Let’s start with a disclaimer. The reality is, we can never fully understand every piece of Google’s search algorithm. Only Google can. But here’s the other reality. We’ve developed a firm grasp on what’s in Google’s algorithm by understanding:
Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” If you’ve made your site easy to use and navigate, and if you have rich content that addresses potential customer questions and pain points, you’re way ahead of your competitors already. Why? Because you’ve already addressed most of the factors that Google could even use in their algorithm. You’ve done a huge part in helping Google succeed in their mission, because your information is organized and ready to consume. You’ve made it universally accessible, because your site is easy to use. And you’ve done such a great job answering customer questions and pain points that your site is now awesomely useful. Complex algorithm, huh?
It doesn’t hurt that we have tens of thousands of hours of experience and education understanding how certain actions affect the way Google’s algorithm handles results. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve been around since 2007 (approaching 70 years old in digital marketing years). We know some things work well; some things help a little bit; some information is outdated; and some things that used to help no longer help. We also know what hurts. Whether you call it SEO or knowing the algorithm, the goal is to attract the right audience and lead them to purchase. Over the years, we’ve learned how specific actions improve rankings. This has helped us safely estimate what the algorithm does consist of.
With that information, we can prioritize areas of emphasis when outlining our recommendations. That way, our clients get the healthiest mix of improvements based on a cost/benefit analysis. For example, we know that bolding text on every landing page isn’t going to be worth it, since there’s nominal (if any) increases in rankings. What we do know, though, is that when search visitors immediately find the search term they used on the page, they are more likely to convert. For future redesigns or landing page improvements, clarifying the information people are looking for will only improve your results. Sure, page design, layout, content structure, and sizing are all important factors. But choosing between SEO or user experience? If Google sees that someone went to your site and left quickly, they won’t let you keep that improved ranking for long!
The biggest gray area in the perception of the algorithm is the understanding of link building and general “popularity” around the web. Again, rather than worrying about how Google thinks about things in their algorithm, how do you think about things? Do you prefer companies that showcase expertise and are visible in the industry and major publications? Or do you prefer a company that stays under the radar and doesn’t prove knowledge? Certainly doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about users on top of the algorithm, does it?