Google’s algorithm updates can make it feel as though the search engine is punishing publishers for mysterious reasons.
Website rankings are never guaranteed.
Even so, you can improve the stability of your rankings and formulate a more Google algorithm update-resistant SEO strategy with these 11 tips.
1. User Intent Is Just The Beginning
User intent is important but it’s just a starting point for creating content that makes money day after day after day, regardless of algorithms.
User intent is one ingredient out of several for creating algorithm-resistant webpages.
It’s the beans in your burrito — the cheese on your pizza. It gives flavor to your content.
The reason identifying user intent is important is because it puts you in the mindset of putting the user (not keywords) as your foremost consideration.
And that’s where great SEO strategies begin.
2. Make Site Visitors The Center Of Your Universe
One psychological writing trick that works fantastically for creating webpages is to write content in a way that mirrors the visitor’s need to see things through the lens of how they are affected.
Site visitors only relate to pages that relate to them.
I know a smart pay-per-click marketer who creates landing pages that fit every visitor so well his webpages are practically mirrors.
One of the many things this person did was to create landing pages that sniffed if a site visitor was using an Android or Apple device. The webpage would next swap in an “Apple Friendly” or “Android Friendly” icon to the webpage.
He did that because A/B testing proved that his audience converted at a slightly higher rate with those icons on the webpage. Such a silly thing, right?
Readers are focused on how a webpage topic affects them. When the site visitor hits a webpage the world stops revolving around the sun. It revolves around the site visitor, even if they are at an ecommerce store.
Do customers care why Apple created their own CPU chip?
No. They just want to hear about how it’s going to exceed their expectations and turn them all into heroes.
Zappos became popular because they made it easy to return the shoes. Their customer service was so good because they treated their customers like people who only care about their own needs.
What users want to see increasingly has to do with how your site, service, product, or information impacts their life.
3. Authoritative Means More Than Just Links
There is no authority metric at Google, and yet Google says it wants to rank authoritative content.
Part of determining whether something is authoritative has to do with language.
For example, sometime after Google Hummingbird, Google appeared to have begun introducing language-related features into the search results pages (SERPs).
I noticed that Google began ranking university research pages for a two-word phrase that software companies used to rank for.
The commercial webpages all had links to their sites, far more than these university webpages about research.
All of the commercial pages were banished from the first two pages of the SERPs except for one. That commercial webpage had the word “research” in the content of the webpage.
The .edu university webpages weren’t ranking because they had .edu magic or because of links.
For a short period of time, Google associated this two-word phrase with a type of topic (research) and chose to rank only pages that featured research, which at the time mostly consisted of university webpages.
Today, Google mostly ranks informational webpages for that two-word keyword phrase. In other words, informational content is authoritative for this two-word keyword phrase.
Links are the traditional measure of authority. Sites with more links are authoritative.
But language can be a signal of authority, too. This is evidenced in search results where the words that are used influence what is ranked more than the influence of links.
Links used to be the overwhelming deciding factor that powered webpages to the top of the SERPs. That is no longer the case.
Now it’s like natural language processing decides which race a webpage is going to run in and sometimes that race is on page two of the search results, depending on the user intent and what qualifies as authoritative for that type of content.
For some queries, informational content is going to race on Track 1 (analogous to the top half of the SERPs) and pages with commercial intent might qualify for Track 2 (analogous to the bottom half of those SERPs).
No matter how many links that commercial page may acquire, its content will never be authoritative enough to rank at the top for that keyword phrase topic.
To wrap up, what I want to do is introduce the idea that content can be authoritative in a way that has to do with the topic.
Users signal to Google (via their choices and activities) what kind of content is relevant to them. Content can either be authoritative for what users are looking for or not authoritative, regardless of links, based just on the content alone.
4. Comprehensive Content vs. Treating Visitors Like They’re 5 Years Old
When people think of authority, they sometimes think of being comprehensive, bigger, and at an intermediate level.
Stay with me, because authority and authoritativeness could be about understanding what users want and giving them what they want in the form that they want it.
Sometimes it’s in the form of a baby bottle. Sometimes authoritative means explaining it as if the site visitors were a 5-year-old.
For ecommerce, authoritative could be a webpage that helps the user make a choice and doesn’t assume that they know what all the jargon is.
