If you’re actively involved in the marketing of an e-commerce business or other for-profit website, one of your job’s biggest challenges is figuring out how to outrank your competition. One of the ways in which you can get a leg up over your competitors is by building links to your site. The quality and quantity of a website’s inbound links factor greatly into that site’s ability to rank on Google for competitive search terms.
You may have encountered some competitors’ websites, however, with rankings that remain “sticky” regardless of how many links you build. In some cases, the websites that outrank you may even have significantly lower domain authority than your site. What’s happening? How is it possible for your website to be outranked by a site with fewer links and lower domain authority?
It all comes down to Google’s ranking algorithm.
Google’s Algorithm Has Changed With Time
When Google launched more than 20 years ago, the primary reason for the search engine’s success was a new algorithm called PageRank. Before Google and PageRank appeared, it was possible to get a page to rank first on every search engine for a given keyword just by repeating that keyword many times within the page’s text. PageRank made it possible for Google to weed out those low-quality pages by using links between websites as a way to gauge content trustworthiness. If a website had many inbound links – and the websites linking to that site had many backlinks themselves – PageRank would deem the website trustworthy and would assign it a higher ranking.
After Google had been around for many years, though, it became obvious that PageRank could also be gamed. Website owners could improve their sites’ rankings simply by building links. By the early 2010s, publishers with enormous budgets – such as eHow.com – had so many inbound links that they could get on Google’s first page for virtually any search term. People called eHow and other similar websites “content mills” because the articles on those sites were generally created by writers who were paid poorly and were not writing within their fields of expertise. The biggest content mills used armies of freelancers to produce many thousands of mediocre articles each month.
The engineers at Google began to create new extensions to Google’s ranking algorithm. New algorithm extensions with names like “Penguin” and “Panda” were designed to penalize existing content mills and help Google do a better job of identifying quality content automatically so as to keep content mills from rising in prominence again in the future.
To Write Quality Content, Think Like an Algorithm
In this article, we’re going to identify some of the ways in which Google identifies high-quality content. One of the best ways to find quality content for yourself, though, is by looking at websites in industries that aren’t allowed to advertise on Google AdWords. The vaping industry is one such example. Websites like V2 Cigs UK can’t bid on keywords, so the only way for those sites to generate traffic is by publishing top-notch content.
In your quest to produce content that consistently earns high rankings on Google, one important thing to remember is that, while Google does use humans to spot-check search results occasionally, most of Google’s search rankings are determined entirely by algorithms. Google uses metrics that a computer can measure, in other words, to determine which pages should earn high rankings. To identify quality content as Google does, you’ll need to think like a computer.
So, what metrics tell Google that content Is good?
Research has consistently shown that the content most likely to appear in Google’s top 10 results for any keyword – and the content most likely to generate social media shares and organic inbound links – is at least 2,000 words. Lengthy content is a signal to Google that you’ve covered a topic thoroughly. It’s also a signal to users that you’ve done your research and filled the article with useful information.
When you write an article aiming for a high word count, remember that Google does a better job of processing natural language than ever and can identify filler. If a sentence doesn’t inform the reader in some way, leave it out. Remember also that, while stop words might inflate your word count, Google will most likely ignore those words when parsing your text.
When you write an article with the goal of ranking for a specific keyword phrase, you need to do much more than just using that keyword phrase in the article. You should also use as many synonyms and closely related terms as possible because that’s a signal of your expertise on the subject.
Regardless of what you’re writing about, Google has probably indexed hundreds – possibly thousands – of pages on that topic already and knows what words are likely to appear in an article on a given subject. Vary your word choices and don’t simply use the same keyword over and over.
The words that you publish don’t matter a great deal if you don’t structure those words to maximize readability and do your best to maintain readers’ attention. High-quality content maintains engagement with frequent use of images and structural elements such as subheadings and bullet lists. Google looks for those elements because they signify that you care about the user experience. Subheadings and bullet lists are also structured data that help Google understand what your content is about and index it appropriately.
Google pays close attention to what people do after they click search results. If most of the people who visit a given page immediately click back to view the search results again, that page probably isn’t a very good result for that keyword phrase. If people who visit a given page tend to stick around for a while, on the other hand, that’s a signal to Google that people are engaging with the content and find it useful. If you’ve followed the other advice in this article, it’s likely that strong user engagement metrics will follow naturally. It’s wise to keep an eye on Google Analytics – or the analytics platform of your choice – to confirm that your website’s visitors are happy.