Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What is Google Looking For?

What is Google looking for? To many in the SEO community, the answer is defined by the algorithms. The algorithms do tell us what Google is looking for--but only in one sense. The evolution of the algorithms reveals that each update is the best Google can do now; implicit in this evolution, is the admission that the Google can do better and better.

So yes, the algorithms can tell us what Google is looking for today, but perhaps not tomorrow.

So how can a business create a sustainable website that attracts visitors year after year even as the algorithms change? We believe the answer to this question is startlingly simple.

Before we answer this question, however, let's take a look at our premise. Is it true, in fact, that Google can do better and better? Or perhaps more to the point, does Google want to do better?

Algorithms, of course, are imperfect. Some feel that this imperfection is, in part, intentional. Last spring, Eric Lonstein, writing for The Harvard Business Review, stated the case plainly:

"Although industry leading and innovative, Google’s organic search algorithm is inefficient and imperfect because it creates large barriers to entry and incumbency advantages. Google likely recognizes these inefficiencies, but chooses not to significantly alter its technological approach due to legacy processes and economic motivations."

Lonstein's intriguing article, "The imperfection and Injustice of Google Organic Search," claims that the reason that Google will not change (appreciably) for the better is PageRank™, a system that defines ranking by counting inbound and outbound links to a website. Lonstein seems to have neglected Google's evolving thinking about links, yet he does make a good point about Google's reasons for staying the PageRank™ course--essentially because of Google's own corporate culture as well as its willingness to appease its biggest customers.

Lonstein on Google's corporate culture: "Google is slow to significantly alter its algorithms due to deeply embedded processes and perverse customer incentives. Google’ highly complex algorithmic systems are heavily dependent on PageRank technology. Moreover, when a system is highly successful, a corporate culture evolves with distinct processes and priorities that shape approaches to problems and reinforce the existing systems."

Lonstein on Google's willingness to appease its big customers: "Google’s largest advertising partners, such as Amazon and Overstock, will likely oppose significant changes to Google’s organic search engine. These companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on SEO optimization by generating thousands of inbound links to their sites. As compensation for these investments, Google’s large advertisers expect Google to keep its organic search algorithm consistent so that the companies can continue to achieve favorable ROI for their advertisements."

One can debate whether Lonstein's premises are true. We've written here before about the problems with algorithms--most recently about how the algorithms seemed to filter information about Ferguson: "Algorithms Have Consequences: #Ferguson, Facebook, and Algorithm Bias."

On the other hand, many in the SEO community might be quick to add that Google's recent refinements, specifically the Penguin algorithm, which targets bad links, has changed the nature and purpose of links, and that the importance of links has been devalued. Last month on the Moz blog, Paddy Moogan predicted, for example, that deep links will matter less and less. Even then, Moogan writes, "Google is always looking for more data, more signals, more indicators of whether or not a certain page is a good result for a user at a certain moment in time."

So, again, how can a business create a sustainable website that attracts visitors year after year even as the algorithms change? The reason we've so extensively quoted thoughts on algorithms here is to illustrate a point: algorithms change, people change, and thinking about algorithms change. How can you maintain a viable offering in the face of this change?

For the answer, you might look to the successful companies of the present and future: Apple, for example, or GE. Both companies have offered exceptional products backed by exceptional marketing campaigns. Our startlingly simple answer, then, is this: make a great product and create a great marketing campaign.

To this point, we believe Moogan offers a helpful marketing template:

"Marketing is hard. If you or your client wants to compete and win customers, then you need to be prepared to ask really hard questions about the company. Here are just a few that I've found difficult when talking to clients:

Why does the company exist? (The answer has nothing to do with making money)
Why do you deserve to rank well in Google?
What makes you different to your competitors?
If you disappeared from Google tomorrow, would anyone notice?
Why do you deserve to be linked to?
What value do you provide for users?"

By answering these simple questions, you can develop a campaign that will ensure success--independent of the algorithms.

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