How do you get ahead in SEO?
Some say that a site needs more incoming links, others say that it needs better content, and still others might say that it needs to be technically sound for SEO.
SEO Malaysia with a lot of experience know that the best sites for organic search have the right mix of high-level basics.
In recent years, E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness), which is mentioned in Google’s Search Rater Quality Guidelines, has gotten a lot of attention.
Some people think that these are the most important parts of SEO.
But no matter how important E-A-T is for some sites, it only looks at one thing: the content.
A complete SEO plan needs to have more.
Over the years, I’ve come to think that building three things into a site and its pages is the most basic way to do SEO:
Experience (of the users and bots visiting the site) (of the users and bots visiting the site).
Sites that pay attention to all three of these are more likely to be valued by both search engines and users and to get more organic traffic over time.
Notice that my category “Authority” overlaps with one of my E-A-T categories.
That’s because I think that at the highest level of SEO, a site or page’s expertise and trustworthiness are really what give it authority.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these A-R-E categories to see how they should be used in an SEO programme as a whole.
Do You Have Any Value?
In SEO, “authority” means how important or heavy a page is for a certain search query.
Modern search engines like Google use a lot of things (called “signals”) to figure out how trustworthy a webpage is.
Why does Google care about whether or not a page is authoritative?
Most search queries have thousands or millions of pages that could be ranked.
Google wants to put at the top the ones that are most likely to give the user what they want, which is accurate, trustworthy information that fully answers the question.
Google wants to send people to the most reliable pages for their searches because people who are happy with the pages they click through to from Google are more likely to use Google again. This means that Google’s ads, which are its main source of income, will be seen by more people.
Power came first.
The first big problem that search engines had to solve was how to figure out how reliable a website is.
Some of the first search engines relied on people to evaluate the results, but as the web grew, this quickly became impossible to scale.
Google beat all of its competitors because its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, came up with the idea of PageRank. PageRank uses links from other web pages as weighted citations to figure out how reliable a page is.
Page and Brin realised that links were already a system of polling that was always changing. Other sites with a lot of authority “voted” for pages they thought were reliable and useful for their users.
Search engines use links in the same way that we might use citations in a paper. The better a source document is, the more scholarly papers that use it as a source, the better.
The level of authority and trustworthiness of each source that is cited also matters.
So, out of our three main categories, authority came first because, with all the links on the web, it was the easiest to figure out.
The other two, relevance and user experience, would be taken care of later, as algorithms based on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) got better.
Links are still very important for authority
Google’s use of links as a ranking factor was a big change that made it the most popular search engine in a short amount of time.
This started with a paper called “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The most important idea in this paper was that the web is made up of documents that are linked to each other.
Since putting a link on your site to a third-party site could cause a user to leave your site, there wasn’t much reason for a publisher to link to another site unless it was really good and of great value to their site’s users.
In other words, linking to a third-party site is a bit like “voting” for it, and each vote could be seen as an endorsement of that page as one of the best online resources for a certain topic.
Then, in theory, the more votes you get, the better and more trustworthy a search engine will think you are. This means that you should rank higher.
A big part of Google’s first algorithm was based on the idea of PageRank, which is a way to figure out which pages are the most important based on how many links they get.
So, a page with a lot of good links pointing to it will have a higher PageRank and, in theory, will probably rank higher in the search results than pages with lower PageRank scores.
When one page links to another, it gives that other page some of its PageRank.
So, pages get more PageRank based on how many and how good the links they get.
Not every link is the same.
So it’s better to have more votes, right?
In theory, that’s true, but it’s much more complicated than that.
PageRank scores range from one, which is the starting point, to likely more than a trillion.
Pages with a high PageRank can pass a lot more PageRank than pages with a low PageRank. In fact, a link from one page can easily be worth more than a million times what a link from another page is worth.
Let’s use our intuition for a moment.
Imagine that you have a page that is trying to sell a book and that page gets two links. One is from Joe’s Book Store, and the other is from Amazon.
As a user, it’s pretty clear which one you’d value more, right? Customers, we know that Amazon knows more about this subject than we do.
When it turns out, the web has also noticed this, and Amazon has a much stronger link profile (and a higher PageRank) than any other site that sells books.
