Posted by randfish
[Estimated read time: 13 minutes]
Your content has quality links and your keyword targeting is an SEO’s dream. Yet for some mysterious reason, that content still isn’t ranking. What’s missing?
In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains some of the advanced tactics Google may be using to evaluate and analyze your content and what you should be looking out for to help resolve your ranking woes.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how Google might be analyzing and evaluating all the quality and value and ranking signals, rank worthiness of your content.
So Google was kind enough to confirm something that as SEOs we’ve probably known for a very long time, which is that the two factors most commonly found ranking web pages from Google are indeed content signals and link signals, which that’s not a big surprise to anybody. But, in light of that, we talk a lot about links. Links obviously have a tremendous amount of importance. Content does too, but it’s gotten massively more sophisticated, and so I thought we’d dive into some of the ways that Google can analyze on-page content signals that may not just be the simplistic ones we’re used to from the past.
Let’s break it down
1. Google, you read my mind!
So first off, if I search for something like “best granola brands,” what I find is this page ranking first. It’s from Eat This Supermarkets, granted your mileage may vary. You might get a different search result given your geo or that kind of thing. The page is called “The World’s 10 Healthiest Granolas.”
Now Google is looking at a bunch of things here, but one of the things they are obviously looking at and still looking at, very much so, is things like keyword matches. And not just raw pure matches, although that’s important too, but synonyms, word uses, intent matching. Essentially Google’s trying to parse out, all right, when someone searches for “best granola brands,” they could mean the “best” meaning the most flavorful, they might mean the ones that are most popular, they might mean the ones that are healthiest, or maybe some combination of all these qualities.
In this case, they’ve taken “healthiest.” “Healthiest” was, in fact, a bunch of the top 10 results, so I think Google is actually saying, “Hey, maybe in the world of granola, ‘best’ and ‘healthiest’ have some synonymity, have some overlap, some confluence. Perhaps a lot of people who are searching for best are searching for healthiest in the world of granola that is.” So they’ve put that there.
When you’re thinking about evaluating your content, we’ve done this for years and years in the SEO world, but we should be thinking about how do my keywords match up, particularly my title and my headline and the first bits of my content.
2. Related topics
Number two, topic associations, related term and phrase matches, co-occurrence, keyword co-occurrence. It is the case that if Google sees that a lot of the time, when words like “best granola brands” or “granola brands” or “best granola” appear on the Web, they also see words and phrases like “healthy.” They also see words like “nutritious.” They see words like “fat and sugars.” They see “calories.”
If they’re seeing these words frequently associated with this other topic, they’re going to essentially reward content that uses those terms and phrases intelligently, and they might actually penalize pages that don’t have them. Google might for example say, “Gosh, it is very odd to have a page about granola that nowhere on the page mentions nuts, because we frequently see nuts and granolas mentioned together, and so that is a peculiar one to us.” Or it could be the case that when they see granola brands, they almost always see a comparison of things like calories and fat and sodium and sugar, and so when they see a page that doesn’t have those elements, that’s also peculiar to them.
You’ll remember a few weeks ago on Whiteboard Friday I talked about related topics and terms and how you can actually use those and how there are a few tools to go out and do that. Things like the Related Topics Tool inside Moz Pro.
So we know that Google does those types of evaluations. We also know that Google can do things around basically the broad page, not an individual word or phrase, but content length, comprehensiveness, reading level, sentence and paragraph format, all those kinds of things.
If they see that gosh, it’s the case that when people are searching for “best granola brands,” they don’t really want like a long-read type of article, like you’d find in a magazine, or a long-form newspaper or long-form article. They’re really looking for that broken up, like here’s the top 5 or here’s the top 10, and they frequently feature an image and then some analysis.
Great, that’s the format that people are looking for when they want those best of types of list. That’s the type of things that we’re going to put in the search results. If you follow a different sort of format, it may be more difficult for you to prove to Google, hey, we belong in these types of search rankings, search listings as well.
That’s also true for reading level. It could be the case that if your audience is searching for highly scientific terms or very niche-specific terms, maybe there are a lot of words and phrases in there that are more complex, and if likewise you have a term or phrase that’s targeting much more of a layman audience or an amateur audience, well, maybe you have much less sophisticated word usage and phrasing and sentence structure, and that’s the right way to play it. So again, you’ve got to play to your audience and what Google thinks your audience is. A good way to do this, just like related topics, you’ve got to analyze what’s in the top 10, top 20 results.
4. Hitch your brand-wagon
Number four. I went back and forth, so I have to keep sliding around here. Number four, brand name, site name. I know you’re like, “Wait, what? That’s content?” Yeah, these things, brands and site names can build up associations, topical associations about whether they have authority in their space or not on a particular subject. That could apply not just as a brand as a whole or a site as a whole, but actually from a site section or subfolder, even subdomain or a tag, a section, like a subsection of tags that a blog or a article site may have a bunch of, a news site.
