Search Engine Optimization: What Google REALLY Wants

You want your business to get to the top of Google’s search results. And you know that means giving Google what it wants. 

But…. what, exactly, does Google want?

If you’ve ever purchased Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you’ve likely heard about meta tags, keywords, snippets, backlinks… The list goes on and on.  

Here is a visualization of the current rules for SEO.

As you can see, it includes a lot of factors. But when you “buy” SEO, you are never purchasing help with all of these factors.

Moreover, Google isn’t the one creating these recommendations that the SEO industry promotes. 

Now, Google does share guidelines — often — but it doesn’t release the specifics of how their algorithm works; the “rules” of the algorithm.

The reason why is simple: if we know the rules, we’ll try to cheat them.

Rules Are Meant to Be Broken… Or At Least Abused!

This has happened over and over in SEO since I first started working in this industry more than 20 years ago.

At first, keywords were all the rage. The more you included, the better.

People added them in really small print at the bottom of pages. They made them “invisible” by using text and a background of the same color. They were everywhere.

The result? Search results looked like thesaurus pages. And search users arrived on pages that didn’t answer their questions or provide what they needed.

So Google started to penalize pages that used this tactic. 

Pages that were number 1 suddenly couldn’t be found at all and couldn’t seem to get themselves to show up again — even after removing those keywords.

This pattern has happened over and over again. 

There’s a “loophole” or “trick” that works really well for a period of time. Then Google realizes people are essentially spamming the system, and the offenders are left scrambling.

When Google Changes, the Recommendations Change

Because people are always searching for these loopholes, Google is always updating its algorithm. Sometimes in small ways. Occasionally in big ways.

And so SEO pros scramble to guess what makes one page rank higher than another — and use what they think they see to make recommendations. 

Or they ask Google questions and draw conclusions based on their interpretations of the company’s often vague replies.

Let’s see how things have changed. Here’s that periodic table in 2019.

Here it is in 2015.

Complex, right?

But what Google really wants has not changed at all. It didn’t change from 1998 to 2018. And it won’t change in 2028. Or 2038. 

Even better, it’s incredibly simple: Google’s goal is to have happy users who find what they need. 

If their users are able to find what they need quickly, then Google will continue to dominate as the world’s most popular search engine.

So if your goal is to provide the best search result, your business will win in the long run. And that’s true no matter what new algorithm runs out.

Providing the Best Search Result

The key to providing the best search results is to put the user experience first. 

How can you put the user’s needs first?

In general, here are the things that people want when they go on a search engine. And if you think about it from your own experience, these will seem fairly obvious. 

A site that loads quickly

If you open a website and it takes forever to load, you’ll click away and go to the next search result. (A signal to Google that the site didn’t meet the users’ needs.)

How long we’re willing to wait varies. You’ll see hard and fast rules, but the reality is: it depends.

If I need information from my child’s school website, I’ll wait. It’s the only place I can get the information I need. 

If I’m looking up the definition of a word and that site doesn’t load lightning quick, I’ll move on to the next search result.

So pay attention to the recommended site load times, but know it’s a guideline, not necessarily a hard rule.

A site that is easy to use

If a site looks terrible and disorganized, you’ll hit that back button. 

If you can’t figure out how to navigate or scroll, then you’ll click to the next search result. 

If you’re immediately bombarded by a zillion pop-up ads and the layout of the page is shifting as you’re reading it, you’ll move on.

A bad site will drive people away.

A site that works on your device

This is really an extension of the previous point. 

You want the site to function properly on your computer, your mobile device, your tablet, whatever you’re using. Or you’ll click away to find one that does work.

A site that has the information you need

This one may be the most important. 

If the site is otherwise a piece of junk, but it is the only place to find the information you need? You’ll stick it out. (See the above school example!)

But usually, there is competition for providing that “best search result.”

So this means thinking about what a user wants. 

Who’s the person you’re targeting? What are they looking for? What question are they trying to answer when they enter a particular term? What problem are they trying to solve? What is the intent behind the search inquiry?

How can you provide the answer in a way they want? How can you provide it quickly? How can you make your answer better than competitors’?

Let’s say someone goes online looking for the best material for building a new deck. 

They land on your site, and you spend the first four paragraphs detailing how amazing your company is at building decks, your pricing, and how to get a quote.

They’re likely to click away to look for a search result that values their time and answers the question first — before going into a sales pitch.

Another example: let’s say you’re trying to find the answer to a legal question.

You arrive on one page that is heavy on legal jargon, mentioning statutes, and exceptions to the rule in very complex language.

You’re likely to go back and try to find a search result that understands you’re not a lawyer and writes a simple reply in plain English right up front — with a note at the end, that there are additional complexities and exceptions, which is why getting advice directly from a legal professional is best.

Focus on the User Leads to Massive Success

If you put the user first, you’ll see massive SEO success over time — even without the meta tags and backlinks and the exact right number and placement of your keywords.

A few examples from our clients:

You’ll see consistent growth because you’re providing the best search result. And that’s not going to change over time, because Google wants that, too.