The single best piece of advice
As member of Google’s Webmaster Central Help Forum since July 2009 and a Top Contributor in that forum since 2013, I’ve come across all kinds of useful information.
The single best piece of advice I’ve seen is this catchphrase:
Google doesn’t make websites popular; it finds popular websites.
I really wish I could credit whoever wrote it. I’ve been repeating it ever since I first read it.
Site owners, webmasters, marketers and “SEO Executives” fall into the trap of thinking, “If I build it, Google traffic will come.” But Google doesn’t work like that. Maybe that was true years ago when the interwebs were young and a pre-WordPress world made building websites a daunting task. Google was hungry for any website’s content because there just wasn’t much around.
As for the people creating websites? They had a passion for their subject. They weren’t thinking about CTR and impressions. They weren’t thinking about keyword density or keyword stuffing. All they wanted to do was share their passion with the world.
Sites like imdb.com and even google.com itself were created from an eagerness to share or a desire to solve a problem.
Google’s just not that into you
Fast forward to today, it’s easy and inexpensive to slap up a site. With a trillion pages online, it’s impossible to rank just because you have a website.
Yet we take it personally when our sites don’t rank. “Google hates me” is the refrain heard most frequently throughout the SEO world.
We all have a love/hate relationship with Google now. We hate Google because we’re not ranking where we think we deserve to rank. Yet we act like a love-struck teenager, riding our bike up and down our love interest’s street, hoping we’ll be noticed.
We change our page titles and descriptions. We noindex the pages we think are thin. We tweak a word here and a sentence there. We hire content writers to churn out 500 word articles at $5 a pop. All in the hope to catch Google’s eye.
But Google doesn’t hate you. It’s just been scorned one too many times by people trying to game the system.
How to make Google sit up and take notice
They say the best way to attract another person is to focus on yourself and ignore the other person. Maybe focus on someone else, in the meantime. It makes that person sit up and take notice of you.
And this is exactly what you need to do with Google when it comes to your website.
Make sure your site can be crawled and rendered properly
The first thing you need to do is make sure Googlebot can crawl and render your site properly.
- Create a Google Search Console account, if you don’t have one set up
- Verify all four versions of your site in Google Search Console, as well as any subdomains you want to track
- Make sure you’re not blocking the bot or blocking any resources Google needs to render the page
- Make sure you are 301 redirecting all other versions to your preferred domain
- Check the Crawl Errors report for any issues
- Test how Google sees with your site with a Fetch and Render
Learn more about Google Search Console.
Read, re-read and follow all of Google’s guidelines
Another phrase I often hear in the forum is, “Google keeps changing their guidelines”. Not true. What happened is that people tried to exploit any loophole they could find. Google had to clarify the guidelines and put their foot down.
As an example, building backlinks has always been against Google’s guidelines.
The next step is to be brave
Once you’re sure Google can crawl and index your pages (and that you are following the guidelines!), the next thing you need to do is the hardest part.
You need to forget about Google.
I know how difficult it is to do this. I know better yet I still find myself wondering, “Is this going to rank?” or “Is Google going to think this page is thin?”.
Who should you focus on then?
Content may be king, but the searcher is supreme overlord and ruler of all
One of the benefits of being a Google Top Contributor is an invitation to participate in the biennial Google TC Summit. Google sends you to San Francisco for a three-day whirlwind of activities and presentations.
At the end of the last Summit, someone asked what part of the Summit was my favorite.
I couldn’t point to one particular part (they were all great). But what I came away with was this: Google truly cares about the Searcher. Google wants to answer every single query quickly and efficiently.
And that’s what you need to do, too. You need to forget about Google and focus on your visitors. You need to focus on the person doing the Search. You need to focus on…people.
Your content needs to be unique and useful. It needs to bring something different to the table that can’t be found elsewhere. Being just like other websites doesn’t cut it. You need to stand apart from the competition.
But it doesn’t end there. Simply having a great site isn’t going to catch Google’s attention. You’re still falling into that “if I build it” trap.
You need to come full circle back to: “Google doesn’t make websites popular; it finds popular websites.”
Revisiting that love-struck teen analogy, now you need to attract Google’s attention by making your website popular – without Google.
The way to do that is through marketing. Here are some ways you can do it:
- Content – Written and visually compelling content not only feeds the SEO machine to get visitors to your site but it also keeps them engaged longer on your site, and more frequently
- Influencers – Using social media and PR techniques, you need to start catching the right people’s eyes and ears, so they share your content and talk about you on their platforms
- Brand building – Anything you can do that increases brand awareness, whether it is an offline effort like an event or an online effort like digital advertising (besides being a great revenue stream in its own right) will have a positive influence on SEO
- Nurturing and conversion – Online behavior is complex and your CRM and email marketing techniques must work hand in hand with your website content to effectively accompany the visitor throughout his journey – from lead generation to the sale and on to the repeat sale
Just having a website isn’t enough anymore. You need to create a unique and useful site and capture people’s attention through marketing. That’s how to make Google sit up and take notice.