The best way to understand modern search engine optimisation (SEO) is to put yourself in Google’s shoes. Think about why they choose to show one site above another in the search engine results…
What Google needs, what Google wants
Google needs to present relevant results to their users. If they don’t, their users will go elsewhere, and Google loses out on advertising revenue. Despite their diversification, advertising still accounts for around 90% of Google’s total revenue, so ensuring that searches return results that are relevant to users is of critical importance to the company as a whole. Google wants to keep users happy, satisfied with their search results, and returning to their site every time they have a search to perform, as every search is an opportunity to advertise and generate more revenue for Google.
Earning your ranking
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is concerned with non-paid, organic rankings, not ads. These results are an important part of the equation when it comes to user happiness, as ads will not always match the intent of an informational search, be targeted to those in the early stages of a purchase decision. or have any demonstrable authority behind them. Adwords ads have their place in any digital strategy, but ongoing SEO is about authority building, generating brand awareness, and bringing in high quality, relevant traffic – tasks much harder to do through pay-per-click ads alone. When you see a site ranked organically at the top of Google search engine rankings, it is because it has earned that rank. Highly-ranked adverts are there primarily because they have outbid other adverts for the top spot.
What makes users happy?
Back to Google’s shoes: The next logical question then is “What makes users happy?” As you can imagine, Google spend quite a bit of time trying to find this out. Ultimately (and obviously) the best search experiences end with the user finding what they’re looking for. While that might seem straightforward, the truth is it can still be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for online, especially at a local level. While the likelihood is that the product or service you are looking for is offered by a nearby business, unless their site is optimised to ensure Google knows that, it’s going to be difficult to discover them. The real work of SEO starts with understanding users and the search terms they are likely to use to find the products or services you can provide. It’s about segmenting your market and considering which searches are relevant to your business. Then we begin structuring your website to match your market and provide a path for all your target market segments to arrive at your door in the form of a lead or sale.
Matching site structure to search intent
As an example, suppose you sell wooden fence posts. You have potential customers at all parts of the buying cycle, from the early interest stage “how easy is it to build a fence in the garden”, to the generic “different types of fence posts”, or maybe the specific “4 foot high fence posts with pointed ends.” The task of SEO is to structure your site so that it matches the various ways in which your potential customers look for the services you offer. We can do that because we’re able to utilise data directly from Google which shows us how many different searches are conducted for each specifically worded search every month. Using that information, we can see which terms are: a) relevant to your business, and b) likely to bring a reasonable volume of traffic to your site. We then proceed to create a structural plan that will ensure Google understands that your site is a good, relevant result to show to their users for those target searches. That’s the start of a market-led SEO strategy – the bricks and mortar on which everything else is based – so getting it right at the start is critical to a new website’s success. If you don’t define your market, and you haven’t segmented it out into different customer profiles, you’re unlikely to be able to get good, comprehensive search data to base your strategy on (that’s why a lot of SEO promises for no.1 rankings are hot air, because they don’t have prior understanding of your market, your target keywords, and your online competition for those keywords).
The Google Page Rank Algorithm
So, now that we understand your market, it’s time to step back into Google’s shoes for a second. We know that there are over 200 different factors that determine where a given page ranks on Google for a specific keyword. The algorithm that governs these rankings throws all those factors together, with various weightings, cross-references, and traffic insights, and decides which site deserves to sit at the top. Some of the big ranking factors include the number of other websites that link to yours (a sign of an established site that other websites use as a reference), the depth of content (3 bullet points on a services page vs. detailed information on each service), and fresh content (has the site been abandoned vs. regular news and social updates). Technical things such as fast-loading pages, easy navigation, and clearly defined structures have an effect on whether users stay on your site once they visit. If they don’t, you’re likely to have a higher than average ‘bounce rate’ and lower than average time spent on the site, which tells Google your site is probably not a good choice to show for that specific keyword. Critical from our perspective is the technical optimisation of the site itself, usually called ‘on-page optimisation’. Once we have our market research based sitemap, we spend considerable time ensuring that when search engines such as Google crawl through the site, they will leave with a crystal clear understanding of the type of business, the specific content, and exactly which products and services a website is offering. We do this by using very specific structures in the way the pages are put together and by including code markup specifically designed to describe the content of web pages to search engine spiders. This results in a complete lack of ambiguity, no guesses having to be made by Google, and no dilution of topic authority. In short – it ensures that the site will be in the running for the target keywords. There is no point in building authority on a website if Google can’t understand what the content is about. We often deal with websites that have great stats in terms of external links and authoratitive content, but are performing poorly because no one has ever given thought to which search terms they should be targeting and the site simply isn’t technically optimised correctly.
“Guaranteed Page 1” is meaningless
At DAC, our search engine optimisation is a market led, scientific process which matches websites to markets and ensures clear communication of segmented, targeted offerings to search engines and, ultimately, to potential customers. We don’t guarantee a generic ‘Number 1 on Google’ (that doesn’t really exist anymore given the variables involved in calculating your search results). We guarantee good quality traffic with high relevance, intent to purchase, and strong potential to convert. That traffic comes from a variety of searches, all with different needs to fill. It’s the difference between fishing in the sea with a rod and some hope, and simultaneously fishing in one hundred lakes in which you know the exact number of fish as well as their favourite food. If you can supply the right people with the right content for their Google searches then Google will deliver a steady flow of organic, intent-led traffic to your website.