Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

How Google makes search work (an SEO guide)

Alan Martin
19th May 2015

Like it or not, ranking well in search engines is essential for your content to be read – and for potential customers to see it.

This is a super-brief SEO guide for anyone charged with writing search friendly articles. It's a deliberately broad overview – the detail can be learned later.

Many years ago, I was a copywriter for an online marketing firm where I spent a lot of my time reading up on theories and best practice – long before every writer on the planet needed a grounding in ‘the dark arts’ to pursue a living. In many ways it’s surprising how little things have changed in the intervening years.

Back in the day

So, a brief – and I mean brief – history lesson. Remember the Internet in the 1990s? Remember using Lycos and Altavista to search? Remember how lousy the results were?

That’s because in those early days of search, these sites merely crawled the web looking for the search term. Their sophistication went as far as seeing that Site A mentioned ‘purple hats’ three times, while Site B mentioned them five times. Thus, Site B was clearly more interested in purple hats than Site A.

If you’re thinking that’s incredibly easy to game, you’re correct. Search results were clunky, manipulated, and rarely useful.

Enter Google. Google revolutionised things by realising that site editors weren’t trustworthy, and instead put the onus on second opinions via linking. If a site links to yours, then you’re probably a good resource on a subject. If lots do, better still - if lots of respected sites do, even better. Bonus points if they link to your page with the term you want to rank for, e.g: “This site has the best purple hats.”

Competition and the long tail

But that’s a bit simplistic. You probably only have one page of your site devoted to purple hats, unless you have particularly myopic interests, and that’s when you have to break down your site page by page and section by section.

To use an example that my old manager used, imagine you run a Turkish holiday site. Now, you may look at the Google Keyword Planner and see that lots of people are searching for ‘Turkey’. Wahey – quids in.

Except that’s really vague. Think about how you use Google, and then reconsider the word ‘Turkey’ – they could be looking for Turkish holidays, but they could also be looking for the history of the country, the football team, or even Christmas recipes or strange bowling terminology.

So let’s go further. ‘Turkey holiday’ – okay, now that’s pretty clear. These people are definitely looking for holidays in Turkey – but wait, that is still a bit vague. We don’t know their budgets or their intent. In fact, it sounds like they’re in the research stage, rather than actively buying. If you run budget holidays, then ‘cheap holidays Turkey’ might be the best line to take.

But in reality you want a page for these undecided people, but you also need to go more specific. After all, it’s the people searching for ‘luxury holiday to Antalya’ who have definitely decided what they want and are most likely to book.

Nuts and bolts

Then there’s the actual writing process, of course. You want to include the phrase you’ve chosen as much as you can, but never at the expense of readability. It’s a skill, and you know it when you find a page written for search engines rather than people. No real people ever write like this, and ultimately genuine readers will punish this even if Google initially doesn’t. And I say initially, because Google does take user behaviour into account too – if your site has people instantly exiting, Google notices and realises you might not have been the best choice after all.

Say hello

So that’s the basic SEO guide. If you want more, there’s plenty out there. Or why not let someone else worry about ensuring your site gets search traffic? Mediablaze has the know-how to help your brand get the exposure it deserves.

We'd love to hear from you - Mediablaze is the content marketing agency for the social age.

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