Note: This article is the first in a series of topics written with the goal of breaking down exactly how to turn Search/Organic Search into one of the most profitable marketing channels of a company. This first article provides background information into how Google works and thinks from a company perspective, which trickles into every facet of their search engine algorithm.
Generating millions of organic visitors, seemingly on autopilot, is a dream scenario for most businesses.
Due to its high level of desirability, we assume a plan to do this needs to be complex.
As with most assumptions, they make “an ass out of you and me.”
Deconstructing Google’s desires at a high level is not particularly difficult:
- What Google Wants
- Website Trust and Third Party Endorsements Lead to Rises in the Search Results
- The modern Google search algorithm
- The Big Questions Google Wants to Know About Your Link
- Does it MAKE SENSE that this page from Website A is linking to your site?
- How TRUSTWORTHY is Website A?
- How IMPORTANT is this page on Website A?
- How Can We Use This Information?
What Google Wants
- Google (Alphabet) wants people to use its search engine (since 90% of its revenue comes from advertising, with the majority of that money coming from Google Ads fka Google Adwords)
In order for people to actually use Google’s search engine, they need to feel like the top search results are answering their questions
(In fact, if you look at any modifications that Google has made to the search results page over the past couple of years, they have been with the purpose of getting the user those results FASTER and getting them more PRECISELY)
From a business perspective, it is a risk for Google to let any old website show up at the top of the search results page.
Because if they have some poor sites on there, users could theoretically move off of Google and to something like Bing or DuckDuckGo (we can laugh, but Bing has actually increased its marketshare by 30% in the last year)
At the very top of the search results, where there are lots of clicks (“votes”) user experience is used as a ranking factor. If people continually return to Google ten seconds after landing on your website, click on another result, and then never return to Google, it is reasonable to conclude that your page did not provide the answer to the search query.
If you start to look from this angle, now all of the sudden “making quality content”, “loading your page quickly”, and “creating a quality user experience” start to make a bit more sense.
Even though it’s flashy to speak about user experience, that’s still not what will generate millions of organic visitors each month.
Website Trust and Third Party Endorsements Lead to Rises in the Search Results
At the most basic level, Google TRUSTS the top search results.
The more often Google puts a website at the top of the search results, the greater the level of trust from Google.
A website appearing at the top of Google has already earned that trust.
How did they do that?
Through links from other websites.
When the internet first started and Google’s founders issued their Stanford Thesis, the web relied on links as endorsement signals.
But mostly links. Links were the only way that a website could tell a visitor it thought a second website was valuable enough to send the user to.
An endorsement from the early stages of the internet.
Google’s search engine still operates as a link-based search engine.
The simple reason is that links work best to analyze the interactions between trillions of web pages.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Google doesn’t take other factors into consideration (we’ll talk about that later).
And it doesn’t mean that EVERY search engine is a link-based search engine.
For example, you can build links indefinitely to an Amazon product page, and it will never “rise” in Amazon’s search results because their algorithm is all intent-based (Amazon only cares about how much revenue is generated per view of a given page)
But, Google’s search engine is based on links, aka, endorsements.
So in the early stages of Google, more links = more endorsements.
The modern Google search algorithm
As you can imagine, this straightforward formula brought in a ton of spam, mass link building, and other nefarious methods of gaming the Google search engines.
Anyway, this war of exploitation led Google to move through various iterations, until we [conveniently] landed at where we are today.
The Big Questions Google Wants to Know About Your Link
A link is not a link. Links are various types of fruit, and not every link can be Passion Fruit, which everyone knows is the best fruit.
Some of them are Dorians. Yuck.
Buzzwords are thrown around frequently in SEO. As we all know deep down inside, buzzwords are a great way to pretend to understand a topic 🙂
So let’s break things down without them.
Keep your eyes peeled though, because you’ll see the origin where many of these marketing buzzwords come from.
And you’ll definitely be able to brag about this at the next party you attend
Here are some questions Google asks about a link pointing to your website:
If I am a website that spreads the love of Passion Fruit to the world, what types of websites might it make sense naturally to also want to spread the Passion Fruit word with me?
- Websites devoted to fruits
- Grocery stores
- Cooking shows
- Travel websites
What intuitively “makes sense” is referred to as relevancy. The more relevant the content of either a website or a webpage that is linking to my site, the more powerful the link is.
