“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means. Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.”
-Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide
Even laypeople seem to know the old days of getting ranked on search engines – if you mention certain keywords enough across the website, Google would rank that website as highly relevant for those keywords and thus increase your rankings in search results.
A common marketing tactic was to type out each keyword and service area location, change the color of the text to the website’s background (so users couldn’t see it, but search engines could), and then paste this block of text on each of the website’s pages.
These types of marketing “strategies” were common and search engines were very aware of these hacks. It wasn’t until the creation of Google’s 2013 Hummingbird Algorithm, which shifted the algorithm from keyword density-based to user intent-based, that Search was changed forever.
Since then, the number one ranking factor for Google has been great content.
Official Ranking Factors – Content & Links
Many digital marketers are obsessed with link-building. It might have to do with the tangibility of links – you are able to give clients an exact number of links, and you can use software like Moz’s RankBrain to show an approximation of the link’s value to the website.
Blogging, creating unique, shareable content, and getting stories in local newspapers seem to be the most-common strategies for link-building. But how are you able to get enough attention to guest blog or have stories in local newspapers? The answer is, once again, having great content.
Google Search Raters – Rating User Experience
Content is not just the text on the web page; it is the entire user experience. It is the contact form on the right sidebar. It is the distracting ads in the middle of the page. Google has officially switched to rewarding web pages (not websites!) that give users a great experience, and digital marketers need to catch up.
Google hires evaluators to analyze content and rank it on a scale of “Lowest” to “Highest” quality. The evaluators help Google understand how the algorithm updates are performing and what adjustments need to be made, although they don’t have a direct influence on the algorithm itself. Per Google’s official guidelines for raters:
“The quality of the MC [Main Content] is one of the most important criteria in Page Quality rating, and informs the E-A-T of the page…For each page you evaluate, spend a few minutes examining the MC before drawing a conclusion about it. Read the article, watch the video, examine the pictures, use the calculator, play the online game, etc. Remember that MC also includes page features and functionality, so test the page out. For example, if the page is a product page on a store website, put at least one product in the cart to make sure the shopping cart is functioning. If the page is an online game, spend a few minutes playing it…The purpose of the page will help you determine what high quality content means for that page.”
Digital Marketers Should Be Relevant, Authoritative and Trustworthy
Google can be treated as the librarian of the internet, crawling and indexing millions of websites a day to find the right answer for the searcher. It has gotten so good, in fact, that studies have shown that the first search engine results page receives 95% of web traffic.
So how do you get to the front page?
Quite literally, is your content relevant to the searched keywords? It isn’t about just driving traffic to the website, it’s about driving relevant traffic to your website.
Google wants the page title to match the page description, to match the content on the page, to match the content of the website. Keywords in page titles and URLs are very important. We want to send as clear of signals as possible to Google about who and what the page is talking about.
When people search for an answer to their question, they are looking for the most accurate answer from the most credible source possible. Google wants to connect people with questions to people with expert knowledge on the subject. Whether you know the information first-hand, or you’ve done your research about the topic, make sure that you are an authority on the content you create.
Does your content use the passive voice? Are your words speculative, instead of declarative? Then your web pages might not seem very authoritative to a visitor.
“We have no one signal that we’ll say, ‘This is authority.’ We have a whole bunch of things that we hope together help increase the amount of authority in our results.”
– Paul Haahr, a senior engineer at Google
While we do not know exactly how Google’s algorithm calculates a page’s Authority, we can take some educated guesses that involve high-quality inbound and outbound links, strong signals from social media, and even the engagement metrics on a website – reducing a webpage’s bounce rate may ultimately help your SEO.
The internet has made it incredibly easier to find products and services that improve our lives, but it has also allowed not-legitimate businesses to more easily appear credible. In this era of uncertainty, trust and trustworthiness are more important than ever.
Quite simply, does your website look trustworthy? Is it secured with an HTTPS or an HTST encryption? Is the content unique and shareable, or does the web page look thrown together the day before?
Furthermore, don’t fake reviews. They come off as unnatural sometimes, and if potential customers found out about the deception it would erode the trust that is being built. Businesses should be about building long-term relationships, just like SEO is about building a strong structure for a business’ web presence.
Google may be confusing and difficult to navigate at times (especially after an algorithm update), but once you realize its goal of directing searchers to web pages that are Authoritative, Trustworthy and Relevant, the SEO journey gets a lot easier.