Here’s why you should focus on ranking instead


Despite new trends and innovative tools like AI stealing the limelight occasionally, many competitive industries continue to focus their SEO efforts primarily on building PageRank-passing link building.

The basic assumption is that accumulating more PageRank-passing backlinks will eventually boost rankings and drive converting traffic to the website. 

However, following this strategy is often dangerous due to potential Google Search violations. More importantly, it almost always distracts from much more sustainable ways of growing organic Google and Bing traffic to the website.

Since its introduction 25 years ago, PageRank has been on SEOs’ minds – and understandably so, since Google has been using PageRank for its internal calculations ever since and continues to do so. 

However, it is important to understand that the PageRank value of any website or webpage is elusive. It changes constantly every moment as Google crawls the web and the fresh data is incorporated. Google does not share the current PageRank value with the interested public or the website’s verified owner. 

For third parties, there is no way of reverse engineering the value or rebuilding Google’s infrastructure and algorithms. Service providers circumnavigate this challenge by offering alternative rank names and values, presumably representative of what Google uses internally. 

There is no way to compare their calculations against the actual PageRank scores inside the Google Index. 

In addition, Google does not utilize any trust or reputation rank values calculated by third parties either. Third-party alternative ranks do not reliably gauge backlink value. 

Simply put, PageRank-passing link buyers can’t estimate whether any particular backlink will boost the website visibility in Google. Therefore, focusing on building PageRank-passing backlinks is akin to gambling and hoping to hit the jackpot.

There are other problems with an SEO strategy based on PageRank-passing link building, too. It requires continued and growing efforts, binding ever-increasing budgets to link building.

For companies with finite resources, this means that over time, budgets allocated to other areas, such as infrastructure, code base, performance, content publication, marketing or brand building drop. In consequence, often, more important website SEO signals worsen or become inconsistent. 

The fact that building backlinks that pass PageRank to manipulate rankings represents a Google Search Essentials (formerly known as Google Webmaster Guidelines) violation, which when detected, can lead to a manual penalty, poses yet another problem.

In short, an SEO strategy focused on buying PageRank-passing backlinks can work. Still, it remains an expensive guessing game that ultimately can lead to a dramatic traffic loss when Google finds out.

There are much better SEO alternatives, though. How to allocate an SEO budget for the highest ROI depends on an individual website. 

Factors that play a role include:

  • The volume of landing pages.
  • Unique selling proposition.
  • Performance.
  • Brand.
  • The technical acumen of the team responsible.

There are safer SEO bets than PageRank-passing link building.

Website owners focused on PageRank-passing links for years can transition to building links for converting traffic

This strategy, aptly proposed by former Google engineer and Search Engine Land contributor Fili Wiese, requires far fewer links, allows for instant ROI measurement and, importantly, does not risk any Google penalties. 

Given how problematic a Google penalty can be for website operators relying primarily on Google traffic, the latter point should give serious grounds for consideration. 

Performance

Given other factors being roughly comparable any website will grow in rankings in Google for relevant queries if it performs faster than its competitors. 

Google consistently focuses on their users’ experiences as part of their business model. Because users prefer faster-loading websites, fast websites notoriously outperform their slower competitors in Google Search.


Get the daily newsletter search marketers rely on.


Brand

Another frequently underestimated SEO factor is brand. Google does not show any preference for any particular brand. 

However, users indicate to Google whether a ranking landing page is what they have been looking for by their click behavior. And users like to click on search results of brands they know and trust. 

This is why growing brand recognition is bound to increase CTR, an excellent way to increase rankings for competitive queries. The insights Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools provide in this regard are priceless.

Unique selling proposition

To Google and other search engines too, providing accurate, unique results to user queries is critically important. For that reason, demonstrating a unique selling proposition as a business and for each indexable page is key to higher rankings. 

Search engine algorithms and users need to understand why a website or a landing page is exactly what they have been looking for. And why it is superior to competing SERP alternatives. Combined with high brand recognition, a unique selling proposition is among the top SEO opportunities for continuous growth.

Crawl budget

For large websites operating in fast-paced industries like retail or travel, actively managing the crawl budget is a number one SEO priority. 

When the website’s revenue-generating landing pages are not being crawled and recrawled frequently enough, the website’s rankings suffer because users end up on expired content landing pages

When that happens, users tend to look for an alternative search result. Not only are potentially converting leads lost and the brand perception impaired, but this also represents a strong negative signal to Google, indicating that users aren’t satisfied. 

The website’s rankings are likely to suffer as poor user satisfaction signals continue and grow over time. This can not only be prevented but the trend can be turned around by assisting search engine bots in focusing on desirable landing pages.

Utilizing server logs, another often neglected SEO best practice, plays a crucial role here. And when exploited, it can be an SEO silver bullet.

Signal consistency

Search engine bots and algorithms can be easily confused. When that happens, website rankings flatline for no obvious reason. 

Unintentionally poorly implemented redirects, bad canonicals, misplaced noindex, wrong hreflang implementation and incorrect robots.txt directives are among the most frequent technical reasons websites fail in organic search. 

This is almost always due to outdated legacy solutions. Websites are growing, constantly changing entities, so SEO signal consistency must be checked and verified to avoid roadblocks in competitive niches.

Signal consistency can be checked and cross-checked using several crawl and analysis SEO tools. Among others, tools like Botify, JetOctopus, Lumar, Oncrawl, Ryte and Screaming Frog offer compelling insights into website content and technical signals.

They can be a great starting point to ensure SEO signal consistency and growing organic rankings. Superior results are achieved when on- and off-page crawl data are analyzed as part of a regular SEO audit cycle. Prudent website operators introduce such defensive SEO audits into their global SEO strategy.

Focus on sustainable organic growth

The overwhelming majority of ranking websites have few or no backlinks at all. Their visibility is owed to other SEO signals. It is worth pointing out that while PageRank is frequently cited online, it isn’t of any use for search engine optimization. 

Building up PageRank-passing backlinks can coincide with growing rankings but can not be correlated. At the same time, building backlinks that pass PageRank poses a risk and can trigger a manual penalty. Most importantly, though, focusing on PageRank tends to distract from superior, measurable and sustainable organic visibility growth opportunities in SEO.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.



Featured Post