Google’s SEO Myth Busters episode #1 recently debuted. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Martin Splitt, answered what the top 3 SEO factors are to focus on. Near the end of show, Martin answered an unexpected and shocking question that was asked by the guest.
How Google Selects Relevant Pages
The first question was about relevance.
“How do you know which… results are more relevant to a given user?”
Here is the answer:
“We have over 200 signals to do so. So we look at things like the title, the meta description, the actual content that you’ve got on your page, images, links… All sorts of things.
It’s a very complicated question to answer what ranks you best, but yeah… we look at a bunch of signals.”
Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Martin Splitt shared top 3 SEO factors to focus on.
SEO Factor #1 – Content
Now here comes the big question, where the guest asks what are the top 3 SEO factors are to consider.
“If you could give me like… top three things that I should consider, what would that be?”
The number one SEO factor makes sense:
“So… us being developers, originally, you probably want me to say, oh use this framework or use that framework… that’s not how it works.
You have to have really good content. And that means you have to have content… that serves a purpose for the user.
It’s something that users need and/or want. Optimally they need it and want it, like ice cream.
So, if your content says where you are, what you do, how you help me with what I’m trying to accomplish, that’s fantastic.”
This is good advice. There’s more nuance in that answer than is readily apparent. “Content that serves a purpose” is a fantastic way of describing what the highest ranked content tends to be.
For example, if someone is looking for a King Size Widget, Google tends to rank product pages that are exact matches for King Size Widgets.
It’s like Google knows that users are more satisfied in seeing pages that are direct matches for what they are looking for.
So it could be said that the purpose of the product page is to accurately provide information about the specific item that is for sale. Sometimes, for a better user experience, that could also mean giving the shopper the ability to compare products.
For certain search queries, where it’s not about a specific product but rather about a topic, Google tends to rank pages a little differently. This is where many online businesses that come to me for help with their SEO have difficulties.
It can be difficult to unwrap your mind away from keywords to clearly see in terms of the purpose of the page.
There’s a clue to solving that mystery in the last thing the Googler said:
“So, if your content says where you are, what you do, how you help me with what I’m trying to accomplish, that’s fantastic.”
Make Your Content Relevant
Something else Martin discussed was understanding what phrases users use when searching, and using those in content.
This is basic, but sometimes there are nuances to how people use a word that are worth investigating.
Here’s what Martin said:
“So you want to make sure to serve the purpose of the people who you want to attract and get who you want to interact with your content and you want to make sure that you’re using words that I would be using.
If you use a very specific term for your ice cream… let’s say like Smooth Cream 5000… I’m not going to search for that because I don’t know about it. I’m just going to like, I need ice cream.
It’s good to mention it somewhere so that I know if I look for that trademark I find it as well.
But I’m exploring ice cream around me, I don’t know what particular ice cream there is. If there’s like a specific brand, fantastic, but that’s not what I’m looking for. So speak the language that I’m using.”
That’s a great way to describe relevance in content, “Speak the language that I’m using.”
A common mistake I see in B2B websites is the use of jargon that doesn’t match up with how a non-tech management level person would search for a type of product. You might sell a SaaS On-Demand Technology Solutions but that’s not what people are looking for.
SEO Factor #2 – Meta Data
The second (and third) SEO factor is described as technical.
“So content is the number one priority. Could you mention another two things that are important for this?”
“You’re going to love them because they are technical.
So the second biggest things is make sure that you have meta tags that describe your content, so have a meta description because that gives you the possibility to have a little snippet in the search results that let people find out which of the many results might be the ones that help them the best.
And have page titles that are specific to the page that you are serving. So don’t have a title for everything. The same title is bad.
If you have titles that change with the content that you are showing, that is fantastic. And frameworks have ways of doing that. So consult the documentation but there’s definitely something that helps with the content.”
There’s a certain amount of understanding that goes into constructing an effective title and meta description. If you’re using a template, automation can begin to appear like cookie cutter content. As long as the content in the titles and meta description are unique then automation works great.
Is a Meta Description a Ranking Factor?
It’s been well understood that a meta description in itself is not a ranking factor.
It’s unusual for a Googler to say that a meta description is part of the top 3 SEO factors to consider, particularly since he’s ranking it ahead of links. Has Google changed something?
