:42, compared to the site-wide 02:44. It’s got more social shares than any other article till date and got mentioned (with and without backlinks) in a few other websites too.
The problem with that post is that it doesn’t perform well in search results in Google for popular keywords and phrases. It performs slightly better in Bing.
Let’s consider the phrase, “boost wordpress seo”. It should’ve been pretty easy to rank for that phrase in the first page with all three of those keywords present in the post title and the good response that it got from the readers, right? It apparently isn’t. It shows up in the third page at the moment. That’s depressing! Let’s analyse some of the results that showed up before my post. You’ll have a good idea if you check the URL stats of the first few results in Open Site Explorer, ahrefs or a similar tool.
Result – #1
WordPress SEO Tutorial • The Definitive Guide • Yoast
- Domain Authority: 85/100
- Backlinks to page: 6,522
- Linking Root Domains: 1,311
- Social Metrics: 575 Google +1’s, 2,366 Tweets, 1218 Facebook Likes & Shares
Result – #2
5 Basic Tips to Improve WordPress for SEO and the User Experience
- Domain Authority: 91/100
- Backlinks to page: 221
- Linking Root Domains: 77
- Social Metrics: 188 Google +1’s, 980 Tweets, 322 Facebook Likes & Shares
Result – #3
WordPress SEO plugins to boost your search results | Socialmedia.biz
- Domain Authority: 71/100
- Backlinks to page: 210
- Linking Root Domains: 31
- Social Metrics: 4 Google +1’s, 76 Tweets, 19 Facebook Likes & Shares
Result – #4
5 WordPress SEO Tips to Help You Boost Rankings and Traffic
- Domain Authority: 38/100
- Backlinks to page: 50
- Linking Root Domains: 23
- Social Metrics: 44 Google +1’s, 372 Tweets, 48 Facebook Likes & Shares
Result – #5
WordPress SEO Tips To Boost Search Traffic In 2013 – BLOGVKP
- Domain Authority: 32/100
- Backlinks to page: 237
- Linking Root Domains: 9
- Social Metrics: 9 Google +1’s, 23 Tweets, 61 Facebook Likes & Shares
31 Ways To Boost The SEO of Your WordPress Site | TechTage
- Domain Authority: 28/100
- Backlinks to page: 6
- Linking Root Domains: 3
- Social Metrics: 23 Google +1’s, 71 Tweets, 50 Facebook Likes & Shares
Analysing all those data above, you get a clear picture on what actually matters to rank high in Google for that phrase.
The first result is a post from Yoast.com. It’s lengthy (close to 4,000 words) and descriptive, the kind of content that search engines love. No issue with that.
The second to fifth results are relatively shorter posts. Some are too short, one is medium-sized.
My post till now consists of 4,415 words. It’s the longest of all. Theoretically, Google and other search engines should love indexing such lengthy content.
The first result did the most rounds in social media. The second result from Search Engine Watch came second. The fourth result came third and my post was fourth among the six.
The first two results indicate that they’ve been assigned the first two SERP spots because of those outstanding social figures. The fourth result had considerably higher social response than the third one, yet it ranked after the third result. So is the case with my article, which fared better in social media websites than the third and fifth results, yet it didn’t even manage a place in the first SERP.
Google might look at social media numbers while ranking pages, but it suggestively doesn’t give the most importance to those numbers.
If you notice properly, the list is clearly in order of the number of root linking domains that had linked to each of those pages. The first result got backlinks from the most number of invidual domains, the second list got backlinks from the second most number of invidual domains and it goes on…
The fourth result got more than 4x the number of social shares than the third one got. Yet, it’s ranked after the third one. It’s because the third result got more backlinks in total and from more root domains (31 vs. 23). Another probable reason is that the third result has a lot better Domain Authority than the fourth one. Now, Domain Authority depends on the root domain, not the invidual pages of a site. The site hosting the third result might have more quality backlinks pointing to many other of its pages, resulting in the high Domain Authority value.
This also suggests that Google gives more importance to backlinks than social metrics while ranking pages.
Search Engine Optimized, great content alone isn’t enough for ranking high in SERPs, especially for high-competition keywords. The site it’s posted in hugely affects the rankings. So, “create great content, forget everything else” is useless if your aim is to rank your content high in SERPs. If it’s urgent for you to rank your content high in search results, concentrate building a solid backlink profile for your site, in addition to creating superb content. If it’s not that urgent, and you’re getting a decent amount of social media and referral traffic, you may just write more awesome posts and wait for the backlinks to come pointing to your site naturally.
So, other than creating quality content, what tips do you recommend to get lots of organic traffic?