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SEO, Content Marketing and the Google Algorithm
The role that SEO, or search engine optimisation, plays in today’s online search world where Google is king, has changed completely in recent years. Google has a secret formula called the Google Algorithm that they use to determine what to display when someone types a query into the Google search bar.
If you mention SEO, many people immediately think of keywords, especially ranking number 1 for popular keywords to do with their business. But what most people don’t realise is that search results now vary continuously and different results show from one search to another. Search results are not static, they are changing all the time.
The Google Algorithm is actually smart enough to know about you and how you search. Factors such as your geographic location, personal search history, social connections, and computer/mobile device you are using, all contribute to why you will see different search results to another person doing the exact same search query at the exact same time.
As search engines grow larger and larger, the amount of information they consume is increasing. To remain relevant, current and trusted your website content must also increase. This is where Content Marketing comes into the picture, and is essentially deciding on what content your customers, clients, followers and fans need and want, creating this content, and then publishing it onto your website, your social channels and your brand outlets.
The SEO landscape has changed completely.
Search engines update continuously and the Google Algorithm undergoes tweaking and updates more frequently than most people realise, but the major updates are given names like Panda and Penguin. Online marketers and SEO companies are constantly having to adapt their strategies according to these changes to remain effective in driving traffic to websites. What worked in the past to make your website rank higher, could actually now have the opposite affect and negatively impact your search engine rankings.
You might be wondering how to go about achieving a first page ranking, and how to rank as high as possible for as many relevant search queries. But what is often overlooked is the fact that there is no point ranking in the top spot if this doesn’t lead to conversions, especially if you’re paying big dollars to be there.
A conversion is someone who actually becomes a customer and often follows a lengthy process of multiple “touch points” or interactions. Finding your business online through a search, reading a review or testimonial about you, visiting your website, a referral, seeing one of your online ads, looking at your Facebook page, reading a blog post on your website, or a blog post about your business on another website, and any social or brand interactions are all touch points that work together to turn prospects into leads and ultimately into clients and customers.
To convert you need to be relevant and have content on your webpage that fulfills the search query. So how do you make your website rank higher on Google search for a search query? Well keyword stuffing, listing your website on hundreds of global directories for back-links, and other “black hat” tactics are no longer effective, and can lead to a Google penalty that will see all of your search traffic drop. Yet many SEO companies still make wild claims like “We’ll get you to number 1 on Google” – You’ve probably had many phone calls and emails telling you that you are missing out on hundreds of visitors or that you don’t even rank on the first page of Google.
What factors contribute to SEO that are relevant today?
There is an extensive list of actions you can take to improve your rankings. But the best approach is simply to concentrate on putting yourself into the shoes of the person doing the search. Remember afterall, that this is what Google is trying to do – provide the most contextually relevant results – to serve up on the plate what the end user actually wants to eat.
The way that a user interacts with your webpage is analysed by search engines. This is called engagement metrics and includes statistics such as how long they visited your webpage after clicking through from the search page and whether they visited other pages. If they left your website immediately then this suggests that your page did not have what they wanted, what they typed into the search query. In other words – you were not a good match for that keyword phrase. This is an important aspect of being competitive in the search results and if users find your content useful then a search engine has done its job and will be more likely to show your result next time, and maybe higher up the ranking. But the opposite is also true.
So what actions should you take?
Forget about a single minded focus on rankings and concentrate instead on engagement and targeting your ideal audience. Provide value to your audience both on your website and at all of your brand’s touch points by integrating content marketing into your weekly business activities. Think about the overall online branding experience and don’t just focus on one area.
Keywords for content marketing
We are starting to realise that ranking for long tail keywords (search phrases with 4 or more words) is more profitable even though there is less search traffic. Why is this?
If someone walks into a department store and asks “Where is menswear?” then they may just be looking in general. However if they ask “Where are mens business shirts?” then you know they are actually looking for something specific that they possibly want to buy today.
Here is an example of how to create keyword phrases for generating effective content for users and search engines:
Lets consider how people search on Google? If a person in the UK has heard about a place called the Gold Coast in Australia, and is curious where it is, they would type a simple search query into Google “Gold Coast Australia”. They would be expecting to find a map and some information about the area, and would learn that the Gold Coast is a city in Queensland, that stretches across 57 kilometres of beautiful beach coastline and is famous for its surf, sand and sunshine.
Now if you own a small private resort on the Gold Coast at the southern town of Coolangatta, would there be any point trying to rank for “Gold Coast Australia”? Probably not.
If a person living in Melbourne, Australia wants to go for a beach holiday to the Gold Coast, their search query might be “Gold Coast accommodation”. Most likely if your resort appeared on the first page, they would click your link, but also possibly any other links on that page. However you would spend a ridiculous amount of money trying to rank on page 1 for such a highly competitive search query, as you are competing against large accommodation booking companies. If you did get there, then your site’s traffic would increase significantly, but most likely the conversion rate would not be high enough to offset the amount spent on SEO to gain and then maintain that position. Especially if a large percentage of people typing in that search query were actually looking for the accommodation directories or the most popular town of “Surfers Paradise”. Many people would quickly “bounce” off your page, back to the search results.
