During a recent Whiteboard Friday on Moz, Rand Fishkin went into the nitty-gritty on how Google may vet content. We say may, because without a confirmation from Google, it’s near impossible to know. That said, we can see patterns and those patterns can lead us to insights.
Below’s an overview of the seven areas that Mr. Fishkin pointed out, with a corresponding question for each:
1. Keyword matches
- Does your content contain keywords and synonyms that much up with other authoritative sites on the same topic? Do the keywords in your headline and body match up?
2. Topic Associations
- Does your content contain keywords that often occur in other authoritative sites regarding the same topic?
3. Content Length
- What is the content length, comprehensiveness, reading level, and sentence/paragrph format that people are looking for when they search your target keywords? Are they expecting listicles, long-form essays, short blurbs, or multi-page behemoths?
4. Brand Name and Site Name
- Is your particular brand name or site domain closely associated with the covered content?
5. Dynamic Media
- Is the type of article you are writing often associated with video, audio, or pictures?
- Does your content (particularly in the case of YMYL Queries or Your Money or Your Life Queries) present accurate information?
7. Phrase and Sentence Structure
- Does your content target a specific phrase/sentence structure in the query?
When it comes to SEO, Google has confirmed that Content and Link Structure are among the most important variables. Of course, even within content there are also many variables at play. For more content insights, check out the Content section on Moz.
I just read a very insightful article by Kristine Schachinger on how the way that SEO Folk and Google get along is changing. Here’s my histrionic (and historical!) take on it:
The Significance of the SEO Industry in Google’s Growth
For a while, Google was the US government circa 1870. It had a great product that was incomplete on its own. It needed help to expand. It recruited the likes of SEO Folk to temper the wily processes of Google’s search algorithms so that ranking loving publishers could could safely land their blogs, personal websites, and online stores near the top of Google’s search results pages for a given term.
In plainer speech: Google needed SEO Folk to make sure non-SEO Folk could efficiently create and rank their sites. SEO people needed to communicate with Google in order to figure out the best ways to cater to Google’s constantly shifting search algorithms. As more and more non-SEO folks started establishing an online presence, more and more people needed SEO.
For a while there was a mutually-beneficial relationship between the two peoples for the previously mentioned reasons, but Google grew. Built on the back’s of hard-working SEO Folk who spent untold hours learning the ins and outs of Google so that they could make money guiding others through Google, while establishing the legitimacy of Google in the Process, Google inched its way towards not needing SEO Folk. Like a snake sloughs off its skin, so did Google SEO Folk as just another stage of growth.
Google has reached a point of self-sufficiency where now they no longer need SEO Folk, because they have robots. Yes. Robots. AI. Singularity. Bicentennial Man. Robots. Google’s algorithm is becoming self-sufficient. It no longer needs the middleman. The frontier is closing.
Intrepid Souls Wanted…Wait…Not Anymore
For a while, there was Matt Cutts and it was good. Matt Cutts oversaw Google’s web spam team. Matt Cutts made a point of maintaining open channels of communication with the SEO Folk–posting videos, hosting Q&A’s, letting the SEO Folk know what was going on, while keeping some small element of mystery. But towards the end of 2014, Matt Cutts left. Indefinitely. And in his place came relative silence from Google…and Rank Brain. A machine learning, artificial intelligence created for the express purpose of making Google the most efficient search engine out there . On its first appearance, it was responsible for processing a “very large fraction” of Google search results. It was but one of hundreds of ranking factors. Now, it’s at least in the Top 3.
To clarify, RankBrain is not Google’s Search Algorithm. That is called Hummingbird. And it has a very nice name. Rank Brain is one of the ranking factors that makeup Hummingbird, but given it’s quick rise to the top of search ranking factors, it can be safely said that RankBrain is calling a lot of the shots.
The Closing of the Frontier?
SEO is not yet dead. It’s still necessary for people to get their stuff ranking. But it is becoming less important. Just as guides, fur trappers, and cowboys did not suddenly lose their use at the official closing of the American frontier, so are SEO Folk still relevant and needed. For now.
I say this with no exaggerations and a bit of emphasis on information-sciencey things: Google provides one of the most important technological advancements since the Dewy Decimal System.
