The key to organic SEO success is conceptually simple - you have to please Google AND your intended audience.
But getting all the necessary ingredients in place to satisfy both can sometimes, often times, be a real challenge.
You Have To Please Google
Why Google? Google dominates the search world. 65-85% of the world searches using Google depending on who you ask and what they measure. If you want to have a significant presence on the Web, you have to please Google.
Image complements of "Torkild Retvedt at Flickr
That's not easy.
How Google works is a closely held secret. Some SEO's devote their entire career to reverse engineering the secrets to Google's ranking algorithm. Here's a quick synopsis of what they have been able to decipher so far.
When you enter a search phrase into Google's search engine and click "submit", Google doesn't go out and search the entire Web. It would take too long, and people have very little patience.
Image complements of Marian Steinbach at Flickr
Google creates and maintains its own proprietary inventory or index of the web. It gathers information by continuously crawling interconnected Web pages using links and computer programs called spiders or bots. Findings are stored in massive databases and data centers, replicated in different parts of the world to enable high speed access and rendering of search results.
What information is stored? Loads of information, but primarily:
- the words on the page;
- where and how often they're used;
- when they're bookmarked, linked to or shared by others; and
- who does the bookmarking, linking and/or sharing.
And so it goes. The spiders never stop.
So one important key to organic SEO success is ensuring your site is crawlable and indexable by Google. If it's not, Google won't have a record of your page content and it won't be found when someone is searching for it.
You Have To Please Your Audience
The second most important criteria for success with organic SEO is ensuring you please your intended audience.
If your audience doesn't like what they see when they land on a page of your website, they'll "bounce". A bounce is when someone leaves your website after only having viewed a single page.
According to a 2010 study by Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser,
"By a landslide the 'Back' button was the most clicked of all navigation buttons which include the Back, Forward, Reload, Stop, and Home buttons."
As you can see, it happens all the time.
Google doesn't like it.
There are legitimate reasons someone might want to hit the back button, the most notable being they found exactly what they came looking for. That said, a high bounce rate can also signal the exact opposite; that a visitor did NOT find what he or she came looking for and left to continue searching.
How can Google tell whether a visitor was satisfied or not? Google looks at a few other metrics to help it decide whether site visitors are satisfied. It looks at things like the nature of your site, repeat visits, time on page, and incoming links and social mentions. If you're an emergency plumber, for example, Google would expect your Contact Us page to have a high bounce rate.
Google uses things like repeat visits, time on page, and incoming links and social mentions to determine whether content is "popular" or not. When incoming links come from highly respected sources like government and educational institutions, news organizations, and Wikipedia, the content is considered "authoritative". Popular and authoritative websites rank well on Google.
The second key to organic SEO success is making sure you're satisfying the information wants and needs of your intended audience so you can earn the signals that tell Google your site is popular and authoritative, that you've earned the right to rank highly in search results.
A well architected (crawlable and indexable) website and content that satisfies the information wants and needs of your intended audience are the keys to organic SEO success. They're not the only things Google and other search engines care about, but if you get those things right, you'll have a rock-solid foundation to build upon and an excellent chance of ranking better than your peers and competition.
Do you agree? If not, why not? Do you have other tips to share that could benefit my audience? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.