The honest truth on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is that SEO is pretty difficult to understand. Or maybe’ difficult’ isn’t the right word, but ‘complex’, there’s a lot to get your head around, so much so that even people with a pretty good handle on tech can have a hard time articulating some of the specific intricacies and causes. I always appreciate a post that’s able to explain SEO in a digestible format - and at its basic level, SEO isn’t that hard to understand. Like anything, you just need to start with the basics, then once you have those fundamentals down, it’s much easier to see the extended connections and connotations of the search optimisation process. And once you’re across that, you’ll also understand why SEO remains a critical business process. Far from dead, SEO is key to maximising online marketing success.
What Google Wants
In 2013, Google reported a full-year revenue of more than $US59 billion. That’s ‘billion’, with a ‘b’. More than 90% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising – their business is, essentially, getting people to visit their site and sites that have signed on as affiliates. Google is universally known, it’s who you go to when you search for anything online, and this ubiquity gives them a huge market advantage. The search engine giant, particularly when coupled with another Google asset in YouTube, operates the single greatest advertising platform in the world. But Google only remains in this position while people use it. If Google loses touch, if it’s search results fail to be reliable, if it neglects user experience, people can and will go elsewhere for the same service. Google knows this, and they work extremely hard to maintain the value of their core search product.
Google’s primary driving force is to deliver the best possible search results – the most relevant, accurate, perfect match on the web for exactly what each user is seeking whenever you go looking for info. If you do a Google search and you find what you want, that’s a good experience and you’re likely to use Google again. The smarter and more intuitive they can make their systems, the better the Google service is, and this is the perspective from which you need to view SEO.
Google’s prime motivation is to link each query with the most relevant result – if you want to rank in Google, your website content needs to match exactly what people are seeking. You do this by:
- Providing accurate, comprehensive and relevant information about your products and services
- Understanding how users are searching for your content, the keywords and phrases they use that lead them to your business
- Including those relevant keywords and search terms on your websites pages, ideally, with specific pages to match those search queries and questions
Understanding user behaviour, and understanding how to meet search demand by creating an optimal user experience, is key to making Google your friend. At core, it’s simple. But in practice, not so much.
Where There’s a Way, There’s a Will
Once upon a time, in the early days of the internet, Google’s system for website ranking was more simplistic. While most internet search sites were ranking pages based on how many times the search terms appeared on the page, Google’s founders had worked out a system that determined a page’s relevance based on 'backlinks' – links from other sites that referred back to that page. If more sites linked to a page that would theoretically mean that site is getting more attention, and therefore likely to be a better match for search terms.
By this time, businesses had also worked out that users would rarely bother clicking through to the second page of the search results. If you wanted people to visit your page, you needed to be as near to the top of the list as possible. While ranking by backlinks made the search process more accurate and produced higher quality search results, it also triggered the start of a whole new industry of people selling backlinks, profiting off businesses desperate to rank at number one by any means they could. This meant more sites were ranking with a falsified authority, and this, of course, was hurting Google’s core product. This is where things things started to get really complicated.
In order to beat spammers working to cheat the system, Google had to outsmart them. To do that, they’d need to develop better ranking processes, more authority factors taken into account, better methods to detect inauthentic links. They’d also need to do develop a system that could do this fast – users want the search results quickly, and with more people conducting searches everyday (there are now 3.5 billion Google searches conducted, ever day), they needed ranking and results process that could assess all the necessary factors and deliver results within a second or less.
These days, Google takes into account some 200 ranking factors when assessing site authority and determining what gets listed first in the search results. Backlink peddlers still exist, but Google’s algorithms are ever-evolving, as the company continues to refine and improve their systems to ensure the relevancy of every result is the best it possibly can be. But as the system complexity grows, it also makes it far more difficult for businesses to understand how they can ensure they'll rank for searches most relevant to their brand. So what’s the secret? What’s the best way to ensure your site shows up at the top of the list when someone searches for related products and services?
How to Be Found
Here’s the stats: 75% of users conducting a search on Google never click past the first page of the search results. 60% of users click on the top three search results and nothing else. All the data on search reinforces just how important it is that your brand ranks highly in those results. And while some have suggested that search engine results are declining in importance, particularly in favour of social media and social search, Google's search volume has increased year-on-year, since the company's inception - there are now 1.2 trillion Google searches conducted per year, worldwide. SEO remains a critical element, something that, at the least, all businesses need to be aware of, but with 200 factors to take into account, and competitors already ranking for your ideal terms, it can be extremely difficult to imagine how you can possibly match it with them.
The key elements to keep in mind in your own SEO planning are discoverability, context and relevance:
Discoverability – At core, people need to be able to find your business via Google search. To do that, Google needs keywords to work with - computers can't yet read and understand what sites are about, they need keywords to match search queries to results. Businesses need to ensure that relevant key terms are mentioned on website pages. This is SEO at its most basic level – if you don’t include relevant keywords, you can’t possibly match people’s searches for them, so you need to have some awareness of what people are looking for in relation to your business. Tools like SEMRush, Google Trends and even Google's auto-suggest in the search bar can help you work out what words people are using when they go looking for your business.
Google Auto-Suggest listing
Context –The best way to ensure you rank for specific keywords is to produce content relevant to those searches. For example, if one of your products is a fake red rose, you want to use 'fake red rose' and 'plastic red rose' in the description, as opposed to trying to target the term 'rose' itself (which would obviously more closely relate to an actual rose). The better your content matches the specifics of a search, the better the experience for the Google user looking for your products, and the more Google will be your friend. There's little point aiming for high-ranking keywords that are getting traffic just because they're getting traffic or focusing on keywords that ‘sort of’ relate to what you do. The better the match, contextually, the better the user experience, and the higher possibility that you’ll rank for that term.
Relevance – In all your content, quality should be the focus. Well-written, informative, insightful content is far more likely to be shared, and those shares can help get you backlinks, which boosts your authority rank. If your content answers questions, matches specific queries that people are seeking answers for and provides a good experience to users overall, then they’re more likely to share your pages with friends or link to your content in their own posts, all of which spreads your reach and earns you referrals from more sources. While key terms are crucial, the quality of your content and user experience should always come first - backlinks are more valuable than straight keyword matches alone.
This is what Google wants. Matching searches to the best, most relevant content. This is what you need to keep in mind - you need well-written, informative content related to your products and services, matching the questions people are seeking answers to. You need the relevant keywords people use to search for your products included to ensure Google understands what your page is about. And you need to foster relationships in order to build links and recognition online, boosting your overall presence.
In doing these things, you’re improving your chances of appealing to more people, increasing referrals and backlinks, and your website will rank better as a result. But you’re also working with the data available to meet consumer demand and understand their needs. This should not only help you rank higher in Google search, it should also help you improve as a business overall.