Are you frustrated by how low your website content is ranking on Google’s search rankings? You’re not alone. In my line of work, I answer a lot of questions about content marketing for curious recruiting firm owners. Among the most common questions I receive is, “What’s the secret to getting my content on the first page of Google?”
As much as I’d love to inform them that I have a magic lamp with a Google Genie at my desk that provides me with all the answers, I don’t.
In fact, except for a select number of engineers at Google, no one does.
Much to the chagrin of SEO’s and content marketers everywhere, Google has kept the data points of their search algorithm close to the chest. Anyone that tells you that they have a precise and scientific understanding of how Google ranks webpages is quite frankly a charlatan.
But we’re not entirely in the dark, as slowly over time Google has revealed portions of their process, which has imbued further insight into how a webpage gets ranked.
To date, we know that Google uses over 200 ranking factors when determining search results for a given subject, though we don’t know the order of importance these factors have. This vast list of factors contributes to the inexact science of SEO, as well as to the relative uncertainty of how effective or ineffective strategies will have. But there is some good news.
We know which three factors are most important to Google: content, links, and RankBrain. Though, of course, we don’t know the order of these three factors.
To help you sort through the confusion of search engine rankings, I wanted to throw together this three-part series to explore each of these vital factors in detail and explain how each is important to your recruiting business.
For part 1, let’s tackle content.
Crawl Before You Rank
Since the dawn of search engines, content has played a vital role in determining search ranking, as it is fundamental to how search engines evaluate web pages. Search engines, at their core, are a highly-intuitive index. Contrary to popular belief, when you input a search into a search engine like Google, it’s not searching the internet for your answer. Instead, Google is searching through a massive index of web pages it has previously crawled. Which is why content is so integral to ranking.
Before a piece of content begins competing with other pieces of content for search ranking supremacy, it must first get crawled (read) by Google. During the crawling process, Google reviews all the content a webpage features, and indexes it into their massive content catalog accordingly. Before Google adds a webpage to their all-important catalog, a page must first be submitted to be crawled.
Relevance Drives Results
When you’re trying to get a webpage to rank high on Google, it’s essential to take a step back and remind yourself what Google’s goal is. At the end of the day, Google aims to provide the most relevant content to searchers. It interprets what a searcher is looking for and then retrieves the most relevant pages from the vast abyss of content in its catalog.
How the content on a webpage conveys its relevance to searches is a tremendous determinant of that page receiving search visibility. For a page to have any hope of carving out an excellent position on search results, it must target a specific audience, and answer a particular question. There are an infinite number of SEO strategies that improve and highlight how a given page answers a question, but if the content on the page isn’t informative and relevant, it won’t rank.
What Determines the Relevance of Content?
Therein lies the existential and enigmatic pursuit of the content marketer. While we lack the scientific equation for how Google perceives content, what we can do is try to reverse engineer the success of highly-ranked content.
For example, let’s take a look at how content reflects the search ‘what smartest breed of cat’
Googles determined that these three webpages were the most relevant pieces of content in its catalog. Let’s take a look and try and figure out why.
A quick initial glance shows us the importance of keywords, as ‘smartest cat breed’ is in the title, meta description, and title tag of two of the three. (In part 2 of this series, I’ll tackle Google RankBrain, which will explain how the synonym ‘intelligent’ gain high ranking.) When you review the pages, each features a steady diet of variations of ‘smart’, ‘breed’, and ‘cat’. Sound keyword research will always help rankings.
Length is Key
Of the three pages, one thing jumps out right away: length. Each of these three pieces of content follows a similar structure: name the breed of cat, an adorable image of that breed of cat, details about the cat’s intelligence. But what’s striking is how much more in-depth the details are in the first-ranked page than the other two.
The first search result is 2,242 words, the second is 1,207 words, and the third is 1,223 words. What does this tell us? The page that answered the question in the most detail scored the best Google ranking. Word count is not a perfect determinant of how comprehensive a piece of content is. Still, we know that statistically longer content ranks better than shorter content, as it offers more information to readers.
Your Content Can be Fluid
Rankings are not set in stone, which means your content shouldn’t be either. Updating, improving, and expanding your content is an excellent practice to get into, and this search result demonstrates why that is.
Cattime.com’s page hasn’t always ranked first. And using and the Wayback Machine, we can see that the page has vastly improved over time.
When the page was first crawled in July of 2015, it was less than 200 words, had no images, and featured a far-less SEO friendly title. Cross-referencing that date to historical rankings of SEMrush, and you find that this page wasn’t ranking at that time. So, what changed?
The page got a dramatic refresh in July 2016, complete with the images that exist today, a new title, and a fresh supply of new content. Consequently, the page shows up as the sixth-ranked page around that time. What got the page up to the #1 spot?
Yet another rewrite in August 2017 built out the content to its existing word count, and shortly thereafter, the page becomes the highest-ranked.
10x Content Theory
Noted SEO-whiz Rand Fishkin coined the theory 10x Content when illustrating how to get content to rank. In summary, 10x Content refers to creating content that is far superior to your competition. That theory fits perfectly when you review our ‘smartest breed of cat’ inquiry.
Each of the top three pages features more or less the same breeds of cats—shout out to the Abyssinian for being the smartest kitty in all the land. Each of these pages was seeking to answer the same question and used similar resources and formatting to do so. But the prevailing page was the one who did so the best, provided the most detail, and most comprehensively answered the inquiry.
Parqa Digital Marketing
Content is more than words on a page. It’s the style in which the words are communicated, the formatting in which the reader is guided through the words, and the media that supports the words. Then, of course, there’s the technical SEO that gets filtered through the content.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, and learn how Parqa can help boost your online visibility through content marketing.