Whenever I first sit down with a client to talk about customer engagement, one of the very first questions I get is: “Can’t we just do some Google Advertising”?
My response is almost always the same: “It is inadvisable at this point in time”, usually said while sipping tea and peering over the edge of my glasses (not really, I hate tea, but I do wear glasses).
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of general knowledge surrounding how search engines like Google work, and, given the push of countries like India to become a 100% digital economy, this needs to change if businesses and indeed citizens intend on successfully adapting to this new environment.
In a lengthy post that may be more conducive to a video format, here are the three main reasons why Google Ads is not going to solve your engagement problem:
1. Google changed the way it ranks pages
Way back in 2015, Google released its Phantom Update. This update redefined the way in which pages are ranked. The update saw content categorised into two types of pages based on their level of influence: YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) and non-YMYL pages.
YMYL pages include:
- Shopping Transaction Pages
- Financial Information
- Medical Information
- Legal Information etc.
Given the effect that these pages have on either your money or your life, these are ranked to a higher standard than non-YMYL pages. To be considered high-quality (and make your way to to the top of the search results), YMYL pages need to establish Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT).
Unfortunately, there is no single action that you can do to establish EAT; it needs to be built up over time and here’s how:
- About Us Page – The About Us page is, apart from the Home and Contact Us page, the most visited page on any website. So, spend some time on this; keep it concise yet informative. How would you describe your business in one sentence to someone who knows nothing about your product and services? Think of it as your company’s elevator pitch and emphasise your USP/SMP in short and engaging sentences. If you work in a technical or regulated industry, include bios of your team members and don’t forget to link to their LinkedIn bios (if appropriate).
- High Quality and Regular Content – By posting relevant and accurate content on a regular basis, you’re telling search engines like Google that you’re up to speed on the latest industry knowledge. For highly regulated organisations in the medical, legal, or financial sector, this is critical.
- Backlinks – Backlinks are still one of Google’s top ways of determining page rank. Look at who your key refers are and see if you can team up to create co-branded content. Encourage backlinking by linking to external sites. Make sure that when promoting through social media, your posts link back to your website, otherwise you’re wasting a perfectly good post.
- Go Mobile – Google started indexing Mobile first this year, so, if your website isn’t mobile optimised or at least mobile-friendly, then you need to get that fixed. Like yesterday.
- Practice good SEO – Remember in the old-style western films where the Villains wore the Black hats, and the Heroes wore White Hats? Don’t be a Black Hat – Use White Hat Techniques. If you’re not sure which SEO techniques are Black and which are White, check out this infographic from Cognitive SEO for a brief overview.
2. SEO does not have an on/off button
“Let’s put our competitor names in our keywords and that way we can appear when people look for our competitor?”.
No. Here’s why:
- It won’t work
- It’s keyword stuffing, and that leads to penalties.
Back when Google was in its infancy, keywords were one of the main tools used for improving search engine ranking. Today, in this humble Marketer’s opinion, they have become more like a bottle-opener keychains – handy to have, but not crucial. At the end of the day, it’s going to be your content, backlinks, landing pages, and social media activity that gets you to the top of the search engine heap and not adding a single line of text into your metadata.
3. Google doesn’t care about your money
Spending more money does not mean that you are going to get better results when using Google Ads (formerly AdWords). At the end of the day, Google aims to provide a service to its users; providing relevant and recent results – this is why they are the number one search engine in the world. I am sorry to say, but Google doesn’t care about your $2,000 per month spend on Google Ads – it’s just a drop in the ocean for them. If your page isn’t useful to the searcher, then no amount of money spent on Google Ads is going to fix that – only time and hard work will.
If you want to know more about Google’s Keyword Bidding system, then check out this video from Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian:
In November 2015, Google released its updated Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines; a thrilling 160-page document designed to put the most determined readers to sleep. So, how do these new guidelines, dubbed the Phantom Update, affect marketers? In essence, it has changed how the search engine assesses the ranking of a website, and in the land of SEO, quality is King.
At its core, there are only two things you really need to know when it comes to the update: YMYL and EAT (don’t you just love Acronyms?).
YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) is Google’s new term for web pages that offer content that could potentially affect a user’s future happiness, health, or wealth. These include:
- Shopping or Financial Transaction Pages: pages that allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills etc
- Financial Information Pages: pages that provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchases, insurance etc
- Medical information pages: pages that provide information about health, diseases, medication, nutrition etc
- Legal information pages: pages offering legal advice on issues such as divorce, child custody, becoming a citizen etc
- Other: Depending on their content, pages such as child adoption and care safety could also be considered YMYL.
Because of their level of influence on the user, YMYL pages are assessed at a higher standard than other web content. This is where EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) comes into play.
To be considered high quality, whether a YMYL site or not, content needs to be authoritative and trustworthy as well as possessing expertise. However, not all content is equal (for example YMYL and non-YMYL) and this will ultimately determine the level of expertise that is required to be considered high quality. This is where Google distinguishes between ‘formal expertise’ and ‘everyday expertise’.
Most YMYL content requires a high level of formal expertise; they need to be written by experts such as doctors, accountants etc. The pages must also be regularly updated and contain a much higher level of detail than non-YMYL pages.
Non-YMYL pages on the other hand, require less formal expertise, or everyday expertise. That being said, they still require a high-level of EAT, but the author does not require a certification to provide comment for example. An example that Google uses is a forum where people may participate authoritatively on an issue or subject. As long as the content provided is valuable and useful for readers, it is still considered expert content.
Google’s Phantom Update is resounding evidence of industry trends: quantity v quality. By changing the way Google assesses the quality of content, it places the onus back on the author: “Is what I am producing of value to the reader?”. Take into consideration these changes and you will notice an improvement in your overall SEO health. Alternatively, ignore them at your own risk.
As a website auditor, I see a lot of websites that are in need of some SEO TLC. That being said, it always seems to be the same issues that are overlooked. We all know that updating your site with regular and relevant content goes a mile in helping search engines crawl your site, but it is also the little things that, when combined, have a huge impact on your site’s page ranking. Here are 5 of the most overlooked best practices:
1. Page Titles
I have put this at number one because it should be the first thing that anyone developing a website should look at. If I had a nickel for every time a company put “Company Name | Contact Us” as its page title, chances are I would be sitting on the beach drinking cocktails and would not be writing this blog. The fact of the matter is that unless your company name is what people search for, i.e. google, apple, Microsoft etc. then it’s pretty pointless. Try and include content that effectively communicates the topic of the page’s content. For example “Contact your Nearest Banana Hammock Supplier – BananaHammocksRUs”.
Remember: While it is good practice to keep your page titles descriptive and unique, remember also to keep them short as search engines will only show a portion of it in search results. This is why I suggest putting the company name last.
2. Description Meta Tag
While Page Titles summarise the page’s content, a Description Meta Tag may be a short paragraph and is important in providing search engines and visitors with an idea of what your page is about. It’s ideal that each page has its own unique description as search engines tend to use these descriptions as snippets (the text displayed beneath the title of a web page on a search result). That being said, don’t copy and paste content directly from the site nor should you use generic phrases like “This page is about…”. Be creative yet succinct. “Find the latest range of male swimwear in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours at BananaHammocksRUs”
3. Image Alt Tags
Have you ever been to a website only to find that the image won’t load? This is where Alt Tags come in. The Alt Tag allows images’ alternative text to be displayed should the image not be able to load. As with Page Titles, it is best that these Alt Tags are short and sweet. Avoid using generic titles such as “Image1″ as well as using too many keywords; something simple like ” BananaHammocksRUs’ New Streamline Swing Pro 2000″ would be just the ticket.
Note: Depending on the number of images on your site, you may want to consider an image sitemap This will help increase results when it comes to image searches.
4. Use Social Media Effectively
As I mentioned in my “4 Easy Ways to Improve Facebook Page Performance” post, linking to landing pages from your social media posts can go a long way in improving your site’s authoritative ranking. Not only does this improve your page ranking, but, by effectively promoting your content, it will also lead to faster discovery by those who are interested in the same subject.
If you have a video that is relevant to the content of the page, don’t just put a link to a YouTube video, embed it. Having relevant videos embedded on a page has shown to improve SEO rankings by up to 60%, assuming of course that the video has been optimised effectively as well.
For more information on Search Engine Optimisation, check out Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Or for the more advanced, have a look at Hubspot’s Free E-Book.