SEO: Can we still game the Google rankings?

SEO is one of the most challenging disciplines in the tech industry.  It basically involves trying to win a game when the rules are a secret, and even when you mostly figure them out, they change constantly.

It’s not all bad news though.  Over the past couple of decades, Google’s ranking system has gone from a basic keyword-counting system to a sophisticated way to measure quality.

The evolution of the algorithm

Link building

Links used to be a central pillar of the Google’s ranking system, you may remember the plethora of link farms that appeared on the web, boosting rankings by providing more inbound links.  Inbound links are now heavily weighted towards authoritative sites – one link from The Economist will have more impact on your ranking than 100 links from bloggers.  Link building is still a worthwhile activity, but focus on quality over quantity

Does ranking matter?

Well yes, it does, just not as much as it used to.  Have a look at the search results above and see how many actual search results are there.  First you get a carousel of ads, then a search results, then the Ask box.  That’s one single result above the fold.  Advertising is clearly a more important strategy than it used to be, which is one of the reasons that Google is worth over half a trillion dollars.

Snippets

Snippets are the bit of text under the page title in the search results.  Users have become very used to gauging whether a site is worth visiting by scanning the page title and the snippet, if they seem useful and helpful, they’ll click through.  Remember, the end goal of SEO is visitors, not ranking.

User Experience

Google has become far more adept at judging quality than it used to be.  Keywords and metatags are still a useful indicator of subject matter, but not nearly as important as they once were.  Instead Google measures a basket of user experience metrics like average time on page, bounce rate and reviews.  Rather than basing the page rank purely on the page’s content Google tries to measure how much people like the page, and it turns out this is a really good thing.  Instead of having to cram relevant keywords into your copy and set up a ton of backlinks, the most important thing you can do is to make your site GOOD.  If people like it, Google will be able to tell and it will help you.

What does this all mean?

Quite simply, that Google has finally achieved what it set out to do.  You used to need to game the Google algorithm in order to get people to visit your excellent site, now you have to build an excellent site in order for Google to send people your way.  Which is how it should be.

Keywords and links still matter, but your no.1 strategy should be to build a useful and useable site.

Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.

Wendy Piersall – CEO, Strategy Director

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