The internet is built on hyperlinks. Links are the connectors between webpages. Without any links, pages would exist in a vacuum. As search engine optimization (SEO) theory goes, the more links you have pointing to pages on your website, the higher you’ll rank for keywords in search results. That’s not necessarily untrue, but it’s not the entire story.
Like the words in a conversation, links don’t exist outside of context. Everything else that frames a link determines how a search engine categorizes a webpage. The structural meta-content of a page, the words in an article or description, the other pages on your website all send contextual signals that help a search engine do its job. Moreover, the content on other websites linking to your site also provides contextual signals to search engines.
Google is the number one search engine, so why is SEO as we know it dead?
How Google dropped the gavel on SEO
Quick caveat: There’s still something to be said for the role links play, because the fundamental structure of the internet hasn’t changed. But now, Google includes RankBrain in 100 percent of searches.
RankBrain is artificial intelligence applied to search; it’s part of the same AI program that beat the world champion at Go. Here’s how RankBrain affects search engine results:
- When you enter a query, RankBrain looks at your past queries, as well as results for identical and similar queries
- Based on your search history and a number of other statistics, RankBrain does its best to personalize your results
Because RankBrain personalizes results for each user, any page indexed in Google could rank number one for an individual user. It’s all a matter of what that user is looking for and what his or her priorities are. This practice isn’t exactly cut and dry, as one can’t accurately say, “If I create a bunch of links to a single page, it will rank well in Google.” The page and its content have to provide value to its users.
In the past, a big business with big money could pay to have someone build links to their shoddy content in an effort to game the system. But Google’s algorithm doesn’t want companies to be able to buy good organic rankings by building spammy backlinks. That’s why RankBrain is good news for your small business.
Small business SEO
You care about your business, you believe in what you’re doing and know a great deal about it. As a small business owner, you’re highly qualified to provide content that will rank well in Google.
Like Google’s other algorithm updates, RankBrain prioritizes content that provides the most relevant, valuable answer to a query. Only with RankBrain, it’s not about keywords anymore—it’s about the overall piece of content. It’s also about real-time relevancy, meaning you could rank well for writing about events as they unfold in your industry.
If you write an authoritative, quality post on any given subject, it can rank well in Google for an individual user. Your content can be right up there next to content from Forbes, because you put the work into it and furnished the answer to a particular query.
Search Engine Watch provides some technical pointers in this respect to RankBrain:
- Kill the “doorway pages:” Forget about writing a single piece of content for a single keyword; do align URL structure with keywords, but focus on user experience (not keywords) for each piece
- Don’t take a “one size fits all approach:” Tailor the length of a piece, how often you post certain types of content and how many links you put in content around what type of content it is
- Do internally link: Your main pieces of content should link to supplementary pieces on your site; you can also link to other pages on your site, as relevant
Unsure about internal linking? It can be difficult to know exactly how many internal links to include per post. One strategy to pursue is A/B testing. Publish a post with supplemental links to several blog posts and to a product page. Track how well the page performs in Google for a given period of time. Track conversions as well. Then, return and edit the piece by adding several more internal links. Track it for the same amount of time and compare results.
How to do quality work
Compare your posts with standout posts that are ranking number one. What is it that makes them great? Every step of the way, be earnest with your efforts to make your posts great and relevant to your audience.
If you keep making regular posts with quality user experience as goal number one, you’ll rank. Play the long game, put in good hard work, and you’ll rise to the top with your content marketing.
SEO is dead. Quality content took its place.