Authoritative Content Can Be Many Things
For example, a site visitor could have the user intent of, “I’m dumb, what does XYZ mean?” In that case, authoritative content means content that is at the, “I have no idea” beginner’s level.
This may be particularly true for sites that are reviewing things that involve technical jargon.
A site that’s doing a round-up summary of top ten budget products might choose to focus on a quick and easy-to-understand summary that doesn’t have to explain the jargon.
In the full review webpage, it can have an explainer in a sidebar or tool-tips to explain the jargon.
I’m not saying that people are dumb. What I am saying is that sometimes it works out best to write content as if your site visitors lack intelligence because that’s the level many people may be operating at for a particular topic.
Seeing that there is a virtually inexhaustible supply of people who need to have things carefully explained, it can make for a winning strategy for long-term ranking success.
5. Let The Search Results Be Your Guide… To A Certain Extent
In general, it’s best to let the search results be your guide. There is value in trying to understand why Google is ranking certain webpages.
But understanding why a page might be ranking does not mean the next step is to copy those pages.
One way to research the search engine results pages is to map out the keywords and intents to the top ten ranked webpages, especially the top three. Those are the most important.
This is where current SEO practices can be improved.
Top Two Strategies That Can Be Improved
Imitate Top-Ranked Sites?
The general practice is to copy or emulate what the top-ranked sites are already doing except to “do it better.”
The idea is that if the top-ranked sites have XYZ factors in common then it is presumed that those XYZ factors are what Google wants to see on a webpage in order to rank it for a given keyword phrase.
Common sense, right?
Outlier is a word from the field of statistics. When webpages hold certain factors in common then those pages are said to be normal. The webpages that are different are called outliers.
For the purpose of analyzing the search results, if your webpage doesn’t have the same word count, keywords, phrases, and topics than the top-ranked sites contain, then that webpage is considered a statistical outlier.
Search analysis software will recommend the changes to be made so that the outlier page more closely conforms to what is currently ranked.
The problem with this approach is the underlying assumption that Google will rank content with the qualities that exist on webpages that are already ranked in the search results.
That’s a huge assumption with no logical basis.
Of course, another site that is statistically an outlier can outrank the top three ranked pages.
For example, I’ve ranked webpages higher than existing pages by doing things like explaining more or being easier to understand or including diagrams and original photos – and using keywords that the competition wasn’t using.
My pages ended up having not only a different keyword mix but the content, in general, was designed to better answer the question inherent in the search query.
That’s the difference between focusing on keywords and focusing on the search query.
In my opinion, it’s far better to understand the search query than to analyze webpages to identify Factors XYZ that may or may not have anything to do with why those pages are ranking.
The past several years of updates have been focused on better understanding what search queries mean and understanding what pages users want to see, in addition to other things.
So doesn’t it make sense to focus on better understanding what search queries mean and addressing that with your content in a way that’s easy for people (and search engines) to understand?
Analyzing the search results is a good thing to do in order to learn what the user intent is.
The next step should be to take that information and bring your best game to fulfilling the need that’s inherent in that user intent.
Create Pages That Are Bigger and Better?
The second strategy is creating content that’s better or simply more than the content of top-ranked competitors.
They’re both about beating the competition by imitating the competitors’ content but making it (vaguely) “better” or simply longer or more up to date.
So if they have 2,000 words of content, you publish 3,000 words of content.
And if they have a top ten list, outrank them with a top 100 list.
The concept is similar to a set-piece in a comedy where a clearly deranged man communicates his strategy for outselling a famous 8-Minute Abs video by creating a video called 7-Minute Abs.
Just because the content is longer or has more of what the competitor has doesn’t automatically make it better or inherently easier to rank or obtain links to it.
It still has to be useful.
So rather than focusing on vague recommendations of being ten times better or more concrete but completely random recommendation to be more than your competitor, how about just being useful?
Back to Search Results as a Guide
Mining the search results in a quest to understand why Google is ranking webpages will not produce useful information.
What you can possibly understand is the user intent and what I call the Latent Question that is inherent in every search query.
You can read about this here: Search Results Analysis: The Latent Question
6. Create Diversity In Your Promotional Strategy
It’s never a good idea to promote a site in one way. Anything that gets the word out is great. Do podcasts, write a book, be interviewed on YouTube, pop up on television, etc.
