SEOs, keen to get quick results and Google, have been waging a battle that has been ongoing since 1998.
Google’s roots extend back to a research project by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, way back in 1996 nicknamed “BackRub”. The birth of the PageRank algorithm is pretty interesting. Before Google was created, search engines were in the habit of displaying search results by the appearance of a certain amount of keywords in the text. Sergey and Larry’s take was that backlinks from high authority pages, that were relevant to the page to be ranked, held the key to obtaining search results that were far superior in terms of quality.
Charles Reid, a Digital Marketing expert at the Chicago SEO Services company says “No matter how much Google evolves, the power of a quality backlink should never be underestimated.”
Our Knowledge of Google
All of Google’s actions have been taken with one underlying concept in mind. Quality. Google was founded with improving quality in mind, and its progress has always been centred on that.
Google has evolved over time. Initially, however, Google used only the PageRank algorithm as a ranking factor. In recent times, they have been using more complex systems with factors like Content, links and RankBrain taking the top 3 spots in terms of importance. As Google continues to strive for greater user satisfaction by increasing relevancy, more changes will arise in the future.
Computers traditionally tend to struggle when vague queries and ambiguous search terms are used because their understanding was limited. However, Google today is quite exceptional at identifying exactly what users are searching for even if the language is not natural.
To understand Google better, let’s take a look at an example that utilizes two queries. The queries appear to be similar, but Google will display different information.
Query#1 – Entered from the United States: “Where can I buy a refrigerator?”
Querry#2 – Entered from India: “Where can I buy a refrigerator?”
Google has evolved from showing standard results, to showing results based on location as well. This is where modern day Google excels. In previous years, you might have just seen an amazon page from both locations. Now, Google takes into account which stores are favored in which locality and factors everything in to the results it displays. The prices are also tailored for where a person searches from.
The Brain behind the Operation
2015 was a landmark year for Google, as it marked the time when RankBrain became an important factor. RanBrain is a machine learning AI system.
Google have used other algorithms before, so what makes RankBrain more special? The key phrase is a “machine learning system”.
Prior to RankBrain’s introduction, engineers at Google had to improve the algorithm manually. They had to traverse through heaps of data pertaining to terms, concepts and phrases and make them all relatable. Why? So that even the smallest of differences in meaning is noted and relevant results are displayed by the algorithm.
RankBrain is fed a monumental amount of data, to learn and understand the nature of information, so that it can to use this information to predict and satisfy new searches.
About 15% of the 3.5 billion searches Google receives per day is completely new to the search engine. A dilemma arises as to what information can be displayed to answer these queries. This is the problem that RankBrain is brought in to solve. In order to refine search results for unique queries, it analyses information and makes its best guess.
Google’s trust in RankBrain is ever growing, as its role is set to increase as time goes by. Google’s admission that RankBrain was in use in October 2015, and their statement that RankBrain was 3rd among ranking factors, following links and content, is a strong indication of the trend.
Voice searches are growing at a tremendous rate every year. The number of voice search queries has been doubling steadily in the past 3 years. Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, mentioned in May 2016 that their voice app on Android accounted for about 20% of searches overall, adding further complexity to search queries.
As part of Google’s adaptive process, RankBrain will also have an important part to play when dealing with queries in multiple languages.
Content Optimization for RankBrain
What can we do to make our content more attractive for the new algorithm? Based on what we know so far:
1) RankBrain was designed for dealing with “complex” queries and natural language processing. It’s quite easy therefore to assume that language that is optimized for humans and not spun content will be rewarded. Readability is the key.
“Optimizing for RankBrain is actually super easy, and it is something we’ve probably been saying for fifteen years now, is – and the recommendation is – to write in natural language. Try to write content that sounds human. If you try to write like a machine then RankBrain will just get confused and probably just pushes you back.
But if you have a content site, try to read out some of your articles or whatever you wrote, and ask people whether it sounds natural. If it sounds conversational, if it sounds like natural language that we would use in your day to day life, then sure, you are optimized for RankBrain. If it doesn’t, then you are “un-optimized”.
The takeaway is that you should just focus on your target audience alone, and see things from their perspective. You need to make sure your premium content is something that completely satisfies the audience’s needs. Ignore the algorithm, and focus on the humans.
2) Meaningful Engagement through posts is very important. Your content should help the algorithm and audience understand exactly what problem you are offering to solve.
Google uses something called co-occurrence. Long-form content is deemed to help Google with the purpose and topical identification tasks.
There is a lot of debate amongst SEO professionals as to how co-occurrence works. Some claim it associates particular phrases as opposed to associating two websites. Others say it’s similar to the concept of co-citation.
Obscure queries like “where is the pub, that is featured in the TV show how I met your mother” are handled very well now.
From the screenshot displayed below, it’s easy to see that performing these tasks is a cinch for search engines.
Google loves the use of synonyms, as it can make the content rich and meaningful. Long form content caters to exactly this. You can boost your site up the SERPs in queries related to your topic too. Another important point is to use a variety of descriptors that naturally suit your content. Keyword stuffing can lead to major problems.
Mentioning High Authority sources and research studies will add a significant amount of value to your post. Google will showcase this content based on the intentions of the user.
When creating any piece of content, ensure your ideas are clear and well supported. Link to a plethora of high authority sources and boost credibility.
If you are doing a stats based search for instance for academic purposes or even if you are looking to move countries, for example, then Google will display content that is relevant to your situation.
The above screenshot, shows the results for the query “average income in Australia”
You can even change the query to “average salary in Australia” and the results will be quite similar.
Niche relevant natural link acquisition is great. The nature of the links pointing to your content is very important as it is all part of an intricate web for Google. Whilst trying to optimize for one of the major ranking factors you will touch upon others too.
Quality over quantity is the name of the game, and you mustn’t even consider buying 100s let alone 1000s of links from shady link farms. If you do end up sacrificing quality, penalties will arise and a manual penalty is almost impossible to recover from.
Hence it is quite clear that all Google wants us to do is focus on providing high quality, relevant, content. To acquire links to this type of content, you need to promote it. The skyscraper technique advocated by Brian Dean still holds and its definitely something worth doing as Google loves quality content.
As an SEO Expert Wendy Piersall says “Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.”
The best advice that one can give in an SEO era that is focused solely on quality is that try to put yourself in your audience’s perspective and add value through your content. Thanks to the emergence of RankBrain, blackhat techniques are fading away. Focus on the following with your blog or pet project and you will be safe:
- Understanding consumer needs.
- Linking to and earning links from high authority sources naturally.
- Marketing your content aggressively.
- Providing meaningful solutions to specific problems.
- Avoiding ambiguity and overoptimization.
With these points in mind, you are on the way to creating content your audience will love, and that’s all Google needs to see to reward you.