Search engines are constantly evolving. People who succeed in marketing their businesses and/or products online understand four search engines concepts very well:
First, they understand how relevancy is important for their buyers.
Second, they understand the importance of being an authority in the minds of buyers.
Third, they know that popularity online is essential.
Four, they understand segmentation.
But you might be thinking:
“Sure I know that already but how do I apply these concepts to rank my page in Google?”
or maybe even:
“I don’t need to think about that! I have an SEO guy who I pay to do that for me…”
Here’s the deal:
If you want to learn and apply these concepts you need to read this post. If you are thinking of “outsourcing” your search engine optimization to the “SEO guy” who wants to “help you out” you need to read this post.
To help you keep these concepts front of mind I have coined an acronym, RAPS, to help you remember these concepts:
RAPS: The Search Engine Sandwich
You cannot ignore these concepts and if you spend just a few minutes learning more about them now you might save yourself $1000’s in SEO expenses and get better and more lasting search engine results.
How do I know this?
Well, basically Google told me, as it tells everyone who takes the time to locate Google’s guidelines and advice and takes it to heart. There is no magic bullet! If someone calls you or emails you with promises of ranking you on page one of Google ask them these questions:
- How will you rank my pages?
- How do I know you will get results?
If their answers do not touch on the four concepts of search engines, the RAPS, then RUN LIKE HELL!
Let’s define these concepts:
When a person enters a search query they have a specific intention. Search engines like Google want to find the best answers to questions for their users. The way search engines determine what a webpage is about has been changing.
Web page relevance used to be just about keyword phrase matching. This is shifting to something called semantic search. Semantic search is an attempt to understand:
- Intention – what the searcher wants
- Context – the relevant background of both the searcher and the topics related to their search entry
Semantic search engines attempt to interpret meaning from search entries. The goal of a search engine is to link a searcher with the best information available for their intention and context exactly when they need it.
This is a pretty big subject so let’s start with asking yourself two questions:
- What is the intent of your webpage(s)?
- How will anyone or thing (search engines) looking at it know your intent?
For example, my intent on this page is to introduce you to four broad concepts in the way search engines work to you. I am not writing this for the seasoned professional. I am writing this for someone like you who wants to turn their ideas into income. With this in mind I will be introducing concepts that are important to know for this audience that are in small bit sized chunks. The art and science of on page relevancy will be discussed in greater detail in my upcoming post Content and Copywriting Concepts You Need to Know in 2015.
To ensure you demonstrate your relevance to the search engines I have prepared a checklist for your website :
Rules for becoming relevant to search engines:
- HTML5 : Ensure you webpage is written in HTML5 and uses its semantic language to help the search engines understand your content.
- Use responsive design: Responsive design means your webpage will be readable on mobile devices such as tablets and phones.
- Structure: Use of words strongly related to your intention in the title, headings, bold and link tags all help a search engine determine what your page is about
- Include Links to authority sites: To help a search engine know what your page is about it helps to have links to authority pages it already understands very well. The anchor text also needs to relate to your webpage topic.
- Simple Metadata: Metadata is information that can be inferred about a document, but is not contained within it. For example, images and videos need to be labelled with words that are relevant to the central idea of the page or post. Tools such as the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast can help you integrate metadata into their webpages without you needing to know much if any HTML5.
- Regular updates: A fresh site that is regularly updated will appear more relevant than one that has not changed for 10 years.
- Social proof: Simply put. Links to social networks is a first step. More on social linking in the next section.
For the tech savvy or your webmaster/web designer (Not to be ignored if you desire to be relevant for the long term – if not doing it yourself then find someone who can help you with this!)
- Microdata, RDFa and JSON-LD: These markup languages are inserted directly into your HTML5 code and help search engines understand the information on your webpage and provide richer and more relevant results for users. This markup can also make your site more understandable by new tools and applications that make use of this structure. Search engines have come together to form a common language to provide a shared collection of schemas for use by webmasters. This is pretty code heavy stuff but important if you want your site to be more useful and relevant into the future. Ask your webmaster. If they have no clue what you are talking about it might be time to look elsewhere if you want to remain or become relevant. Whether you are producing creative artwork or selling books online there will be a Schema for marking up your HTML5 so you can help the search engines understand the meaning of your content. There is no avoiding this in 2015. Learn it yourself or get some qualified help.
- Rich Snippets: If you use WordPress there are some plugins you can start using with no code experience at all. Try the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin by Brainstorm Force to get started today. After researching for this post I know I did!
Shortcuts to get you started:
If you feel a bit overwhelmed by that advice there are a few quick and easy things you can do right now:
- Load the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast – assuming you have a WordPress site otherwise skip to step 3 (BTW if you have not tried WordPress yet then it might be worth looking at)
- Simply use the red-orange-green light system of this plugin to analyze your pages and posts. Make additions and changes until you have green lights. It will prompt you to add focus keywords and then prompt you to increase or decrease the density of these words. It is good to use a tool like this after you have first written your content. See me upcoming post for more information on writing great copy.
- Choose a single topic for your post and select a keyword to get started.
- Measure the abundance of other webpage titles that also use this keyword.
- In the Google search box enter: intitle:”keyword phrase” and note the number of hits. This is your direct competition. The fewer the better.
