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I started doing SEO back in 2005 when people were still trying to figure out how to define what search engine optimization means. Of course, most people today still don’t really understand the Google algorithm. The people at Google don’t even understand it, so don’t feel bad if you “don’t really get it”.
When Twitter asked, “How do you define SEO?” I answered with:
I always say SEO is an umbrella term for a large number of tactics & strategies all intended to help your website, video, images & other digital assets rank high in the search engine result pages for the keyword phrases that are the most important to your business for conversions
— Jenny Stradling (@dayofjen) May 26, 2018
I admit, “a large number of tactics & strategies” is pretty vague… but, to be fair, I had to reduce my response to one tweet and I used every single character space. Shoot, I didn’t even have room for the period at the end. So, I’ve developed out this post to show the varied ways Google is now displaying content and how important having the right content matters to your organic and paid marketing campaigns.
Buckle up, it’s a long one!
The Long-Term Value in Gaining Organic Visibility in the Google SERPS
As a digital marketing strategist, it’s my job to make sure my clients invest into the right solutions. That means I need to consider which channels of marketing are the best to help them reach their short- AND longer-term goals.
Yes, I am an SEO, so naturally I suggest organic strategies. However, if a client needs quick wins and is qualified, we do supplement with paid ads. We have to keep in mind that pay per click campaigns can get super pricy, and unless funnels are built to capture the leads and nurture them through the buyer’s journey, they don’t add much long-term value.
SEO, on the other hand, provides a lot of long-term value and therefore becomes a bigger part of our solution when the goal is to gain more visibility with Google using strategies that and proven to produce a bigger ROI.
What is SEO?
Beyond my definition above, I think it’s important to understand SEO in its most broad form.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of improving the volume and quality of traffic to your website through the organic search results.
Example, this is an organic search result from a query in the Google search engine:
Different Types of Search Results
Google serves more than just organic listings. There are actually several types of Google SERP (search engine result page) features. You’re probably used to seeing these common types:
- Organic Results
- Paid Ads
- Featured Snippets
- Knowledge Graph
- Local Pack
However, the Universal Results contain additional organic types, such as: videos, images, new results and rich snippets.
Common SERP Features
You probably don’t realize that when you search Google you are getting results from one or more of 24+ SERP features. Chances are you aren’t getting all of them at once. However, you might actually see several of these features on one SERP:
- Featured Snippets
- Local Pack
- Site Links
- Featured Video
- Video Carousel
- Top Stories
- People Also Ask
- Image Pack
- Featured Image
- Image Carousel
- Hotels Pack
- Instant Answer
- Knowledge Panel
- Shopping Ads
- Adwords Top
- Adwords Bottom
- Jobs Search
When it comes to SEO, most people will group the SERP’s into two main buckets: organic and paid. SEO’s work on the organic results (including additional Google SERP features) and Paid Ad Managers work on getting results using Google Adwords.
SERP TYPE: Paid Ads
It can be hard to tell the difference, but when a search query contains a paid ad, you’ll see the ads before (and sometimes after) the organic results. Generally called “Google Paid Ads”, you might also hear Google Adwords referred to as Sponsored Listings or PPC (Pay Per Click) Ads.
Google Adwords are displayed when businesses have chosen to pay Google a cost per click to appear before or after the organic listings.
Example of Adwords (top):
For retail or ecommerce related queries, you might see shopping ads as well. Example:
SERP TYPE: Featured Snippets
A somewhat new SERP feature (remember, when I say “new” I go back to the dinosaur days of the Google algorithm), featured snippets are rich search results that appear as a box of content. They contain fields of information that offer a quick answer related to a user’s query.
A lot of SEO’s dislike them as the result generally answers a question without the user clicking to the site. This means Google gets the traffic but the website they scraped the result from does not.
Example of a featured snippet:
You can read more about them here: How Google’s featured snippets work
However, there have also been experiments where the featured snippet actually helped drive more traffic. I can imagine if the user found the short answer helpful but wanted to learn more, they might click to the page to see an expanded answer. In fact, I found this post by Cyrus Shepard on Moz where he did a test that lead to a loss in traffic.
You can check that out here: Opting Out of Google Featured Snippets Led to 12% Traffic Loss [SEO Experiment]
SERP TYPE: The Knowledge Graph
Often appearing as a panel on the right side of the SERP, the Google Knowledge Graph collects and serves a more interactive result. Knowledge panels generally show for queries around the name of a famous person, place, brand or object. Results from the Knowledge Graph are different from the Featured Snippets as the information comes from different sources. Feature Snippets are driven by Google data while the Knowledge Panel content comes from human-edited sources, such as Wikipedia.
Example of the Nike brand Knowledge Panel result:
SERP TYPE: Local Pack
The local results, or Google local pack, generally show when Google has interpreted the search query as local in nature. This can be based on the search term itself but is also impacted by the searches IP address or geographical location and previous search history. The local pack shows a map and the top Google My Business place pages or maps to businesses related to the query.
