martinibusterI was asked why a link from a non-profit dot org association was scored low by a popular third party Rank Metric tool. The site in question does not host links to bad neighborhoods. It does not engage in link building. It does not engage in any SEO practices whatsoever. It’s simply a clean site, the kind that falls into the blue part of a link graph where the red part represents spam. The site is as gold as gold can be. Third party metrics are fairly accurate. So why did the tool score it so low? While Rank Metric tools are good tools to use, they do not actually measure whether a site is trustworthy or has positive rank signals. What they are measuring are characteristics of sites that tend to rank well. This particular site is a non-profit organization that has been around since before the Internet existed. The non-profit site does not try to rank, so consequently it was missing characteristics of sites that tended to rank well in search engines and ended up scoring poorly. The point isn’t that the tool was unreliable. The tools are very reliable and please keep on using them. The point is that we sometimes confuse the characteristics of sites that rank well with actual ranking factors. If you want to be successful online, this is an important distinction to be aware of, to understand and to internalize.

There have been some interesting articles that identify various metrics from readability scores to social signals as playing a role in penalties as well as ranking ability. I enjoyed reading them and they provided solid ideas to consider. However, aside from technical issues like a lack of control sets, what needs to be considered is that those findings are about characteristics shared by sites that have been penalized. Those findings are about charactertistics shared by sites that tend to rank in the top ten. Those are not necessarily the actual factors that caused the sites to be penalized. Those are not the factors that caused the sites to rank well. For example, if sites that rank well typically have thousands of Facebook likes or Twitter influence (as measured by retweets and shares), those are [i]characteristics[/i] of the ranking sites, but those are not the [i]ranking factors[/i] that caused the sites to rank in the top ten. Third party rank metrics typically measure characteristics, reflecting characteristics of sites that typically rank.

So… what are ranking factors?
The following is my opinion. Take it or dismiss it accordingly. Ranking factors are on-page and off-page factors that are given various levels of importance by search engines and used to calculate the relevance to a given concept or query. Rank factors also include categories that are sometimes referred to as buckets, determinations that are used to identify if a site, the type of site, location of site or information etcetera is relevant to the person making the query (user intent). Typical buckets are whether a site is educational, non-profit, affiliate, commercial, geo-local based, informational, a news media site, forum, blog, etcetera. Those are user intent ranking factors. Other buckets relate to the nature of a query, whether it’s educational, commercial, a trending topic, geographic specific, etcetera so that the answers can be matched to the right web page. Those are also user intent ranking factors. Both of those kinds of ranking factors act as filters to sift through and identify the most relevant answer to a query. If there are several intentions behind a query, for example if a query relates to an educational context, a commercial context, or a news context then you may see three different kinds of results. That means there are at least three different kinds of ranking factors in play to give you the results for an ambiguous search query. That is the difference between actual ranking factors and characteristics of sites that tend to rank well. Actual ranking factors are extremely complex.

Continue to use third party metrics
This is something to think about when using those tools for analysis. Do not stop using rank metric tools. They are valuable tools. Please keep using those tools. However keep in mind that third party metrics are not intended to take the place of your good judgement. Give the sites the benefit of your common sense and experience before making a decision. Whether a site scores well or a site scores poorly, third party tools are not a replacement for your experience and common sense. Take the data and sift it with your own good judgement, as those tools were intended to be used, and you will come out ahead!

If you enjoyed this article and it makes sense to you then you may profit from reading my Advanced Link Building Newsletter. Recommended by leading search engine professionals, take a look!

How to Solve the Problem of Acquiring Natural Links

January 24, 2014

Fork-proof link building My focus on natural link building hinges on building awareness of your site/product in the minds of those likely to recommend it, either by word of mouth, social media, or links. Now more than ever the Internet Marketing Industry is considering it because of recent developments out of Google that is putting [...]

Read the full article

Why Marketing Matters… and Some Google Advice Matters Less

November 27, 2013

I saw a post on WebmasterWorld.com where members scoffed at the marketing advice in a Google AdSense newsletter. The newsletter recommended they advertise with AdWords.  I thought, “Hey, what do these twenty-something AdSense Googlers know about web publishing to advise US on how to market our websites?” I have visited the AdSense offices in Manhattan, Mountain [...]

Read the full article

What Google Keyword Data Removal Means

September 24, 2013

There’s discussion that the search encryption is related to hiding the data from the NSA. A little research shows that the truth of the matter may be something as simple as protecting user privacy, as Google asserts. It’s important to understand the reasons for things because it will inform your future decisions and making decisions with a sound footing is always preferable. Google says [...]

Read the full article

How to Launch an AdSense Business

September 16, 2013

We invariably get asked by friends and family for help in getting into the business. What follows is the advice I would give to anyone who is considering blogging online and monetizing their site with AdSense or affiliate work.  1. Domain name and copyright considerations First I’d like to start with the domain. You may want [...]

Read the full article

Why Google +1 is Not the Same as a Link

August 21, 2013

Interesting post over on the LocalSEOGuide blog titled,  Does Anyone Get And/Or Give Links Anymore? The author expresses the opinion that more and more new links are being shared from social media sites and less so from traditional sites and blogs. A similar observation was made last year by a Google engineer that people online [...]

Read the full article

How Search Engines Use Patterns to Identify Link Spam

August 7, 2013

Smoke Signals Where there is smoke, there’s an SEO fanning a fire. In the old days in-your-face signals like “Pay for a Link” language was enough to disqualify a link. Post-Penguin, more subtle signs of SEO are reason to pause and reconsider a link project.  When analyzing a web page for the purposes of identifying whether a link [...]

Read the full article

Post-Penguin Link Building for Newly Launched Sites

July 12, 2013

The bright side of launching a new site is you aren’t burdened with the cement shoes of SEO marketing. Throw on a leather sportcoat, put on the business suit, pull on your fishing waders. Anything but the SEO wardrobe. Get into the mind of who your site visitors are. That’s where the search engineers are at. 1. [...]

Read the full article

Link Campaign Tune-up

June 25, 2013

Link building can feel like digging a hole with a spoon. A common solution for improving results is to scale the process. But that’s digging a thousand holes with a thousand spoons. Scaling up does not necessarily address the issue at the heart of the problem: Low conversion rates. Conversion rates can be improved. A link campaign can become more effective when the following [...]

Read the full article

Sleeper Spam Endangers Your Rankings – How to Fight Back

June 17, 2013

Google is penalizing sites that host User Generated Spam – How to get in front of the problem Google recently penalized Sprint for hosting spam links in the community section of their website. The AdSense program disabled ad serving on an online community that hosted spam links.  While it’s always been AdSense policy that web publishers conform [...]

Read the full article