The Heart of SEO: An Invitation to Revisit Effective Ranking Factors with Andy Drinkwater

Dear Digital Olympians! We decided to run a series of blogposts to help you get to know our amazing speakers better. Today, we are happy to introduce you all to Andy Drinkwater. In this interview he explains the most important ranking factors, latest developments in SEO and also shares his ultimate link-building tips. Keep reading to learn more about SEO do’s and don’ts.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started with SEO

Back in the early 90's, I was a technical author and copywriter, contracting for large UK banks, water boards and multinationals. This lead me on to a project in 1997 while at a building society, where I was helping create new content for the web team and somehow found myself getting involved with the UX for their new website.

Two years later in 1999, I was working with a new startup and slid into helping them with their SEO, although it was all about stuffing keywords at that point and none of us really knew what we were doing. From that point on, I was hooked.

  • To make the Web a better place for brands, what we need to stop and start doing in 2016 in terms of SEO?

It is all about the EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness). Too many brands, especially the smaller ones, still try to focus on nailing every last point of SEO, while ignoring what is really going to matter to them. Many might not be aware how brands benefit by showing Google that they meet the EAT criteria.

So stop focusing solely on traditional SEO, and instead start to show how you excel at what it is you do — and there are a million ways to do this.

  • What are the most important ranking factors in 2016?

It might sound a little tired now, but we know that Google’s two biggest factors are content and back links, so target those heavily — but not to the point that you ignore the usability of your site. There is little point in having some amazing links and content, only to lose traffic that lands on your site. This is very counterproductive and won’t help with your organic SEO either.

Write amazing copy, build strong and natural links and learn to understand what it is that your visitors what from your site.

  • Could you tell us about some gamechanger developments that have happened in SEO recently and we all should be aware of?

Probably the biggest one recently is Rankbrain. I know a lot of questions pop up about how sites can optimize for Rankbrain, but you can’t. It is more about how Google uses machine learning to better process what they already have. This should mean that we get results that more closely match what we are looking for.

But understand, this is just another part of their algorithm, but not something you can influence in any way.

How do you stay updated with the latest SEO trends?

There are so many ways to stay up to date with what is happening in terms of SEO. Myself, I use Twitter primarily. What I have found over the years, is that there are a number of other SEO’s who do a lot of testing, so I have made a Twitter list with them. This is a single column in Tweet deck, that is constantly sat next to me all day, every day. If something happens in the world of SEO, I know about it straight away.

I also follow a handful of well-known blogs and Webmaster World so I can follow questions and chatter on those too.

Is there a topic in SEO that is considered to be a holy war within the industry? And what’s your take on it?

Content is King. This is the one subject that I see most arguments about. There are those that say to concentrate on your content and everything else is second place, and those that say you should focus just on links because this is all that matters.

For me, I don’t subscribe to either of these. You can have the best content on the planet, but if your site is terrible, no-one is going to want to stay there. The same goes for links — what is the point in having some of the strongest links and no good content or a usable site?

In order, I would have to start with usability, then content and finally links — but the fact is, you really shouldn’t be ignoring any of them.

Tell us, please, about your current favorite SEO tool and why it’s better than the others out there

This is a tough one, because I don’t have any single favorite because it depends what I am doing at the time. However, the one I probably turn to first, is Screaming Frog.

There isn’t really much that can touch Screaming Frog for what it shows. While I make good use of Sistrix, Deep Crawl, SEMRush and others while auditing, Screaming Frog is the one that gets used 100% of the time.

Can you think of one Google penalty that you find ridiculous?

This would have to be Penguin right now. Google has been promising this for a long time now yet sites that have fixed backlink issues are left in limbo with no way to back out of it until it’s run again. This is so frustrating, that I know of sites that have started again from scratch because it has crippled them.

Hopefully we will see it run again soon, but there is no word on when this will be as yet.

Do you have the ultimate advice on how to carry out link-building?

There are two pieces of advice I would have for anyone wishing to undertake link building.

The first, is to make sure you have something worthy of being linked to. A linkable asset is something that will give someone else a reason to agree to a link. For example, if you have just a normal site with pretty standard content and nothing that makes you stand out, why would anyone bother linking to you? However, if you place a linkable asset into the mix (say, some research that shows new statistics), then suddenly you have a reason. That leads me on to the second point — outreach. Imagine someone has taken the time to research what it is that you do, picked the phone up and called you or even personalized an e-mail that they know will get your attention — how much better will this be than someone spamming the standard crap in multiple colors, badly formatted and clearly a blank mail? Those sort always end up in the bin, but now and then, someone takes the time to know what pushes your button and to engage with you.

Spend time researching prospects because without this, you will never get off the starting block.


For more than 17 years, Andy has been helping companies with their online marketing and growth efforts. His SEO services focus on revenue growth through a range of content driven strategies. Andy specializes in a number of SEO related fields and is always around to chat on Twitter. He is also a top-10 contributor to the MOZ Q&A where he likes to help others who might be struggling with SEO issues. Don’t forget to check out his website for more information — www.iqseo.uk.

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