Google releases frequent updates to its algorithm, and they rarely tell us what those changes do or what, if anything, you can do to prepare. As a result, superstition and myths abound in the SEO industry.
Enter Google’s SEO Myth Busters episode one. Martin Splitt, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, gave us some insight on what the top 3 SEO factors are to focus on. Here’s an overview of the exchange:
Google’s #1 Ranking Factor: Relevance
Martin was asked:
“If you could give me like… top three things that I should consider, what would that be?”
“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 makes a lot of sense, and is good guidance. Content for content’s sake is not what Google is looking for. They are looking for something beyond fluff… they want “content that serves a purpose”. And why wouldn’t they? Content that is relevant to their end user is the ultimate goal of any Google algorithm update.
As industry professionals, it’s sometimes hard for us to see past keywords and look clearly at the purpose of the page and the intent of the end user. If we can do this though, we will be ahead of the game for providing Google (and our site visitors) with what they want.
Google’s #2 Ranking Factor: Meta Data
Martin was asked:
“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.”
This one left us scratching our heads a bit. It’s been understood for a while now that meta descriptions themselves are not a ranking factor, so unless Google has changed something, we probably need to look deeper to understand what Martin meant.
You need to have an overview of what the content is about when you write meta descriptions, and an understanding of what its about. If you automate this task, it can be more efficient and easier. However, lots of your content starts to look cookie-cutter. Make sure the meta descriptions and titles are unique and you should be ok.
Google’s #3 Ranking Factor: Site Performance
Martin was asked:
“So performance isn’t just making my website faster but it’s also making my website more visible to others?”
“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.
…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.”
Google has been very open about their transition to “mobile first” search results. One of the major components of this is speed, as mobile users are often not connected to wifi.
Martin was clear that speed is important and that Google will not overlook a sites speed when determining the sites rank. He also was clear that speed was not a factor that would override the others, as Google values content and user intent first.
Overall, this was a very informative show. The team at Emu heard some things we expected, and one we didn’t. Meta descriptions have always been something our team gives careful attention to, but more for the purpose of user intent and clarity rather than as an SEO ranking factor. If Google has changed something here, that could be very interesting.