SEO is evolving, and it’s happening fast. If your SEO strategy still involves keyword stuffing, buying backlinks, and spamming your website in blog comments, you’re not doing your site or brand any favors. Instead, it’s likely that you’re negatively affecting your search rankings.
For the sake of the best user experience possible, Google’s ever increasing “zoo” of updates (Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, and now Pigeon) has disrupted the manipulative SEO tactics employed by a number of websites and brands. An average of 5.7 million searches a day indicate that users worldwide are benefiting from these algorithm changes (1).
Google’s ranking algorithms aren’t ever explicitly published in order to prevent any manipulation of the system, so compiling a definitive guide to a bulletproof SEO strategy is impossible. However, the recent release of the annual Searchmetrics SEO Ranking Factors study has come out and gives us a peek at some interesting insight. (2 – Email required to download report)
Below are the factors that have maintained or increased their correlation to displaying in the top search results on Google.
Google Can Read Your Mind (Almost)
Think of the last time you asked about the best place to buy a new laptop or where the closest authentic burrito shop is. Chances are you asked this question in a conversational sentence rather than precise keywords (ex: mexican restaurant best burrito mole salsa west los angeles). In order to provide the user with a search result that is helpful and relevant, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm makes assumptions to help them find what they’re really looking for, and not necessarily what they typed into the search bar.
In order to accomplish this, it has expanded its scope from just looking at keywords, to also keeping an eye out for proof and relevant terms. For example, if you were interested in knowing about the new Android update, you might search “lollipop update.” In order to better tailor its search results, Google will search for proof terms like “android/lollipop” and relevant terms like “phone, device, and upgrade” and match them to the main keywords.
While it may seem trivial, this idea of shifting to intent matching from keyword matching can make a big difference. For example, take a look at these two searches done side by side for “swamp florida alligator watching. ” The first one used Bing, the second used Google. While Google returned results relating to airboat tours and major companies in Florida that provided them, Bing was a bit more scattered. Among the top results that Bing displayed was alligator watching in Louisiana and a 3-year-old article about a Florida teen that lost his arm in a gator attack. If you take another look at the search results, you’ll notice that Google expanded the criteria to include relevant words like “tour” and “rides” while inferring that we were looking for how we can get involved in this activity. Bing meanwhile, didn’t seem to have the searcher’s interests in mind and just matched as many keywords as it could. Keep this emphasis that Google places on surrounding relevant terms in mind when writing your content in order to increase your search rankings.
You’ve taken the time to write a well thought out, SEO friendly article with a healthy amount of keywords, relevant terms, and proof of existence. You wrote your article to adhere to the suggested range of 900-1,100 words, and as a cherry on top even included supporting images. Now it’s time to build some credibility, which comes in the form of backlinks.
Imagine you’ll be traveling to Paris and would like some insight about what to see, what foods to try, whether you should take cabs or stick to the subway, etc. Would you feel more comfortable asking a native of France, or someone that’s never been, but has seen a Travel Channel episode that was about Crepes? This same concept applies to backlinks.
In order to make the distinction between pro and poser, Google analyzes the quantity AND quality of backlinks that point to a website. The days of link farms, doorway pages, and “spamdexing” a website link in directories are thankfully over, and those sites that insist on continuing this practice will be penalized. Blackhat SEO tactics and “acquiring” links are on the out, while earning links through editorial content is the new norm. This means that Google is encouraging all businesses to create interesting, and relevant content for their customers rather than relying on technical trickery. Becoming a thought leader in a specific niche through engaging content not only earns you more exposure with potential customers, who then post your link on their own site or blog, but also a reward from Google in the form of a higher search rank.
The analysis of the credibility and weight of a specific link is complex and multidimensional. While having more links that point to your website is good, there’s much more taken into consideration than sheer volume.
In order to illustrate, lets take the previous example of traveling to France. Let’s imagine you want to experience new heights of culinary delight and find the best crepes in the world. A Google search result returns an attractive website and blog for a quaint creperie in the Trinite Plaza in Montmartre that claims it has the best crepes ever made. In the blink of an eye, the search engine scours the web to judge its credibility.
It checks the backlinks to the creperie’s website for reviews written by expert food bloggers and world-renowned chefs that speak of the freshness of the crepes’ fillings and softness of the pancake. Delving further, Google makes assumptions that if people living in France are writing positively about this little bistro, then it must be a high caliber establishment. In order to find out if it’s reputable or fly-by-night, it analyzes the backlinks to figure out their age (the older the better). Perhaps the restaurant even won an award for best local crepes and it was recognized through a news outlet, which would award those links even more weight and relevance. This type of organic “link earning” can catapult even a small website to the top of search results on the quality and quantity of backlinks that point to this hidden gem of a restaurant.
Earning links that are from websites with a high SEO visibility, are from reputable news outlets, originate in the same country, and have an older link age, all correlate to helping a website be displayed towards the top of Google search results. In order to see the full breakdown of what counts towards higher quality backlinks, be sure to check out the full Searchmetrics report.
It can seem like a daunting undertaking to boost your website Google rank through SEO, but with continuous algorithm tweaks from the search giant, it’s easier than ever to get the ball rolling. These two interrelated steps are a great place to start your SEO improvement journey.
These strategies are a great way to start establishing long-term sustainable SEO best practices. For more ways to get your website ranked and seen, stay tuned as we cover User Signals and some of the more technical aspects of SEO in a later article.