SEO Factor #3 – Performance
Google’s Martin Splitt described performance as a top 3 SEO factor to consider. Performance has long been a top SEO factor. As a ranking factor, it was most recently described by John Mueller as a ranking factor that does not override other factors. This is what Google’s John Mueller said about speed as a ranking factor:
“…the good part is that we have lots of ranking factors. So you don’t have to do everything perfect.
But that also means that you run across situations like this where you say, Google says speed is important but the top sites here are not so fast therefore it must not be important.
So for us it is definitely important. But that doesn’t mean it kind of overrides everything else.”
This means that Google will overlook poor performance and rank a site if the user experience would be harmed by not showing the site.
If the user expects to see a specific poor performing website then that’s what Google will show.
Martin Splitt is correct. But a more nuanced view of performance is yes, performance is a top SEO factor. But it’s not necessarily a top algorithmic ranking factor.
This is the answer:
“And the last bit is performance. Performance is fantastic, we’re talking about it constantly but we’re probably missing out on the fact that this is also good for being discovered online.”
At this point the web developer interjected with a question:
“So performance isn’t just making my website faster but it’s also making my website more visible to others?”
This is how Google’s Martin Splitt answered:
“Correct. Because we want to make sure that the people clicking on your search result, clicking on your page, getting this content quickly. So that’s one thing that we want to make sure as well so… it’s one of the many signals that we are looking at.
But also it just helps your users, right? They get happier if I want ice cream really badly then I get the page quicker, that’s fantastic.”
Google Myth Busters Answers a Shocking Question
The guest of Google’s Myth Busters, a web developer, asked an important question.
Just as Martin was wrapping up, the guest (who is a web developer, not an SEO) asked an unexpected question.
“Why is it so important for companies to rank like in the top results?”
To some, that question can seem extraordinarily basic. But it underlines a basic difference in understanding between those who work in SEO and those who do not. That someone involved in the web industry as a developer would ask such a question tells us that sometimes the knowledge gap between those of us in the SEO industry and those outside of it may be wider than we understand.
Here’s the answer:
“Right… So… you’re a web developer right?
You build stuff on the internet… do you want people to use it?”
The developer answered:
The Googler continued:
“So in order to make sure that people can use it they have to know about it… You want to be the first or first couple of because I’m not going to go to page 99 and go like oh yeah this might be the perfect thing.
Because Google and other search engines are trying to figure out what is the best for this purpose and then show me those up front.”
Purpose of a Web Page
I like how Martin Splitt emphasized the need to identify the purpose. In my site review practice, among several common issues I find, one is a tendency to focus on keywords instead of purpose.
A client asked me about what keywords they needed to add to a page in order to improve their rankings. I felt like a doctor being asked what pill to take to get well.
Keywords are important but there are other issues at play that can affect a site’s ranking, and the purpose of a web page is an important starting point to focus on.
Meta Description as an SEO Factor
Martin’s emphasis on meta descriptions feels like either he is either overstating the usefulness of it or is revealing that Google has changed it’s mind and is giving the meta description more ranking influence than Google has previously advised.
It was a good show. I would like to see more myth busting but the show was thought provoking nonetheless.
I urge you to watch the show for yourself, it’s less than ten minutes long.
Local search is probably more visible than it has ever been since the advent of Google Maps. Yet, paradoxically, there’s almost no consumer-facing innovation taking place. There’s Google, Yelp, Facebook (somewhat) and a range of specialized vertical apps and sites, some of which have simply survived but aren’t thriving.
Little or no ‘horizontal’ innovation. Part of the lack of “horizontal” innovation in local is likely the result of venture capital not wanting to fund anything that goes up directly against Google. The company may appear to many investors now like an insurmountable juggernaut in local/mobile search.
Any new local-consumer startups, therefore, are likely to appear in specific industries or otherwise offer specialized use cases. Such is the case with Hotspot Law, a new legal search site that hopes to bring ZocDoc-style appointment scheduling to the legal profession. It also seeks to provide a more reliable and cost-effective flow of leads to consumer attorneys.
The legal vertical has a quite a few competitors, including Avvo (Internet Brands), LegalZoom, FindLaw and several others. Despite this, Hotspot Law founder Felix Shipkevich believes he’s solving two unsolved problems in the legal vertical.
