The success of Google cannot be overstated. The silicon-valley brand has managed to remain synonymous with internet search for over a decade. Nowadays, the market dominance of Google is such that you would have likely heard the following sentiment;
“If your business isn’t on Google, then you’re basically invisible”.
Anyone who’s ever searched for products and services online knows that there’s a great deal of truth to this statement. How many times have you relied on Google’s search algorithm to find the highest quality, cheapest and/or most convenient option?
The reality is that as long as Google continues to dominate the internet marketplace, businesses will need to play by Google’s rules in order to compete online. With that said, we can start talking about why Google’s rules are important and how you can make sure your website is playing by them.
In this article, we are going to explore how Google search works and how you can leverage this knowledge to drastically enhance the visibility of your business online. Let’s get started, shall we?
Step 1: Understanding how Google works
Below is a video where Matt Cutts explains how Google works. Just to let you know that this video was created in 2010. Since this time Google changed a bit of their algorithm. However, the idea is still the same.
First off, Google is a search engine, so when we talk about how Google works, we are speaking about the way a specific search engine functions. Other search engines like Bing and Yahoo function differently to Google; however their market share is so minimal that they can safely be ignored.
The primary role of a search engine is to index and categorise websites so that they can be easily discovered by everyday people. They do this via a process known as ‘crawling’ whereby the search engine uses a special algorithm to analyse the content of a webpage.
When the search engine crawls the website, it reads the content on each page and then determines what the subject matter is. Google then begins to associate said page with keywords, meaning that the page is more likely to show up in the search results for terms related to that subject matter.
For example, a webpage about synthetic grass would ideally show up in Google searches for the terms “synthetic grass”, “fake grass” and “faux turf” as they are all synonymous with one another. The formulae with which Google compares the relevancy of webpages has slowly become more and more advanced over successive iterations.
In the early days of Google, it was possible to rank highly in search results by simply spamming key terms and phrases on your website. For example, if someone wanted to rank highly for the search terms “custom cigar”, then they would copy/paste the words “custom cigar” over and over again around their website.
Nowadays, an article written in the above way, would be considered as spam.
The logic here is that; the more a keyword appears the more relevant Google will think the website is. Since Google only wants to serve the most relevant results, this tactic was heavily exploited by websites that wanted a quick and easy boost in exposure.
However, this tactic is now considered unethical or black-hat and is actively punished by Google when they catch websites doing it. Known officially as ‘keyword stuffing’ this strategy was one of the first major examples of how websites would try to trick or manipulate Google’s search algorithm.
In response to this, Google has continually improved its search technology such that aggressive and dishonest strategies like this aren’t rewarded. It’s entirely possible to have your website blacklisted from Google for breaking the rules.
Since the goal of Google is to serve its users with the best possible results, its algorithm has been routinely updated in order to reward only the most sincere and authoritative content. This means that, in Google’s ideal world; the first result is always the best possible answer to the user’s search query.
This raises an issue for internet marketers and small businesses who want to improve the rankings of a website. It begs the question; how do you make a website ‘more relevant’ without it being inherently manipulative?
If Google can be trusted to find and display the most appropriate websites for every search, then how do you make your website ‘more appropriate’?
Luckily, there’s a solution; say hello to SEO.
Step 2: Understanding how SEO works
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is a discipline under the umbrella of digital marketing. As the name implies, SEO is all about ‘optimising’ a website so that Google ranks it highly for the desired search terms.
For example, a business that sells cat food would implement SEO tactics in order to make sure that their website shows up in the search results for searches related to cat food. The obvious business function of SEO is to enhance the visibility of a website so that it garners more traffic, more leads and more sales.
The SEO field is a tumultuous one with its fair share of dishonest business practices and predatory consultants. In fact, the aforementioned example of ‘keyword stuffing’ was actually at one point considered an effective and ethical SEO tactic.
In that sense, SEO is a constantly evolving practise that is largely at the mercy of Google’s algorithm updates. Since only Google’s internal team knows how the system really works, even the best SEO practitioners can do little more than speculate as to how future updates will influence the work they do.
With that said, you may be wondering how anyone can claim to be an ‘SEO expert’ when the rules of the game are always changing. Well, the truth is that the broad rules of the game largely remain the same with the biggest and most effectual changes being landmark updates such as “Google Panda” or “Google Penguin”.
This means that, while routine change does occur, these changes happen at a gradual pace that allows marketers sufficient time to adapt to them. The best SEO practitioners have their finger on the pulse of the industry and can make safe predictions about what the future will hold.
With that said, engaging the services is recommended as the fastest and most cost-effective way to climb up Google’s rankings. This is because a digital marketing agency that specialises in SEO will have all of the training, expertise and tools to start doing effective optimisation work on your behalf.