Be everywhere as much as possible so that how the site is promoted, how people learn about the site comes from many different areas.
This will help to build a strong foundation for the site that can overcome changes in the algorithm.
For example, if word of mouth signals somehow become important, a site that has focused on word of mouth type promotion will be ready for it.
7. Work To Prevent Link Rot
Link Rot occurs where links to a webpage are themselves losing links, thereby reducing the amount of influence they confer to your web page.
The solution to link rot is to maintain a link acquisition project, even if it’s a modest effort. This will help counter the natural process where links lose their value.
8. Website Promotion
Webpages must be promoted. A lack of promotion can cause a webpage to slowly and steadily lose reach, becoming unable to connect with the people who need to see the content.
Google’s John Mueller said:
“We use a ton of different factors when it comes to crawling, indexing and ranking.
So it’s really hard to say like, if I did this how would my site rank compared to when I do this. …those kinds of comparisons are kind of futile in general.
In practice though, when you’re building a website and you want to get it out there and you want to have people kind of go to the website and recognize what wonderful work that you’ve put in there, then promoting that appropriately definitely makes sense.
And that’s something you don’t have to do… by dropping links in different places.”
Read more: Google Offers Advice on Ranking Better
As Mueller said, it’s not just about having links added to webpages. It’s simply about letting people know the site is out there.
It can be through social media, by participating in Facebook Groups and forums, by local promotions, with cross-promotions with other businesses, and many other techniques.
Some call it brand building, where the name of a business becomes almost synonymous with a type of product or website.
9. Diversity Of Links
One of the reasons some sites bounce up and down in the search results is that there’s a weakness that sometimes has to do with a lack of diversity in the inbound links.
Anecdotal observations have noticed that sites that tend to sit at the top of the search results are the kind that has different kinds of links from different types of websites.
This may no longer be true with the advent of natural language processing (NLP) technologies that can put a stronger emphasis on content over links.
However, links continue to play a role – particularly the right kinds of links.
Setting aside the influence of NLP and focusing just on links, it may be helpful for a site to withstand changes in Google’s link algorithms by cultivating a diverse set of inbound links.
There are many kinds of links.
- Resources links.
- Links given in articles.
- Links of recommendation given by bloggers.
- Links in news articles.
It no longer matters if a link is blocked from being followed by a search engine using a link attribute called nofollow.
Google may choose to follow those links. Also, some links have value in building the popularity and awareness of a site.
10. Ranking Signals And E-A-T
There are many signals Google uses to rank a site. Google will even ignore links or spammy content in order to rank a site that is doing other things well.
Google’s John Mueller has said:
“A lot of times what will happen is also that our algorithms will recognize these kind of bad states and try to ignore them.
So we do that specifically with regards to links… where if we can recognize that they’re doing something really weird with links… then we can kind of ignore that and just focus on the good parts where we have reasonable signals that we can use for ranking.”
…we try to look at the bigger picture when it comes to search, to try to understand the relevance a little bit better.”
So there are qualities to a site that can overcome spammy links or SEO. What these qualities are can only be speculated about.
But I suspect that it has to do with how expert, authoritative, and trustworthy the content and the webpage is in itself.
11. Stay Aware Of Changes
In order to build a site that’s resistant to algorithm changes, it’s important to be aware of all of the announced changes to Google’s algorithm. Changes such as passage ranking, BERT, and how Google ranks reviews are all important to keep up with.
Try to understand what the subtext to the algorithm change could be, but do it by asking: How does this algorithm change help users?
When it comes to interpreting what an algorithm means, don’t speculate on motives. That’s always a bad idea and never helps to form an actionable ranking strategy.
Instead, think about algorithm changes from the perspective of how the change might help a user.
For example, the passage ranking changes could be interpreted as a way to surface more content for users because it previously had a hard time with long pages with less than optimal SEO.
The recent changes to how Google ranks reviews could be interpreted as Google expanding the range of sites that need to be trustworthy and accurate.
This means that it may be useful to focus on those qualities of trustworthiness and accuracy. Or it could mean being more authentic.
Focusing on the steps outlined above can help you build a high-quality site that can withstand changes to Google’s algorithm.
- How to Evaluate & Improve Your SEO Strategy
- How to Write for Google’s Core Algorithms, User Intent & SEO
- How Search Engines Work
Featured image: Shutterstock/Fonstra