Ideally, the entire linking website is relevant to my site. However, if that’s not the case, we can typically make the page relevant (creating a page title, article name, URL, and content relevant to Passion Fruit).
How TRUSTWORTHY is Website A?
Not all sites can be relevant because not all sites discuss all topics. However, a site can be trustworthy independent of its topic.
Trust is a little more complex to rate/rank than relevance, but here are a few ways that Google attempts to answer this question:
- How trustworthy are its own links?
- Does this website appear to be a real business?
- How much organic traffic does this website receive?
- Is this website getting traffic from multiple sources?
- How freely is this website giving out links?
Then you get bonus points for inherently trusted sites, such as domains that an average person cannot create (edu/gov)
Let’s break down some of these questions though:
“How trustworthy are its own links?”
This question seems to be a bit fractal, because it appears that you can just keep asking it indefinitely.
In reality, there is a concept called “seed sites”, which we won’t get into details during this article. The short version is, for a given industry (law, information, media, finance), there are a handful of sites that are considered the “core trusted sources” (lawyers.com, Wikipedia, USAToday, Forbes). The closer a link is from one of these sites, the more TRUSTWORTHY that link.
“Does this website appear to be a real business?”
As a core countermeasure to the legion of faceless websites that were built to game the Google Search Engine, Google wants to highlight websites that appear to be real businesses. (Remember, this is a de-risking strategy)
Real businesses have author profiles, they have employees on LinkedIn, they have active Facebook pages, they have easy ways of contacting the business, its address and phone number are readily available online.
“How much organic traffic does this website receive?”
This question is one of the secret ways that SearchTides determines trust. Remember, Google puts all its efforts into determining which websites deserve to appear at the top of the search results, where they will receive traffic.
Therefore, a website that generates lots of organic traffic (especially for search terms that don’t include your brand name) has been given that check mark with Google.
“Is this website getting traffic from multiple sources?”
Hey, maybe we shouldn’t all have given one company access to most of the internet’s traffic data by installing Google Analytics across all our sites, but here we are!
Real businesses, aka websites built not for the sole purpose of appearing high in the Google search results, should generate traffic from a variety of traffic sources.
“How freely is this website giving out links?”
And lastly from the list, one metric that is genuinely one of the secret metrics that we track. I’ve decided to be bold and mention it in this article because it’s also a bit of a prediction.
If a website has a total of 10 outbound links (links to other websites), each of those outbound links is considered “rare” (implying a greater level of trust from the linking website).
If a website has 1,000,000 links across 1,000 webpages, and is linking to a wide variety of topics, that is considered the opposite.
One of our bold predictions for 2020 is that Google will start to devalue websites that link out liberally and to a wide range of sources.
How IMPORTANT is this page on Website A?
This question is a little more straightforward:
- How frequently do visitors see this page (homepage vs. deep inner page)
- How frequently is the content on this page updated? (proxy for internal attention/value)
- How many links are pointed to this page (both internal and external links)
And then finally, a derivative of the above, how important is the link placement on the page?
Google understands the difference between navigation links, footer links, author bio links, sidebar links, and contextual links (link placed in the meat of the content itself).
Contextual links carry the highest value, since they are theoretically related to the core topic of that page itself (theoretically carrying the highest level of relevance).
How Can We Use This Information?
Google wants to make money. To do so, Google needs users to use its search engine.
Which means the top results need to answer the user’s queries, otherwise, they will use other search engines.
Which means Google is TRUSTING the top search results.
Google uses the measurement of LINKS to allow webpages to rank at the top for a search query
It used to use the raw number of links, but that measurement system got wildly exploited.
Currently, Google uses a wide variety of factors to assign a value of a link. These include:
- The relevance of the website linking to the target website
- The trustworthiness of the linking website
- The importance/rarity of the link itself
Could SEO really be as straightforward as “properly build as many of these quality links as is necessary to have a competitive advantage”?
If you sprinkle in the right content and top it off with the right technical pieces, the answer is yes*
*Yes, the answer is yes. Doing that successfully is a tough, tough endeavor, but deploying such a strategy is exactly what we will explore in the rest of this series.
PS, if you’re looking for a more advanced breakthrough of actual strategy, you can check out our detailed analysis of the business lending space.
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