“The legal market is in dire need of an upgrade,” argues Shipkevich.
Making direct connections with lawyers. “Once you’ve finished searching online, you have to start calling,” he said. “You don’t get to speak directly to attorneys, you typically talk to a gatekeeper.” He points out that this process of getting to a lawyer is time consuming for people who need legal help. “None of these [completing] platforms directly connect the consumer with an attorney.”
Shipkevich, who is an attorney and faculty member at Hofstra Law School, said he was inspired by ZocDoc and the way it enables direct connections between doctors and patients. Similarly, he wanted to remove the friction in lawyer-consumer matchmaking. Shipkevich explained that also sees Hotspot Law as a way to make “justice” more accessible to consumers.
Why you should care. Legal lead-gen is costly.Shipkevich believes that existing legal sites and ad solutions don’t serve lawyers particularly well either. “PPC advertising can be extremely expensive; in New York it can be $60 to $80 per click.” He adds that “Yelp is expensive. Sometimes it takes $2,000 to $4,000 to bring in a case.”
He wants to solve that problem with simplified reasonable pricing for lawyers who may be struggling to find clients. But he also sees Hotspot Law evolving into a platform to help attorneys manage existing clients. Currently the site only operates in New York, with plans to expand geographic coverage in the coming months.
For the time being Shipkevich will need to rely on SEO for discovery but over time he hopes to build a branded consumer destination. It will be very challenging given the current structure of local SERPs. One has to admire the ambition and chutzpah.
About The Author
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He researches and writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.
About one year ago, everything changed for me and for our community.
A tragedy that struck home so hard it shook us to our core.
A dear friend, brilliant mind, adored father, respected colleague … the list goes on, left us in a way that hits straight to the heart and wakes you up like very few other events can.
I certainly woke up that day. That alarm screamed as loud as it could and I still hear it to this day.
I know I wasn’t alone. So many of my peers experienced similar emotions, sensations, and reactions.
We Could No Longer Ignore the Problem
Sadly, this wasn’t the first tragedy we’d encountered that year – we lost other friends and colleagues as well.
But we knew we couldn’t stand to lose any more amazing people.
We couldn’t look away. We couldn’t just carry on anymore.
So we started talking.
I have been blown away by our internet marketing community. Many of us have never even met face to face and yet the comradery, the friendship, the support among us run rampant!
Never before have I seen a group of people come together so quickly and so openly as when we were forced to face this tragedy.
Groups were formed. Calls were made. Texts were sent. Face-to-face get-togethers were had. Columns like this one were created.
And the best part of it all? It didn’t stop!
We saw the need to stay connected. We recognized that we are a family that needs to support each other. And, perhaps most of all, we saw that we were not alone in our struggles.
It has been amazing to see the openness and honesty that has become so commonplace over the past year. I have seen people that once felt they couldn’t risk being seen without their mask on break down and lay themselves out in the most vulnerable ways.
I include myself in that list. I have become more able to reveal myself to the world around me. That has only been made possible by others sharing in that journey with me.
In leading up to this piece, I knew that I wanted to really find a way to focus on the positive changes that our community has seen because of Jordan Kasteler.
I wanted to honor him in a way that really brought some form of good to this incredible loss that we all experienced due to his passing.
Where Are We Now? Thoughts from Our Community
I reached out and asked a few people in our community if they would share some words of how they have been changed for the better as well as how they have seen our community as whole making changes to support each other over the past year.
Here is what they had to say:
“Working days, nights, and weekends was normal for me a few years ago. However, at that time I couldn’t say that I was really happy. I didn’t understand at the time that my work-life balance was completely off, and I now know that that could have developed into something truly horrifying.
I eventually reached such an emotionally unstable point that I hit a time where one week I was super productive, but the following week I felt hugely demotivated and absolutely miserable. (I know this is a familiar story with many others as well, I hear people telling similar stories and sharing similar experiences regularly.)
Over the past while, I have been working diligently to save myself from this emotional trap. This new focus has led me to investing more time into things that are not related to work and putting more time into the things that help to create a happier life for myself.
I can see that more people in our community are becoming more aware of the need to make this sort of a switch to their schedules and priorities as well, which is brilliant to see!”
“In the past year, I have noticed a massive shift in our community not being ashamed to reach out and ask for help, advice, or just a kind word. I feel like masks have been dropped, and people are not embarrassed to discuss what make them “real”; I love it!
