Posted by randfish
We’re seeing Google continue to move beyond just reading pages, instead attempting to truly understand what they’re about. The engine is drawing connections between concepts and brand names, and it’s affecting SERPs. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains just what Google is doing, and how we can help create such associations with our own brands.
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking about how Google connects keyword relevance to websites, particularly how they do this beyond just the domain name.
Obviously, for a long time Google looked at the name of a particular website and the queries that were entered and might rank that site higher if the domain name had some match with the query. We called this the exact match domains or the partial match domains.
For a long time, they did have quite a bit of power. They’ve gone down dramatically in power. These days MozCast is reporting 2.5% to 3% of domains that appear in the top 10 over many thousands of search results are exact match domains. It used to be above 7% when we started MozCast. I think before that it was in the 12%, 13%, or 14%. So it’s gone way, way down over the last few years.
Google has gotten tremendously more sophisticated about the signals that it does consider when it comes to applying relevance of keywords to a particular domain name or to a particular website.
I’ll give you some examples. One is RealSimple.com. If you’re someone who does searches around home organization or gadgets for the home, or especially quick recipes, not like the long, drawn out recipes, but like 10, 15 minute recipes, cleaning products, physical fitness and workouts, makeup and beauty, all of these topics Real Simple always seems to rank on the first page, at least somewhere. I’m not talking about these specific terms, but anything related to them.
It’s almost like Google has said, “You know what, when people are searching for cleaning products, we feel like Real Simple is where they always want to end up, so let’s try and find a page that’s relevant on there.” Sometimes the pages that they find are not particularly excellent. In fact, some of the time you will find that you’re like, “That doesn’t even seem all that relevant. Why are they showing me that page for this query? I get that Real Simple is a good site for that usually, but this doesn’t seem like the kind of match I’m looking for.”
You’ll see very similar things if you look at Metacritic.com. Metacritic, of course, started with games. It’s gone into movies and now television. They essentially aggregate and assemble, sort of like Rotten Tomatoes does and some other sites like that, they’ll assemble critic reviews and user reviews from all over the place, put them together and come up with what they call a METASCORE.
METASCORES are something that they rank very well for. But around all of these pop culture mediums, PC game reviews, critics opinions on games, PlayStation games, TV show ratings, movie ratings, they always seem to be in the top 10 for a lot of these things. It doesn’t have to be the broad PC game or TV show. You can put in the name of a television show or the name of a movie or the name of a game, and it will often show up. That seems to be, again, Google connecting up like, “Oh, Metacritic. We think that’s what someone’s looking for.”
You can see this with all sorts of sites. CNET.com does this all the time with every kind of gadget review, electronics review. Genius.com seems to come up whenever there’s anything related to lyrics or musical annotations around songs.
There’s just a lot of that connection. These connections can come from a number of places. It’s obviously not just the domain name anymore. Google is building up these connections between terms, phrases and indeed concepts, and then the domain or the brand name probably through a bunch of different inputs.
Those inputs could be things like brand and non-brand search volume combined together. They might see that, gosh, a lot people when they search for song lyrics, they add “genius”‘ or “rap genius.” A lot of people who search for quick recipes or cleaning products, they add “Real Simple” or “Martha Stewart.” Or if they’re searching for PC games they look for the Metacritic score around it. Gosh, that suggests to us maybe that those domains, those websites should be connected with those search terms and phrases.
Probably there’s some aspect of co-occurrence between the brand name and/or links to the site from lots of sites and pages on credible sources that Google finds that are discussing these topics. It’s like, “Oh, gosh, a lot of people who are talking about cleaning products seem to link over to Real Simple. A lot of people who talk about cell phone reviews seem to mention or link over to CNET. Well, maybe that’s forming that connection.”
Then where searchers on these topics eventually end up on the web. Google has access to all this incredible data about where people go on the Internet through Chrome and through Android. They can say, “Hmm, you know, this person searched for cleaning products. We didn’t send them to Real Simple, but then eventually they ended up there anyway. They went to these other websites, they found it, maybe they typed it in, maybe they did brand search, whatever. It seems like there’s an affinity between these kinds of searchers and these websites. Maybe we need to build that connection.”
As this is happening, as a result of this, we feel as marketers, as SEOs, we feel this brand bias, this domain bias. I think some of the things that we might put into brand biasing and domain authority are actually signals that are connections between the domain or the brand and the topical relevance that Google sees through all sorts of data like this.
As that’s happening, this has some requirements for SEO. As SEOs, we’ve got to be asking ourselves, “Okay, how do we build up an association between our brand or our domain and the broad keywords, terms, topics, phrases, so that we can rank for all of the long tail and chunky middle terms around those topics?” This is now part of our job. We need to build up that brand association.
This is potentially going to change some of our best practices. One of the best practices I think that it immediately and obviously affects is a lot of the time Metacritic might say, “Hey, we want to target PC game reviews. We’ve got this page to do it. That’s our page on PC game reviews. All these other pages, let’s make sure they don’t directly overlap with that, because if we do, we might end up cannibalizing, doing keyword cannibalization.”
For those broad topics, Metacritic might actually say, “You know, because of this functionality of Google, we actually want a lot of pages on this. We want everyone, we want to be able to serve all the needs around this, not just that one page for that one keyword. Even if it is the best converting keyword and our content resources are limited, we might want to target that on a bunch of different pages. We might want to be producing new content regularly about PC game reviews and then linking back to this original one because we want that association to build up.”
Other best practices that we have in SEO are things where we will take a keyword and will essentially just make our keyword research very limited to the ones that have produced returns in our paid search account or in our advertising. That also might be unwise. We might need to think outside of those areas and think, “How can we serve all of the needs around a topic? How can we become a site that is associated with all of the keyword topics, rather than just cherry picking the ones that convert for us?”
That might get a little frustrating because we are not all content factories. We are not all big media brand builders. But these are the sites that are dominating the search results consistently, over and over again. I think as Google is seeing this searcher happiness from connections with the brands and domains that they expect to find, that they want to find, they’re going to be biasing this way even more, forcing us to emulate a lot of what these big brands are doing.
All right, everyone. Look forward to some great commentary, and we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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