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Google Shares Top 3 SEO Factors

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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.”

Screenshot of Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Martin Splitt and a guest on Google's Myth Busters showGoogle’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.

Question:

“So content is the number one priority. Could you mention another two things that are important for this?”

Answer

“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

Screenshot of a web developer on Google's Myth Busters show asking why it's important to rank at the top of GoogleThe 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:

“Certainly.”

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.”

Takeaways

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.

Watch Myth Busters Episode #1

Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author





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LinkedIn Users Can View All Sponsored Content From the Past 6 Months

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LinkedIn pages will soon feature an ‘Ads’ tab showing all sponsored content an advertiser has run in the past six months.

The company says this change is being made in an effort to bring even greater transparency to ads on LinkedIn.

“At LinkedIn, we are committed to providing a safe, trusted, and professional environment where members can connect with each other, engage with relevant content, and grow their careers. Increased transparency to both our customers and members is critical to creating this trusted environment.”

While viewing ads in the new tab, users can click on the ads but the advertiser will not be charged.

Ad clicks from within the ‘Ads’ tab will not impact campaign reporting either.

From a marketing perspective, I see this as being an opportunity for competitor research.

Do you know a company who is killing it with LinkedIn advertising? View their ads tab to see if you can learn from what they’re doing.

Of course, the Ads tab will only show you what their ads look like.

It won’t reveal anything about how those ads are targeted or what the company’s daily budget is. But hey, it’s something.

LinkedIn says this is the first of many updates to come as the company furthers its effort to provide users with useful information about the ads they see.

The new Ads tab is rolling out globally over the next few weeks





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SEMrush expands to Amazon with Sellerly for product page testing

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SEMrush is a popular competitive intelligence platform used by search marketers. The company, recently infused with $40 million in funding to expand beyond Google, Bing and Yahoo insights, has launched a new product called Sellerly specifically for Amazon sellers.

What is Sellerly? Announced Monday, Sellerly designed to give Amazon sellers the ability to split test product detail pages.

“By introducing Sellerly as a seller’s buddy in Amazon marketing, we hope to improve hundreds of existing Amazon sellers’ strategies,” said SEMrush Chief Strategy Officer Eugene Levin in a statement. “Sellerly split testing is only the first step here. We’ve already started to build a community around the new product, which is very important to us. We believe that by combining feedback from users with our leading technology and 10 years of SEO software experience, we will be able to build something truly exceptional for Amazon sellers.”

How does it work? Sellerly is currently free to use. Amazon sellers connect their Amazon accounts to the tool in order to manage their product pages. Sellers can make changes to product detail pages to test against the controls. Sellerly collects data in real time and sellers can then choose winners based on views and conversions.

Sellers can run an unlimited number of tests.

Why we should care. Optimized product detail pages on Amazon is a critical aspect of success on the platform. As Amazon continues to generate an increasing share of e-commerce sales for merchants big and small, and competition only increases, product page optimization becomes even more critical. Amazon does not support AB testing natively. Sellerly is not the first split test product for Amazon product pages to market. Splitly (paid), Listing Dojo (free) are two others that offer similar split testing services.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all of our publications. Ginny writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, she has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Google on Domain Penalties that Don’t Expire

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Google’s John Mueller was presented with a peculiar situation of a website with zero notifications of a manual action that cannot rank for it’s own brand name. Mueller analyzed the situation, thought it through, then appeared to reach the conclusion that maybe Google was keeping it from ranking.

This is a problem that has existed for a long time, from before Mueller worked at Google. It’s a penalty that’s associated with a domain that remains even if the domain is registered by a new buyer years later.

Description of the Problem

The site with a penalty has not received notices of a manual penalty.

That’s what makes it weird because, how can a site be penalized if it’s not penalized, right?

The site had an influx of natural links due to word of mouth popularity. Yet even with those links, the site cannot rank for it’s own name or a snippet of content from it’s home page.

Had those natural links or the content been a problem then Google would have notified the site owner.  So the problem is not with the links or the content.

Nevertheless, the site owner disavowed old inbound links from before he purchased the site but the site still did not rank.

Here is how the site owner described the problem:

“We bought the domain three years ago to have a brand called Girlfriend Collective, it’s a clothing company on the Shopify platform.

We haven’t had any… warnings from our webmaster tools that says we have any penalizations… So I was just wondering if there was any other underlying issues that you would know outside of that…

The domain is girlfriend.com and the query would be Girlfriend Collective.

It’s been as high as the second page of the SERPs, but… we get quite a few search queries for our own branded terms… it will not show up.

My assumption was that before we bought it, it was a pretty spammy dating directory.”

John Mueller’s response was:

“I can double check to see from our side if there’s anything kind of sticking around there that you’d need to take care of…”

It appears as if Mueller is being circumspect in his answer and doesn’t wish to say that it might be a problem at Google. At this point, he’s still holding on to the possibility that there’s something wrong with the site. You can’t blame him because he probably gets this all the time, where someone thinks it’s Google but it’s really something wrong with the site.

Is There Something Wrong with the Domain Name?

I checked Archive.org to see what it’s history was. It was linking to adult sites prior to 2004 and sometime in mid 2004 the domain switched it’s monetization strategy away from linking to adult sites to displaying Google ads as a parked domain.

A parked domain is a domain that does not have a website on it. It just has ads. People used to type domain names into the address field and sites like Girlfriend.com would monetize the “type-in” traffic with Google AdSense, usually with a service that shows ads on the site owner’s behalf in exchange for a percentage of the earnings.