I think many people used to feel they had to have public persona that was acceptable, and now they know we all have issues and it is OK to talk about.
I have a picture of Jordan out that I see every day. I moved past the guilt and the pain when I looked at it, and he is now a daily reminder to stay present with my friends as much as I can.
And, it is a reminder to me to stay focused on my well-being as well. I tend to overwork and do too much for everyone and end up exhausted. I take steps now to take care of me more than ever before.”
“Though I’ve been in the industry for years, I’m still a somewhat newer member of the SEO community. Call it fear of rejection, social anxiety, whatever, I’ve always been nervous to put myself in a position to be judged by my peers.
It really wasn’t until I was invited to an amazing Facebook group made up of a small close-knit group of industry peers focusing on supporting each other through the day-to-day struggles that I realized that nearly everyone shared the same fears, anxieties and experiences that I have.
What a relief it is to know there is a place where we share what we are feeling and have so much empathy! Finally I have a place I can turn to where people understand me.
Even if I don’t share as much as others, I have peace of mind knowing there are people there ready and willing to listen and help, where there’s no judgement, just open arms.”
“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress over the past year as a community. However, if I’m being completely honest, we still have a long way to go. I’m still hearing about issues of bullying. I’m seeing people piling on people they disagree with on Twitter.
While, thankfully, these are in the minority, the polarization and black-and-white thinking needs to stop. The judging and assuming needs to stop. The trolling and “mob mentality” needs to stop.
We need to stop fighting each other and start lifting each other up – treating everyone like human beings. Nobody is perfect, but I hope we will continue to see more people be able to let go of their hate and negativity to accept love and positivity into their lives. I know that will continue to be our aim with Friday Focus – to remind everyone that they are not alone in their struggles.
Ultimately, though, I am so happy to be a part of something so positive in our community – and it’s great to see so many others jumping onboard, too.”
Kim Krause Berg:
“It’s easy to assume that your peers are generally doing better than you, making more money than you, and are super successful in every way. It is only in the past few years that I realized this is baloney.
I respect people who remove their masks and show who they really are. We are people with lives and struggles, heartache, depression, and pain.
In the past year I have opened up more and made new friendships as a result. We have more in common with each other than we might think.”
“Over the past year I’ve seen an incredible shift in our community.
Social media itself breeds an environment where we see only the best of our peers and post the best of ourselves and being in marketing, needing to be on social media, needing to market ourselves on social media and seeing only the best version of those trained in presenting the best version of themselves – one can feel very alone in difficult times. Compounding that we face an often isolated profession where even sitting beside someone, we are focused on a screen and all they contain.
Sadly, we all know too well what that leads to, and over the past year we collectively recognized that we are human. That those around us are human. That others need support and perhaps most importantly, that we do too.
We finally heard the words spoken all too often after those tragic events, “If only they had asked for help.” And we took it upon ourselves to do so.
We finally knew to listen, to watch and to find out how those around us were doing, lest we face the loss of another friend who we would have dropped everything for, ‘If only they had asked for help.’
The community has grown it’s heart and soul over the past year.
There is still a lot to do. There are still many who don’t know where to turn. Many who don’t know who to talk to. But each time we reach out and each time we talk about challenges openly, share our own and listen to theirs … each time we do that, the community grows it’s heart a little more.
It has been a incredible year of change. While we will forever mourn the spark, the now burning fire keeps us all warmer.”
“One thing that has changed dramatically in our industry over the last year, is that as individuals, we’ve become a lot more vocal about asking for help when we need it.
I think most people are more than willing to help each other. They just have to know that someone needs help. Now that people are starting to open up more about their personal struggles, the community is able to better support them.”
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – whether I know you in person, whether I know you online, even if I don’t know you at all –- thank you for being here.
Thank you for caring and sharing and being a part of the positive change that we are all working so hard at creating.
Keep being a force for good in our community.
Together we will make a difference.
This piece is written in memory, honor, recognition, and gratitude of Jordan Kasteler. For all that he gave us, shared with us, taught us and left us with. We are eternally grateful.
***PLEASE DO NOT STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out, ask for help and know that you are valued. CLICK HERE for a list of phone numbers for Suicide Hotlines around the world.***