Stop the madness – Understanding Google’s Algorithm

The everlasting mystery of the internet, the Google algorithm. Ok, maybe it isn’t a complete mystery. We have a pretty good idea of how it works conceptually, the details are just a little bit hazy. It is easy enough to understand the process, the criteria, and the philosophy behind it. Exactly how they are all combined, and in what ratios, is somewhat tougher.

Crawling
All search engines use tools known as “crawlers” to go through all the web pages on the internet and analyze them for content. These automated bots strip information out of html text and prepare it for indexing.

Indexing
This is where all the data that has been viewed by the crawlers is stored. When you initiate a search, it is this database they use to look for relevant information. As you might expect, going through this meticulously organized index is much faster than scanning billions of web pages each time a search query is entered.

The Algorithms
These are the programs that determine which results to show and where to rank them. Google uses a variety that apply depending on the type of search. There are several things these programs do in an attempt to provide the best results:

Analyze the words
They use language code to look beyond the exact words that are used and estimate what the user actually means, in case the wording isn’t clear or ideal. This will take care of typos and try to narrow down words with multiple meanings. This is also why you see the “Did you mean…?” text.

Match the search
At this point, the algorithms are comparing your search terms to the information on web pages in their index. They are looking for volume of keyword occurrences and apparent relevance.

Page ranking
The competition starts here. For most searches, there are millions of sites with related information, so it is Google’s job to rank these pages as accurately as possible to meet the desires of the user. In addition to keyword volume, they will also measure the age of the content, the user experience of the site, and its popularity among previous searches.

Context
This is information that is specific to the user. Past search history, location, and search parameters are three of the main criteria they use to provide the best results for each individual.

Best Results
Before spitting out the results, the algorithms do one more pass to evaluate the quality of the results as a whole, in an attempt to provide a diverse, comprehensive set of options for the user to choose from.

Therefore, while details and emphasis change from time to time (i.e. mobile-first indexing), the overall method remains the same, which means the basics of SEO continue to be quality content, effective keywords, and easily navigable sites.

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2018 Google’s Algorithm Changes and Optimization Strategies

Optimizing for the New SERP Features

Google has gone and given itself a serious overhaul for 2018, and most are still wondering exactly how these changes will affect their business and its page ranking. SERP, or Search Engine Results Page, features refer to all the different formats Google now uses to return search results. Although the majority of these features will only apply to first page results, those with realistic aspirations of getting there need to understand how to optimize for them. Two of the most common features are “Top Stories” and “Ads”, but since the first is normally reserved for large news outlets and the latter is mostly decided by how much you pay, we’ll focus on the other main features.

Local Packs

These occur when the user searches for something for which multiple options can be provided within their geographic area.

Optimizing for this feature requires detailed location data on your site and profiles, plenty of user reviews on sites like Yelp, specific schema markups, and accurate information on Google My Business.

Site Links

This is when Google displays a full set of more specific links to pages within your site in addition to your home page. Achieving this feature puts your site in a commanding position, as it not only dominates the page but also makes it easy for the user to click directly to the page they want.

To optimize for a spot in site links your site must have a very organized, easily navigated structure with unique content on each relevant page. Internal links, keyword metadata, and submitting a site structure to Google Search Console will all increase your chances as well.

Related Questions

These come up when the algorithm isn’t entirely convinced you are asking for exactly what you want to know or they simply want to provide you with options. Either way, this is good for the user as they receive ideas to further improve their search, and it can be good for websites that provide a lot of related content that could be useful.

Optimization strategies for the related questions section include using similar keywords, subtle variations in wording, thorough content, and even including actual questions in your content (i.e. FAQ).

Featured Snippets

This useful feature involves providing another level of information about a site beyond simply a link and description. There are a variety of formats in which these appear—paragraphs, lists, charts, tables—and they tend to match the search very closely and are usually the top choice.

The best ways to earn featured snippets are to directly answer the question that is being asked, to provide extremely relevant and related results, and to offer it in the format most users are looking to find, in this case, a ranked list.

In all likelihood, it is impossible to optimize your site to match all the new SERP features, so choosing a couple of the most likely fits and focusing on them is usually the best strategy.

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7 Tips to Keep You on the First Search Page

It’s no secret that the drop-off in traffic from Google page one search results to page two is disproportionately large. In this day and age of instant gratification, people seem to feel as though they simply don’t have time to search beyond page one. Obviously, that isn’t literally true, but it doesn’t change the fact that optimizing your site to appear on the first page can reap tremendous benefits for your business. Here are some tips to help keep your Google ranking as high as possible:

Relevance
The primary goal of any search is to track down relevant information. Which means your ranking is going to be extremely dependent on how closely your content matches the search criteria. Once you have determined the specific searches you want to target, make sure all your content applies to that area.

Quality
Google is now doing a much better job of evaluating content as opposed to simply counting keywords. If your content is consistently informative, well-written, and entertaining your chances of a top ranking go up accordingly.

Quantity
While excellent content is non-negotiable, the fact remains that in most industries there are many businesses providing high-quality information. Therefore, good content will get you into this group, then producing the most content possible will help set you apart within the group.

Common Questions
Providing relatively direct answers to very specific questions is one of the best ways to get your site to appear in a featured snippet in position zero. Work out the question, or questions, that are most likely to be asked by your ideal customer then strive to provide a comprehensive and accurate answer.

Long-Tail Keywords
There is far too much competition out there to realistically achieve high rankings on common one-word searches. Similar to targeting exact questions, you will want to focus on long-tail keywords, which are longer, more specific keyword phrases that narrow the target group.

Spend
It may not be your first choice but one of the most straightforward ways to get yourself on page one is to simply bid high enough on Google AdWords. The feasibility of this plan will depend on the details of the topic and product, but usually, enough money can get it done.

Guest Posting
Not only do guest posts provide great exposure to new audiences and help to establish you as a thought leader in the industry, but they are also a terrific source of backlinks which are a big help to your ranking.

The complete list of SEO techniques for maximizing your Google ranking is continually evolving, but if you follow these key strategies you will develop a strong platform to work from.

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