Understanding Ranking Factors and How They Effect Your Managed IT Website
SEO has long been a controversial topic, not just in the Managed Services industry. Tactics that work for some, may not work for others and there are just as many vendor horror stories as there are successes. One of the contributing factors to this inconsistency has always been the search engines general lack of transparency into how they rank websites. This is completely understandable, as marketers are constantly trying to “game” the system for their own benefit. The more insight they are given, the better they will be at disrupting it.
The new buzz around SEO in 2019 is that search engines finally offered the transparency that everyone has been looking for. Several months ago, Google released a 164 page detailed report of its content guidelines and ranking factors. This document was originally intended to instruct internal employees of Google on how to provide human checks of website content to help gauge quality. The document has since been release to the public for everyone to view (after it was leaked).
Why the transparency all of the sudden? In reviewing this document, what appears evident to me is that there is now a significant amount of human factors that are going into SEO. This is a great thing for businesses that create authentic and useful content for their audience and bad for those looking for ranking shortcuts. It appears that Google has finally figured out what its search users are looking for and how to find it, all in a way that is difficult to manipulate.
If your looking to deploy a content strategy in 2019 or audit your existing content for its “rank-ability, ” I have broken down some of the major takeaways from Google’s newly published guidelines and how they might relate to a Managed IT use-case.
Google uses a Page Quality (PQ) rating system to determine the level of quality in which you present the information on your page. Google itself claims that “websites and pages should be created to help users,” thus they are putting an incredible amount of emphasis on whether or not your content directly answers a questions without an ulterior motive.
“Websites and pages should be created to help users. Websites and pages that are created with intent to harm users, deceive users, or make money with no attempt to help users, should receive the Lowest PQ rating.”-Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
There are several automated and manual (human) checks to determine the purpose for which a page has been created. If this page was created for any other purpose other than to serve a helpful answer (such as selling your services) than it will be reflected in the page quality rating.
Using this information, one can gather that focusing your content efforts on a company blog seems to be a better strategy than putting the content directly on your root domain. This way you can better control how much “selling” of your services you actually do on-page and create a more neutral experience for the user.
If you are writing for the purpose of getting organic traffic, than your blog content should be created for the sole purpose of providing answers to technology questions. Leave the discovery of your services up to the user. If you create enough value with your answers they will be eager to learn more about you and what else you can offer them.
User Experience / Mobile Usability
The user experience on your page is not a new ranking factor, but one can surmise that it is now becoming more heavily weighted. Google’s primary indicator of the experience on your page is by identifying what is called “pogo-sticking.”
Pogo-sticking is when a user visits your site from the Search Engine Ranking Page (SERP) and then jumps back to the SERP shortly after, only to visit another listing on the page. This indicates to Google that the user did not or could not find the answer they were looking for when they got to your page.
There are several different factors that can lead to pogo-sticking. These factors include mobile-usability, site speed, excessive advertising, etc. All of these may trigger a user to bounce immediately upon page load, regardless of how accurate or valuable the content on the page may be to the reader.
There are a few things that any MSP can do to improve their site’s user experience and in return boost their rank-ability.
- Increase site-speed with a cache/performance plugin
- Use a premium mobile-friendly theme
- Host your site with a reliable hosting company
- Limit self-promotion and advertising on the site
Doing these few things will go a long way in decreasing the bounce rate on your site.
Authorship / Domain Authority
One of the most eye-opening ranking factors that I noticed while reviewing Google’s guidelines was how much emphasis they are putting into the reputation of not only websites, but individual authors as well.
Google is now looking to identify who the most influential and authoritative authors (individuals) are and do manual checks to ensure the credibility and authenticity of their experience. If there is no clearly defined author of the content, they will assume that the business or entity attached to the site is responsible, thus ranking accordingly.
Google calls this the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) rating which they check manually using internal employees. Once they determine that your content is relevant to Business IT services, they will then check outside sources to validate your expertise in this field.
“News articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings from independent organizations can all be sources of reputation information.”– Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
To improve your E-A-T, you should google your company and authors to find out what outside sources may show up to lend credibility. For example, getting ranked on Top MSP Lists is a great way to build inbound links that show authority. In this case it’s not about building links to pass along “page rank” like SEO of years past, but more to validate your authority to the human eye. Customer reviews from site’s such as Facebook, Google, and Yelp are also a good way to build trustworthiness in Google’s eyes.
Depth of Content
Trying to determine how much content to produce on any given topic can be difficult. While Google does mention the depth of content in its guidelines it does not give an actual word count as to what is appropriate. Instead it focuses mainly on whether or not the content “serves the purpose for which it was created.”
The best way to understand this is through an example. If you decide to write an article on “Best Firewalls for Small Businesses”, Google expects you to do in depth research on the features and functionality of several different models (Cisco vs Merkai vs Sonicwall) and then give your expert opinion as to which is the best.
You should always look to provide an answer and then expand on the answer to offer content that the reader will likely also need to support their inquiry. In our example, if all you do is provide a list of firewalls, their specs, and affiliate links to purchase them, then this likely is not enough depth of content and this page would not rank.
When you go to create a piece of content simply ask yourself these questions.
- Does it serve the purpose (or answer the question) it was created to?
- Is the answer clear and concise and easily accessible to the reader?
- Is there additional information to support the answer?
- Would the user need to keep searching Google after reading this?
You will find that spot-checking your content against these questions is a good way to identify its depth and make improvements.
Knowing what we now know about SEO ranking in 2019, it appears that there is a great amount of opportunity for well established Managed Service Providers to create content and leverage their authority to get organic search traffic.
For those MSPs that lack authority, getting more involved in the business community with a focus of expanding your brand’s footprint will be time well spent. Guest blogging or offering to contribute content to third party sources without the purpose of “pitching” is a good way to start building authority and an audience.
If your content is not of good quality and does not serve a purpose outside of generating leads for your business then your E-A-T will likely not matter. It’s time to stop thinking about the short term conversion of your posts and think of the long term value you will bring to your audience. In doing so, Google is sure to take notice and will reward you for your effort.