Google Ranking Factors that Matter with Martin MacDonald @searchmartin #VCBuzz

Google Ranking Factors that Matter with Martin MacDonald @searchmartin #VCBuzzMany of us have witnessed how rapidly and efficiently Google’s algorithm has evolved and matured. How to adapt? What matters most these days?

Let’s discuss!

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About Martin

Martin MacDonald @searchmartin is founder of MOGmedia and a digital marketing consultant with over 15 years experience in Startups to Fortune 500’s

Martin MacDonald @searchmartin runs a private digital marketing consulting practice.  For more information, check: Martin Macdonald Digital Marketing Consultant

Questions we discussed

Q1 How did you become a digital marketer? Tell your career story!

So I kind of fell into digital marketing, which developed into SEO over a couple of years. The process started way back in ’96 when I delivered my first client website, and as early as 1997 I’ve found references to me offering Web Marketing Services.

Yesterday while I was trying to narrow down the dates, I found my first ever client website, and the second screenshot was the earliest mention I can find of me offering “Digital Marketing Services”, 21 years ago!

Worth noting, back then, I also used to offer “scanning services”

So, 21 years later, SEO has become the massive industry we work in today, and I fulfilled my ambition of playing with computers all day for a living!

That was the thing – back then there was NOBODY to learn this stuff off. Maybe 20 people in the world were doing “SEO” way back then, we didnt have blogs, we didnt have forums, we didnt have social media etc.

Yup, to be fair, my webdesign skills never really progressed much further, but I was a coder at heart even back then, so my technical skills at least improved over the years!

Q2 Last year you wrote this article on why SEO case studies are pointless. The section on ranking factors that do matter now caught my attention… So what are those factors?

Ranking factor studies have been hugely important for many years – but – I fear their utility is somewhat past sell by date. The thing is, Google has become complex enough for the ranking factors needed for any specific keyword, could be entirely different to any other even closely related keyword.

The reality is, PageRank & Content are the two things you need. On top of that there are another 200+ items that can *detract* from your ranking potential.

This really became evident to me about 4-5 years ago, while working as head of SEO and Content for Orbitz Worldwide – the things we had to do to get flight landing pages to rank, were completely different to the things we had to do.

It was evident to us back then, that “ranking factors” were only relevant within the SERP set that you are competing in at the time. Certainly not a “universal” set of ranking factors.

That’s where these studies generally fall down, they imply causation on a wide set of keywords, based on data from a select few. IF on the other hand, you’re new to SEO, ranking studies can’t hurt, as they still give you a grounding in fundamentals needed.

If we’re talking way back in history – I used to operate link networks of hundreds of millions of links. Seriously. Like 300,000,000 links across about a million domains. If we’re talking more recently, its based on OTHER people in the serps…what I mean by that is: the first thing I do on ANY keyword, is analyze all the ranking factors for each and every competitor in the SERP set, and do a gap analysis. That then drives the strategy that we should take moving forward 🙂

Honestly, not as much as you’d think – but thats really down to my typical client type: my business is focused on complex technical problems with massive (10s of millions of pages) global websites. So really for me, local isn’t a huge part of my business – it IS increasingly important for almost all SEOs however, as google continue to refine local searching. Its just not really in my priority list :/ sorry!

They absolutely were! No arguments there, but, in an environment where “I get paid” in bulk linkbuilding, I’m going to find interesting ways to embed links.

Q3 You’ve been in the industry for over a decade… How has organic SEO changed? What were some of its changes that got you most excited?

Depends who you ask really, from my perspective, having worked in gambling SEO for nearly a decade before moving into the corporate SEO world, the main thing that’s changed is that: Google got better.

They’re still not perfect, far from it, but crucially: in the old days (2002-2012) we searched for flaws in their ranking algo, we found tactics that enabled us to maximize the KPIs that were important to Google at the time. We ranked, competitively.

Google’s intent has always been to provide the best possible results. SEOs intent has always been to get their sites ranking…. To me at least, about 5 years ago, the inflection point came where it became easier to just build the best site for the query, **rather than trying to find ever more elaborate linking schemes**.

Exactly!!! Unless you really know what you’re doing, and aren’t scared of breaking things.

Great great great question: “yes and no”, “it depends” 😉 Here’s the thing: edu domains by and large have lots of backlinks. have lots of content. tend to be good. By THAT measurement, edu links are better. BUT – its just the site, not the actual TLD

Thing is, I always ask myself: “WHY” would google place a “trust” flag on a TLD? There seems no decent reason, when PageRank by itself by design does what they want.

Q4 What’s the future of search engine optimization? Where are we heading? How should search experts adapt to keep their expertise and skill set valid going forward?

The future of SEO: that’s the million dollar question right? No pressure 😉 . So: for me, as long as we’re talking “10 blue links”, google have won that battle. Its not changing. What WILL change though is the very format of searching.

A great example right now is voice search, and featured snippets. It seems unlikely to me that in 20 years we’ll sit in front of desktop computers and choose a search result, after typing a query. It’s more likely that the very ecosystem of search will radically change. It’s going to be about ADAPTING to those changes first. I’d also hazard a guess that the most important asset in future will be owning the content that provides searcher answers. That simply. The org that owns the data, will be the answer.

What that looks like? Who knows. Not me. But its NOT going to look like 10 blue links. It’s time to invest in content, and being the “right answer” to queries, not focusing on seeking out % of ranking factors.

GREAT question. Right now, the answer is no. Having great content is table stakes, having PageRank to be first and get the Featured Snippet (in today’s iteration at least) is required. Hopefully, Google will improve on that. Don’t hold your breath though. If it ends up in a zero result serp, you’re screwed. That’s why I was SO passionate about trying to stop them. Pretty much same goes for wiki, but at least you can get an attribution link.

The very concept of “domain authority” only came about because we (SEOs) needed a better way to define internal pagerank flow. Google have always maintained that they only consider one PageRank score, on a per URL basis.

Q5 What are your favorite search engine optimization and digital marketing tools?

Im a BIG fan of DIY tools. Excel, Filemaker, SQL, PHP. Those are my daily drivers. Tool wise, obviously and are the best crawlers hands down. Saas Platform wise and , and / for market intel.

Truth is though, we’re INCREDIBLY lucky to have the diverse set of SEO tools in 2018 that we do. It does concern me though that new practitioners can depend on these tools without truly understanding the backend data models.

Our previous search engine optimization chats:

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