In the world of SEO, Google is the trendsetter.
Each day, thousands and thousands of SEO professionals spend countless hours following Google’s every move in an effort to beat them at their own game. Famous Chinese general and author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu, said that “if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.” This knowledge is exactly what separates those who panic with each new update that Google releases from those who are not startled or surprised because they already understand the way Google thinks.
How does Google think?
On their company website, Google says that their mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Considering how widespread Google’s activities are, I would be hesitant to call this statement a “mission” and would probably instead call it a “motto”. But it definitely holds true when it comes to their search engine.
With more than three billion searches each day and 64.5% market share in the US, Google Search is the most-used search engine on the web. Google constantly crawls the web and sorts the pages by their content and other relevant factors. When you then type a query into the search bar, Google uses hundreds of programs and algorithms to consider over 200 different factors including site’s freshness, previous search history, or PageRank to deliver the best results possible.
Larry Page himself said that “the perfect search engine would understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want”. We can illustrate what this means by using a real life example where we ask a friend about a good restaurant in Paris. He remembers how we were asking him the other day about French cuisine and knows that we usually prefer to avoid dining in the city centre. Since he lives in Paris, he has a good knowledge about how local people rate each restaurant and what are the most popular places to go. He then tells us about a handful of restaurants he thinks are the best for us. In other words, the perfect search engine has to think like a human being and this is the direction Google is moving towards.
Optimise for humans first
If Google wants their search engine to think like a human being, it means that we need to strive to optimise our websites for real humans.
Let us consider Panda and Penguin, two well-known algorithms responsible for providing end users with better content and also for making some parts of SEO community forget a lot of what they were preaching.
Panda was first launched in 2011 and its purpose was to filter low-quality sites. Amit Singhal wrote a blog post where he explained the difference between low and high-quality website. You can read the full list in his post but here are some interesting questions Google wants you to ask yourselves:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Is the site a recognised authority on its topic?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
All of those points can be summarised in a single sentence: “Do you a have a well-made, trustworthy website with a good content?”
The easiest thing you can do is to imagine that your website is an actual physical place. Of course, you would want it to look great, have a pleasant and original design, provide your customers with great goods or services and be mentioned in the most respected magazines and newspapers. Nobody would recommend their friend a store where they sell 20 variations of the same t-shirt while having their walls plastered with advertising for Viagra and penis enlargement pumps.
All you need to do is focus on what you are doing and do it the best way you can. Instead of researching how to elevate your small online store to the top of Google’s search results page, spend some time reading about what a good online store needs and what customers like. If you succeed with this step, a higher position in search engines will come naturally over time.
Again, your mentality should be focused on people and not search engines which is further illustrated when we look at the Penguin algorithm that was released in 2012. Penguin was created in order to combat unnatural backlinks that some people were using to make their site appear more popular.
If you have two websites with roughly the same content, but with one having a 200 backlinks from completely unrelated sites while the other has only 20 backlinks all coming from high ranking places you need to consider if the quality outweighs the quantity. And this is exactly what Penguin does.
Before Penguin was released, many search engines simply counted the total number of backlinks as a linear factor contributing to how well the site ranked. Because of this, link farms, banner exchange, and various catalogues were just some of many popular tools used to artificially increase the number of backlinks. Google had to make their search engine think more like a real human being and consider also the quality. If you would walk in your neighbourhood and saw 50 flyers posted at public urinals, old buildings, and lamp posts next to uncountable amount of old and tore up ones, you would probably not be too keen on finding out more about the place or event that is being advertised to you. In contrast, reading a product recommendation in a reputable magazine has potentially a great power to affect our decision-making process.
Google is here to help us
Google has prepared a set of guidelines that you can use to help Google find, index, and rank your site. You can find them by visiting their Webmaster Guidelines pages where you can learn some of the most important practices.
With an advent of mobile devices, a fast and responsive website is a must otherwise users may get frustrated and leave your site. PageSpeed Tools helps you analyse and optimise your site to make it more pleasant to use.
It will take years before search engines will become so intelligent that virtually no loopholes will exist. I am sure that until that time, there will be no shortage of short-term SEO advice and blackhat practises. There is no denying that such practices can pay off, but you have to be willing to invest much more time and energy into them. But no matter which way you decide to go, the simple fact remains that the most important thing is to think about real visitors first and search engines second.