How often do you hear search optimizers talk about how often Google updates its algorithm? How many articles have you read that freak out about the latest changes made by Google, and how you have to change your strategy if you want to survive?
I frequently make claims that Google and the SEO world as a whole are changing, and for the most part, that’s true. Google’s major algorithm update history is ripe with new updates, usually rolling in several times a year. Sometimes, they introduce brand-new ranking factors, even though there are already hundreds. Sometimes, they simply change the aesthetics of the search results pages. Other times, they’re barely noticeable, responsible for a fraction of a percent of sites moving up or down in the rankings.
It’s good to pay attention to these updates, as they often represent new ranking opportunities, or introduce new criteria for webmasters that you should probably comply with. But in the SEO community, they’re also often overblown; rather than evaluating the oftentimes marginal effects of these updates, analysts sometimes refer to them as “game changing” or “revolutionary.”
The reality is, despite these frequent updates, SEO and Google’s core search algorithm haven’t changed all that much in the past decade. The fundamentals that determine rank are still in place, and though the way they’re expressed or evaluated have been tweaked, they remain the core pillars of a successful SEO strategy. Chances are, they’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future.
So what are these fundamentals?
1. Bots need to see your site. First, Google can’t rank your site if it can’t see what content you’re offering — or see that your site exists at all. Google’s first step in creating search engine results is taking stock of content all over the web; for this purpose, it uses automated bots to “crawl” websites, discovering and indexing their content. If the bots can’t “see” your site, you’ll never make it to Google’s index, and you’ll never be seen as a result in the SERPs. This is where technical SEO comes into play. Technical SEO is all about making sure your site loads properly, is visible to bots, and presents the right pictures of your brand and site. While some technical factors may come and go, the broad need to keep your site visible is permanent.
2. Site structure indicates entry structure. As an extension of that visibility to bots, the layout and structure of your site is going to indicate how Google evaluates your site, and how it appears in SERPs. For example, your page title and description are extracted from your site’s metadata and used to populate your respective entry in the SERPs. Special structures, such as structured markup, may also be used to offer specific types of content when users search for it; for example, you might use this microformatting to publish a calendar, which users will be able to see immediately in search engines.
3. Quality content is a must. Google’s success depends on directing users to the best content online — and that means, to stand a chance of achieving search visibility, you have to create and promote great content. “Great” here means it’s sufficiently long (generally, at least 800 words per page), dense (including minimal fluff), readable (it should make sense to native speakers), and digestible (headlines and sub-headlines are good here). Though Google doesn’t explicitly publish the method it uses to evaluate “quality” content, you should be able to tell, intrinsically, how valuable your work truly is. The better your content, the higher it’s going to rank.
4. Trust is built in networks. Ultimately, no single source can (or should) determine the trustworthiness of a given page. Instead, Google always has — and likely always will — rely on a vast network of trust indicators to mutually establish the most trustworthy sources on the internet. Currently, this manifests in the form of links. The more links you have pointing to your site, and the more trustworthy those links are, the more trustworthy your site will be deemed to be. Obviously, link building and link evaluation have undergone significant transformations in the past few years, but the overall concept is still in place. Building and managing your link profile is still the best way to improve your domain authority, and will probably remain that way for years to come.
5. Spam and rank manipulation are bad. Ever since Google began, it’s been fighting against the threats of spam and rank manipulation. Black-hat search optimizers have used tricks like link spamming, keyword stuffing, link schemes, and hidden keywords to try and boost their rankings without putting in the effort, and Google has constantly improved its ability to detect and crack down on these schemers. Google rewards sites that try to give more value to their users, so if you’re caught trying to game the system, you’re going to pay a price. That hasn’t changed — it’s only the sophistication of these detection processes that have evolved.
If you want to build a sustainable, effective SEO strategy, these five fundamentals should reside at the core of your campaign. No matter what changes Google rolls out in the future, if you’re able to follow these principles consistently, you should have no trouble achieving higher search visibility.
That’s not a free license to ignore the news about Google’s latest updates, but it should prevent you from worrying too much about the little changes that pop up from time to time — and help maintain your focus on the work that matters most.
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