- Test small changes in your keyword to locate a keyword that has the least competition.
- Try this search on Google right now: intitle:”search engine concepts”. When I tried this last (19th April 2015) I found only 842 pages! Compare this to intitle:”search engine” which yielded over 2.3 million results! A bit more competition out there for that keyword. That is why my keyword phrase for this article is search engine concepts!
- Include your keyword in the title tag
To learn more take a look at the handy infographics I have collected on Pinterest for you.
If your website is linked from sites or people that have authority in the eyes of the search engines this will signal credibility to you, your content and business.
Web 1.0 describes the time when the web was simply a network of webpages. During Web 1.0, search engine ranking was all about linking from authority sites. Linking and therefore PageRank has been prone to abuse from the beginning. It spawned a cottage industry in the black hat SEO industry of private blog networks that passed on “authority” or “link juice” in order to rank on search engines. Not surprisingly, Google has updated its search engine algorithm numerous times in an attempt to eradicate this practice. Websites and IP’s found to be using this practice of gaming the system can suffer being de-indexed. This can take a business from ranking number one in search to nowhere. Getting professional help with your website to reach your audience is very important unless you are learning what you need to know yourself. The good thing is that this black hat practice is becoming less prevalent. The important thing for you is to stay away from SEO guru’s who promise they will rank you first on Google for your keyword. You need to test the waters, find references, look at their previous work and look for Spammy or Black Hat practices. This can be fairly difficult to spot without help.
In the early days, the internet linked documents and web pages. This still occurs but Web 2.0 involves links between people. Great examples of Web 2.0 companies include Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn. There was a furious period of growth and competition between Web 2.0 companies but this industry is maturing now and a few dominate winners have emerged. Providing a means for people to link together and share comments, ideas, experiences and content has been and will continue to be important for communicating authority. More on that in Popularity below.
This is where authority is evolving in 2015. Web 3.0 is focused on forming links between data as discussed in the use of Microdata in Relevance above. The basic principle is the linkage of entities by a relationship. The strength of the relationship at the edges between these entities are how authority can be used to flow to your webpage, or not. Put simply, if you want to have authority you need to think beyond your website to yourself, your brand, your company. These all communicate authority. The web is becoming honest and the shysters and fraudsters are running out of tricks and places to hide. How long will it be before all companies communicate their business credentials through the use of microdata? Search engines will then be able to instantly tell whether a website comes from a bone fide company or something more opaque. The less opaque a site the less authority it will have. The key enabling technology for Web 3.0 is semantic search as already discussed. An excellent primer is available from David Amerland on slidehare.
Ways to become popular online:
- Generate social signals that result in sharing content
- Be authentic
- Be strategic
- Tell a story – get an emotional response
- Focus on value
- Solve a problem for a substantial group of people
- Become a thought leader
Creating and managing a social presence online will be the focus in an upcoming topic: Social Marketing Concepts You Need to Know in 2015. For a quick primer take a look as some of the infographics I have collected on Pinterest.
Google and other search engines are trying to understand your context better by collecting information about you. This is a global phenomena.
Here is a short list of just a few of the things Google is using to customize your search results:
- Location – if you didn’t know already here’s a reminder. I know your IP, you can find mine. It’s our online address and is used to create an identification number for you as a record on a database. Some people go to the extent of going to the “dark net” to use a TOR or onion type browser which encrypts data transferred from your computer and hides this information. This is very useful for people who live in totalitarian regimes that persecute any dissenters in the ranks. With a TOR browser they can reduce the risk of being charged for using the internet in ways not sanctioned by the regime, such as expressing their freedom of speech. There is a very good reason for you not to go dark. As discussed above, Web 2.0 and 3.0 are about forming links between people and data. To increase your relevance, popularity and authority you want this to happen. Save TOR for a very rainy day.
- Time of day, time of year – that’s right – your results might change depending on the time of day or season. Similar to location, this is part of the search engine’s attempt to understand your context.
- Google+ connections – The behavior of people in your network can affect your results – this is referred to as FOAF or “friend of a friend” and is a current Web 2.0 trend merging with Web 3.0 rapidly. What your friends like, you may like as well. For this reason it is very important you only link to people you actually know. Little do people on Linked In who have 500+ vanity contacts realize adding a bunch of people they don’t know to their profile is actually diminishing their authority in the long run. Authenticity counts.
- Personalization – your previous web search behavior is influencing
- Relevant recent searches
- Diversity – Take advantage of the principle of Query Deserves Diversity – Search engines still include a diversity of results if a search term is ambiguous. A competitive keyword in one context that is not competitive in another may list website links well above other sites with greater page rank promote yourself in ways others do not, eg: ambiguous terms are your friend – if competitive in one definition but not in another you may be able to compete if your page is about the less popular topic. See Open Site Explorer.
Search has come a long way since Sergey Brin and Larry Page first published their paper, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine at Stanford.
No longer is one simple, eloquent iterative formula for PageRank being used to help your audience find your business. Remember your RAPS! The next post will focus on Copywriting Concepts You Need to Know that will help you become popular, relevant and successful online.
Dr Matt Rosinski, PhD, Newcastle, Australia