Are European SMEs Hurting their Search Engine Ranking with a Lack of Content and too Aggressive Link Building?

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This post is the third in a series of blog posts that will highlight key findings from the 2018 SIINDA Landscape study which looked at almost 40,000,000 data points across eight countries and 400,000 SMEs to provide insight into the quality of their online presence.

Businesses frequently ask why their websites do not rank higher on search engines and that discussion often leads to sales reps talking about algorithms, "signals”, and a “Black Box”.  While there are many unknowns related to how major search engines rank websites, there is a clear consensus that good content and backlinks are essential elements.

Over the last few years, a great deal of focus has been put on developing good content and strategically building links with reputable sites.  However, there are still many businesses who are selling link building services that will not help with SEO and in fact, can receive a severe penalty from search engines. 

Backlinks to a website are a signal to search engines that there is valuable content worth linking to and therefore gives credibility to the site.  The more quality backlinks lead to more credibility and thereby a higher probability of ranking higher. Consequently, it is necessary for SMEs to find a balance between quality and quantity.

The SMEs in our study had surprisingly more backlines than expected.  Across Europe, 16% of SMEs had less than five (5) backlinks. Or to put it another way, 84% had more than 5.  This begs the question of how good are the backlinks? While 31% of Belgian sites and 21% of Irish sites had five (5) backlinks or less, Czechia only had 1% which means more than 99% of their sites had more than five (5) backlinks.  The numbers from Czechia are a concern as it is quite possible that many of the linking sites are not legitimate and should be “disavowed”.

Unfortunately, bad backlinks can harm a website's ranking, particularly "paid links" which are a direct violation of Webmaster Guidelines and could result in a catastrophic penalty on most search engines.

Off-page SEO such as link building is a time-consuming process.   Still, if there is enough relevant and insightful content to share, it could be worth the effort. However, for an SME, the time involved and the effort to create valuable content makes this a low priority task.  Indeed, the time and investment could be better spent on improving ratings and review scores and tailoring on-page content to more accurately reflect consumers search criteria.

For agencies selling a variety of digital solutions, there might be an opportunity to conduct a digital audit focused solely on backlinks.  The goal would be to identify and disavow negative links as part of a broader digital solution set without complicating the service with content development.

SMEs are not putting enough content on their websites.

The SIINDA study did not try and evaluate the quality of the content on websites, but looking at word count can serve as a loose proxy in terms of depth of information. It is clear that well-written, concise content can help SEO efforts, but we have often seen that many sites have short, generic content which does not differentiate them from competitors.

The study found that the average amount of words per page across Europe was 344. In fact, 64% of websites had an average of fewer than 300 words per page.  A study by Forbes indicated an optimal SEO range of around 650 words per page but, more importantly, it states that websites with 300 words or less could be considered “thin content” and will not rank highly.


Another study from Search Engine Land supports this idea stating that sites with 1,000+ words per page rank higher than sites with lower word counts.  With a low word count, many businesses may be missing out on many keywords, especially long-tail, that could boost their traffic.

Switzerland was especially surprising in with an average of only 302 words per page and 71% of all websites having less than 300 words per page.  

The low word count could be explained by the difficulty of gathering content from SMEs when building a website, often due to a lack of time or lack of engagement from the business owner. When we also know that the majority of SMEs do not update their websites within a year, it is evident that there is a problem in developing and adding robust content. 

Explaining how robust content and effective linking can affect rankings should be a primary objective in any service call by agencies and can be an opportunity for selling value-added services related to content development.

This post is based on key findings from the 2018 SIINDA Landscape study which looked at almost 40,000,000 data points across eight countries and 400,000 SMEs to provide insight into the quality of their online presence. The data was processed and analysed by Silktide, a web intelligence company headquartered in the UK. Silktide makes software to help people understand and improve their online presence. ( and The Digital Marketing & Local Search Association (



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