Because of this, its PageRank is much higher, and it can pass more PageRank to the pages it links to.
It’s important to remember that Google’s algorithms have come a long way since the original PageRank thesis.
There have been big changes in how links are judged, some of which we know about and some of which we don’t.
What about confidence?
You may hear a lot of people talking about how trust affects search rankings and how link quality is judged.
For the record, Google says it doesn’t have a concept of trust that it applies to links (or rankings), so you shouldn’t put too much stock in those discussions.
These talks started because Yahoo filed a patent on the idea of TrustRank.
The idea was that if you started with a seed set of hand-picked, highly trusted sites and counted how many clicks it took to get from those sites to yours, the fewer clicks it took, the more trusted your site was.
Google has said for a long time that they do not use this kind of metric.
But in April 2018, Google was given a patent for figuring out how trustworthy a link is. But just because a patent is approved doesn’t mean it’s used in real life.
For your own needs, though, if you want to figure out how trustworthy a site is as a link source, the idea of “trusted links” is not a bad way to go.
If they do any of the following, it’s probably not a good link source:
Sell other people links.
Have content that isn’t great.
If you don’t, you won’t look good.
Google might not calculate trust the way you do, but it’s likely that some other part of their system will lower the value of that link anyway.
How to get and keep links: the basics
Now that you know getting links to your site is important for SEO, you should start making a plan to get them.
To succeed, you need to know that Google wants this whole process to be complete.
Google doesn’t like it when people try to get links in a way that isn’t natural, and sometimes they punish people who do this. This means that some things are seen as wrong, like:
Buying links to improve SEO.
Putting comments on forums and blogs that link back to your site.
Hacking into other people’s websites and adding links to their pages.
Sharing infographics or widgets that aren’t very good and have links back to your pages.
As a way to get links, you can offer discount codes or affiliate programmes.
And many other plans where the links that are made are not natural.
Google really wants you to make a great website and promote it well so that you get links.
So, how does that work?
The first important thing to do is figure out who might link to the content you make.
Here is a chart that shows the main types of people in any given market:
Who do you think might put links in place?
It’s not the slow people, and it’s not the early or late majority, either.
It’s the pioneers and early adopters. These are the people who write for media sites or blogs and might put a link to your site on their page.
There are also other places to find links, such as local sites like the chamber of commerce or newspapers.
You might also find some opportunities with colleges and universities if they have pages about things you do in your market space.
Will people swipe to the right on your page?
You have to be about the subject at hand.
Imagine that every time you visit a page, it’s like meeting someone on a dating app. Will people “swipe right” because they think, “This seems like a good match!”
No matter how many links you get to a page about Tupperware, it will never rank for searches about used cars.
This shows how relevance also affects the value of a link and sets a limit on how links can be used to rank pages.
Think about a page on a website where a used Ford Mustang is for sale. Picture that Car and Driver magazine gives it a link. That link is very useful.
Also, think about this with your gut. Is it likely that the magazine Car and Driver knows something about Ford Mustangs? They do, of course.
Imagine instead that a site that usually writes about sports linked to that Ford Mustang. Do you still need the link?
Maybe, but it’s not as helpful because Google doesn’t have as much proof that the sports site knows a lot about used Ford Mustangs.
In short, the value of a link can be affected by how important the linking page is and how important the linking site is.
How does Google figure out if something is relevant?
What Anchor Text Does
Google also pays attention to the anchor text of links.
The anchor text helps Google figure out what the page that is linked to is about.
For example, if the anchor text is the phrase “iron bathtubs” and the page has content about that topic, the anchor text and the link are more proof that the page is about that topic.
So, the links are used to judge both how relevant and important a page is.
Be careful, though, because you don’t want to aggressively get links to your page that all use your main keyword phrase as the anchor text.
Google also looks for signs that you are changing links by hand to help your SEO.
One of the easiest ways to tell is if your anchor text looks like it was changed by hand.
There is more and more evidence that Google checks how relevant a site is to a topic by looking at its internal links.
Internal links that connect related content in the right way show Google that you have a lot of pages about the topic and cover many different aspects.
By the way, anchor text is just as important for outbound links as it is for links that come from the outside.
