Satisfy or fade away
Published 25th February 2020
Before we get into the details, I want to ask you a question: does Google want to satisfy its users?
“Yes”, you reply? Great! “No”? Okay… then I’ve got some explaining to do!
If Google satisfies its users, it continues to be the most trusted source of information on the internet.
By the end of today, Google will have processed about 3.2 billion search queries. Those searches fuel AdWords which makes nearly US$100bn revenue a year for Google.
Clearly, there is big money in giving users what they want.
US AND THEM
I remember 301 redirecting about 1,000 pages on a content site into a Grand National betting landing page. Google re-routed internal PageRank to my Grand National page, which ranked number two for three days while the National was on. When I deleted all the 301 redirects, the page dropped rankings, but by then I had 20,000 funded accounts. Nice!
Those old war stories are very enticing, but they are one thing: old.
It’s easy to think you’re beating Google when you rank. In reality, you and Google want the same thing: satisfied users.
If you drive traffic into a thin affiliate listing page and users click through to convert, they are satisfied. You haven’t forced them. They’ve got choices. They like your page enough to click on the operator link and ultimately convert.
Google is also happy. Google’s users found content that was satisfying. They’ll come back to Google again. So how about going with me on this thought experiment: you and Google are on the same side.
If you’re both in the game of satisfying users, then logically the question is… how?
I love algorithms as much as the next guy. In fact, I’ve even built a number of them. I created a simple algorithm for link prospecting, which works out user engagement for lists of websites using ISP data. If a site has high levels of engagement, solid rankings and a suitably high number of inbound referring domains, then it’s probably a good place to drop a link. Algorithms.
The difference between my algorithms and Google’s? Google is huge. I’m just a little guy. Google knows everything rides on the quality of its algorithms, I’m just optimising link placement.
Google is leading the way in machine learning, which means there is so much complexity not even the engineers quite understand how it all fits together.
I like to understand the gist of what different Google algorithms do and how they affect rankings. But the post-2015, ‘new’ me doesn’t care much about gaming the algorithms. These days all I want to do is satisfy users better than my competitors.
I’m not on ‘team Google’, but my enemy is my friend. We both want satisfied users.
● Rank brain
This algorithm was introduced in 2015. There is some deliberation on whether it’s designed to ‘up rank’ relevant content.
Overall, my take is: it uses machine learning to understand the meaning of webpages. If those pages are relevant to a query, it includes those pages within search results, the most relevant pages having a greater ‘up weighting’ than less relevant pages.
● Click-through rate and dwell time
As ever, there’s lots of deliberation on if and how these user-generated signals affect rankings. One valid argument says ‘here are the experiments and here are the positive correlations’.
Did I say snake oil? Sorry, I meant to say ‘high-quality links’ that drive rankings. Depending on which research you look at it, there is roughly a 28% correlation between link equity and rankings. That’s great. Another way of looking at it is 72% of the time there is no correlation between rankings and links.
Here’s a secret for you. A few years ago Google accidentally leaked a document that spells out exactly what they want from websites to rank them. And I’m going to share this inside knowledge with you now! This document was first leaked in 2011. It was the manual that helped train 10,000 Google staff to accurately rate the quality of hundreds of thousands of web pages. This vast dataset ended up indirectly affecting every search result you see today.
Have you guessed what it is yet? That’s right, it’s the Google Quality Evaluator Guidelines and these days Google has given up trying to keep it a secret. You can even download the 2019 version. Search “Google quality evaluator guidelines 2019” to get your free copy!
Back to what satisfies most, ranks best. The German SEO platform Searchmetrics has done some relatively large-scale correlation analysis projects. In 2016 these showed that click-through rate had a 46% correlation with rankings, as opposed to links, which had a 22% correlation.
Click-through rate had the highest correlation of any ranking variable the company had ever seen. Based on this figure, you could say you need to optimise click-through rate over links to rank. But ranking is more subtle than ‘clickbaiting’ your title and description tags.
Having trawled through thousands of search results over the years, looking at relationships between quality of content and rankings, I’ve concluded that the most satisfying content ranks.
Taking snake oil (links) out of the equation for now, if the most satisfying content ranks, ask yourself this:
- What is the most satisfying content?
