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.”
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
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.