That could play into it as well. So as Google notices these things, they say, “Hmm, Eat This Supermarkets is often associated with things where they have a lot of information about granola in particular or about healthy foods, of which granola is a subcategory.” In fact, this is in their weight loss category, which is in Google’s opinion perhaps a very popular category, a very authoritative one especially when it comes to the topic of granola or granola brands.
So, as they connect up, make these semantic associations between words and phrases, between topics, between websites, they can then sort of say, “You know what? We think this site or this particular subfolder of this site or this tag or subdomain of this site belongs here more than another site might.” So yes, it could be the case that Wikipedia is a more authoritative overall place, but when it comes to the topic of best granola or healthy granola, we’re going to put Eat This Supermarkets near the top.
5. Sound and vision
Number five, visuals and non-text content. You could talk about video, audio, interactive elements, tools, or calculators, all that type of stuff. Google can look at those features and start to associate them with something.
If you search for, for example, “mortgage rates” or “calculate my loan” or “population density by state,” Google may be looking for those interactive tools or elements. Likewise, if you’re searching for the name of a song, Google might say, “Hey, you know what? We should look for pages that contain video or audio.” If you’re looking for a particular topic that Google’s associated with podcasts, they may try and pull that audio content. So all of those kinds of things can also play a role in how your content is evaluated.
6. Google can handle the truth
Number six, this one is unusual, but Google has talked about it actually publicly last year. They did a whole piece with NPR around how they may look for truthfulness, accuracy, and validity of information in content. In order to do that, they have sort of a subset of sites that they know and trust, that they pull data from and they establish these sort of knowledge components, like yes, we know that climate change is real and that it’s manmade. So when people are searching for things like “is climate change real” or “are humans the cause of climate change,” we want to make sure that we actually return accurate results. Not necessarily the most popular results, because you can imagine there are people who don’t believe in the science of it, and therefore they influence the search results by linking to different things, that sort of stuff, and so that bubbles to the top.
Maybe it’s very hot right now. It’s election season in the United States for those of you who have been in a cave on Mars with your fingers in your ears. I don’t blame you. That could be the case where Google has actually said with certain types of queries — I don’t know that best granola brands would fall under this — but they call them YMYL or “your money or your life”-types of queries. This is things like filing for your taxes or knowing how much exercise to get or checking in on a medical condition and researching those types of things. In those cases, Google has said, “We need very accurate information. We need it to be verifiable.” So they may look at the content and say, “Gosh.” (This is probably not the case, like I said, with granola.) But, “18 Rabbits Granola. We have looked in our database of content, and nobody else says that it has 280 calories. At least none of the sites that we trust say that it has 280 calories per serving, therefore we are going to stop trusting this particular resource and push it down in the rankings and push up something else that matches against the knowledge that we think we have from the trusted sites.”
This could be very important if you’re trying to rank for these YMYL types of queries. Who knows? In the future, it could extend to other types of things, maybe even the world of granola calorie counting.
7. If this, then that
The last one we’ll talk about today — this is certainly not completely comprehensive — but we’ll talk about today is phrase and sentence structure evaluation. So Google has talked about this very publicly with regards to RankBrain recently, where they talk about RankBrain interpreting a query, essentially saying, “Hey, best granola brands, we know from that you are looking for particular types of information. You probably want a listing of multiple granola brands, not just one. You are probably looking for some sort of evaluation criteria. We know that you are looking for brand names of granola, not particular recipes of granola.” So they do query interpretation, and they are very intelligent about being able to parse that.
They’re also very intelligent about being able to parse out sentence meaning. So in this case, for example, let’s say I did a search for “best sugar-free granola brands.” Now Google might, in the past, have said, “Oh, you know what? This resource contains the word ‘sugar.’ It has a bunch of mentions of sugar, and it has a few mentions of sugar-free types of granola, and so therefore we’re going to rank it,” as opposed to saying, “Wait a minute, I think they’re looking specifically for something, a list of granola brands with no sugar in them at all, and therefore we need a different resource for this.”
A Google representative used the example of how to complete Super Mario Brothers without a cheat code or something like that or without skipping a level, that kind of thing.
So these types of query interpretations on the search side and then on the content side can both be happening in Google’s evaluation content.
Like I said, this is not everything that Google looks at, but these are a bunch of more advanced types of ways that Google can be analyzing content than what we might ordinarily think of. If we’re looking at content that we’ve produced and we say, “Gosh, it’s got a lot of links. It’s doing good keyword targeting, but it doesn’t seem to rank. What am I missing?” You probably could think about adding these content evaluation factors that Google is almost certainly looking at, as well as others, to your list of things to try and determine why you might not be ranking and how you could rank better.
All right everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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