The fact that it was linking to adult sites could be a factor that has caused Google to more or less blacklist Girlfriend.com and keep it from ranking.

Domain Related Penalties Have Existed for a Long Time

This has happened many times over the years. It used to be standard to check the background of a domain before purchasing it.

I remember the case of a newbie SEO who couldn’t rank for his own brand name. Another SEO who was more competent contacted Google on his behalf and Google lifted the legacy domain penalty.

The Search Query

Mueller referred to the search queries the site owner wanted to rank for as being “generic” and commented that ranking for those kinds of “generic” terms is tricky.

This is what John Mueller said:

“In general, when it comes to kind of generic terms like that, that’s always a bit tricky. But it sounds like you’re not trying to rank for like just… girlfriend. “

However the phrase under discussion was the company name, Girlfriend Collective, which is not a generic phrase.

It could be argued that the domain name is not relevant for the brand name. So perhaps Mueller was referencing the generic nature of the domain name when he commented on ranking for “generic” phrases?

I don’t understand why “generic” phrases entered into this discussion. The site owner answered Mueller to reinforce that he’s not trying to rank for generic phrases, that he just wants to rank for his brand name.

The search phrase the site owner is failing to rank for is Girlfriend Collective. Girlfriend Collective is not a generic keyword phrase.

Is the Site Poorly Optimized?

When you visit the website itself, the word Collective does not exist in the visible content.

The word “collective” is nowhere on the page, not even in the footer copyright. The word is there, but it’s in an image, it has to be in text for Google to recognize it for the regular search results.

That’s a considerable oversight to omit your own brand name from the website’s home page.

Screenshot of Girlfriend.com's footer

  • The brand name exists in the title tag and other meta data.
  • It does not exist in the visible content where it really matters.
  • The word collective is not a part of the domain name.

A reasonable case could be made that girlfriend.com does not merit ranking for the brand name of Girlfriend Collective because the word collective only exists in the title tag of the home page, not on the page itself.

Google Does Not Even Rank it for Page Snippets

However that reasonable case falls apart upon closer scrutiny. If you take any content from the page and search with that snippet of content in Google, you’ll see that the domain name does not even rank for the content that is on it’s own page.

The site is fully indexed, but the content is not allowed to rank.

I searched for the following phrases but only found other pages and social media posts ranking in Google, not Girlfriend.com:

  • “Five classic colors made from recycled water bottles.”
  • “A bunch of old water bottles have never looked so good.”

That first phrase, “Five classic colors…” doesn’t rank anywhere on Google for the first several pages.

But as you can see below, Girlfriend.com ranks #6 in Bing:

Screenshot of Girlfriend.com ranking in Bing.Bing has no trouble ranking Girlfriend Collective for a snippet of text taken from the home page. Google does not show it at all. This points to this issue being something to do with Google and not with the site itself.

Even though Girlfriend.com appears to fall short in its search optimization, that is not the problem. The problem is that Google is preventing any content from that domain from ranking.

The reason Google is preventing that content from ranking is because the domain was problematic in the past. At some point in its history it was filtered from ranking. It’s a Legacy Google Penalty.

Checking the snapshot of girlfriend.com via Archive.org shows that it was being used to promote adult websites prior to 2004.

This is what it looked like sometime in 2004 and onward. It appears to be a parked domain that is showing Google AdSense ads.

Screenshot of Girlfriend.com from 2004This is a snapshot of Girlfriend.com circa 2004. It wasn’t a directory as the site owner believed. Checking the HTML source code reveals that the page is displaying Google AdSense ads. That’s what a parked domain looked like.

Parked domains used to be able to rank. But at some point after 2004 Google stopped ranking those pages.

There’s no way to speculate if the domain received it’s penalty before 2004 or after.

Site Can’t Rank for it’s Own Brand Name

There are many reasons why a site can’t rank for it’s own domain name or words from it’s own pages. If you suspect that your site may be suffering from a legacy Google penalty, you can verify the previous content by checking Archive.org.

Archive.org is a non-profit that stores snapshots of what web pages look like. Archive.org allows you to verify if your domain was previously used by someone else to host low quality content.

Unfortunately, Google does not provide a way to contact them to resolve this matter.

Bing Ranks Girlfriend.com for Girlfriend Collective

If there was a big problem with links or content on Girlfriend.com that was keeping it from ranking on Google, then it would very likely be apparent on Bing.

Bing and Google use different algorithms. But if there was something so massively wrong with Girlfriend Collective, whether site quality or a technical issue, there would be a high probability that the massive problem would keep it from ranking at Bing.

Bing has no problem ranking Girlfriend.com for it’s brand name:

Screenshot of Bing search results showing that it ranks Girlfriend.com in a normal mannerBing ranks Girlfriend.com in a normal manner. This may be proof that there is no major issue with the Girlfriend.com site itself. The problem may be at Google.

Google’s John Mueller Admits it Might be Google

After listening to how the site owner has spent three years waiting for the legacy domain penalty to drop off, three years of uploading disavows, three years of bidding on AdWords for it’s own brand name, John Mueller seemed to realize that the issue was not on the site owner’s side but on Google’s side.

This is what John Mueller offered:

“I need to take a look to see if there’s anything sticking around there because it does seem like the old domain was pretty problematic. So that… always makes it a little bit harder to turn it around into something reasonable.

But it feels like after a couple of years that should be possible. “

In the end, Mueller admitted that it might be something on Google’s side. However an issue that remains is that there is no solution for other publishers. This is not something a publisher can do on their own like a disavow. It’s something a Googler must be made aware of in order to fix.

Watch the Google Webmaster Hangout here

Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author





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