Every site is different. This may seem obvious, but you need to put that statement into a SEO context. The rules for improving the ranking of a site will vary from site to site. That fact is often overlooked when people begin laying out their search marketing strategy.
Let's look at a couple of examples of how sites can differ:
- Based on authority. Low authority sites, for example, will improve their search rankings more slowly.
- Based on age. Similarly, new sites will be treated differently than sites that have been around for 10 years. Older sites have much more accumulated trust than newer ones.
- Penalty Factors. For example, Google has a system for flagging sites for potential problems. Action might not be taken for having a single one of these flags on your site. Perhaps you need three of these flags before an actual penalty is assessed.
- Based on Freshness. Some sites spew out completely topical content on a regular basis (e.g., major news media sites or active blogs). These get crawled and updated in the index on a completely different schedule than other sites.
Other than number four, all of these factors relate to search engine trust. If someone gives your site a site-wide link, and you have a new site with low authority, there's a good chance this will be seen as a potential spam signal. If you're operating a 6-year-old site that has established good authority, and someone gives you a site-wide link, there's a good chance that a site-wide won't raise any signal.
As for penalty factors, this is the process of messing up your trust ranking, whether intentional or not. In most cases, you can remove a penalty factor, and things will be restored in time. How long this takes depends on the site's trust factors. For some sites, it may take only a few weeks to recover, while others could take many months.
Also, if your site has wild fluctuations in rankings and traffic from Google, that's a sure sign that some penalty factors are in play with your site. The reason for the thrashing back and forth is that Google tunes parameters in its search algorithm on a daily basis. When they tune that parameter in your favor, you pop back in, and your traffic soars. When they tune that parameter back again, you pop back out and traffic drops.
What Could Vary Based on Trust?
Let's look at some other things that may vary based on your level of trust:
- Duplicate Content Filtering. Search engines prefer to show only one instance of a particular piece of content within their search results. If they see multiple copies, they use an algorithm to try and determine the original author of the content, and to show only that page. However, with highly authoritative media sites, they can often show up in the results with duplicate content, in addition to the original source. This is something that would never happen with a site with a low level of trust and authority.
- Growth Patterns. Young sites often show a step function oriented growth. Adding tons of great links to their profiles may not seem to make any progress. Suddenly, as you cross some threshold, search engine referrals hit a new high. This can happen at several levels along the way. I tend to think of this as needing to pass through some trust thresholds (but this is just my conjecture). As the site grows older, and more authoritative itself, this step function characteristic begins to go away. Search engines begin to respond more quickly to the changes and enhancements you make, and the great new links you add.
- Judging Penalty Factors. Search engines look for signals that a site is a spam site. They look at hundreds of possible signals. Guess what? Tolerance for potentially spammy behavior can vary from site to site. A 10-year-old domain with great links may have a variety of edgy practices on their site. These same edgy practices may take a less authoritative site into the penalty box.
- Freshness Matters. Freshness is its own animal. Certain sites that establish sufficient authority, and that publish a constantly changing stream of content, can have changes indexed within hours. This relates to a phenomenon that Google refers to as Query Deserves Freshness. One place where this makes clear sense is with breaking news. However, I've seen this happen with sites that aren't all related to news.
Experienced SEOs have internalized all this, which is why they'll almost always counsel a major brand that's launching a new content initiative on their existing site. Starting a new site and bringing it up to greatness takes a serious amount of time.
Adding a new category of content to an existing authoritative site can significantly shorten the time required to get some respect for new content, particularly if the new content is thematically close to the existing site's content.
Based on where your site is in its life cycle, these four great SEO tips may not work the same for you as they do for someone else. If you have a new SEO client, and you're trying to set expectations, be aware that the strategy that worked so well for a past client in the same industry might not work quite so well with this new client. This is what makes SEO hard. Simply put, you have to get used to the uncertainty of it all.