Ranking Factors and Strategies: Where are they now?

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Quick what movies that from? I’ll give you a hint, “Bueller...Bueller...Bueller”


That widely thought-provoking quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may be quoted in every high school year book around the country, but it has some wisdom behind it. Within the SEO world, life, aka algorithm updates, happen pretty fast and it can be hard to stay up-to-date on everything. I’ll often get people asking me questions and I’ll have to stop myself from saying, “That was so 4 months ago” because a: I know how absurd that statement is and b: it was only 4 months ago and you may have been in a meeting when Matt Cutts decided to tweet a weather report indicating an impending algorithm update.

So, because of the speed and frequency in which ranking factors or tactics change, I’ve decided to take a look back on some to see if they’re still applicable today.

Directory Links

Overview: Ahh directory links. How so many people loved you and your ability to give sites exact match anchor text to certain pages. However, like eating a sleeve of Chips Ahoy cookies, you were too much of a good thing and people became glutenous and abused this “tactic”.

Although buying links is strictly prohibited, as indicated in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it was common practice to acquire some links through directories where you would have targeted anchor text. However, once the Penguin update rolled out in May of 2012, Google began penalizing sites that appeared spammy. This would include sites with too many directory listings and exact match anchor text.

Should you do this: PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Although I would not recommend people fill their entire link profile with directory links I would not steer them away from directories entirely. If you do choose to pursue directory links there are a few strategies and tips you can employ so that when Google makes another update your entire site won’t crash a burn.

    1) Be selective. Please don’t submit your site to every directory out there or else you’re asking for trouble.

    2) 2:1. For every two directory links you build you should have one natural link.

    3) Don’t waste your time, effort, or money if your site will be placed on a non-indexed page.

Word of warning though, Google is getting pretty darn strict and even the semi-non spammy directories still won’t do much for you nowadays.

Meta Keywords

Overview: Come around kids and let me tell you about a time when your grandSEO use to be able to get a site to rank by including keywords in the meta tags.

Even though this may sound like a fairytale, this actually was a tactic SEOs used, which is exactly why it doesn’t work now. Like all good things they must come to end, especially when people stuff every single keyword into the meta tag and hope to rank for them all.

Should you do this: NO (and kinda yes)

The word no says it all. Cutts put together a nice little video explaining why so I’ll let him take it away. Additionally, your meta tags can be seen by anyone (including your competitors) so you may not want to show them your hand for free.

But of course, Google can’t just say no to a ranking factor and leave it at that. Just yesterday they came out and said that the meta keyword tag will be used for Google News publishers.

*Sigh* Google I thought we’ve been over this..

Exact Match Domains (EMDs)

Overview: Ohh, exact match domains how I love the thought process behind “Well if I want to sell teddy bears I should just have a site called www.teddybears.com.” Who needs branding when you EMD?!

Over the years having an EMD use to correlate to rankings, but once everyone caught on that the internet was a “thing” and going to stick around the smart ones bought up EMDs and sold them to the highest bidder. Of course that hasn’t panned out well for some as the correlation among EMD and rankings has been on the decline over the years.

This lovely graph put together by Dr. Pete over at SEOmoz show it very nicely:

Exact Match Domains

Should you do this: MAYBE

I’m sorry if my vagueness is annoying anyone but I try not to give answers that can be used against me in a court of law.

Honestly, I would suggest you only use an EMD if it makes sense to you, your company, your brand, and your product. I would most definitely not suggest you scrapping your brand for EMD that may have little to no effect on your rankings.

Keyword Density

Overview: In the past, some people believed that an algorithm factor regarded the amount of times a keyword was mentioned on a page. To this day, I still get people asking me how many times they should put a keyword (or slight variations) in a body of text. This then leads to me saying pretty awkwardly, “I don’t know. However many times you need to say it.”

Apparently, some people have to say it more than others to get their point across.