Using a mixture of talented copywriters, web developers, UX designers and SEO analysts, the best consultancy firms are able to take over the entire digital outreach of a company and manage their campaigns effectively. These services also often include management of PPC and content marketing campaigns.
As you can imagine, the field of SEO consultancy is an extremely competitive one and this gives you a lot of choice when it comes to sourcing outside help. Securing the right SEO consultant means you’ll have access to professional optimisation work that’s both effective and highly affordable.
Now that you have some background on what SEO is, we can discuss the most influential tactics and strategies used by today’s practitioners. Whether you choose to hire consultancy or do it all in-house, it’s crucial for you to understand how and why these methods are effective.
Step 3: Implementing SEO tactics
There are a vast amount of different SEO ‘tactics’ out there and all of them have or have had a role to play over the years. As Google updates its algorithm, the effectiveness of these tactics will fluctuate and some can even become totally obsolete.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most common SEO tactics that are being used by today’s practitioners. Remember; while you can perform these tactics in-house, they are far more effective when undertaken by a professional SEO agency.
Keyword research and integration
Keywords are the bread and butter of any SEO campaign as they are still the primary signals by which Google categorises web content. While the SEO importance of exact-match keywords varies, they are always relevant to your campaign in some form or another.
Keyword research involves using free tools like Google’s Keyword Planner in order to see what keywords are most closely associated with your business and your products. During this stage you can also investigate the keywords of your competitors and develop a strategy to outrank them.
After you have identified what your best keywords are, you need to then incorporate them into your website in meaningful ways. Some of the best places to include keywords are in the H1 and H2 heading tags as they are given greater importance by search engines.
Basically, the integration of keywords throughout your site is designed to make it more relevant to search terms containing said keywords. The more keywords you effectively target, the higher the visibility of your website.
Be careful with your use of keywords however; it can be easy to get caught keyword stuffing if you use too many too close together. While you need to find space to target your keywords, you need to keep in mind that inserting them where they don’t make sense will likely impact your website negatively.
Link building, like keyword integration, is an older SEO strategy that has still remained one of the most important in the entire field. This is because link building involves the process of attracting inbound links to your domain, a major ranking signal in the eyes of Google.
These inbound links, also known as ‘backlinks’, can be easily identified by the blue underlining that shows that the text is hyperlinked. These links are highly valuable for SEO as they essentially act as a vote of confidence in your website.
Naturally, the context in which these backlinks exist affects their quality and in turn their impact for SEO. For example, a single link to your site that was voluntarily posted on a highly trusted domain (such as Wikipedia or The Huffington Post) would have much greater SEO value than 100 links to your site spread across spam domains.
When indexing your site, Google takes into consideration the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your domain. Google then takes this information, does a calculation, and then evaluates your website against other ranking factors before finally awarding you your spot in the search results.
For a long time, link building has been the #1 strategy used by almost all SEO practitioners simply because of how powerful backlinks are as rankings signals. A few good links strategically placed on high authority domains can provide a hugely significant rankings boost almost overnight.
Because of how powerful backlinks are, you can guess that Google is very careful about how it rewards a website’s link building efforts. Nowadays, the best ways to earn backlinks is by creating highly shareable content or by guest posting on other domains.
Another common method is known as ‘broken link building’ which works by identifying dead links on a website and offering the webmaster your own alternative. In this way, a lot of link building relies on leveraging mutually beneficial relationships with other websites.
On-page optimisation refers to all of the tactics that occur on your website in order to make it more appealing to search engines. This is the opposite of off-page optimisation, which instead refers to all of the tactics used outside of your website, such as link building.
Keyword implementation can be considered an on-page optimisation tactic, but there are many other important ones as well. For example, the readability of the page as well as the layout of graphics, pictures and menus is all crucially important for the SEO value of your site.
This is because Google’s advanced algorithm is able to analyse the suitability of your website in giving the user a good experience. If your website has great information but has horrible graphics and low-resolution pictures then Google is less likely to rank it highly.
In this sense, on-page optimisation can be simply reduced to any tactics that work to make the website itself more search engine friendly. As Google gets smarter and smarter, search engine friendly becomes synonymous with user friendly.
The most important thing to remember is; if it has no value for users, it likely has little value for SEO.
This guide barely scratches the surface of the deeply complex and ever-changing world of SEO. At the end of the day, while there is a lot of rudimentary SEO work you can do, the best course of action is to simply engage a professional digital marketing agency.
With SEO, you get what you pay for, and underestimating the investment you need to make is a classic mistake. Unless you commit fully to your SEO efforts, you will find that your results won’t last and you will have wasted a lot of time and money.