It’s official, ‘awesomeness’ is a Google ranking factor. So here’s our guide to making your website Google Awesome!
Last week I sent a slightly cheeky tweet to Google’s John Mueller after it was reported that he’d ruled out time to first byte as a Google ranking factor.
And here is John’s equally cheeky reply…
Although John’s reply may have been a little tongue-in-cheek, there’s more than a grain of truth in the underlying message. In 2017 Google has moved further away from what we thought of as traditional ranking factors, and towards just better understanding what users might find awesome.
So, as we move into 2018, just how do we make our websites Google Awesome?
Step one: Understand your audience
If you want your users to have a great experience on your website then it makes sense that first you understand them, right?
Understanding what your users are looking for, and giving it to them in a format they are going to engage with is the number one consideration if you’re trying to make your site Google Awesome. Google is 100% committed to making sure it’s users are directed to the best content to meet their needs.
Research your audience and the things they might be searching for. This starts offline, with the general understanding of your business and customers. What information do they want from you in offline interactions?
If you’re a marketer then talk to the people who interact with your customers on a daily basis. That could be anybody from sales reps and customer service personnel, to retail store teams or delivery drivers. Better still, talk to your customers yourself and ask them about the way they search for information online.
If you understand your customer’s needs, questions, pain points and challenges offline then you’ll be in a much better position to understand them online.
Step two: Know what they are searching for
In terms of search, keyword research is always going to be the start point for understanding your audience. Google is the gateway to the web for most people so you need to view it as a window into the minds of your customers. To tap into this goldmine of user data we need to use the Google Keyword Planner. You can find a great guide to using it here.
However, we need to remember that it’s not 2005 any longer. Keyword research is not just about finding the largest search opportunities and dropping a load of keywords into a page in an attempt to rank for them. First of all, we need to try and understand the intent behind the keywords Google gives us. Take the two key phrases below and consider the difference in what a user may be looking for.
The first key phrase clearly indicates somebody is interested in an SEO course so, from an intent perspective it’s a good fit for our dedicated SEO course page. Assuming we’ve done a good job of creating that page content, we’ll stand a fair chance of ranking in Google for that term (as we do!).
In the second instance, while the user is clearly looking to learn more about SEO, are they currently thinking about a training course? Probably not. No matter how well we ‘optimise’ our page for that term we’d have little chance of ranking well for it. In this case, users are probably looking for an online resource that will cover a range of subjects relating to SEO. To rank do that term, we’re going to have to build out that type of content.
If you’ve conducted keyword research yourself then try this exercise for all the key phrases you’ve identified. Do you have content on your site that meets the real intent of the query? If not then you’re not satisfying the user and you’re definitely not being Google Awesome!
Step three: Anticipate your users broader needs
Google knows that, when it comes to exploring a subject, their search engine is part of a journey – not a one stop shop. Sure, Google is great for giving binary answers to simple questions but when it comes to researching the product or service your website is offering, a user will often complete multiple searches using a range of queries over a session (or multiple sessions).
Google knows that one query in search often leads to another, which is why you’ll often see ‘people also ask’ answers appearing in the Google search results.
This is one example of how Google is trying to do a better job of anticipating a user’s questions and provide information that answers related queries. If Google can anticipate its users informational needs they will have a better user experience from the search results.
If Google recognises this, then it’s a fair bet that users will also value websites that do the same. Going back to your keyword research - it’s all well and good creating content that meets a user’s needs around a single query but does your page content also anticipate and answer related questions?
If you have a page where people can buy blue widgets, you can be fairly sure you’ll provide a more satisfying experience if that page contains (or links to) information that answers related queries such as – what is the best type of blue widget? How do I use a blue widget? Or, where do I find blue widget accessories?
If you’ve followed step one then hopefully you’ll already understand what some of these related questions are just by listening to your customers. Make sure you build out webpage content that addresses their needs. There are also a number of great online tools, including Google itself, to help you research. Try this post from inbound.org for some ideas.
Step four: Create Google Awesome content
It’s one thing knowing what your users want from you online, it’s another thing providing that information in an engaging format. Via RankBrain and other technologies, Google are learning more and more about the types of content that users engage with for any particular search. Steps 1 to 3 are no longer enough for us to create awesome content.
Again, Google itself is a great research tool for getting an idea as to which content formats users are most likely to engage with. Take any search query you’re targeting, what are the competing pages that are already appearing on the first page of the search results for that phrase?
First of all, think back to step two: what do the results tell you about how Google sees the searchers intent?
Search intent is likely to directly impact the type of content Google is rewarding. Your search competitors could be using any number of content formats, including:
Long form article-style content. E.g. a news article or blog page
An e-commerce page which allows you to buy a single product
A category page listing several products or services
Comparison tools or quote forms
Forums, reviews or other user-generated content
In truth, awesome content is likely to include any number of combinations of the above. How do your pages measure up to your competitors? What elements are you missing and can perhaps use to improve your content for your visitors?
Remember, your keyword research isn’t a tool to discover phrases that you should drop into your content for ranking purposes. It’s a tool that should guide you on the types of information a user is looking for.
Finally, make sure you’re not cutting corners and that you’re investing in good quality copywriting and design in order to best communicate your message.
Step five: Make sure your site is technically sound
The first four steps have all focussed on creating great content, however, if we’re going to create Google Awesome content then we need to make sure the site functions well technically from both a user and a Google perspective.
For users, this means making sure your web pages load quickly, are easy to navigate and are easily accessible regardless of the device a user is visiting on. If you fall at this hurdle then all of your content creation efforts will go to waste. A good starting point to measure this is the Unbounce landing page analyser, but also talk to your users - how do they find the usability of your site?
For Google, we need to make sure that our web pages are crawlable, indexable and lead to an efficient crawl experience – all of which is better addressed in a separate blog post but are equally critical. You may have awesome content, but if Google can't find, crawl and index it correctly then naturally it can't hope to be Google Awesome!
So there we go, five steps to Google Awesomeness - and we didn't mention backlinks once. If that doesn't keep John Mueller happy then I don't know what will!