Google is falling into a familiar pattern. First, they offer web publishers increased visibility and SERP display options. Next, they incent participation in specific formats and data structures. Finally, they take that data for themselves, changing the SERPs to favor advertising, their own properties, and/or instant answers that can reduce publisher traffic. For web marketers, it's a prisoner's dilemma. In this presentation, Rand will show data on how Google is being used today, how it's changing, then dive into strategic initiatives and specific examples of how savvy players can build a moat to protect against long-term risk.
Thick & Unique Content – There is no magic number in terms of word count, and if you have a few pages of content on your site with a handful to a couple hundred words you won’t be falling out of Google’s good graces, but in general recent Panda updates in particular favor longer, unique content. If you have a large number (think thousands) of extremely short (50-200 words of content) pages or lots of duplicated content where nothing changes but the page’s title tag and say a line of text, that could get you in trouble. Look at the entirety of your site: are a large percentage of your pages thin, duplicated and low value? If so, try to identify a way to “thicken” those pages, or check your analytics to see how much traffic they’re getting, and simply exclude them (using a noindex meta tag) from search results to keep from having it appear to Google that you’re trying to flood their index with lots of low value pages in an attempt to have them rank.
“Sharability” – Not every single piece of content on your site will be linked to and shared hundreds of times. But in the same way you want to be careful of not rolling out large quantities of pages that have thin content, you want to consider who would be likely to share and link to new pages you’re creating on your site before you roll them out. Having large quantities of pages that aren’t likely to be shared or linked to doesn’t position those pages to rank well in search results, and doesn’t help to create a good picture of your site as a whole for search engines, either.
Companies that employ overly aggressive techniques can get their client websites banned from the search results. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported on a company, Traffic Power, which allegedly used high-risk techniques and failed to disclose those risks to its clients. Wired magazine reported that the same company sued blogger and SEO Aaron Wall for writing about the ban. Google's Matt Cutts later confirmed that Google did in fact ban Traffic Power and some of its clients.
On the voice and natural language side, it's all about FAQs (frequently asked questions). Virtual assistants and smart home devices have made voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP) not only desirable but an expected search vector. To predict how to surface a business's results in a voice search, SEO professionals now need to concentrate on ranking for the common NL queries around target keywords. Google's Quick Answers exist to give its traditional text-based search results an easy NL component to pull from when Google Assistant is answering questions.
This relationship between rankings and clicks (and traffic) is strongest amongst the top 3 search results. However, changing layout of the search results pages is constantly changing, with the inclusion of Google’s Knowledge Graph data and the integration of Universal Search elements (SERP Features) like videos, maps and Google Shopping ads. These developments can mean that the top 3 organic rankings are no longer the 3 best positions on the SERP. This has been demonstrated in heatmap and eye-tracking tests.
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Other research shows that exact-match domains that are deemed to be relevant, valuable, and high-quality can see a ranking boost because of it. However, if you already have an established website, you don’t need to go looking for an exact-match domain for your business; focus on a URL that reflects your business and optimize the heck out of it instead!