What is Google really looking for?

Study in pink by Pascal

Over the last 15 years, webmasters have been attempting to work out how search engines categorise, index and rank sites so that they can create the right strategies to get their websites appearing as high as possible within the organic search results. And with their increasing dominance within the SEO landscape, no other search engine algorithm has been as carefully examined and followed as that of Google’s.

From keywords to links…

At first, success in search was all about keywords. So if you wanted to rank highly for ‘pencils’, you needed to make damned sure that the term ‘pencils’ was everywhere on your website, in both the content and code. Then it was all about links. Links are a sure sign of trust and authority, so if you wanted to rank highly for ‘pencils’ you needed to make damned sure that you received as many inbound links as possible from any old site (and preferably using the term ‘pencils’ within the anchor text).

Enter the Panda – and Penguin!

The goalposts have been constantly moving and within the last couple of years Google have released two major algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin, designed to downgrade sites with poor quality content and webspam (which inlcudes keyword stuffing, link schemes and other unsavoury practices). Suddenly, many sites who had enjoyed prominent positions within Google’s search results found themselves demoted overnight, leading to a sudden drop in visibility and search traffic.

But for all the talk of Penguins and Pandas, one of the overarching questions many webmasters have fail to ask and effectively answer is: what is Google really looking for?

It’s all about quality and relevancy

Whilst it’s important to be aware of the elements that make up Google’s algorithm, it’s equally important to rise above the detail and to understand what their ultimate goal is in relation to search: to present the most relevant results for a given term or phrase to help people find what they need. Google need to get people to their site in order to generate revenue from sponsored search and in order to do that people need to trust Google’s organic results above and beyond all others. 

Content is now the next big thing that websites are scrambling to create to gain favour with Google. But instead of creating content for content’s sake, consider why content is now more important than ever. As with keywords and links, Google is using content to identify the relevancy of a website in relation to a particular topic or theme. So creating a load of poor quality content with a tenuous link to ‘pencils’ won’t necessarily help anyone rank highly for that term.

Google is looking for what humans are looking for – the best, most relevant content for a given term or phrase. The key is therefore not to obsess about the details of Google’s algorithm but to concentrate on understanding your customers and creating the best quality website possible, which is correctly structured, includes a great user experience and has brilliant content that people will want to link to and share.