- Who can I take ideas from?
- How can I improve my website?
INSIDERS AND OUTSIDERS
Google users are outsiders. They don’t know your website. You’ve got about four seconds to explain roughly what your webpage is and how you’re going to help that Google user.
Anyone who has spent more than two minutes on your website is an insider. This person knows their way around the site.
They may have clicked on a couple of pages, perhaps even registered. If you’ve got a thin bonus listing website, it’s mainly for outsiders. You want the traffic to land on your page, quickly click on the highest listing and convert.
If you’ve got a sports tips site, odds comparison or any site where you want repeat visitors, it’s mainly for insiders. However, if you want fresh traffic then you’ve got to appeal to outsiders so they can go through the conversion funnel and ultimately become regular insiders.
We all know different key phrases have relevance to you in terms of varying competition, cost-per-click value and volumes. The usual process is to get your list of phrases, pick out the ones that you care about and build your site content around these themes.
Different key phrase landscapes have their own unique characteristics. Lottery phrases are dominated by people searching for results. Casino phrases are obviously heavily weighted around bonuses. Different key phrases, different search intent.
Tip: when you’ve got a list of key phrases you want to order by most valuable, just add in an extra column and multiply search volume by cost per click. Then order your list, with the biggest number at the top.
Free giveaway: recently I put together a 32,000-long keyword list covering sports betting, casino, lottery, poker, bingo, gamer gambling and crypto gambling. I’ve categorised all the phrases as much as I can so it’s easy to create keyword groups to help you with your SEO.
The Excel spreadsheet is here: http://bit.ly/32kKWlist
FINDING THE WINNERS
You’ve got lists of key phrases. The next step is to break the list up into logical sub-groups.
For example, you might have one group of phrases which are generic bonus phrases. Another group might be for a specific topic. The important point is to organise your keyword groups into topical segments.
Google ranks web pages in its search results, not websites. It’s better to look for the web pages which rank best for different key phrase groups.
Ahrefs gets my maximum score for kudos – and here’s why.
From my 32,000-long keyword list I filtered down to ‘casino’ and ‘bonuses’ and did a keyword filter for ‘free spins’, ordered by cost-per-click by volume to get the biggest volume, highest cost-per-click combination phrases.
The phrases for this particular example are ‘free slots no deposit’, ‘free spins’, ‘free spins casino’, ‘free spins no deposit’ and ‘free spins no deposit UK’.
The top pages with the greatest share of search for this small group of phrases are as follows:
- kingcasinobonus.co.uk/free-spins/ (Traffic 8,485, share 13%)
- www.legs11.co.uk/promotions (Traffic 5,276, share 8%)
- zamsino.com/uk/free-spins-no-deposit/ (Traffic 4,779, share 7%)
Assuming what satisfies most ranks best, you now know which pages Google believes are most satisfying for my keyword list.
The reason kingcasinobonus.co.uk/freespins/ has so much more share than legs11.co.uk/promotions comes down to the ‘free spins’ phrase. What is the search intent of this phrase? Implicitly:
- ‘I want UK casino free spins.’
- ‘I want to trust you.’
- ‘I want you to tell me who to pick because there are lots of casinos to choose from.’
kingcasinobonus.co.uk/free-spins/ does the best job of all the free spins pages (see Fig 1 above). In a nutshell, the page:
- tells me what it is about (‘free spins with no deposit 2020’), so I know it’s timely.
- tells me it is for UK customers.
- tells me the brand is for British players and it’s a favourite.
- gives me the downsides.
- offers instructions on how to get my free spins.
None of the other affiliate pages gave me the same information in the same straightforward way. Google did its job for me. This page from kingcasinobonus.co.uk deserves to rank number one for the phrase ‘free casino spins’.
TO SUM UP
Of course, links will play their part in ranking. So will on-site optimisation. But when links don’t correlate with rankings 78% of the time, what other drivers are there for ranking? I would say ‘satisfying users’.
Once you start using tools such as Ahrefs share of search, you’ll start to identify the competitor pages that dominate. You’ll immediately see the relationships between share of search and satisfying user intent. All you need to do is copy and improve.