Your site’s structure is related to internal links.
Think about where your pages should go in the order of your site. If it makes sense to users, it probably makes sense to search engines as well.
The Subject Matter
The content on a page is, of course, the most important sign of how relevant it is.
Most SEOs know that it’s no longer enough to have the keywords a user is looking for to figure out how relevant a piece of content is to a query.
Natural language processing and machine learning have come a long way, making it much easier for search engines like Google to figure out what’s on a page.
What are some things Google probably looks for when deciding which searches a page should be relevant for?
Keywords: The days of keyword stuffing as a good SEO strategy are (thank goodness) long gone, but it’s still important to have certain words on a page. My company has done a lot of case studies that show that adding key terms that are used on top-ranking pages for a topic is often enough to bring in more organic traffic.
Depth: Most of the time, the best pages for a subject go into enough detail. That is, they have enough information about the subject to satisfy searchers, or they link to or from pages that give more information about the subject.
Structure: Things like H1…H2…H3, bolded topic headings, and schema structured data can help Google figure out what a page is about and how relevant it is.
What’s up with E-A-T?
Google encourages all site owners to make content that makes visitors feel like it was written by an expert in the field.
But it’s still not clear how much they do or are able to evaluate these categories.
The main thing to remember is that you should pay more attention to E-A-T the more YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) your site is.
YMYL sites are ones that mostly talk about things that could affect people’s health or finances.
If your site is YMYL, you should go the extra mile to make sure the information on it is correct and show that it was written by experts.
Making a plan to market content
Last but not least, make a real plan for your content marketing.
Don’t start doing a lot of different things all at once.
Take the time to learn about what your competitors are doing so that you can use your content marketing efforts in a way that is likely to give you a good return on investment (ROI).
One way to do this is to use tools that can do it to get their backlink profiles.
With this information, you can see what kinds of links they’ve been getting and then figure out what kinds of links you need to get to beat them.
Take the time to do this exercise and to map out which links go to which pages on your competitors’ sites and what those pages rank for.
Building out this kind of detailed view will help you figure out your plan of attack and give you an idea of what keywords you might be able to rank for.
It’s worth the trouble!
Also, look at the content plans of your competitors.
Find out what they are doing and think hard about what you can do differently.
Focus on making your content stand out in a clear way for topics that your potential customers are interested in.
This is another way to spend time that will be well worth it.
As we saw above, Google first focused on putting pages in order based on their authority and then found ways to measure relevance.
The third change in search was figuring out how to judge the user experience.
In fact, many SEOs, including me, like to call SEO “Search Experience Optimization” instead of “Search Engine Optimization.”
Google realised that, as important as authority and relevance are, they were not the only things people looked for when they searched.
Users also want the pages and sites Google sends them to to be good.
How do you define “good user experience”? At least the following are part of it:
The searcher gets the page they would expect to see based on what they typed in. No false promises.
The information on the landing page is very related to what the user was looking for.
The content is enough to answer the user’s question, and it also has links to other sources and topics that are related.
All of these things are part of Google’s Page Experience Update. The page loads quickly, the relevant content is clear right away, and page elements fall into place quickly.
Also, many of the tips above for making better content can also be used to improve the user experience.
In short, Google wants to rank pages based on how well they answer the search query and how easy it is for the searcher to find and understand what they were looking for.
How It All Fits Together
Search engines want their users to be happy so that they will keep coming back to them when they have questions or needs.
The way they make and keep people happy is by giving them the best answer or solution to their question or need.
To keep their users happy, search engines need to be able to understand and measure the relative authority of webpages for the topics they cover.
When you make content that visitors find very useful, interesting, or entertaining, and when those visitors trust your content enough to come back to your site or even look for you instead of others, you’ve gained authority.
The search engines work hard to make sure that they can keep up with people’s need for trustworthy authority.
As we’ve already said, you need the same kind of high-quality content to get the links that tell search engines you should rank high for relevant searches.
This could be content on your site that other sites want to link to, or it could be content that other good, relevant sites want to publish and link back to your site.
Focusing on these three SEO pillars—authority, relevance, and experience—will help your content reach more people and make it easier to get links.
Now that you know everything you need to know about SEO, get to work!
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