Should you do this: NO

I would definitely suggest that you replace your time worrying about how many times you said “teddy bear” on www.teddybear.com by going to your nearest spa and relaxing. Instead of counting keywords here are some tips on how you should think about including keywords into your site:

    1. STOP counting words and just write

    2. Don’t just think about your keyword but also think about synonyms of that keyword

    3. STOP counting words and just write

    4. Write something that people will want to read and that makes sense.

Bringing it Home

Hopefully this isn’t new information for you but a slight refresh :)

To help you stay up-to-date on industry news I’ve included some resources which you may find useful and keep you from missing any important changes:

Julianne Staino

Julianne Staino

Julianne comes to Distilled after working in the digital studio of a Multicultural Advertising Agency. Looking to continue her love affair with SEO, she knew Distilled would be the perfect fit. Julianneh264 // Born and raised in Poughkeepsie...   read more

Get blog posts via email


  1. hi Julianne , thanks for sharing the nice writeups, i think you have included the very few of Ranking Factors and Strategies here. i like your point about keyword density that stop counting the words. Thanks for sharing

    reply >
  2. Hi,

    thanks for the overview. Even when ranking factors change so fast, we still need to stop sometimes and make it clear what we can and what we cannot do.

    Regarding directories: what do you think about article directories such as ezine? Are these services (produce unique article for each website with a link in the end or within the text) are still worth it? Also, I am curious how content-less link building in general will evolve in the next period.


    reply >
  3. Julianne - great post, thanks. 1 question:

    "2:1. For every two directory links you build you should have one natural link."

    Where did this figure come from? I can't say I've ever come across it before. What is the rationale behind it?

    reply >
  4. Finally some sense over dirctory links. If you are selective and manual in your approach they might not add massive value but they will add diversity to your link profile and there are so many that you don't have to pay for why not spend the 2 mins it takes to submit link or two every now and again. Also they don't force you to use exat match anchor.

    reply >
  5. Hi Julianne,

    Interesting post and always good to see a "Bueller" quote :)

    I am myself adding a "High Quality" niche directory to my site.

    I have found this post interesting


    Do you think these guidelines are still relevant post Penguin / Panda



    reply >
  6. Awesome post. I was surprised to see that Google was using Meta Keywords in their news as well.

    reply >
    • Well, we all understand that these are different Meta Keywords (news_keywords metatag) that ONLY apply to news sites, right?
      Matt was pretty clear about that: https://twitter.com/kleinja/status/248836674728112128

      Example - SEOmoz or Distilled blogs wouldn't qualify but PCMagazine and Search Engine Land would.

      And simply reading the article - it sounds like Meta Keywords are alive but they are not. The only usage I personally find for them is to remember what you're trying to rank for. That's about as far as it goes.

  7. Lee Driggers


    This is a lot more granular than the YoY metrics from Dr. Pete about EMD, but have you seen the new metrics on MozCast? MozCast Metrics They have stats on a rolling 30, 60, & 90 day basis on the influence of EMD in the Top 10 SERP's.

    reply >
  8. Ugh EMDS...

    Unfortunately in my niches they're still working, and it's frustrating. Waiting patiently for Google to level the playing field... It's getting frustrating convincing clients NOT to buy 40 EMDs for their top geos, when it's working for their competitors. Telling clients that "it's not a long term strategy and it won't work soon" can only last for so long.

    reply >
  9. Using EMD's was quite effective for a long time. However, the problem with this approach is the lack of a real brand.

    I'm sure many have cleaned up house, with dozens of EMD sites, selling a Clickbank eBook for $14.99.

    I wonder how much longer this model will be possible. If EMD's are increasingly devalued, I bet the content creators will have less avenues to sell through as well.

    At the end of the day, you're gonna have to be a brand to make it. It can be a small, niche brand, but still a brand. Look at the prominence of using real names in social media. This can combat male marketers being able to create a female persona to push certain products.

    It's good in a way, the Internet will get cleaned up a bit, and the little guy creating good content , in an honest way, can have his day.

    reply >
  10. Hi Julianne Staino,

    Excellent article. Seriously you have wrote great points which were in my mind. I have seen a lot that most of the metrics says that Directory submission is one of the awkward things to do. There have been a lot of news that Directory submission is the main cause of Google penguin penalty because directory submission with all the spam back links cause this.
    Also I have listen that blog comments which are considered as spam or link farm are also bad for Link building. is this right ?

    Regarding Emd update, What should we do now ? If we have an old domain where we have spend too much, So what should i do to get my domain back in track ?

    Thank you


    reply >
  11. Excellent Article. Thanks for writing.

    I guess a SEO can learn something new everyday ;)

    reply >

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>