Google's objective has always been to provide the most relevant search results possible. It uses hundreds of different factors to determine which sites earn the right to show at the top of search results. It is an ever-moving target, with updates taking place every few days. For SEO (search engine optimization) agencies like mine, we must always stay on top of new updates to get the best results possible for clients. It’s challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Inbound links have always been one of the most important factors for ranking well. Generally speaking, the more sites that link to your site, the higher your site would rank (think of links like votes). The quality of a link was also considered a factor. Quality is determined by both relevance and legitimacy. So if your website sells jewelry, getting a link from a fashion blog that talks about jewelry would be worth more than a link from food review blog that only talks about food. Similarly, a link from a large, legitimate site is worth more than a link from a tiny, unknown site.
While Google has advocated only trying to acquire relevant, quality links, it would still reward sites that accumulated a large number of irrelevant, low-quality links. It was a confusing message. Google said you should only pursue one strategy, but their formula rewarded both strategies.
This made the Google formula relatively easy to exploit. If you could pay someone to mass produce a very large quantity of low-quality links, you would rank high in the search engines. SEO solicitors emailing and calling you weekly promising to improve your Google rankings for pennies on the dollar are most likely using this method of high-volume, low-quality link building.
In the last 12 months, Google has made big efforts to annul these practices through major algorithmic updates. The most recent notable change took place in May. This change in Google’s algorithm specifically sought to fix its contradiction of advocating quality-only links while still rewarding sites with poor inbound links. As a result of this change, many sites that used to rank well no longer do.
Start producing and start connecting.
If you want to win in the search engines in 2013 and beyond, your priorities should center around two key areas: content and connections.
We spend a good deal of time trying to understand why certain websites outrank others. If we can understand the characteristics of a well-ranked website, we can replicate those traits and begin to replicate the results.
What we are consistently seeing is sites that strive to become the authority on their subject matter are becoming more and more successful. To become an authority on a subject, you must produce great content and have a degree of influence in your space.
Producing great content
Great content is not easy. Great content takes time and expertise. Many people have the expertise but lack the time or have the time but lack the expertise. This is why having great content becomes a competitive advantage.
Two weeks ago I listed four strategies for producing highly effective content. They are:
1) Produce the very best content you’re capable of producing
2) Become a comprehensive source on your topic
3) Predict future trends
4) Give up the secret sauce
If your website’s content is a reflection of number 1 and number 2, Google will recognize your website as a valuable resource and have incentive to rank you high. If you can be successful with number 3 and number 4, others will share your content, creating valuable inbound links back to your site. It’s simple in principle, but difficult in execution.
Great content alone will not propel you to the top. While Google used to rely heavily on links to determine your popularity, it can now look at your social networks (namely Google+) to understand your influence. If you have a large network of followers that +1 your content on a frequent basis, you are considered important and worthy of a high search position.
All else being equal, when two people create equally great content on the exact same topic, the person with a greater social following will likely rank higher.
Stop searching for the quick solutions
Winning in a search engine has become less about exploiting loopholes and more about out-working and out-networking your competition. Sound eerily similar to the real world? That’s exactly the point. Hard work and strong connections are the proven long-term strategies for the offline world. Now, it has become the case for the online world.
As chief marketing officer of WebStrategies, Inc., Chris helps small businesses reach and connect with more customers online. He is the chief strategist for search engine marketing campaigns and the lead analyst for web analytics and website usability testing. Find Chris on Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.