It’s no secret to anyone that Google is by far the big boy in the search neighborhood. They surpassed Yahoo in late 2002 for Share of Searches, and have continued to dominate month after month since. They have become synonymous with search itself. Very few brands ever reach this level of brand recognition.
StatCounter reports them at 89% of search market share on desktop in January 2017, and it’s even higher for mobile. Bing is distant second at 4.8%.
As a result of this domination and absent a strong rival, they have become a type of schoolyard bully with website owners and SEOs. Knowing that they are the gateway to millions of potential customers, they fully understand the power that they have over webmasters and SEOs, who must learn to play the Google way if they want to be successful.
Google has become much more communicative than ever with the online marketing community. They are aware that we watch for the latest nugget uttered by any Googler and try to be the first to add insight on how to apply it to ongoing strategy.
The Google Kool-Aid
However, not everything they share can be believed at face value. In other words, don’t feel like you have to drink the Google Kool-Aid.
Google is ultimately only concerned with the performance of one online business, their own. Its Google’s world, we all just live in it – and given their interest in topics beyond search, that could soon be literal. Often what they share with the public contains partial truths or misinformation in an attempt to help control the quality of their search results externally. Everything that they say publicly should be weighed and tested against what actually works in the algorithm, before accepting as truth.
In the old days of SEO (you know… circa 2007), Google would not publicly disclose anything algorithm related. SEOs needed to follow the changes in the algorithm almost daily just to stay in front of any new developments. In recent years Google has flipped the script and actively comments on many search topics. Many new SEOs, who haven’t been around to witness this evolution in PR posturing over the years, may be prone to blindly following suit.
The reality is… if you are consistently building quality content that searchers consume, and are sticking to the tried and true SEO best practices, you will not need to chase the algorithm.
There have been many great posts in recent years documenting some of the classic Google sleight-of-hand. Here are just a few examples:
In February 2015, Google stated to avoid link building “as it can do more harm than good.” However, a few months later, Matt Peters from Moz conducted a study that concluded the there was a “strong relationship” between higher rankings and the number of linking websites.
Link Assistant also published a great post on the “5 Big SEO Lies Google Wants You To Believe.” They touch on some whoppers that Google has paraded out as truth. The post includes some entertaining ones such as “you shouldn’t build links for the sake of SEO,” “click throughs don’t influence rankings,” “keyword optimized anchor text is bad,” and my personal favorite “keywords are no longer important.” If keywords were no longer important then why would Google go to such great lengths to hide them from us in Google Analytics?
I want to touch on a couple of other examples that have caused SEOs and web dev professionals some heartburn over the last few years…
One of the most egregious examples of Google misinformation was the highly publicized “Mobilegeddon” update, which rolled out April 21, 2015. They made several public statements, beginning in February of that year, warning webmasters that desktop organic search performance would suffer if the website did not provide an acceptable mobile experience for their users. This message was proliferated all over the web in various forms on every SEO related website and blog.
I was leading the in-house SEO team with a top healthcare company at the time and the thought of taking a hit to this massive source of web traffic was daunting. Although we were already moving forward with plans to upgrade the mobile experience, these projects were scheduled in the development pipeline with no way to move the launch date up fast enough to accommodate this potential threat. So, we had no choice but to watch the traffic trends closely and brace for impact.
To our shock… absolutely nothing happened. The deadline came and went and there was not even a downtick in organic desktop OR mobile traffic. In fact, desktop traffic remained steady and the mobile trend started to climb slightly. For all of the fanfare, Mobilegeddon was highly uneventful, as this Search Engine Land article summarizes.
Even worse off (although no one said it verbally) was our internal credibility. It took a hit after we made such a strong and urgent recommendation that came straight from Google, only to see the threat come and go without any measurable impact.
HTTPS is another example. Google began the PR campaign for this algorithm adjustment back in 2014 using a positive spin that announced that HTTPS would become a “ranking signal.” They added that websites that switch to https will “see a rankings boost,” versus those that remain on HTTP.
That stance has evolved to be more ominous as they have now threatened to label sites as “not secure” in an attempt to shame companies into adopting encrypted search.
No one is arguing that website security isn’t important. Here is the perspective of Vertical Measures own IT expert Jeremy Glassburn:
“Adding HTTPS does not secure the website, or reduce security risks for the site. It does however help to protect the integrity and privacy of the information between the site and the user. Without HTTPS pages, a user visits can be tracked, information submitted can be viewed, and the data sent or received can be altered over the network (in-transit).”
We agree that every site should be secure. However, moving an entire site over to HTTPS can be a daunting effort for companies with massive dynamic websites. Quoting Jeremy again:
“For WordPress and other CMS systems in a VPS or dedicated host, it is relatively easy and straightforward. It can be as easy as enabling HTTPS and deploying the certificate on the server if relative URL are already in use. For large sites, it can be considerably more work as there can me more components to change and more external resources that need to be changed to HTTPS as well.”
Google has been very inconsistent on when these types of changes will actually impact in the algorithm – if at all – which makes it very difficult to provide definitive recommendations to clients or internal stakeholders. For HTTPS, it has been two and a half years and we are still waiting to see an indication of this as a significant factor on the algorithm. We are now seeing more HTTPs pages in the SERPS, but that can be attributed to more websites finally migrating over. So again, an empty threat from Google.
What Does This All Mean?
Here is the reality… good, old-fashioned SEO best practices still work. Why? Because search engines want what honest business owners want… for targeted searchers to be driven to the most relevant webpages – preferably on their website.
If you have:
- Developed an SEO friendly website that bots and users can easily crawl and navigate
- Applied solid optimization best practices
- Created interesting content that answers the searcher’s intent
- Built content that is “linkable,” providing something unique and interesting to others
- Have one of the top ten most relevant webpages for a given search
… then, you will rank prominently in the SERPs.
Listen to everything that Google has to say. Then, test for yourself and watch the SERPs. Change what you actually see having an impact on the SERPs, ignore the noise, and you will continue to be successful.