Now consider a longer keyword phrase or a “targeted keyword phrase”. Your resort is located in Coolangatta beach on the Gold Coast with beach front views and is family friendly. Perhaps your facilities include kids clubs and swimming pools with waterslides and childrens pools… etc.
Publish content on your website including text phrases such as “Family friendly resort on Coolangatta beach” and “Coolangatta Resort with waterslide” and “Relaxing beachside family getaways in Coolangatta“, and you will be more likely to naturally appear on Google search for these lower competition phrases, and similar related phrases containing those keywords.
Also make sure that your web pages have great photos showing families enjoying the pool, testimonials from happy customers, facts about your facilities, and you regularly share similarly related content on your brand’s social media pages that links back to these pages on your website.
The idea is to think backwards. Instead of working out a bunch of keywords to rank for and then deciding where to add them onto your website, keep your website fresh and optimise your current pages with content that is going to be useful, valuable and engaging for someone who is on your web page. Make sure that your page content contains a good mix of words about your topic, to ensure that Google fully understands semantically what your page is all about. Google will then index what your webpage is all about and include it in a search results when it “believes” it will be useful to the search query.
Headlines and Click Through Rate (CTR)
When a user types a search query into Google, the results page displays a list of snippets, each one made up of a headline, a web page URL link and a short description. To make your snippet appealing, you should think about how it looks to the person doing the search, and how it looks in amongst other snippets.
If your website appears in the search results, then this is recorded by Google as an “impression”. If a person then clicks on your link and visits your website, this is recorded by Google as a “click”.
The higher the CTR, the more often people are choosing your website in the search results, and the more traffic you have going to your website, so when you appear in a search result you really want to make your listing snippet as appealing as possible. How do you do this?
A good article should always have a great headline. The headline draws the attention of the reader, and a person’s reaction to the headline determines whether they read the article or move onto the next one. Interestingly when it comes to web pages, the headline is actually something different to the main heading on your page, but both are very important.
Your page headline is also referred to as your page title. This title is not displayed on the actual web page, but instead in the top of the browser tab.
It is also sometimes displayed on external websites that link to your page, such as in social media. To set your page title it must be specified in the meta <title> tag in the header of your web page, and should be descriptive, concise, and unique. Consider keeping the length of your titles to less than 60 characters, placing important keywords towards the start, and including your branding when possible and practical.
Your headline needs to encourage someone to read the rest of your snippet and hopefully to then visit your website, so you must write informative and interesting titles for your web pages. As an example, lets say someone types a query into Google such as “how to learn guitar by myself“. You could make your page title / headline interesting by writing something like “Learn Guitar in 20 minutes a Day“, or “Teach Yourself to play Guitar – Learn Online”. Of course it must be relevant to your page content, but make it sound good and try to appeal to reader’s emotions.
Another aspect of your listing that is worth considering is your description, that appears under your headline and URL link. Google will often display your meta description here, otherwise some text it extracts from your website page. Include a meta description that evokes curiosity in the reader to visit your web page to read more. Make sure that the meta description is an accurate description of your page, unique, no more than 160 characters and include your important keywords.
Note that your keywords will appear in bold if they match the search query. Also Google will sometimes display the starting lines from your page’s body content rather than your meta description, so always consider what you include in your first few lines of body text on a page.
Backlinks, Links and Broken Links
What is a link? Quite simply it is a relationship between two things. If you have a link on a page then it is a reference to another location, whether that is another webpage, a file or a document. A backlink, or an inbound link, is a link from another website to your website or webpage. Broken links, as the name suggests, are links that reference a destination that no longer exists, or perhaps never did exist.
When it comes to search engines, links help create paths for discovering new content on the web as well as helping to determine a page’s popularity, so a link to your website is a vote for you. The more high quality backlinks that you have, the more popular your site is seen to Google, and so the more likely you are to appear for your keywords. Conversely if you have very few links to your website, then this suggests that your website is unpopular, or not recommended by others, so it is harder to rank for your keywords.
Google does not see every link as equal however, so some links are worth more than others and some links can even hurt your website rankings. Here is a brief outline of some link facts to be aware of (note these may change as Google changes its algorithm):
external links are stronger than internal links
links from unique domains are more valuable than more links from a website that already links to you
links from highly trusted domains or from sites that are linked to by highly trusted domains pass more value in a link to your website
create linkable content that encourages natural links from other bloggers and websites, rather than asking for links
article submissions and directory listings have been abused and overuse may lead to search engine penalties
order of links that appear on a page (links that appear earlier in a page’s code pass more ranking than links appearing later)
links inside noscript tags pass little or no value
Now what ?!??!
This hopefully gives you some insights into how you might go about improving your own rankings on Google. It’s a brief overview, but looks at the bigger picture to help you realise that marketing your website starts with you, not with paying an SEO company to “get you on Google”.
Ranking on search engines is actually really easy to do, if you forget about the “number 1” mindset and simply start creating something of value for your audience. That might be a resource information page, an instructional video on how to use one of your products, an inspiring story, an interview with an expert in your field, a collection or list that your readers would refer to often, a downloadable worksheet, or even just something really interesting and relevant.
Start brainstorming today with your team, your marketer, your friends, your family and start publishing more awesome content.