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If you’ve been studying SEO metrics for a while, you probably understand trust flow and the value of being considered a trustworthy website by Google. However, you may have noticed a major contradiction. While it seems like a lot of SEO results just comes down to having a trustworthy website, you’ve probably seen many websites that are not trustworthy at all. Sometimes, shoddy design and content or skeezy business practices don’t stop a website from ranking highly in search engine result pages.
It’s a real head-scratcher when your more successful competition is not as good as you. SEO metrics matter, but there are some unseen, unmeasurable factors that also contribute to the perceived relevance of a website. If you don’t understand why Google’s indexing has determined your website less relevant than a lower quality competitor, here are some things to consider, as well as what you can do about each one.
Let’s suppose that you’re trying to rank a website about various herbal teas and the benefits of drinking them. However, your most important blog post on the health benefits of mint is consistently ranked underneath more medically-focused websites with articles exploring the broad health facts about mint. Even if it’s a lower quality website, they could dominate a term like “mint health benefits”.
This is often an issue of keyword choice. Instead of trying to rank for something like “mint health benefits”, imagine more specific phrases that get a lot of traffic. A common potential customer might wonder if mint tea soothes a sore throat or nausea. Try to make sure your content contains those terms. Title your articles and headings with questions like “Does mint tea cure nausea?” Specificity will help you rank above more general sites, lower quality or otherwise.
Google values websites that load quickly and are easier to read. Do you space your content well, using things like headings and subheadings, bullet points, and visual aids? It doesn’t look great for Google when the first page they recommend is a stuffy wall of text that looks like it was written in 1995.
Even if your content provides more value to visitors and is more worthy of their attention, it won’t matter if the site has lower accessibility. This is why you should be careful about images and auto-loading videos as well. While these certainly draw the eye, they can make the page harder to load, especially if they’re too high of a resolution. Smaller files will make your website easier to read on mobile devices and slower connections.
Image via Flickr by Diego Quintana
Sometimes your competitors in a search term are already popular, and thus they don’t have to work as hard as you do to show up at the top of a results page. For instance, you’ll have trouble ranking a site where you sell special running shoes if some Nike web pages are using the same or similar terms. People automatically recognize them and trust them more, which in turns keeps them visible.
The frequently returning fans give these well-known brand sites more credibility and weight in Google’s eyes. Be careful about what terms you try to rank for, and don’t try to rank with terms that contain a major brand-name competitor, unless you know it’s specific enough to grab a different audience.
Google takes a lot of interest in web pages that get lots of social media interaction, like shares, tweets, Facebook likes, and just about anything else from well-known networks.
Consider implementing a social media strategy if you aren’t yet, and make it possible for people to share and comment on the pages you want to rank through their preferred social media channel.
You should definitely try to go after the channels where competitors get lots of interaction. However, if you only want to focus on a specific social media network, consider Google+, as Google considers a +1 and other interactions on their own social media the most valuable for ranking, although Facebook is not far behind.
If both you and your competitors’ websites are on top of their SEO, it might help to consider that maybe their websites aren’t as low quality or untrustworthy as they seem. There might be some bias to reconsider. Sure, this isn’t always the case, but sometimes people who love their business and want it to do better will assume the worst of higher-ranking websites that stand in their way.
Sometimes we have unrealistic standards on what makes a webpage credible in our field and easily disqualify our competitors without a second look. Not to say all the flaws you see aren’t there, but perhaps there are some aspects of their site design or content that contribute to their success, which you could take inspiration from. Comments on their major blog posts or articles can help tell you why they like and trust these sites.
One thing is certain: the reason is probably not some gimmick like keywords in Heading 1 format or keyword-heavy backlinks, as these things are no longer viable. Many businesses chase trends in Google’s indexing behavior to get visibility despite some more universal disadvantages, but little tricks like these won’t keep someone up high in search engine pages for long. Consider the other options and commit to understanding what your competitors have going for them, and what you can do to address it. While counterintuitive, it’s not always about metrics.
Google’s algorithms look through the vast ocean of websites and order the best, most relevant results to a term. While there are many SEO metrics to watch, they’re not the whole story. Universal applicability to a general search term, on-page optimization, brand recognition, and social media interactivity could all play a role. Or maybe the page really is of good quality and there’s something you could learn from it. Don’t study the quality and SEO viability of your webpages in a vacuum. Instead, always compare them to whoever’s on the top spot that you want.