What really matters in search?
Ask two B2B marketers about SEO and you’ll get three different opinions. Few aspects of B2B marketing are more prone to confusion, doubt and debate.
It’s not surprising: if Google explained exactly how its algorithm works, we’d all be able to game the system. Instead, it reveals as little as possible – plus it’s constantly tweaking the algorithm – so understanding what makes a website “rank” is akin to reverse engineering a moving target.
What we can be sure of is that search is important – probably more than ever – and that the tactics we use for search engine optimization deserve to be frequently challenged and tested, to ensure they still make sense.
In this and coming issues of Core, we’ll take a look at how search works and what really matters in search engine optimization for B2B websites today. In each issue, we’ll tackle a different SEO tactic – understanding how it works, how important it is, and how to use it effectively.
Join us for the ride – you have nothing to lose but your keywords!
The smartest software on the planet
Google handles more than 63,000 searches per second, more than 2 trillion a year. The algorithm takes some 200+ factors into account, before serving up a results page with what it considers the most relevant pages in response to a query – all in under a second.
For obvious reasons, what those factors are, and their relative importance, are more closely guarded than McDonald’s secret sauce. Originally, Google looked at keywords and metatags (basically, invisible text) to determine what a web page was “about.” But that led to manipulative tactics like “keyword stuffing” which resulted in irrelevant pages being listed in search results.
Google moved on from simple keywords a long time ago. Today, the algorithm uses “semantic search” – a more holistic way of interpreting page content, that comes much closer to human comprehension – when deciding which pages to list in search engine results pages (SERPs).
I know what you mean
Google recognizes, for instance, that “boat,” “craft” and “vessel” appearing on the same page all mean the same thing – while “pottery,” “craft” and “vessel” on another page all mean something else. These are just simple, one-word examples – the algorithm actually works on phrases and groups of words, all in an attempt to understand the “intent” of a page.
Only 20% of searches are for a single word; the majority are two or three words long. You’ll have noticed that Google encourages you to use longer search phrases, by offering alternative autocompletes. Longer phrases provide more context, which helps the algorithm serve up more useful results. And by watching which results then get clicked on, the algorithm learns still more.
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Putting it into practice
So does semantic search mean keywords are dead? Yes and no. Certainly, the days of sprinkling keywords throughout your copy as an afterthought are gone. Rather than attempting to optimize a page for a specific keyword, think instead about topics – and write pages that explore different topics in more depth.
As you create content, use synonyms, variations and related phrases to broaden the semantic scope of your copy. If you write naturally, this will happen automatically – and your readers will appreciate it also.
Consider, too, that most web searches have one of three purposes. Write content (perhaps even separate pages) that addresses all three:
- For informational seachers looking to learn about a topic, include phrases such as How to, Benefits of, Tutorial, Guide and Comparison.
- For navigational searchers searching for a specific piece of information, make it easy to find products by Name, Features, Reviews, Testimonials, and Contact information.
- For conversion searchers – those who are ready to act – include phrases such as Purchase, (Re)Order, Download, Schedule and Register.
This approach leads to longer pages with richer content. That’s good for search performance, but more importantly good for the website visitor who reads it. Such content also typically has a longer shelf-life, which is a plus for those of us on the content treadmill!
Talk semantics with us
Google has literally thousands of analysts and engineers working constantly to make semantic search ever smarter. In a newsletter, we can only scratch the surface of this complex topic. If we’ve whetted your appetite for a deeper discussion, let’s continue the conversation offline.
In future issues, we’ll continue this exploration of what matters in search by looking at links: why they matter, why not all links are created equal, and why “getting the link” is only half the battle. See you then!
Announcing the man, the master, the Mike! Arketi Group CEO Mike Neumeier, APR, has been named Atlanta’s Most Admired CEO in the Marketing category. We’re proud our masterful Mike received accolades for his many accomplishments during the recent Atlanta Business Chronicle’s in-person award ceremony at The Battery Atlanta. Kudos Mike!