Recently we took on a new client who needed to transform their website. Their current website was old, badly coded and kind of cobbled together, the strange thing was - it ranked.
Their site was designed and coded by one of their staff with a little technical knowledge, and was a mixture of HTML, inline CSS and a few old jQuery bits too. My own analysis of their current site revealed a hodgepodge of layout issues, SEO no-no's and a UI guy's worst nightmare:
More so, what was behind the content was the code. Inspection of the source code revealed a Blackhat technique of keyword stuffing. Adding every given phrase to your keywords list in order to try and rank for them all is a technique that we assume no longer works. It was part of a range of 'black hat' techniques that SEO guys used to use in order to manipulate the search results for their clients to appear higher. This is rather following today's best practice of just adding a handful of relevant phrases to your business or service. This was before the dreaded Google updates of the early 10's that meant their algorithms would penalise any sites using these questionable methods. Blackhat SEO is an entire topic on it's own, so I won't detract too much. Here's a great resource if you want to find out more: Black Hat SEO
Their site was designed and built by one of the staff a few years back, who had some technical knowledge and in all fairness to them, their site ranked really well. Now, maybe it wasn't keyword stuffing if they were all relevant? Maybe it was done before google outlawed these so-called Blackhat techniques but favoured them because of the relevance that all the keywords actually had?
Either way, with revenue of over £500k per year it's clear that it didn't matter.
It's been well documented that URLs featuring the key phrases you wish to rank for, help your page to get that top spot in the listings. Coupled with the right combination of page title, H1, H2 and meta tags with a fair amount of copy and you're in with a good chance.
Nope. Wasn't that either.
Their URLs were all fairly disappointing, (and hard to remember when trying to write a redirect list too!).
Most were of the format 'page' + 'number'.html
Not really. They do post regularly, and it's all relevant, interesting content that relates to their products, shows they're attending, ideas they're working on. It's not overly popular though and their stats don't show a big social referral rate.
So, that can't be the reason then can it?
It didn't look too bad on MOZ:
Ok, domain authority isn't massive, but it's got a few high DA links back to it from reputable sources which helps establish it as a legitimate business and not a hooky web scam. Further investigation (via good old Google) reveals over 2,260 results for their domain name, meaning they've spent time building relationships with other businesses and have gained high quality backlinks for their efforts. This particular client manufactures and sells equipment for a specific industry and it was pleasing to see so many results for their business from companies who had recommended their products as part of their white papers, included links in training manuals and featured on many governmental websites. Bingo! High quality backlinks! From this we can assume that their homepage has some of it's authority from these links back. But what about their subpages? Many of these were badly designed, badly coded and didn't follow web standards. How are these ranking so well? In 'the olden days' it was quite easy to rank your subpages just by buying links to your homepage, and including a link on this to all of your subpages. This would pass authority across the links and your child pages which would end up ranking just as high. Google was meant to change this, and it did to some extent. Various algorithm updates have taken place over the years to prevent webmasters (!) from just buying a load of cheap backlinks. The reality is, this method still seems to work for this client. How? We're not sure! We wouldn't recommend it as a strategy for any new business, but it could be related to the domain age (14 years+) giving some sort of kudos to websites that have stood the test of time. What else helps your page rank?
Cooler Insights states the 'trinity of digital marketing' as thus:
Creating good content, getting on top of your SEO and remaining active on social media are still the best methods at building your domain authority. Content is king. Sharing it and marketing it will dramatically transform your site from a brochure into a resource. Brian Dean of Backlinko.com suggests some interesting methods for creating high quality backlinks, along with his 'skyscraper' method of writing content.