Example of a local search result:
Effective Paid and Organic Results have Something in Common: Quality Content
Now that you better understand the Google SERPs you can see how many different ways you can optimize your website to get visibility. Each type of search feature runs off of its own algorithm or sub-algos (I just made that second one up). But seriously though. There is one giant or “core” algorithm, however, it’s important to acknowledge there are MANY algorithms and countless formulas at work.
At its core, the Google algorithm is accessing:
- The meaning of your query
- The relevance of the possible webpages
- The quality of the content
- The usability of the webpages
- The context and settings
When I am speaking with a prospect or someone who might not want to get into all of the technical aspects of SEO, but gain a better understanding of how it works, I generally tell them this:
Google wants to rank the pages or websites with the best information on the subject being searched.
That seems simple enough, right? But it’s determining what “the best” is where it gets complicated.
“To give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query—for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”
Read more: How Search algorithms work
Clearly, understanding your own website users and creating the best possible experience for them is key. For this you need to also understand how to optimize your website for your buyers, not just Google. This includes UI and UX, landing page optimization, split testing and more.
However, I think it’s safe to say quality information trumps gimmicks and tactics every time. If you have a detailed page of content that anticipates the users’ needs and addresses them in a simple, yet in-depth way, you stand a much better chance of getting results with Google than someone who deploys an overly complicated page that makes it hard for the user (and Google) to find what they are looking for.
In other words, fancy interactive widgets and cute graphic designs might seem great for the user. But if they slow down the load time, make it hard for the visitors to navigate the site or don’t create a path for the user to learn (or do!) more, well, you’re not going to achieve long-term rankings with Google.
Google expects a quality experience and they can measure that by how often a page gets clicked on from the SERPs, how long the user stays on the page, how many other pages they visit and if they come back for more.
Of course, there are off-site variables as well. If your content is great, Google anticipates others will talk about it and link to it. So, they also look at social indicators, how many people cite your brand, as well as how many and what types of sites link to you. Pages that earn a lot of links from authority sites are much more likely to rank than other sites with similar content but less in-bound links.
Do Paid Ad Pages Use the Same Formula Organic Pages Do?
Although paid ads don’t necessarily use the same criteria the organic algorithms do, Google Adwords does use a formula to determine a page Quality Score. And, naturally, it follows a lot of the same metrics used to achieve higher rankings with Google organically (with SEO).
Both consider and assess how users will interact and respond to the information presented to them. Google wants to understand what the search intent is and what pages best answer that query. While the organic search algorithms determine which pages fall where organically in the rankings for that term, Google is also assessing the Quality Scores of the pages bidding on ads in order to make a decision on what ad results get higher placement as well.
Websites with a higher Quality Score with Google get:
- Better ad placement
- Better click through rates
- A lower cost per click
- A higher ROI
What Determines a Higher Quality Score?
The Google Quality Score is a rating of the relevancy and quality of the ads, target keywords and landing pages. Your Quality Score depends on several factors:
- Target keywords and their relevancy to their associated ad copy
- Target website landing pages and their relevancy to the keywords and ads
- The overall trust and organic visibility of the website (rank authority)
- Your history with Google Ads including click-through rate (CTR) and conversion data
Although these are just some of the variables, how much weight Google gives to each one is hard to measure. That said, as a campaign runs, over time the CTR helps determine the overall quality of the user experience from a paid ad perspective. This is clear as you can see higher ad placement and lower ad costs when the CTR and conversions increase.
Quality Content Helps with SEO and Paid Ad Strategies
I always thought it was strange when someone ran paid ads to custom, non-indexable landing pages and never turned the top performers into organic content for the website. I get having landing pages built strictly for ad campaigns. However, if you are running an ad campaign and getting great conversions from a non-indexable page, why not apply that knowledge to your organic pages as well?
A landing page is just a page. Why can’t it be used for paid AND organic traffic? If Google and the users like the page, you could rank high in the organic results and replace the need for expensive paid ads. Or, at least reduce your paid ad budget. If the users bypass the paid ads and go to the organic listings, you’ll have a chance of getting a click either way.
By leveraging your paid ad landing pages for additional organic indexing with Google you’re maximizing your budget and getting a bigger bang for your buck!
Get the Most Out of Your Content
No matter what your strategy is, if you’re trying to get results with Google (organic or paid) you need quality content. If you’re running paid ads, consider implementing SEO best practices as a way to increase your organic reach while testing different keywords and ad copy. This way you’ll let the ad spend determine your organic targets, but maximize your investment into content for an even better chance of achieving a residual, long-term ROI.
Now that’s what I call smart marketing!
Quality Content Services
If you have a great brand, business and product / service but no time to write, don’t worry. Our team has decades of experience developing out marketing campaigns and content strategies for hundreds of clients and thousands of pages. We’d love to help you map out a new content plan or simply supplement your existing in-house team. No matter what your copywriting needs are, we’re here to help.
Simply call us at 800.871.4130 to talk to our team about your content needs, or drop us a note and myself or someone from my team will get back to you with our recommendations. From blog articles to ad copy, we’ve got a content team that understands SEO and design that can fulfill orders of any size.
Have a question for me about content or marketing? Feel free to comment and I will personally respond. Until next time, happy writing my friends!