Google is the world’s largest search engine with over 67% of the global search engine market share, according to NetMarketShare. As a result, Google runs the digital playground that is search engine result pages (SERPs).

This means we must all play by Google’s rules to rank for targeted search terms, regardless of how strict or demanding those rules may seem. When Google decides to change those rules, or introduce a new factor to their ranking algorithm, we all have to adjust accordingly. Think of this as one of the laws of search engine optimization (SEO) – always obey Google.

Rule #1: Google Rewards Quality Content

First of all, what do we mean by new ranking factors? And what is the relationship between new factors and content marketing?

One of Google’s biggest changes in recent memory happened in January 2016. The Google Panda update, a filter first released in 2011 to prevent websites with low-quality content from ranking in SERPs, was assimilated into the core ranking algorithm.

This change marked the official end of the dreaded “Panda updates” that haunted marketers and SEO specialists for nearly 5 years. This means that Google would no longer schedule tweaks or adjustments to the filter. Instead, Panda is now an ongoing and important factor that impacts how all websites rank in SERPs. To ensure our sites satisfy Panda, we must always produce the best possible content and optimize the quality of older content to earn the strongest ranking signals.

This is part of Google’s shift towards real-time ranking algorithms to provide even better results for search queries. Google’s Gary Illyes recently stated that the upcoming Penguin update, a sister filter to Panda, will likely be the last of its kind as Google intends to fold Penguin into the core ranking algorithm (like Panda). This all comes on the heels of RankBrain, an artificial intelligence program developed and released by Google in the fall of 2015 that marked the shift towards a real-time ranking algorithm. RankBrain is now one of the most important ranking factors affecting SERP results and is even more influential than Panda or Penguin.

How does this impact content production and web optimization?

The real-time algorithm means Google is constantly refining how web pages are indexed and ranked to match searcher intent. Google is prone to changing ranking factors several times a year, which means we must constantly make sure our sites are up-to-date and complying with the latest iteration. Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday is a great resource for understanding Google’s algorithmic changes and how they impact the quality and ranking of content.

Essentially, if you create content that is original and valuable, Google’s ranking algorithm will recognize it and reward you with better SERP rankings. This is the first step in scaling the ranking mountain.

Rule #2: Google Rewards Optimized Websites

The second step is to make sure that all content on our sites is structured in an SEO-friendly way. Every web page on a site is targeted to rank for specific key terms or phrases. This is one of the ways Google matches the content on our sites with searcher intent. We expect Google to filter through the websites and deliver the most relevant information to us.

How do you earn recognition as an authority?

Google’s ranking algorithm analyzes hundreds, sometimes thousands of signals that factor into SERP rankings. The algorithm matches the searcher’s intent with each of those signals to determine whether a website deserves to be featured at the top of the results page. Typically, marketing teams rely on in-house or contracted SEO specialists to audit a website and make adjustments to those signals for improved SERP performance. The brands you see at the top of SERPs are likely sites that follow Google’s ranking guidelines.

Some of the recurring factors that build a site’s authority and improve SERP positions are:

  • Clear and concise content that answers a question.
  • Speedy and easy-to-navigate website that provides a valuable user experience.
  • Embedded links to other authoritative sites that offer more information on the topic.

How do you know that you’ve built an authoritative site?

The key is to monitor the number of backlinks pointing searchers towards your site. This is a sign that others trust your content and are willing to direct their users to your site for more information. Earning links from other sites will organically increase your website’s authority and help boost traffic.

Rule #3: Google Rewards Accurate Titles and Descriptions

SERP Title & Description.png

SERP titles and meta descriptions.

Google has a checklist that outlines the steps you need to take to create a Google-friendly site. One of the first items on that list is quality and informative content on all web pages, “especially the homepage.” The homepage is where most searchers and search engine bots first interact with your website. If there is no clear value then it won’t rank for many terms.

How do we produce the most valuable content for our audience?

The first thing that appears in SERPs is a title with an embedded link and a short meta description summarizing the site’s contents. SEO specialists massage the language on both the title and the description so that the searcher is more inclined to click and view more content. Your meta description and title must be engaging and concise to drive searchers towards your page.

To optimize the titles and descriptions, always think about these three critical components:

  • What are the most popular search terms in your industry?
  • Which terms currently result in the highest click-through rate to your site?
  • What are the terms that you want to rank for?

This is why keyword research is so important for both content marketing and SEO. You should take the time to develop a keyword map that organizes targeted keywords into a framework that resembles your website structure. You can use the map to brainstorm content ideas and put relevant keywords into the body content, titles, and meta descriptions to increase your ranking potential.

So what’s the takeaway here?

Optimizing just for the sake of optimizing and pumping out low-quality content is not going to get you anywhere. Google’s guidelines clearly state that commitments to quality over quantity and value over filler will increase SERP visibility. This means you need to develop a solid content plan, assemble a list of targeted keywords, and create valuable content before you even start optimizing for SERP.

Good content and SEO are the foundation of a solid SERP ranking. They’ll help you build the authority of your page and earn Google’s trust. Google’s goal is to bring everyone within one click of the best answer, so ultimately, it’s success depends on bringing the most valuable information to the top of the SERPs. If you’re not providing that, you don’t have a chance.