Search engine optimization is a bullet train ride with constantly moving tracks. Last year alone, Google implemented 3,200 changes to its search algorithm. That’s about 9 updates a day! It’s a challenge to compete in Google’s $100B a year ranking game. Your SEO tactics can never sit idle, and you shouldn’t expect your rankings today will be the same tomorrow.
We have advice for you on how to improve and maintain Google web rankings in this changing landscape.
What you need to know, in a nutshell, is this: If you want to rank high on Google search results, your marketing efforts need to focus on your users and their customer journey. SEO boils down to producing quality content and aligning your information with the way users search online.
WHAT ABOUT KEYWORDS?
Search engines like Google do not understand content the way humans do. Instead, search engines are looking for signals they can gather to analyze how particular information is relevant to a human query.
Early software couldn’t follow full sentences so people dumbed down their online search to the bare minimum. Hence, the use of “keywords” to help a computer recognize the needed information.
Google search has since evolved exponentially. The advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning have allowed huge leaps in the domain of voice recognition. We now have software like Siri and Alexa that allow users to speak “naturally” to access online information.
With the introduction of BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) in late 2019, Google is now able to translate and deliver results for search queries posed as questions. BERT uses natural language processing to understand the meaning and context of the search question. For example, rather than analyzing the keywords “Zion National Park”, BERT is looking to answer complex queries like “What are Zion’s opening hours during COVID?”
As technology is getting smarter, search metrics are changing to accommodate users and “humanize” the process of surfing the web. The same is true for marketing products online. The previously-used, keywords-centric approach is outdated and needs to be replaced by a “consumer-centric” one.
In this article for Ad Age, Nick Chasinov shares that “today, it’s not about who ranks first for a keyword—it’s about brand positioning. Consumers look at Instagram and influencers and “About Us” pages. They ask, ‘Do I believe the brand is authentic?’ These new considerations relieved the pressure on the old keyword approach.”
Both internal studies and industry research show that brands should refocus their website strategies on product quality, users, and a great page experience. A strong SEO strategy is more than stuffing your web pages with keywords.
HOW TO CREATE A BETTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE?
According to Google, the best way to create a great customer experience is by focusing on content. Google is looking for sites to prove their expertise and thought leadership. Anyone can manipulate SEO signals to rank a site, but it’s hard to engineer real authority and integrity. “We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward”, says Google Search.
To create a better customer experience you need to start by evaluating your UX design and copywriting content.
Google Search has added its own user experience criteria, assessing a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability to measure user experience on the web, also called Core Web Vitals.
For example, your website speed impacts your SEO rankings as well as your conversion rates. Walmart was able to boost its conversion rate by 2% for every second of load time reduced, while Mobify found that each 100ms improvement in their homepage's load time resulted in a 1.11% increase in conversion.
Another important aspect is the mobile-friendliness of your site.
Google has published a list of questions to help evaluate your website performance:
CONTENT AND QUALITY QUESTIONS
Does your content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
Google is looking for fresh and original content. With so much information online, there is a lot of the same content floating around. Google wants to know it’s sending people to information that is new and genuine.
Does your content provide a substantial, complete, and comprehensive description of the topic?
Google’s algorithm is looking for thought leadership and websites that answer users’ queries. Websites that seem incomplete or not thorough enough may not get ranked.
Does your content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
Are your analysis and insights helpful to users? Does your website produce information your competitors don’t have?
If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
Google is looking for repeat content and plagiarism. Lots of websites out there use unreferenced data and copy their content from other sources online. To rank a website Google wants to make sure your branded content is genuine.
Does your headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
Headlines are extremely important not only for Google ranking and SEO but to your overall user experience. Headlines summarize your offerings and statements and should be simplified to the core. Fitting headlines to mobile resolution is a must.
Does your headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
If users click on your link but not do stay very long on the page, Google will draw conclusions that you are trying to trick users with “clickbait” information and will downgrade your ranking.
Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
Google is looking for authentic branded content that people love to share.
Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
If you are only creating content for the sake of using keywords, Google and your users will know it. To get ranked, you need interesting ideas your audience would find interesting enough to read.
Does your content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it? Clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author, or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s ‘About’ page, help to establish your credibility with your audience.
Your website must build trust, reference its sources (if any) and feature members of your team.
If you researched the site offering the content, would you come away with the impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
Your online space needs to be built in a professional way and hold authority on the topics you offer.
Is the content written by an expert or enthusiast who can demonstrate his/her knowledge of the topic?
Google is looking for professional websites that show expertise in a field. Featuring the history of your brand and your longstanding traditions is a good way to achieve this.
Is your content free from easily verified factual errors?
With all the fake information on the Internet, you need to make sure to never publish or repost deceptive information. Google will catch on, and this will hurt your ranking reputation.
Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
Your brand needs to be a credible source users can trust.
PRESENTATION AND PRODUCTION QUESTIONS
Is the content free from spelling and stylistic issues?
It’s crucial to review the copywriting of your site. It’s also important that your information is aligned and pleasing to the eyes.
Was your content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
Spend time crafting your copy to ensure you publish polished content.
Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, such that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
Google is looking through every page of your website. Make sure each individual page fully answers a query’s questions.
Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
Ads can slow down a site and ruin the user experience. Too many pop-up windows and asking people to subscribe to your services without giving them the chance to read through your information can have the same effect.
Does content display well on mobile devices?
Having mobile-friendly content is a must. Your website needs to be designed to be responsive on any device.
Does your content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
If you’re trying to rank in a niche service or business category, take a closer look at Google’s first page results. Your goal is to review the pages that rank high and create content that is better than theirs. If your website is not more interesting, entertaining, accurate, or professional, there is no reason for Google to rank you higher.
Does your content serve the genuine interests of site visitors or does it seem to exist solely to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Write content for your target audience, not for search engines. Even if it takes a bit longer, Google will eventually figure out that your content is genuine and helpful and will push you up its rankings.
Great page experiences engage users and offer helpful information to a targeted audience. If you’re not sure how your Core Web Vitals are performing, Google Search Console can provide a dedicated report and identify opportunities for improvement.
Ultimately, you can also get in touch with our team. We would be happy to evaluate your website and suggest the right SEO strategy. Just say firstname.lastname@example.org