Google’s take on what makes a website greatJuly 23rd, 2012 by Mackenzie Fogelson
If there is one household name in the SEO industry, it’s Matt Cutts.
Matt is the head of the Webspam team at Google. Matt’s tried to be as transparent as corporate confidentiality will allow him to be when communicating with SEOs about what Google has in the works (as far as algorithmic changes go), and what SEOs should be concerned with as they keep up with this ever changing industry.
This year has been a tremendous one for search and SEO. With Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithmic updates, ranking desirably in the engines today is night and day compared to even just a year ago. Google has changed their algorithms so that websites actually deserving of high rankings–the ones that actually provide value–can rank above those who are just spamming to get a number one spot.
For many SEO companies, the changes in Google’s algorithms have been the first sign of victory. There are those among us who have, for years, preached the importance of an approach that is rooted in quality, value, relationships, and a whole lot of hard work. And at long last, Google has verified that this path is true.
- Your content must be unique and valuable in order to rank
Content has always been important to Google. This is nothing new. What’s different now is the value that the content brings to the user. Is your content different from other content in Google’s index about the same subject? Is it making a contribution? Does it add to the store of knowledge that already exists, rather than simply repeat it? Does it offer a new and unique point of view? How is it valuable to searchers (funny, clever, actionable)? A general rule of thumb for determining quality content is whether it’s share-worthy. When someone reads your content, are they going to want to vouch for its quality by sharing it with their friends and colleagues on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+? Of course, if your website is entering a pretty competitive space where many vital, active companies already dominate the rankings, it’s going to take more than just generally good content to come out on top.Think about the diversity and creativity of your content, the user experience that your website provides, and possibly focusing on a smaller, related niche. This will allow you to build your brand, reputation, and authority without going up against all of the big dogs. Then, you can make your way into that space once you’ve established some street cred (i.e. domain authority).
- Building a quality brand is important
Although brand is a small indicator of whether a site is going to potentially rank well, it is in fact still important simply for the trust factor. People trust brands. They talk about them, they share them, they buy their products.So how do you build a quality brand online? You’ve got to build a community. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that it all comes back to your content (blog posts, videos, photos, infographics, etc) and the user experience that your website provides.What does your content say about your brand? What do you stand for? What’s your personality? What makes your company unique?The answers to these key questions need to be integrated into every ounce of your messaging, and the experience that users have when spending time on your website.Quick side note: Matt made it very clear that Google does not show favor to big brands with big budgets who spend a ton of money on paid advertisements. Just to clarify, he states that big brands DO have an advantage because the search engines are an attempt to mirror real life. However, he emphasizes that they can’t buy organic rankings with paid ads. So take heart. There’s hope for us small brands after all.
- Think building relationships vs. building links
Link building is a really common industry term, but many of our clients still don’t understand what this actually means. The deal on link building is that, though it’s just one of the factors that Google uses to rank websites, it is one of the most significant indicators of your site’s credibility and authority. If other quality websites are linking to the great content on your website, then you must be good enough for Google to return to the top of the results pages in a search.Building a quality link profile is no easy task. Certainly that’s why so many companies have tried to spam this part of Google’s algorithm so that they can speed up the process and get a boost in rankings. For years, here were a lot of companies benefiting from shady link building tactics (and many still do). But in the last year, Google has done so much to improve the quality of their results that websites using these tactics will ultimately find themselves slapped with a warning and then resting in the bottomless abyss of your-website-is-nowhere-to-be-found.My point here is that if you want your website to rank desirably and you want to be able to sustain those rankings, you have to do the work. Building your business online is just like building relationships in person. If someone doesn’t know you, how can you prove to them that you’re a good guy? That you’re worth doing business with? That you know your stuff? This is not an easy thing to do online, but again (and you’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but it’s important and bears repeating. Again, it all comes back to your content which is going to directly affect user experience. If your website is chalk full of great blog posts, infographics that illustrate your approach or process, photo albums that tell your story, articles that show your knowledge and personality, then it’s easy to establish some trust. Combine that with a little bit of social media and building your online community, and you’re on your way to becoming a big deal.This takes time and a ton of work. But if you truly want to rank in Google, not to mention improve your human user response, that’s what you’re in for.
- Infographics need to be quality, too
There has been a big shift from content as the written word to pictorial content like infographics. And, as you’ve probably guessed (surprise, surprise), companies are spamming that too. Here’s the deal: whether your content is a blog post or an infographic, if it doesn’t add value it does you no good. It’s not helping your customers and it’s certainly not improving your Google rank.Just so you know, Google doesn’t have anything against infographics, but it’s a matter of whether they are concerned with determining the quality of the graphic to figure out where it should rank. Matt seems to be hinting toward the fact that, in the end, infographics may not carry any value in Google’s eyes (thanks to all the spamming). Sense a pattern here?Regardless of what Google decides to do with infographics, your number one goal is to provide unique, valuable content that benefits your customers. So, if infographics are the best way to deliver your message to your customers, then use them. If you are providing value for your end user, the engines will be satisfied as well.
- There are no shortcuts, tricks, or secrets to good rankings
Yup, you gotta do the work. As Matt explains:The main thing is that people should avoid looking for shortcuts. In competitive market areas there has always been a need to figure out how to differentiate yourself, and nothing has changed today. Think about how you can create compelling content or a compelling experience for users.Google employs some of the smartest people in the world. They are committed to providing quality results so that people can actually find what they are looking for when they use their search engine. Google will continue to get smarter and smarter. The more quickly you can build a reputable brand online, the better.There’s no better time than now because of everything that Google is doing to shake up websites who got comfortable doing crap work and ranking well for it. Get out there and create some great content and make some friends. This won’t happen over night, but you’ll change your company and experience some pretty exciting victories in the process.
Don’t give up
For more than six months, Mack Web has been working on our online visibility as if we were one of our own clients. We did some research, we developed a strategy, we delegated some tasks. Every day, we dedicate the time to reading blogs, engaging on social, and generating valuable content that helps people (ok, we’re not saving lives or rescuing puppies, but hey, this SEO stuff is important).
In our experience in the trenches, we’ve learned a few things we’d like you to know:
- SEO isn’t just about rankings
It’s about building value in your company, developing relationships with real people, and making a name for yourself that you can be proud of.
- This approach will change your business
We have seen amazing results from our efforts, and they have nothing to do with our keyword rankings. We have opened up new markets, made a TON of new friends, and, wait for it, we’re enjoying ourselves! We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time.
- This stuff is hard work and victories start small
We read it time and time again from the thought leaders in the SEO industry. A majority of companies give up on this approach before they experience success. If you’re putting in the effort, don’t give up. Keep going!If you’re frustrated and can’t do the work on your own, work with a professional company who you can trust and serve as your guide in taking your company and your online visibility to the next level.
Simple in concept, if difficult in execution
So, as it turns out, the trick to making Google believe you have a great website is…(drum roll please)…to have a great website.
Shocking, we know, but there it is. Ultimately, no matter what the disruptions in the world of the Google algorithm, this is what you have to remember: they’re trying to return the best, most helpful, most trustworthy websites they can find. As long as you can meet those standards, you’ll be able to weather all the panda-penguin-parakeet-pterodactyl storms.