For every SEO constant, there’s accompanying confusion for marketers. From the very first interest in the field, experts have tested, discussed, and tested again to try to understand the details of Google’s search algorithm, looking for some new nugget of opportunity to incorporate into their SEO strategy.
Well, SEO crusaders can breathe a little easier now. While Google hasn’t released its whole algorithm (a miracle that shouldn’t ever really be expected), it has released its first comprehensive ranking guide in years. From generally accepted principles for Web page quality, to new details about the suite of mobile updates Google has rolled out over the past few months, this one-hundred-plus-page guide may be the new Bible for SEO specialists in the coming year.
Here are some of the highlights I found while reading through it.
Most of what experts already know remains in place: Backlinks are still the backbone of an effective SEO strategy, keywords are essential but shouldn’t be overused, and wherever possible, it is important to fill out metadata and other non-forward-facing information.
However, with a rising amount of “click-bait” style offerings and exploitative Web design happening today, Google has placed renewed emphasis on quality of content, as opposed to relying primarily on page authority. Quality content has always been an important part of Web design, but largely because it frequently leads to behaviors that improve SEO, like decreased bounce rates, sharing and backlinking, and just generally improved traffic. However, Google’s guide shows an actual scale for ranking the quality of a Web page, including detailed steps to achieving each rank.
This scale is further complicated when taking into account responsive design and mobile sites. Even if you have a perfectly constructed desktop Web page, a poorly optimized mobile site or use of tools like full page ads will result in your overall page ranking taking a hit. When in doubt, keep your page clear, to the point, and non- of users.
Another interesting development (particularly considering Google’s recent steps into AI-driven search) is the growing importance of contextual queries for Web pages. In the past, Google used authoritative pages and common search queries to develop suggestions and context for user searches. However, some queries are based around topics that change over time. To use an example from Google’s guide, a search for “George Bush” in 2004 likely meant a user was interested in results about President George Bush Jr., not President George Bush Sr.
Google’s goal is to expand these capabilities to give users the most up-to-date and relevant information at any time— and given this, there’s room for less authoritative or long-standing Web pages to see improved search visibility by focusing on remaining updated, as opposed of focusing on traditional page authority.
A great way to take advantage of relevance and contextual query preferences is to use Google Trends. Aside from providing interesting historical insight into Google search trends or providing basic keyword research, regularly checking the trends of your industry can help direct updates to your page that will keep you on top of the most popular searches at any given time.
There are many more details from Google’s guide for marketers to dive into, including a breakdown of the lowest quality site and the minutia of mobile versus desktop-based searches. But the overall principle that may be taken from this is that Google is actively trying to move away from simply relying on technical vehicles for providing search results, and rather is moving toward improved methods of rewarding SEO strategies built on quality content.
Interested in more resources on what it takes to write quality content? Start with this guide on how to start a story, and how you know you’re done.