SEO Ranking Factors – A Digital Olympus Panel Discussion Overview

11 min read by Charles Craik 26 Sep 2018

SEO Ranking Factors

As someone who is relatively new to SEO and looking to further my knowledge; I’m always keeping an eye out for industry talks that could enhance my understanding. Digital Olympus did exactly that!

If you didn’t get the chance to watch the individual discussions around what influences a company’s website ranking – whether that is desktop or mobile please see our key takeaways and round up. The SEO Ranking Factors Panel Discussion on Digital Olympus covered by John Morabito, Jan-Willem Bobbink and Lukasz Zelezny highlighted:

Ranking Factor Studies – Key Points

First, a few studies including SEMrush’s and Searchmetrics’ Ranking Factors Reports were mentioned during the panel discussion because some believe that there are a lot of research studies like these being put out into the industry – which are pointing out causal relationships when actually the data appears more correlative.

While the con of this is that studies like these, which may or may have not been peer-reviewed/replicated, can be misinformative – they do provide an avenue to provoke discussion and thought around how this information can be used to establish key SEO actions.

My thoughts?

  • Research studies – regardless of topic and industry – should be used to INFORM actions and should be approached critically and analytically.
  • Ranking factors seem to differ by industry and business size etc. – so it is very likely that multiple factors influence each other to impact rankings  – thus, should be approached on a case-by-case basis.
  • You will never know what works unless you test different methods – and if you can – replicating a study like a peer review for Academic Journals will help to support or refute what is being put out there. Our Head of Search, Chris Green, and one of our  Developers, Simon Thompson, started some research into hourly rank tracking and opened it up to others to test in order to verify or refute their findings – giving it more validity.

SEO Ranking Factors

Out of the multiple factors that impact rankings that were discussed, below are those I found most compelling, interesting and that I want to explore further.

Brand Prominence & Brand Value

One topic there seemed to be agreeance on in the talk was that being a ‘solid brand’ contributes to rankings. So what does this mean? Well, my interpretation of this means that in order to be a ‘solid brand’, a company must increase brand awareness through thought-leadership pieces/events/awards/networking/etc. Brands that people are ‘aware of’ are more likely to be searched for and engaged with online and on social media. They are also more likely to get noticed by their local news.

However, brand prominence isn’t just about increasing awareness – it is about having a solid brand identity, to begin with. This could include the logo and design of brand assets such as the website, physical marketing materials and social media channels. More importantly, it also encompasses the company’s name, key messages, values, mission, vision, CSR and more that audiences directly connect with emotionally. Branding is extremely important and isn’t something that should be overlooked.

Website Content Quality

I watched a few presentations at BrightonSEO in April 2018 including those by Eleni Cashell and Marcus Tober from Searchmetrics, who mentioned that upcycling (re-writing) or even deleting content (**caution) improves overall website content quality.

Regarding content quality and rankings, the panel seemed to agree that Google ranks based on the overall quality of a site’s content, and smaller sites, with more effective/ high-quality content pieces/pages, will do more to improve a site’s overall content quality – thus improving its ranking.

So, based on this, if you have blogs or pages that are not ranking and have low impressions, views or traffic etc., you should either edit these and/or optimise them to increase engagement on these pages. We at StrategiQ have actively been working on/testing for our own content to inform client work – and it has been extremely beneficial. Blogs that had virtually no rankings, traffic and engagement, which we ended up deciding to upcycle, are now bringing in consistent traffic week on week. So it is something we definitely recommend doing.

Although a bit more ballsy, there are other methods that have been mentioned including pruning and deindexing. For example, after discovering that Moz’s community profiles were dominating a search, Britney Muller of Moz deindexed 75% of Moz’s website using a point system she created to rate Moz’s community profiles. The goal of this was deindexing ‘low’ scoring or ‘less notable’ profiles (below 200 points) to increase the probability that a user’s query would be satisfied with more influential profiles using the site. The result – an increase in organic traffic and rankings.

Keyword Research, UX & Optimised Pages

This was one of the key tips that John Morabito provided in the discussion and outlined that all businesses should:

  • Conduct keyword research and clearly know what specific words they want to optimise.
  • Use the keywords in title tags, meta descriptions, H1s etc.
  • & More importantly, divide services amongst a number of pages.


It is difficult to rank for certain things if your content is not optimised for the keywords you want it to rank for. Not to mention, if you have all of your services on one page – it is difficult to have a high-quality and focused page that completely satisfies a user’s query. This coincides with ensuring that the content is also long-tail optimised and the page design is relevant and provides a positive UX experience.

Internal Linking

Internal linking has been a rising topic of discussion particularly around SEO’s, public relations professionals and content marketers.

As a general summary, internal links exist on a blog or page and drive traffic to another blog or page on the same site. While there are a lot of benefits of internal linking for usability and traffic metrics, internal linking assists with crawling and indexing because it works like a hierarchy or diagram that provides a path through the site – helping Google bots move through the pages.

The easier it is for Google to index your site – the better! If you don’t know where to begin, you can start by analysing mentions for specific keywords across the site – particularly in the blog – and link these to the specific service pages.

If you are interested in learning about this a bit more in detail, Andy Drinkwater did a talk at Optimisey and provided a great deal on internal linking, how it works and how you can optimise this.

Link Building

For the past couple of years that this has been a thing, link building (i.e. getting a link from your site onto another site) appears to be THE ranking factor – as it consistently appears in discussions and ranking factor articles from Search Engine Land, Backlinko, Moz , Blogkens and many more  – i.e. it won’t go away.

But is this causal or correlative? Since there seem to be many factors that reflect rankings as apparent by this list, I don’t know if someone can make a general causal claim. On the other hand, I think if you look at how Google would look at a site – measuring it on authoritativeness and trustworthiness – the more backlinks – especially from other notable sites – the better. So, it seems that if you do it correctly, it can’t really hurt considering the positives that people have seen.

However, while it has many positives, link building can be extremely difficult. So, if you’re thinking about trying it for the first time or would like a few tips, please read my colleague Levi’s blog on, “Getting People to Care About Your Content.”

Google’s Webmaster & Tester Checklists

Although briefly mentioned, the last key takeaway regards, “Why does Google like certain practices and how can you implement them?” Well, Google has a clear list of Webmaster Guidelines, but more importantly, Google Tester Guidelines, in which Google has advised businesses to utilise, particularly to optimise search and page quality ratings.

While the lists are rather long – both are definitely worth looking into because they can help Google find, index and rank your site.

Although there are tons of opinions about what does and doesn’t work regarding ranking factors – if Google is giving you specific tips – you’d be missing out by ignoring them.

Conclusion & Limitations

As we said before, this piece is essentially what we found to be the key takeaways from the panel discussion. It is in no way a complete list of all of the ranking factors – because as most will agree – there has not been a conclusive answer to this.

In addition, if you have tried or implemented anything you find useful, feel free to email me! I would love to hear about it!

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