How to Claim Pole Position on Google in 2016 – Part 1
Google has been synonymous with search for years. (When was the last time you heard someone say ‘I’ll just “bing” that’?)
Even when writing this intro, I had to Google ‘common search engines’ to find examples of other popular search engines*.
(*if you’re interested, the top 5 most popular search engines are; Google, Bing, Yahoo! Search, Ask and Aol Search)
Google outperforms Bing, its closest rival, by more than 3 times (Google gets an estimated 1,100,000,000 unique monthly visitors, compared to Bing’s 350,000,000).
Even then, Google aren’t resting on their laurels. They’re committed to ensuring they stay on top, even if it includes paying Apple $1 billion in 2014 to keep them as the default search engine on iOS devices!
So it’s safe to say that spending your time (and money) focusing on improving your Google ranking is just good business sense. However, anyone who’s ever tried will know that’s easier said than done. So here are some SEO pointers for improving your Google Ranking in 2016.
It’s Not All Penguins, Pandas and Hummingbirds: How Google Ranking Works
Despite what many people might think, it’s not just algorithms determining where we end up on Google – although those penguins, pandas and hummingbirds do play a big part. Google employs hundreds of “Quality Raters” who help run experiments to assess the quality of their search results.
When the Quality Raters think the results are good, Google keeps doing what it’s doing, but if they starting flagging the results as poor, Google starts tweaking its algorithms. To help the Quality Raters determine what’s good and what’s poor, Google provides them with a 160 page “Quality Guidelines” document.
Google publicly released this document in December 2015, several days after it was leaked. While a condensed version had already been released in 2013, December 2015 was the first time Google ever released the FULL guidelines.
For those like C4B Media involved in the world of SEO, this document is as close to looking into Google’s ranking algorithm as we’re likely to get. While it doesn’t give the definitive answer as to how to rank number one on Google, it does offer some invaluable insights into what Google views as quality, and not-so-quality sites.
Unsurprisingly, in the days and weeks that followed, SEO bloggers began putting out their highlights and takeaways from the 160 pages. An ever trusted source of SEO information, Brian Dean from Backlinko, summed up the 3 most important takeaways in his email newsletter.
1. “Front and Centre”
In Google’s own words, they want the main content of the page to be “front and centre”. So it’s important to have your content ‘above the fold’, rather than expecting visitors to scroll down the page before they can read your first sentence.
2. “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (E-A-T)”
The document really focused on Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (shortened to E-A-T). They want you to show why Google’s users should trust the content on your site. This can be achieved by showing you’re an expert in your field or by having expert contributors to your site (expertise can come from experience, relevant education etc). They also want you to show authority from a website perspective (i.e. citing lots of sources and experts or, for something like a forum, how long a community has been active).
3. “Highly Meets” vs. “Fails to Meet”
Remember, Google’s main aim is to always give their users the best, most useful experience (as this helps them stay top of the search engine game). So when you type in a question, they want the page you click through to answer that question. If it does then it’s regarded as “Highly Meets”, but if you have to click back to the search results to find a more comprehensive answer then it’s considered “Fails to Meet”. So if you want your page to ‘highly meet’ the needs of Google users then you need to have long, in-depth content covering your topic from angles.
Also worth noting is that any site that is not mobile-friendly will get “Fails to Meet.”
(For a more in-depth look at the guidelines, without having to trawl through all 160 pages, check out Moz’s blog ‘30+ Important Takeaways from Google’s Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines’)
Remember we said improving your Google Ranking is easier said than done?
Think about this. As a measure of relevance and how it ‘meets the requirement’ of searchers, Google gives every page on each website it indexes a ‘PageRank’ score. Even the BBC News website home page only gets 9 out of 10, and the UK page of the BBC news website only gets a meagre 8 out 10. How difficult must it be for the rest of us?
As we mentioned above, if your site is not mobile-friendly (i.e. is not properly optimised for viewing and use on a mobile device) then it will be deemed as ‘fails to meet’ Google’s users’ needs. Clearly this is not something you want. Google tells their raters to rate any page that is not mobile-friendly at the lowest rating.
5. Content Continues to Be King!
Google is looking for useful, relevant and fresh content. Duplicate content on your site adds no value for your user, so get rid of it. After the Panda 3.6 update was launched, there is no way for sites with duplicate content to be in Google Top 10.
While keyword stuffing used to mean having content so laden down with keywords it became unreadable, now over using keywords to the point where it’s a little annoying can get you in trouble. Quality Raters are also told to look out for attempts to make content appear more recent by changing the dates on content without making any actual changes to the content.
Don’t try and trick Google, it always knows!
Still on the subject of content, Google hates what it calls ‘thin’ content. Thin content is content deemed to be of little or no value to the reader.
For our purposes this basically translates as ‘short’ content – often in the form of short little blogs of 200 words, which are hastily written as a way of keeping the website ‘fresh’ or which are copied and reworded from other websites. The definition also includes poorly written copy with bad spelling or grammar, content that lacks any genuinely helpful or useful or relevant information, or links to other pages.
The current rollout of Panda 4.2 is intended to penalise websites that contain too much of this thin content, because the owners have not made enough effort to provide a useful or relevant in depth piece of content for visitors.
If you’re worried that your website content might be too thin, contact C4B Media.
6. Dwell Time / Bounce Rate
Dwell Time has been called the ‘most important metric you’re not measuring’. Simply put, dwell time is the actual length of time that a visitor spends on a page before returning to the SERPs (search engine results page).
If a searcher spends a long time on your page then Google is happy as it shows the visitor has viewed the majority of the content on your page. To help improve dwell time put your content above the fold, so it’s easily accessible, and break your content up into chunks which people can scan and digest quicker.
These 6 Google Ranking Factors form just the tip of a very big SEO iceberg, and in the following months we’ll explore other factors which will help improve your Google ranking in 2016.
If you’re interested in making your site mobile-friendly, or updating its design and content, to ensure your potential clients have the best chance of finding you on Google then get in contact with C4B Media on 01763 877110. We’d love to help!