It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like without Google. How would you find answers to those trivial questions? How would you look up recipes that incorporate garbanzo beans, onion, sweet potato and raspberry jelly? How would you be able to find out anything about anything without having to consult a book or no a specific website that you trusted as being authoritative in its information, just because it was the only one you knew of?
I know that I’m making these statements and Q’s as a millennial (snake person): someone who was born into an era of unprecedented access to technology–smart phones, laptops, videogames, the internet–between the years of 1982 and sometime after. And I also know that I’m saying this from the stand-point of a middle class guy who’s circumstances gave him access to a number of electronic diddly-dos.
Remembrance of Digital Things Past
I did not have a smart phone in my hands by the time I was twelve (like so many of my more recent millennial kin), though I did have a small brick of Kyocera cell phone that was endowed to me via a long story.
(I spent summers with my Dad in Chicago and he didn’t have a LAN line and I would often be at the houses of a random string of suburban Chicago teens and so having a cell phone was the best way for my Dad and any other authority figure to keep track of me–see a long story.)
I did not have a tablet or my own or my own laptop, but my family did have an HP and then later Dell Desktop that I cherished and throttled through excessive illegal downloads, gaming, hardware modifications, and a number of virtually transmitted diseases. We also had a Super Nintendo, which I loved, and a Nintendo 64, the arrival of which was a techno-consumerist awakening moment. I recall sneaking over to my neighbor’s house to play their N64. Even though my older sister was better friends with the girls who lived there, they would take pity on me and allow me to play. Shortly after that, I made my first best friend, who coincidentally also owned an N64.
The game console was a god box. You’d pit a lifeless cartridge of plastic and microchips and then conjure up a whole new world on the screen. Unlike the Super Nintendo, whose actions were confined to moving left to right or right to left, the N64 allowed you to move your virtual avatar in any direction–left, right, up, d0wn, forward, and back. Super Nintendo’s Mario looked drab and ungainly compared to his N64 3D counterpart. I was intoxicated with power.
No doubt, my Dell Desktop could perform the same gaming functions, but its mysteries were more difficult to unlock. It wasn’t just plug in a cartridge and play, it was: insert disk, install program, file directories, shortcuts, system requirements and more. The PC was a god box itself, but one that was foreign and infinitely unknowable. A relic to be interacted with most delicately, that responded to incompetence with harsh punishment–system crashes, computer slow-down and more.
That same esoteric mysterium that pervaded one’s computer gaming experience extended into every aspect of the machine. My millennial education progressed and as it did, I started to learn how to hide my true snake person form and also found myself being required to interact with the computer god box regularly. No longer could I just read a book and write a report on it, or explain the US History as according to my US history textbook through a demonstration of historical figures dangling in paper form from a wire hanger, I was now being required to create school work on the computer.
Pedagogy of the Tech-pressed
It starts off innocently enough. They have you take typing lessons. They teach you about what the internet is through dumbed down on rails web browsers, but then you start needing to write papers using “Word Processors” and researching papers via the internet. I now marvel a the transition here in educational policy that schools must have been grappling with at the time. At first the computer was a thing that some families had and so the educational assignments that required using them were slim. If you needed to use a computer for something, you’d have time to use a school computer or might have to go to a municipal library. At some point, the balance swung so that the assumption was that everybody could be required to do digital work, because everyone had access to a computer. Fascinating.
My high school had vast computer labs that you could access to up until a certain point in the evening (6ish?) if you felt like being a recluse and sticking around the school after everyone else went home to socialize, engage with extracurriculars, or otherwise escape from the institution where they had just spent the past 7-8 hours before doing the requisite homework for the night/week/month. At this time, I was regularly making use of and abusing my Dell at home. Civilization 4, Red Faction, Morrowind,, Doom, Youtube, Homestar Runner, porn, and of course homework all found their way onto my screen. But I didn’t have a lap top. And my phone was still stupid. And I was still able to hangout with friends without checking my personal device for emails, updates, event notifications, and a thousand other things that connected me to the limitless digital world.
