Image Credit: Jared Tarbell/Flickr
Google changes its search engine’s ranking algorithm over 500 times a year according to Moz, and keeping up with each change can be an exhausting task — unless you understand the purpose behind the changes and implement a more holistic approach to your search strategy. Understanding Google’s intentions with these updates will better equip you to create a long-term search acquisition strategy that is progressive instead of reactionary. This approach will work for 99% of publishers and businesses and is meant to specifically cover “on-page factors” for a content-based search acquisition strategy.
Google Search in 2013
In 2013, Google Search became better at understanding queries in the form of questions – instead of responding to them by parsing words individually, it can now understand questions in their entirety and respond to them accordingly. There was a continued focus on devaluation of low-quality content and rewarding high-quality content. It became more important to not just have high-quality content, but content that demonstrates industry-specific or subject-specific thought leadership and authority. Finally, Google released a new feature that allows for better indexing and resurfacing of long-form, in-depth content when relevant.
Google Search in 2012
In 2012, Google Search focused on strongly refining signals that indicate authority and fighting those actively trying to manipulate these signals. This included common tactics such as inorganically obtained external links, over optimization through keyword stuffing, relying on exact-match domains for ranking (as opposed to high-quality content), as well as websites that prioritize monetization over searcher utility. On the flip side, Google rewarded sites with high-quality and original content (and an added emphasis on content freshness) and good site design and architecture.
What This Means For You
Search engine optimization and marketing as an industry is both deep and broad but the fact is, most writers and publishers do not need to worry about a majority of the changes and nuances of search engine algorithm updates as long as you have a good grasp of the basics and are using a modern CMS (such as WordPress with Thesis or Genesis – which will take care of a lot of HTML and site architecture optimization for you).
Google’s intentions with these changes are pretty obvious: a focus on writing high-quality, original content that demonstrates authority and leadership in your niche, and do it often. Google wins when a searcher wins, and the searcher wins when a page he or she clicks is the best page for the query performed.
Additionally, make the user your number one priority and do not get bogged down by the minutiae of things like domain names, keywords, and links at the onset. Instead focus on branding, research the needs and wants of your audience, and answer the questions most important to them. The following will help you focus on content quality and become the subject authority.
4 Core Content Types To Concentrate On
First and foremost, make sure all the content you write is original content. Generate your own ideas, augment them with substantial amount of research, unique insights, and analysis that showcases your authority and thought leadership. Aim to educate, enlighten, entertain, and delight your readers. These rules apply to all four content types listed below.
- Resources – Think of everything you write in terms of uniqueness (can the same content be gotten elsewhere?), comprehensiveness (does the reader need to do further research or go elsewhere to be fully informed?) and longevity (will the content retain relevancy over time?). Another way to put it is, think of your website as a Wikipedia focused on a specific niche and informed by your unique insight and authority.
- Data and analysis – There is arguably no better way to build an audience and demonstrate your authority than to acquire data that is unique to your site and provide analysis exclusive to your audience. Turn this data into case studies, white papers, e-books, and either offer this content for free to readers and other publishers, or use it as an incentive.
- Tutorials & How-to’s – I recently came across a great interview with Alex and Mimi from Luxy Hair on the Shopify blog. The couple built a 7-figure e-commerce business predominantly through creating how-to guides and tutorial videos on YouTube. This should not come as a surprise since this falls squarely under the category of content that provides maximum utility for your readers or viewers while demonstrating your expertise in a specific industry. Publishing this content through YouTube provides the added benefit of traffic from YouTube and Google Universal Search.
- Frequently Asked Questions – This brings us back to writing for your readers and responding to their specific needs and wants. Respond to questions you know your readers want the answers to and provide maximum utility through thorough responses that make your website the best destination for this kind of content and demonstrate your leadership as an educator.
4 Content Types to Avoid
- Viral content – Content that propagates because it is of such high quality is great but content that is designed first and foremost to be viral (over any kind of utility or relevance) should be avoided. I wrote about this in a recent article at VentureBeat and as a writer, publisher, or content marketer you should read it and avoid the pitfalls highlighted therein. This kind of content includes image-dumps, link lists, infographics, and more. The implications for this go beyond search and even Facebook devaluing this low quality content.
- Repurposed or duplicated content – This is the kind of content you write because you’re jumping on the bandwagon. Everyone else writes about a news story or popular topic of the day and you want to ‘get in on the action’ so you write about it too. The problem with this kind of content is that it generally does not provided significant value, does not distinguish you from everyone else covering the story, and for all intents and purposes is thin content. Overall this devalues the quality of your site and gives readers less of an incentive to visit daily.
- Content with monetization intent – This is one of the most glaringly obvious content types to avoid – content that is written for the sole purpose of selling ads against it, inserting affiliate links in it, to generate leads, or to serve as a gateway (doorway) page to selling products or services. High quality content can accomplish these things but does not prioritize these things over searcher intent and searcher utility.
- Automated or mass-produced content – Remember Demand Media? It is a company that used a purely SEO/SEM based content development and marketing strategy and used cheap writing labor and content farms to mass produce (in some cases machine generated) content to capitalize on search trends and specifically target Google AdWords for monetization. The company peaked sometime in April, 2011, and has been foundering since then, hitting a new historical low earlier this year. Learn from their huge and very public mistakes.
A Note on Quality
Google not only gives us comprehensive technical and design guidelines but also gives us guidelines for high-quality content. There is no deceit in the simplicity of these guidelines which boil down to the following:
- Do not try to manipulate any search engine ranking signals
- Write for your readers instead of search engines
If you follow these guidelines, you shouldn’t have to obsess over every tweak and update to Google Search’s algorithm because as we’ve shown, the intention behind all of these changes is the same: emphasize quality and devalue any content that tries to abuse or manipulate the system.
One last thing to reiterate is the point of this article: get started with “on page factors” for Google Search and specifically those on page factors that are tied to content and under the direct control of a writer or publisher. Your next steps should be to learn about other on page factors such as HTML and site architecture, as well as off-page factors and the potential they have to impact your site and audience growth.