Matt Wright

How To Stay Ahead of the Google Algorithm

5 November 2018, Matt Wright



Google's server room
Google server room

Google is always looking to improve the service it offers users through its search engine. Subsequently, the Silicon Valley giant regularly updates their core algorithm, sometimes to the detriment of website owners.

In fairness, the need for Google to consistently update its search engine algorithm is understandable. There are a lot of webmasters out there attempting to manipulate search engine results, and subsequently, users don’t always find quality websites they expect.

Furthermore, matching relevant content with search terms is complex. Given Google processes around 40,000 searches every second, users are not going to be satisfied every time.

Many brands rely on visibility in search engines to reach customers and fund their business. But building a business in Google’s ecosystem takes time.

Before you rank in the top positions of Google, you have to build authority and earn trust with the search engine crawlers. This takes a lot of strategic planning, creative thinking and SEO know-how.

So do you want to know how to keep on the good side of Google? If you’re relatively new to SEO, strap in, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about Google’s core algorithm.

Keyword Research Helps Google Index Pages

Keywords help Google identify what topics pages contain and the usefulness of those pages when providing search results.

You should, therefore, be using keywords in content and meta-descriptions to plot the customer journey. There are two types of keywords you should know about for planning the customer journey.

Fat-head Keywords

Fat-head keywords are highly competitive, carry an enormous amount of search volume and are normally no more than three words. An example of a fat-head keyword is women’s running shoes. Fat-heads should be included as much as possible in the page optimisations, it is however not advisable to rely solely on this however as you shall see below.

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are less competitive in search and should be investigated when targeting fat-heads because of their ability to demonstrate the expertise of your site and range of services and products. It is critical that long-tail keywords are used throughout your content to extend topics and reach a wider audience e.g. black women’s running shoes, size 6.

SEO House-Keeping

Keeping your website in good working order will help improve your visibility in search engines. It is advisable to perform frequent SEO audits just in case your ranks are slipping.

Make it a habit to periodically check your Google Search Console together with Google Analytics and external tools for ranks, links and optimisations. If you notice a drop in traffic, it could be because your SEO is skewed.

SEO hygiene factors
Caption: The Agency Zeal’s SEO hygiene factors

In order to rank efficiently, at the very least, your website should have:

  • Crawler access to pages and a sitemap
  • Short and keyword rich URL’s
  • Fat-head keywords in page titles and image alts where relevant
  • Long-tails alongside fat-heads in H1s and H2s
  • Internal links so crawlers can navigate your website
  • External links to demonstrate the strength of topic research
  • Topical and unique content more than 350 words
  • Schemas where possible

Google also ranks websites in relation to how well they function on desktops and mobile devices. Slow-loading pages and websites without HTTPS site security deter end-users from entering, or Google may block them from entering altogether. Subsequently, you lose traffic and Google ranks your site lower down the pecking order on grounds that it does not provide visitors with a safe user experience.

RankBrain Wants Expert Content

The quality of the content you publish on your website will have a huge bearing on how well your web pages rank. Google qualify premium content as informative, engaging, relevant, authoritative and trustworthy.

Bear in mind that your competitors also publish content. Many businesses fall into the trap of writing the same type of content as everyone else, therefore the information you give to readers is no different from anywhere else, and therefore more of a challenge to gain authority from.

The repetition of information can be difficult to avoid. It’s always best to publish engaging content with thoughtful angles in a unique voice. Also mix up the type of content you publish to include: written articles, listicles, infographics, video, podcasts or even webinars.

Building Quality Links

PageRank Patent
Caption: Google Pagerank Patent

Link building serves two purposes: enabling Google crawlers and visitors to navigate your website, and also to link to relevant pages around the web where visitors can find more information about a specific point or topic.

When Googlebot visits your website, it’ll determine how user-friendly it is by assessing the quality of internal links too. Essentially, Google wants to know if visitors will be directed to relevant pages quickly and easily.

For example, if a visitor arrives through an article on your blog, they should also be able to navigate to a relevant product page from the blog page. In this scenario, you should include links in at least one of four places: the main menu navigation, an extended sidebar, within blog content and sales or commercial content elsewhere e.g. opening paragraphs on service pages.

Outbound links should only be directed towards pages that are relevant to the topic you are discussing, and websites that are genuinely high-quality. Don’t link out to spammy websites.

Google’s rules on link building also forbid content creators to send outbound links to company websites that have paid for a link as this is deemed to be an attempt to manipulate search engine results.

In order to rank well, your website needs the following types of external links:

  • Specialist directory links
  • Links from fellow businesses you work with
  • Blog links
  • Editorial links
  • Review sites
  • Where possible: government or educational resources

Google Rewards User-Focused Websites

Smartphone

It is widely regarded that user-experience is the most important aspect of a website. If a page doesn’t meet the demands of the user, they will click out and go somewhere else. As such, Google detects these bounces back to its search pages and ranks pages accordingly.

Given the majority of web traffic comes from mobile users, your priority should be to build a website that is mobile-friendly. Your web design should be uncluttered so visitors can see what is on the page and how they get to where they want to go. Links should be clearly highlighted, fonts should be legible and buttons should be big enough for people with fat fingers to use on small screens.

Also, adding a meta description into the metadata of your pages in your CMS provides users with a snippet in search engine results, that informs them what they can expect to find on the page. This increases click-through rates from search results, which in turn is a signal Google is monitoring.

Building a Brand for Google’s Search Engine

You may have noticed that brands rank highly in search engines. This is because companies with strong brand values tend to invest more heavily in factors that directly impact on ranks e.g. content quality, depth, security and UX.

Brands are also more likely to receive mentions and links from third-party creators. This is often because a brand has greater recall when for instance bloggers or journalists need to discuss a commercial topic.

Free SEO Tools To Help You Stay Ahead

Here is a range of free tools to consider when improving your SEO and staying ahead of algorithm shifts:

Conclusion

Google’s algorithms are very complex. The metrics are notoriously kept a very closely guarded secret, so SEO agencies do not exactly how the algorithms work. However, the most significant metrics that Google use to rank websites are easy to detect and incorporate in a wider SEO, content and outreach strategy.

Matt Wright is well-known SEO consultant, author and speaker and currently leads Emarketeers’ Advanced Technical SEO training course for experienced SEO and marketing professionals.

Alternatively, if you are just starting off, take a look at our SEO For Beginners training course.

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