To be successful on Google Search, think beyond it

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 18 Jun, 2024
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Google says focus on your content and audience, diversifying traffic sources and building for the long term.

Think beyond Google.

Image: Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Pexels

Google’s Danny Sullivan has tried to clarify guidance to site owners on how to create a successful site which does well in Search.

He said site owners should focus on what’s best for their readers, with a more wide-ranging and diversified approach, rather than trying to second-guess Google’s ranking processes and creating content to match.

The advice Google provides to site owners impacted by an algorithm update is to create great content for people rather than search engines. Sullivan was trying to flesh out this advice with the aim of providing greater clarity.

In a series of tweets responding to questions, he mentioned the following key areas:

Focus on what's best for your readers

The advice to provide helpful content can seem vague and… unhelpful. But it’s also easy to get confused with all the advice around what Google may or may not be doing.

This is what Sullivan says:

“As I've said before, I think everyone should focus on doing whatever they think is best for their readers. I know it can be confusing when people get lots of advice from different places, and then they also hear about all these things Google is supposedly doing, or not doing, and really they just want to focus on content. If you're lost, again, focus on that. That is your touchstone.”

Sullivan also quoted something Michael King of iPullRank had written:

"Make Great Content and Promote it Well – I’m joking, but I’m also serious. Google has continued to give that advice and we balk at it as not actionable. For some SEOs it’s just beyond their control. After reviewing these features that give Google its advantages, it is quite obvious that making better content and promoting it to audiences that it resonates with will yield the best impact on those measures. Measures of link and content features will certainly get you quite far, but if you really want to win in Google long term, you’re going to have to make things that continue to deserve to rank."

Source: @searchliaison from X iPullRank

So, it’s up to you. With your knowledge of your business and niche, you know what kind of content will be helpful and resonate with your readers and that’s what you should focus on for long term success in Search.

Diverse sources of traffic

Sullivan said it’s a good thing to have a site which gets traffic from multiple sources, such as email, links, social, rather than being dependent on any one single source. It also means you’re building a “normal” site, not just one intended for Google Search.

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.

Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.

This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things). It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that's what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.“

Source: @searchliaison on X

Building a long term relationship with your audience through great content

To illustrate the point of how you should be building long term engagement with your audience, Sullivan gave a personal example.

“I like to do hikes. I found a great single-person hiking site a few years ago when looking for information about a particular hike and signed up for the newsletter. Now I’m a regular and connect customer, so to speak. Search is a great introduction, in a way, to what can become a long term relationship with readers and customers. Having run two separate sites of my own in the past, my primary goal was always to have them connect with those after arriving: email, feeds, social.”

Source: @searchliaison on X

Sullivan also addressed the concern many have been expressing about recovery following the large-scale Helpful Content and March 2024 updates. Both of these had a big impact and some affected sites have yet to recover.

He referred to Google's guidance that the next update might help, but also reiterated what he had said in April, that Google might need to do better.

“It might also be that, as I said here, it's us in some of these cases, not the sites, and that part of us releasing future updates is doing a better job in some of these cases."

Source: @searchliaison on X

Look beyond Search

Google’s advice to sites impacted by an algorithm update, or trying to get ahead in search can seem generic and unsatisfying - especially when you're trying to recover from a ranking drop, or get your new site established. It’s natural to look for a concrete set of tasks you can accomplish to solve the issue. However, things are rarely so linear. In addition, bad actors will always try to game the system.

In these tweets, Sullivan reinforces the guidance, but tries to provide a wider perspective: don’t just try to please Google’s algorithm but look beyond Search to a more holistic approach with diverse traffic sources, and aim to provide quality content which you know will be useful for your audience.

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