There is no doubt that the complexity of Google’s algorithm is immense. So much so it’s unwise to speculate about its inner workings. However it’s vital you have an understanding of major changes to how it ranks organic results.
The Goal of Search Engines
It’s long been assumed that the goal of any search engine is to be able to answer questions,
rather than just provide links which match the keywords typed into the search box. Witness the growing number of results returned not containing the keyword you typed into Google. There are various things going on ‘under the hood’ to produce these results but one of the major elements is a move to what’s known as semantic search. Or in plainer terms, results based on the meaning of the query.
To do this Google has to be able to understand both the query and the results in the same terms.
The Domain Comparison
There is a fair comparison with domains. For years, exact match domains were the thing to buy. This was because Google was excellent at returning these domains in the search results. An exact match domain was likely to be relevant to the keyword it matches. But for a while now there has been a move towards brandable domains. For these, Google has to devise the meaning from indicators other than the keywords in the domain.
And things are gathering pace. Just look at the knowledge graph on the right hand-side of many search results. Type in David Cameron, and there on the right is organised information about him. That’s Google acting like an answer engine.
The Impact of Semantic Search
So if Google is moving towards ranking results based on semantics what does this mean for your content? I have always said it’s impossible for all but the major players to rank for general, short phrases such as cat, house, or holiday flights. You may have some success getting ranked for short, competitive terms related to your market. If, and it’s a big if, you can rank for these you’ll get a fair amount of traffic but the down side is these sorts of words don’t convert well. But my guess is results for general terms are going to be less useful in the future. After all, how can you use these to answer a question? ‘Horse’ could be the answer to many questions and likewise, content for ‘horse’ could cover a rock band, animal or a film or a hundred other things. There is less ambiguity with ‘the best place to buy Sunglasses in Winslow’.
Focus On Long Tail Keywords
Going forward creating content based on long tail keywords is going to be even more important than it is today. Semantic search means Google is going to be able to rank pages more along the lines a person would in terms of figuring out relevancy. But don’t over estimate Google’s ability to ‘read between the lines’ the way a person can. This mean’s your content has to be able to provide Google with lots of logical, well organised information, supporting your long tail keyword. Simply including a long tail keyword and hoping for the best isn’t and won’t be enough.