In other words: “Can you rank a website without a strategy for developing links, citations, mentions on other websites and social media?”
These are questions I often get from customers, prospects, web developers, and even other SEOs. In fact, some SEOs think this is the only way to go.
Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz, had an excellent video blog post on this topic as part of their “Whiteboard Friday” series, which inspired me to write this blog post, as I agree with pretty much everything he says in his post.
The Short Answer
The short answer is a qualified “no”. If you are looking to have a site rank for competitive search terms in a competitive market, in a reasonable amount of time (6-12 months), then you are going to be hard pressed to get the high ranking results you desire.
More Detailed Answer
Let’s say Rand’s summary of ranking factors is accurate, if not a little simplistic (which he admitted in his post). We have these 6 important ranking factors:
- On-page content quality
- User and usage data
- Lack of “Spammy”
- Domain Authority
- Page authority
The first four you can control relatively easily, by making sure all of your on-site content has a sound SEO strategy for organization, implementation and updating. The last two are largely influenced by off-site factors, which are links, social mentions, citations, etc, essentially by having a bigger and better web “foot print”.
If you focus on writing excellent content on your site and sharing it, along with excellent PR, over time you may begin to receive links in the completely natural way the “Google” Gods intended. Over enough time you may receive loads of links. If something goes viral you may grab a bunch of links all at once.
Two Examples of Purely Natural Link Acquisition That Have Led to Success In Competitive Markets
I have recently been working with a large, not for profit technical and vocational school. They have had a website for at least a decade, and have been heavily involved in community events as well as the overall adult education world. Over the years they have naturally obtained hundreds of domain links, resulting in a relatively high domain rank, and relatively high page authority. They have never had an SEO expert help them with any of their SEO efforts, but they rank really well in spite of this lack of strategy. That being said, once we “fix” all of their on-site issues their site will begin to rank better for hundreds of search terms, and their organic traffic will likely double, and probably quadruple. If they had not acquired all of these links and high domain authority the on-site efforts would have a much lower affect on their rankings and organic traffic. Since they have established a relatively high domain authority, fixing all of their on-site content and creating more content on their site will likely have a huge impact.
A number of years ago I was vetting out a few SEO vendors for a personal injury attorney here in Denver, CO. As part of my due diligence, I asked them to give me examples of success they had ranking personal injury attorneys. One of the SEO companies gave me an example of a personal injury website in Boulder where they had been able to generate hundreds of links to the site by sharing an important case the client had one for someone involved in a bicycle accident. The article went viral, and all of the sudden they began receiving links and mentions on hundreds of bicycle related blogs and websites. As a result, the attorney website began ranking really well for a good period of time.
Unfortunately, in both of these cases, acquiring links took a lot of time and for the attorney, a bit of luck. When your company has marketing goals, relying on years of PR and community involvement or getting lucky may not be good enough strategies to have the results you want in the desired time frame. Don’t get me wrong, you should be looking to develop good content, an excellent reputation, and finding opportunities to share very valuable content. However, if your competitors are taking a more proactive approach to expanding their web presence, you are rarely going to be able to compete on your head terms, and even the longer tail terms may be out of reach for your business or law firm.
At C1 Partners we usually take a very proactive approach to both on and off site SEO. Which has worked well for our own rankings and the rankings of our clients.