At college I really lucked out. My sister was in school at the same time (also at Chapel Hill) and it was up to our single-income mother to help put us through higher level education. My sister and I maintained a number of after-school and summer jobs, but our privilege was that of being expected to go to college without being pressured to independently put ourselves through college. We were allowed to explore theater and swimming and Guitar Hero instead. Loans were a seldom talked about subject. And although I wish they were discussed, although I wish I was taught better financial literacy when I was a kid, although I wish I knew more than “not spending money good; spending money bad,” my financial story did not end up that bad. Again, I consider myself really lucky.
My treasure chest of government subsidized goodies included a grant, work-study eligibility, subsidized (later subsidized) student loans, and….money for a laptop. The Carolina Computing Initiative (CCI) at UNC Chapel Hill is an awesome program that gives special laptop grant to first-time undergraduate students in financial need. Seven years later, I still have my CCI laptop. In fact, I’m typing this on it right now.
Closing the Time Loop
My poor Thinkpad has seen much wear and use. It’s been reformatted several times. It’s had bourbon spilled on it (necessitating the speedy and costly replacement of its keyboard). And of course I have put it through the same rigors of gaming, downloading, and porn that I put my Dell through so many years ago. But since I started learning about computers years ago, since my first interactions with the Hewlett-Packard and the Dell, since my techno-imagination was triggered with the Super Nintendo and later the N64, I’ve learned so much about how this complicated god box works. I’ve learnt to better respect and appreciate it and the digital world to which it connects. And contrary to what I would have thought years ago (well almost, see below), I now work for a company whose job it is to ferry people across this digital ocean. To help them understand and exist better in its pixelated membranes. I take an unbelievable amount of pride in my work.
I live in an exciting time of increased connectivity between everyone in the world. I live in an exciting time of instantly retrievable information. I live in an exciting time of I live in an exciting time.
What Brandon legitimately thought his future occupation would be, in no particular order, circa 2015:
As mentioned elsewhere around the web, it’s hard to effect a quick change in search engine results page (SERP) rankings. It’s a long-haul process that takes time. It’s less of a sprint and more of a marathon. Depending on the competition for a given search keyword (i.e. the keyword that one is attempting to rank for), it can be less of a marathon and more of an ultra-marathon relay across the contiguous United States.
There are a number of reasons why SEO takes time. There is the aforementioned search keyword competition, the hundreds of Google’s search engine ranking factors to operate around, and the ever-shifting landscape of Google’s perpetually updating search engine algorithms.
To complicate matters even more, Google often updates their search engine algorithms without the public’s knowledge. So, figuring out the ins and outs of Google algorithm updates is much like trying to play pin the tail on the donkey, only the donkey keeps metamorphosing into different types of animals (penguins and birds and bears–oh my!)
Fortunately, there are some great SEO thought leaders out there (Moz, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch) that are always on the lookouts for algorithm updates. However, even the knowledge of these great organizations is finite.
Are you starting to get a sense of challenging SEO can be?
A Case Study
The way that Google utilizes all of its search engine ranking factors is constantly in flux. One day backlinks (links on other sites that point to yours) may be the best way of getting your site up to the top of Page 1. So, you plan and execute a strategy to get as many sites possible linking to your site. Phew! What a lot of hard-work. But it looks like it’s paying off. Over time you see your site jumping from Page 5 to Page 3 to Page 2 to Page 1. Your strategy is working. Time to rest on them laurels.
Then the next day, you see that your site is on the bottom of Page 2. You think “HOW?!?” You check the latest developments on an SEO news publication and discover that a new Google algorithm update suddenly makes backlinks passé and good content that is geared toward people (not search engines) the best tactic possible.
You rehash your strategy and make sure that all of your content is as unique, authoritative, and user-friendly as can be. You crank out some great 1000-word content. You share it over social media, you get other sites to feature and reference it, you begin to see results. Again, your site seems to make its way to the top of Page 1. Success! Your strategy is working…
…Until you hear about a new Google update called Mobilegeddon that penalizes sites that are not mobile friendly. You notice your site had dropped in search results once again and you’ve become painfully aware of the site’s early 2000’s, static, and otherwise not-mobile-friendly design. Shoot.
So you see, Google’s algorithm updates make SEO a dynamic arena that constantly challenges the champions who enter it. SEO can be frustrating and it can be rewarding, but in the face of so many moving parts, one thing always holds true: it takes time.